Saturday, 28 April 2012

Kantian Child Protection?

An interesting blog entry caught my eye. Louise O’Neill, a child protection social worker, writes in the Guardian Social Care Network blog about how she draws on her knowledge of philosophy to inform her child protection practice. 

Most social workers would, I think, find talk of Kant’s categorical imperative a bit obscure, but I think many would agree with Louise’s conclusion that people – whether they be children or parents - should always be treated as ends in themselves, not as means to some other ends.

And I expect that most social workers would share her concern that a social work culture, dominated by tight timescales and a focus on meeting targets, is incompatible with treating parents and children as unique moral individuals and trying to understand their complex problems, needs and experiences.

Interestingly the implications of Kantian “moral law” seem to me to be rather similar to the recommendations of the Munro Review, which, in contrast, draws not on philosophy, but on individual and organisational psychology, a human factors perspective and sound commonsense.

An impressive Serious Case Review Report

In the past I have complained bitterly about the usefulness (or rather lack of it) of the executive summaries of Serious Case Review (SCR) reports.

But I was very impressed by the report - it is the full report, not just a summary - of a Serious Case Review undertaken in Haringey into the case of Family Z. 

The review was based on the ‘SCIE approach’ which was developed by Fish, Munro and Bairstow (

It draws heavily on a human factors perspective.

The contrast with traditional SCRs could not be more striking. And in sharp contrast to SCR reports which just provide a long list of procedural recommendations, this report provides an impressive analysis of underlying issues (summarised in paragraph 20). Some of the main conclusions are:

  • Management systems lacked “… a coherence between family support services and emergency response…”  
  • There was an “autocratic management style” that created fear and paralysed thinking so preventing “constructive case work challenge”
  • There was an “… absence of systems to promote review of professional judgements…” and “…no effective challenge to, or ability to work with, non‐engaging families”
  • A “… poor understanding of the causation and impact of neglect across agencies…” was identified and there was “... no shared culture of authoritative challenge amongst professionals allowing for the exploration of disagreements”
  • The design of work processes and procedures made it difficult to respond effectively to incidents of neglect, a problem exacerbated by the design of computer systems
To my mind, the most important thing about this analysis is that it provides a substantial agenda of issues which both managers and practitioners need to address constructively. 

This contrasts strongly with the traditional approach to implementing the recommendations of SCRs such as the issuing of new top down instructions and the updating of procedural documents.

The Haringey Safeguarding Children Board is to be congratulated for this review and a most interesting and useful report.

A brief report of the case is provided in today’s Daily Mail, but do go to the Haringey Safeguarding Children Board’s website and download the full SCR report which contains a full and balanced summary.

Wednesday, 25 April 2012

A bad idea gets air time

I listened to Polly Neate of Action For Children , speaking on today’s Woman’s Hour on BBC Radio 4  in support of what is now a firm proposal to make emotional neglect and abuse of a child a criminal offence.

What she said made me angry. It was confused and confusing. She seemed attached to an idea that I cannot endorse – that in order to respond to emotional neglect and emotional abuse they must be made a criminal offence.

Professor Corrine May-Chahal from the College of Social Work, who was also part of the discussion, did a good job in trying to persuade Polly of the very obvious point that the civil law provides a very good basis for authorities to intervene in cases like this. And she made the point that criminalising needy people really doesn’t achieve anything.

What she didn’t mention is what I often found when I was a practicing social worker. Frequently children suffer emotional abuse and neglect because their parents are themselves experiencing depression or other mental health difficulties. How will prosecuting people like this help the situation? Obviously it won’t.

And there is another problem with Action for Children’s proposals. It would be very difficult to draft a criminal law that separated emotional abuse/neglect from perfectly normal conflicts and upsets that routinely occur between parents and children. If you don’t believe me have a go at drafting such a law. It is very difficult.

