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.