Friday, 15 February 2013

News from the city of angels

I was in Los Angeles this week and found the city to be more welcoming than I remembered it – perhaps it was the pleasant ‘winter’ sunshine and the 20 degrees Celsius temperatures!

But a sad report in the Los Angeles Times caught my eye -,0,109306.story .

It seems that the LA County Department of Children and Family Services – which provides child protection services in the city - is the subject of what is described as an ‘excoriating’ report which denounces the department for a ‘… stifling bureaucracy and inept workforce…’. It is said that this is linked to at least thirteen child deaths.

In particular two factors in the report caught my eye. Apparently in LA the practice has grown-up of putting the least experienced members of staff in crucial child and family facing front-line posts, where they are out of their depth.

The second is that it seems a policy of wherever possible avoiding removing children from their homes has resulted in staff being motivated to avoid what they call ‘detention’ even when children were at substantial risk of injury and death in their parents’ care. The corporate goal of low detention appears to have blinded staff members to the more important goal of safe children.

There’s a lot in this report of relevance to Britain. There is still too much reliance here on newly qualified and agency staff working under pressure in the front line. And, despite the lessons of Munro, the culture of performance indicators and targets still lurks within many local authorities.