Badly drafted laws are a very bad idea. If Action for Children’s suggestion was adopted it wouldn’t be long before somebody who had had an argument with their child or somebody who had had a breakdown or somebody who was bereaved or depressed was dragged into the criminal courts and convicted. Imagine the cry that would go up from the tabloid press.

That would really drag child protection into disrepute.

Tuesday, 24 April 2012

Ofsted, the core assessment and bureaucracy

Ofsted conducted an unannounced inspection of Wiltshire Council’s safeguarding services in March 2012. The report, just published, gives the Council an “inadequate” rating and generally says a number of uncomplimentary things.

I was struck by one of the inspector’s recommendations:

"Wiltshire Council to ensure core assessments are regularly used and updated to reflect and evaluate the impact of changing family circumstances."

That might sound sensible to somebody who has never seen a ‘core assessment’ before. But to me it sounds like a bureaucratic nightmare. I couldn’t find a copy of Wiltshire’s core assessment form on line so I downloaded one from another authority. That doesn’t matter because they are all very similar.

The most striking thing about the form is the length: SIXTY TWO pages. Yes, sixty two pages of box after box after box concerning such items of information as height and weight and whether vision is satisfactory, sleep patterns, diet, bed-wetting, punctuality/behaviour/performance at school, friends at school, relationships with parents/peers/siblings – it just goes on and on and on.

I cannot imagine how forms like this were ever thought to be helpful. The likelihood of there being sound reliable evidence for much of the information entered is inversely related to the length of the form. How can a social worker assemble and validate all this information in a relatively short space of time? Often, I suspect, the boxes are filled in as best they can be without much attention being given to how well-evidenced the information is or how useful it will be in providing a service to the child. The process supplants the purpose; ends and means are unhelpfully reversed.

And the idea that the assessments exercises be undertaken repeatedly every time there is some change in circumstances borders on the absurd. A file full of 62-page forms, each one subtly different, is mind boggling.  On the contrary, keeping track of at risk children is best done using what we used to call a 'running record' or what is sometimes referred to as a 'chronicling system'. We can make sense of changing circumstances through a narrative, but our brains are not wired to keep track of changes in discrete information captured in boxes in forms.

Nearly a year after Munro reported – stressing the need to get away from mindless bureaucracy – and we still seem to have Ofsted urging local authorities to tick all the boxes and keep all the paper work up-to-date, without any thought about what doing so is likely to do to the quality of service.

How much time will social workers have left to build relationships with children and their families, and how much time will they have left to carefully consider momentous decisions, if they are repeatedly filling out core assessment forms? Very little I’d say.

It would be funny if it weren’t so sad.

Monday, 23 April 2012

Wooden Thinking and Bad Policy

Once again we are being told that the law in England is failing to protect children suffering neglect and emotional abuse.  We are told that the law needs updating.

We have heard this kind of stuff before – from the NSPCC’s Philip Noyes at the Education Select Committee who argued, I thought implausibly, that the law’s definition of neglect is a big problem.

Now we are hearing it from Dame Clare Tickell at Action forChildren. And the Labour Party have joined in with calls for more law, with Shadow Children’s Minister, Catherine McKinnell MP jumping on the bandwagon.

Oh dear! Oh dear!! Oh dear!!!

They are, of course, all talking about the criminal law, because nobody could believe that the civil law – The Children Act 1989 – is particularly weak in this area. To be precise they are talking about Section 1 (2) a of the Children and Young Person’s Act 1933 which makes it a criminal offence to fail “… to provide adequate food, clothing, medical aid or lodging for (a child)”.

Perhaps it’s because the 1933 act sounds a bit archaic, but I struggle to see why it needs changing. However, Dame Clare Tickell says:
“Neglect is the most common form of child abuse affecting children in the UK, yet we have an outdated law which does not reflect what we now understand children need and what neglect actually is.

“The law leaves children unprotected and parents without support and unclear about their responsibilities until it’s too late. We must ensure that these vulnerable children are protected from the serious harm which neglect, in all its forms, causes to their health and wellbeing.

