Saturday, 12 October 2013

The wrong approach?

In the wake of the Daniel Pelka tragedy Coventry Council has announced that it is to appoint a retired high court judge to advise it on child protection.

I do not know the judge in question, but clearly what went wrong in Daniel’s case was not of a legal nature. It was much more about how to spot children who are in difficulty as a result of abuse and neglect at the earliest possible opportunity. That seems to me to imply that the kind of help most required is either of a technical working-with-and-listening-to-children type or of a more general organisational safety type.

So I am not sure how the judge is going to help.

It is also reported that Coventry councillors have decided to ask a House of Commons select committee to look at safeguarding children issues. I don’t think that that is the right approach. It is not so long since the Education Select Committee looked at child protection and seemed to wander all over the place, including a lengthy un-productive discussion about the definition of neglect.

I don’t think that child protection will ever improve if it is left to councillors and judges and MPs to come up with ‘bright ideas’ about how to reform systems.

Responsibility for improvement has to be located at the ‘coalface’ with those who do the work and who understand how business and professional processes operate. Such people also need to understand how active errors occur during the course of practice and how latent conditions contribute to failures in systems. So there is scope for input from people who understand organisational safety in other industries to become involved.

We need to create the conditions for improvement, not create the opportunity for yet another poorly focused public debate. The role of Government, both central and local, is not to get involved in the detail of service provision. It is to set the broad objectives, to resource services adequately and to hold those delivering services to account – not for being right all the time, but for ensuring continuous improvement in quality and safety.