Wednesday, 20 February 2013

Munro - progress on implementation?

Community Care has an interesting story about progress implementing the Munro Review.

A number of social workers are quoted as saying that not much has changed. One in particular says that senior managers are still committed to timescales and quantitative measures of performance. Managers are reported not to trust social workers and to engage in constant monitoring of practice.

That’s all very depressing, but not surprising. Part of the trouble might be ascribed to the fact that the re-written ‘Working Together’ documents have not yet appeared, but my own assessment, based on reading the drafts, is that they will be of marginal value in taking Munro’s approach forward.

So what is going wrong? The answer lies in culture and a long-embedded tradition of being told what to do.

My quick take on Munro is that she argued that child protection social workers have to think for themselves. Children are not made safer by following a rule-book, but by people understanding what is happening in families and then taking sensible and justifiable decisions about what to do. Practice is not improved by writing more rules and more procedures in ever expanding manuals. It is improved by people gaining an accurate understanding of how to work more effectively and more safely and discovering why errors and failures occur. That way practitioners can learn how to improve and how to design safer organisations and more reliable systems.

So Munro has said, “Think for yourselves!” But what I suspect a lot of people are asking is:

“How shall we think for ourselves?” [1]

And, of course, that is precisely what Munro does not tell us!

The point is that it is very difficult to move from a compliance culture to a delegative culture. Leaders and managers are fearful of relaxing controls. Some members of staff may even be fearful of not being controlled. People feel they are at sea. They fear that things will be more likely to go wrong and that when they go wrong they are more likely to be blamed.

So how can we all move forward in a way that is safe and constructive? I believe the answer lies in learning and practicing skills that make practice safer. That’s why I am so convinced that in child protection we have to embrace the human factors  approach to safety. By daily taking steps to improve our practice of the human factors skills, and by monitoring our own performance through frequent de-briefings, we can create the conditions in which everyone will feel confident about rolling back the procedural manuals and tearing up the rule books.

[1] Any resemblance to Monty Python’s Life of Brian is purely coincidental.