“We know that intervening early to tackle emerging issues within families prevents neglect before it spirals out of control. Under the current law, parents are punished only after serious damage to children has been done. This is why the law is failing children and why it must urgently be updated.

“In April next year the law on neglect will be 80 years old – Action for Children does not want to see that anniversary come and go without government commitment that it will be changed so that more children are protected.”
That all sounds well and good, until you think about it; then it begins to unravel. Firstly the same section of the same act of parliament also makes it a criminal offence to physically assault a child. But nobody seems to be saying that’s out of date. Then Dame Clare says that “(t)he law leaves children unprotected and parents without support and unclear about their responsibilities until it’s too late”. But it does no such thing. Local authorities have responsibilities under the Children Act 1989 to provide services to children in need and to act to protect children where there is a likelihood of significant harm. That they may not always do it very well has nothing to do with the 1933 Act – it has to do with poor policies and lack of resources.

She goes on to say that there is a need for early intervention, something nobody would deny. But how on earth will changing the criminal law make a difference, unless we are going to make it a criminal offence to not be a very good parent? But perhaps that's what she has in mind because she also says: “Under the current law, parents are punished only after serious damage to children has been done.” Hopefully she is not calling for anybody to be punished before a crime is committed!!

Basically I think this initiative is just wooden thinking and bad policy. People aren’t good parents because they fear punishment if they are not. And criminalising people who are overwhelmed or inept at parenting is not the way to go forward. Engaging with people, gaining their trust and providing them with support and services which they can draw on to transform their lives is the way to create better parents – not the threat of jail if you fail to come up to scratch.

Let's not get sucked into the idea that changing the criminal law is likely to improve anything. It will be a big distraction, just like the Children Act 2004 was. And this 'reform' also risks criminalising people who are weak and needy while not doing anything to help neglected children.

Sunday, 22 April 2012

Learning lessons not scoring points

Inevitably journalist Christopher Booker writes at length in yesterday’s Daily Telegraph about the Baby Jayden case. 

Inevitably he uses this tragic case to bolster his general attack on the child protection system and the family courts with what seems to me reckless talk of “‘experts’ paid to get it horribly wrong” and of “judges who too readily accept it (experts' evidence)”.

But his blanket criticisms seem to offer no way forward. What would he have medics do when they are faced with what they believe to be a case of non-accidental injury? Go home and forget it?

There seems to be no question that all involved in this tragic case acted in good faith. Medics may have got a difficult diagnosis wrong, but no-one is party to a plot to rob caring families of their children. Those who believed the case was one of non-accidental injury were genuine in their belief, even if they were in error.

As I tried to argue in a previous post, cases like those of Baby Jayden are particularly risky because everything turns on one piece of crucial medical evidence. If it is true then urgent action is required to protect a child; if it is false then there is no reason for any concern. So on the rare occasion that the medics get it wrong, nothing stands in the way of injustice.

Rather than railing against the courts and the medical profession, critics such as Christopher Booker would do better to try to contribute ideas about how we could reduce the risks of getting it wrong.

We might begin by considering:

(1)   Whether such cases could be referred for second opinions at a very early stage; and if necessary for third fourth and fifth opinions before criminal charges are brought
(2)   Undertaking careful reviews of the diagnosis at an early stage
(3)   Treating parents who find themselves in such circumstances with greater respect and care
(4)   Devising better ways of maintaining high levels of supervised contact between parents and any surviving children while court cases are in progress
(5)   Being less concerned with issues of guilt and conviction and more concerned with achieving the right outcomes for children

Saturday, 21 April 2012

More on the case of Baby Jayden

Further to my last post, an article about Baby Jayden and his parents has now appeared in the Guardian:

And, also in the Guardian, Denise Turner writes movingly about her own experience of sudden child death and her research into the subject. 

