Tuesday, 20 January 2015

Joint inspections of child protection arrangements - are they beyond Ofsted?

The Local Government Association is right to complain that Ofsted seems to be dragging its feet in moving towards joint inspections of child protection arrangements in England.


It is hard to see how inspections of a multi-agency response to child protection - with children's services, the police, health, education and other agencies working together to protect and safeguarding children - can work if Ofsted cannot break away from the single agency (children's services) model.

But the truth is that Ofsted's history is one of conducting institutional inspections - of schools, pre-schools, child minders etc. etc. It is very doubtful that it has the expertise and flexibility to engage effectively in more widely focused work, which has to involve much more than simultaneous inspections of different services in the same area by the respective inspectorates.

I think that we should all be calling for a complete re-think on the inspection of child protection arrangements. The first step in my view would be to relieve Ofsted of its responsibilities, while at the same time creating an inspectorate which is based around child protection expertise - instead of experience of the education sector - and which embodies management and safety knowledge and which draws on expertise from across all the agencies involved in child protection, especially children's services, health, education and the police. 

We need an agency which can make a tangible contribution to improving quality and safety. What we don't need are formulaic inspections which focus on processes and silly tick-box exercises, which are so typical of Ofsted's approach.

Tuesday, 13 January 2015

Privatisation – steaming ahead?

Ray Jones argues in the Guardian that the privatisation of child protection in England is proceeding a pace, ‘under the radar’ and without any effective opposition.

He provides some very sound arguments against privatisation, not the least of which is that some of the private companies which appear to be showing interest in tendering appear to know very little about children or about how to protect them.

Ray does not mention one of my main concerns. That is that outsourcing contracts are notoriously difficult to draw-up and enforce, even for relatively simple services. It seems to me that local authorities might have very little control of the nature or quality of complex child protection services under an outsourcing contract, which is likely to be peppered with exception clauses, inserted by the private company’s highly paid lawyers.

He does, however, make the excellent point that the effect of outsourcing contracts in other areas of activity has often been to fix the service in time, with the consequence that innovation is stifled.

The reluctance of opposition politicians and many parts of the children’s services establishment to challenge the movement towards privatisation is very worrying. Privatisation of child protection is a ghost policy. It is like a ghostly ship emerging from a fog. Nobody is sure where it came from and nobody is sure where it is going. Nobody is sure who is standing on the bridge or pacing the decks. Nobody knows its course or how to influence it.

It is the worst kind of covert policy; not assessed, not discussed, not tested, not coherent, not likely to be effective, not wanted. It is a sad distraction from the real issues.

Wednesday, 7 January 2015

Apply the ‘airline pilot test’

Would you get on an aeroplane if you knew that the pilots were chronically fatigued, were experiencing acute levels of stress and were having sleepless nights?

That what I call the ‘airline pilot test’. You wouldn’t get on an aeroplane with pilots like that because you know that there would be a good chance of them making a fatal mistake, with YOU on board.

Should social workers responsible for protecting children from abuse and neglect be chronically fatigued, experience acute levels of stress and have sleepless nights? Apply the airline pilot test. The answer is NO – somebody might die. Not you or your family or another fare paying passenger – but a helpless child.

Yet it seems local authorities in Britain are constantly failing the airline pilot test. A shocking survey in Community Care reveals that 80% of the social workers responding believed high stress levels were affecting their ability to do their jobs. And we are told that the survey revealed that heavy and complex caseloads, fear of things going wrong and bullying by colleagues and managers are the most common reasons for social worker stress.

Put those findings in the context of relentless increases in the volumes of work over recent years and you have a good understanding of the pressure cooker that is children’s social work in Britain.

You would not tolerate it of an airline. Why tolerate it of a local authority?

Monday, 5 January 2015

Mandatory Reporting in Wales

It seems that the Welsh government has passed legislation that will have the effect of placing an obligation on professionals to report any child believed to be at risk of abuse or neglect.

An important difference exists between this provision and some of the laws suggested by campaign groups for England. In Wales there does not appear to be any form of criminal offence associated with failing in the duty to report. 

In contrast the so-called “Walmsley amendment” (to the Serious Crime Bill) which was withdrawn in the House of Lords when the Government promised to look into the question of mandatory reporting in England, is a much more Draconian proposal than the Welsh law. It includes a possible three year prison sentence for failing to report.

My objection to mandatory reporting is that it has the potential to introduce yet more fear and blame into child protection work. That is likely to result in the opposite of the intended consequences. After a tragedy, rather than admitting to a wrong decision or mistaken perception, the possibility of years in jail is likely to make some people remain very tight-lipped indeed. So what went wrong will never be known and children will be less, not more, safe.

Thursday, 1 January 2015

Four, not three

No sooner had I made my last post than it began to look like the face of an old friend who has just lost a tooth – familiar but somehow odd. At risk of resembling Monty Python’s Spanish Inquisitors - who keep remembering yet another ‘chief weapon’ at their disposal – I have to confess that I do not have three wishes for the new year, but four.

My fourth wish is:

4) Create a culture in which everybody is expected and empowered to learn and improve. Encourage and sustain small, frequent changes, based on the knowledge and experience of those who do the job and those who receive the service. Dispel the illusion that top-down changes promoted by ‘expert’ groups and powerful leaders are effective ways of improving quality and safety. Instead drive change bottom-up by respecting the suggestions and ideas of those at the front line, and those receiving the service, and by respecting and rewarding those who suggest ways to improve.