Friday, 20 April 2012

Wrongly Accused

It is, of course, impossible to say exactly what went wrong in the sad case of the couple who were wrongly accused of killing their four-month-old son and as a result had another child taken into care at birth. All we know at this stage are the bare facts as given in the first press and radio reports of the case.

The couple has now been cleared of all criminal charges and their daughter has been restored to their care. We are told that their son was suffering from rickets that was not diagnosed at the time of his death. Rickets results in softening of the bones predisposing towards fractures that can occur spontaneously as a result of the normal handling of a small child, so producing symptoms similar to those of a shaken baby.

Cases like this one have also resulted in injustice in the past. The crucial issue appears to be that everything rests on the medical diagnosis. There is no history of poor care and there is no other reason to suspect that the parents would harm a child. Without the diagnosis there would be no concern at all; with it care proceedings and criminal charges appear to be the only option.

We need to learn much more about the risks in cases like this one. It would certainly be preferable to be aware of any conflicting medical opinions as early as possible, rather than having rival experts disputing their differing diagnoses in court many months, or even years, after the event. And it would certainly be best to spend more time getting the diagnosis right in the first place.

However, this type of case is not routinely put through the Serious Case Review process and there seems to be no repository of learning of how to reduce the risks of mistakenly proceeding against innocent parents. Perhaps some research would be a good idea?

Tuesday, 17 April 2012

Information for Child Protection

I just managed to get  my response to the consultation on the British Government’s “Draft of Children’s Safeguarding Performance Information to the the Department for Education in time. See my earlier post for my first reaction.

Below is an edited version of what I said.

It is naïve to think that a small central group, however well informed, can specify in advance “… the key information required by local areas to understand changes in concentrations of children's need and trends over time, inform service planning and development and inform service improvement”.  At best what can be achieved in this way is the creation of some core data by which national aggregations and comparisons can be created.

The collection and use of information in delivering any service is a dynamic process. Attempts to constrain it too much result in those who deliver the service having to do so while having the ‘wrong’ information – i.e. information that other people think they should have, not information which they need.

I believe that Government should mandate local authorities to base the provision of their Children’s Services on sound, relevant and reliable information. But I believe that Government should be extremely cautious about specifying what this should be.

Government itself needs to be realistic about what information collected through national statistics can show. Rather than proposing detailed specific suggested measures it would be much more helpful for Government to be clear and consistent about what types of information it seeks to hold.

For example the “Draft of Children’s Safeguarding Performance Information for Consultation” document is inappropriately named. In the first place there is no attempt to make clear whose ‘performance’ is being measured. Secondly, many of the proposed measures are not measures of ‘performance’ but rather descriptors of states of the environment and indicators of demand for services. It is really a crass and potentially damaging mistake to be unclear or ambiguous about whether performance is or is not measured by a particular statistic. The careless use of ‘performance’ in the titling of the consultation document suggests to me that thinking by the Department about this issue remains rudimentary, if not crude.

I suggest that in general, both at local and national level, decision-makers and service deliverers will be served by information of the following types:

1.    Information about the environment in which the service operates, such as general demographics, trends in population growth, statistics concerning economic trends and social well-being etc.
2.    Specific information about the demand for services as they are presently configured – e.g. number of referrals, number of assessments, number of Section 47 enquiries, number of child protection conferences, number of children made subject to child protection plan, number of care proceedings initiated, number of children taken into care, number placed for adoption etc. etc.
3.    Views of service users (especially children and young people), service providers (especially those who work at the front-end) and other key stakeholders about how the service needs to respond and develop in order to better meet the needs of children and young people.
4.    Information about how services are meeting the five performance objectives (Slack, N. et al, “Operations and Process Management”, 2nd ed, Harlow: Prentice Hall, 2006, page 40). These are quality, speed, dependability, flexibility and cost.
5.    Information about the single most important input into the system – i.e. information about the people who provide the service.

Many of the measures proposed in the consultation document have an arbitrary character and suggest the question, ‘if this, then why not that as well’.  It is hard not to suspect that some measures have been included simply because they are already collected and, conversely, that some equally interesting (or disinteresting) measures have been excluded simply because the data is NOT currently collected.

A lot more interesting information is required in order to achieve a proper understanding of the environment in which a child protection service operates. For example, at local level quite rapid changes can occur as a result of depopulation, migration or changed economic conditions. Service planning needs, so far as is possible, to take these into account. Birth rates, the opening of new businesses attracting young families, an influx of migrants or movements of children and young people from inner cities to suburbs are examples of the kind of information that needs to be factored into any consideration of the extent and nature of the services to be provided.

An important element of such environmental information is the kind of information that is provided in the NSPCC’s prevalence studies (Cawson et al. 2000, Radford et al, 2011). Both nationally and locally there needs to be more frequent and more sophisticated attempts to understand both the prevalence and incidence of child abuse and neglect. No commercial service (e.g. an airline) would try to operate without having at least a rough idea of the size of demand for particular services, but that is what we seem to expect local authority practitioners and managers to do as a matter of course in providing child protection services. How much child abuse is there in London or Birmingham or Leeds or Manchester or Bristol? Presently the answer is that nobody knows. I found little in the draft that would cast much light on these most important considerations.

Specific information about the demand for current services is more adequately addressed in the draft, but even here there are some inexplicable omissions in what is proposed. I frequently despair of the inaccessibility of basic statistical information about the demand for current child protection services in a form that is readily accessible to all and which can be replicated at both national and local level. The number of children referred (and the rate), the number assessed, the number of section 47 enquiries undertaken, the number of emergency protection orders or police place of safeties, the number of child protection conferences, the number of children made subject to a plan and the number made subject to care proceedings (and the corresponding percentages) seem like items of very basic information which I would expect everyone to know at local and national level. That way a practitioner or a manager in one location can immediately tell an enquirer that a higher rate of referral exists in this locality (than nationally), but that a smaller proportion of cases result in an assessment or section 47 enquiry or that the proportion of all cases resulting in care is smaller than the national average etc. etc.

There is very little in the consultation document about the views of service users, especially children and young people, and what there is appears to be envisioned at the local level. Collecting this type of information is relatively expensive and it might, in the first instance, be better collected nationally than to engage in under resourced local initiatives. It ought to be possible to fund a national programme of data collection perhaps under the overall direction of the Children’s Commissioner using a grant from central government.

There is some information in the draft relating to the five operations objectives, but this is confined largely to quality and speed. Little relates to dependability, flexibility and cost.

In my view a major component of child protection quality concerns the issue of re-abuse. There is an urgent need to develop valid and reliable measures of the number of children who, having received some part (or all) of a child protection service, suffer re-abuse. Such a measure would also be a good indicator of the amount of ‘re-work’ that is in the system – i.e. cases which are recycling because wrong decisions were taken on a first attempt at providing a service. A significant difficulty with providing such a measure is in achieving an objective assessment of whether re-abuse has occurred. However, it should not be impossible to develop an adequate measure.

Another important dimension of service quality is the user perspective. How responsive, helpful, respectful, listening, caring and sagacious are those who deliver the service? How do children and young people perceive the services they are offered? To what extent do they see the services as meeting their needs in ways that they want? How satisfied are they with what they receive? How would they improve the service? There are obviously very great difficulties in collecting this type of information from very young children, but there are certainly ways in which these problems can be addressed. Having a sample of cases involving babies and toddlers being observed by researchers expert in child psychology is one way in which relevant information can be generated.

Capturing this aspect of service quality might also fall within the remit of the Children’s Commissioner as outlined above. National data collection may need to precede local initiatives because of issues of complexity of the research design and expense of data collection.

A final aspect of quality concerns recording of information. The focus here needs to be on the accuracy, not simply on the completeness, of records. The retrievability and accessibility of information are also important.

The issue of speed has bedevilled previous attempts to develop satisfactory safeguarding performance indicators. Speed is often relatively easy to measure as the difference between two dates.  But what is frequently forgotten is that it is bottlenecks in a service process that limit the output from the whole process and that if any part of a process exceeds the rate of activity permitted by the bottleneck, then work is being produced that cannot be used in time, thus squandering scarce resources.

So the decision about which parts of the system’s speed to measure must be taken very carefully. There must be good intrinsic reasons for specifying a particular speed target. For example it is reasonable to try to measure the speed at which a fire engine reaches the seen of a fire, because there is a crucial safety consideration involved here – the sooner the fire brigade are on-scene the sooner help can be delivered. But it is not reasonable to focus on the time interval between leaving the fire station and first delivering water at the incident scene, because in some cases there will be very good reasons why water should not be deployed too quickly if at all (e.g. some types of electrical fires). Likewise with child protection, it is important to respond to the referral quickly, but this does not always mean rushing an assessment or Section 47 enquiry, especially if to do so would lower the quality of the assessment. I think that the new measures proposed by Professor Munro, which focus on the distribution of the time taken for parts of the work, are particularly helpful – because they do not lend themselves to being converted into meaningless targets.

However it is usually the case that when an issue of a child’s safety is raised, those responsible for delivering a safeguarding service should respond quickly and someone should see the child quickly to determine to what extent any emergency protection is required. I would therefore want to include a ‘first response’ statistic, based on a distribution and not a target.

It is also reasonable to measure the speed of the whole process and to derive a distribution.

There is a range of possible statistics about dependability some of which are mentioned in the draft. The extent to which service users are kept informed, the keeping of promised dates or actions, the extent to which aspects of the service design are invariably provided – e.g. seeing the child: these are all important aspects of dependability.

Flexibility, however, is not well addressed. Crucial is the extent to which the service can cope with changes in circumstances, such as increased demand or labour shortages. How often are events (such as Child Protection Conferences) cancelled or delayed? How are unusual circumstances (e.g. a large influx of cases resulting from the activities of a serial abuser) coped with? How quickly can a service be recovered when things go wrong?

Then there is the issue of cost. It is very surprising that no mention of cost is made in the draft, especially since a very large body of information resides in the accounts of local authorities, which is easily accessible. Unit costs are often difficult to produce, and should not be attempted in an amateurish way, but costs of providing the whole service, or parts of it, at both local and national level should be readily available.

A local authority with a high cost, low demand, low service volume and low quality would certainly be one to require further investigation.

Monday, 16 April 2012

Increase in child protection in the UK, 2006-2011

As a prelude to the BASPCAN Congress 2012, to be held at Queen's University, Belfast between 16th and 18th April, we are reminded of the number of children whose names have been placed on Child Protection Registers in the four UK countries (in England the nomenclature is “Placed on a Child Protection Plan”).

Trends in all four countries since 2006 have been markedly up, with England showing the greatest growth, a whopping 60% percent increase. Northern Ireland experienced a 46% growth and Wales a 33% rise. The smallest increase was in Scotland, 19%.

Once again the message is clear. The child protection system continues to absorb unprecedented growth in demand without any clear policy about how resources can expand to match it. A recipe for disaster is in the making unless policy-makers hear the message and react quickly.

Here are the figures in detail:

2006 (number of children)
England 26400
Wales 2165
Scotland 2157
Northern Ireland 1639

2011 (number of children)
England 42330
Wales 2880
Scotland 2571
Northern Ireland 2401

The case of the missing guidance?

Camilla Pemberton in the Community Care Children's Services Blog on 5th April makes a very good point about the draft of the Working Together guidance on child protection in England: where is it?

She writes:
"So where is the consultation? It was due any day now, ahead of the final guidance in July, but it's nowhere to be seen. It may have got lost fighting its way out of the Department for Education, a fate that's befallen a few consultations in the past."

That's a very good question, Camilla. Perhaps somebody in the Department for Education could give us an answer!

Thursday, 12 April 2012

Care system under increased pressure

In the wake of the announcement that more than ten thousand children have been subject to care proceedings in England in the year ending 31st March 2012, an all time record, the Fostering Network once again reminds us of the serious shortfall in the numbers of foster parents. More than 7,000 are urgently required.

The Fostering Network has been saying the same thing for a long time, but nobody seems to be listening. It should be obvious to politicians and civil servants that the care system cannot go on absorbing increased numbers of children without a significant increase in resources.

This issue ought to be a number one priority for ministers. But they seem oddly silent. To stand by and watch the care system buckle under the pressure would be a dreadful betrayal of children.

Wednesday, 11 April 2012

UKBA’s Plan to X-ray asylum seeking children

No sooner had I heard about UKBA’s deplorable plans than I read about an increased risk of brain tumours as a result of ‘bite-wing’ X-rays.

Thursday, 5 April 2012

Let’s knock down our own Berlin Wall

I always enjoy reading articles written by Professor Nigel Parton. He has a great way of putting complex events into context and providing a clearer understanding. And he always makes me think.

So I can heartily recommend you read his latest article on the Munro Review in Children & Society Volume 26, (2012) pp. 150–162.

Parton sets himself the task of identifying some of the possible ‘gaps and challenges’ which militate against the successful implementation of Munro’s recommendations.  And he argues that the success of the Review will depend on “… cultural, political and economic factors well beyond its influence”.

I was particularly struck by one remark in his concluding section. He writes:

“Nor should we underestimate the size of the challenges, for the overly proceduralised, bureaucratic and defensive policies and practices which the Review aims to overcome have been established over a 30-year period and are thoroughly institutionalised in professional and organisational cultures.”

There is no doubt that this statement is true at one level. Ever since the Maria Colwell tragedy in the 1970s the trend in policy has been one way: more risk averse, more proceduralised, more controlled.

But I am not sure that the future always has to resemble the past. The very fact that those ‘overly proceduralised, bureaucratic and defensive policies and practices’ have dominated in Britain for so long, and recently have failed to prevent the deaths of Victoria Climbié, Peter Connelly and Khyra Ishaq, shows their weaknesses, not their strengths.

In 1980 the end of Communism in Eastern Europe seemed impossible. In 1990 it was all over bar the shouting. The lessons of history are that bad ideas can hold sway for only so long. Eventually, if enough people want to end a regime or reject an ideology, they will. And once the faith that a new order can be established becomes generalised, things happen with breathtaking speed.

So let’s start to kick down our own Berlin Wall. The idea that bureaucrats know best in child protection has certainly been cast in concrete - but it has had its day. Rather than ‘underestimating the size of the challenges’ lets avoid underestimating the extent of the opportunities.

If the Munro Review does no more than legitimate a different kind of thinking and trigger a series of challenges to the established order, it will have done its work. If enough of us embrace the opportunity for change, and have sufficient faith that it can be achieved, it will come about.

Monday, 2 April 2012

Useful research by Ofsted on adoption

I was pleased to hear that Ofsted has been conducting some research into the issue of delays in adoption and is reported by the BBC to have found that the most significant cause of delay in the adoption process in England is the time taken by the court proceedings.

If this is correct then simply pressurising local authorities to speed up adoptions is unlikely to have much effect. On the BBC Radio 4 Today programme this morning, John Goldup of Ofsted said that court delays were often associated with new members of the child’s birth family joining the proceedings and with the court ordering independent reports, often at the request of members of the birth family. These are complex issues with speed being delicately balanced against justice. More research may be required to come up with proposals about how to speed up the court stages of the process.

Ofsted described processes for matching children with adoptive parents as "generally robust". Little evidence was found of delays caused by social workers searching for a perfect ethnic match.

The Government needs to take this research very seriously. The time for drum-banging on the subject of the speed of adoption is now over and the time for careful research and analysis has arrived.