Monday, 23 February 2015

Labour’s big idea??

While the Tories have spent most of the last year messing about with their woeful outsourcing agenda – and doing very little else – it is now the turn of Labour to come up with a ‘big idea’ on child protection.

There is a lot that I don’t like in the reports of Yvette Cooper’s speech.

Firstly the emphasis is on co-operation between The Home Office and the Department for Education. Although “health” gets a mention, there appears to be no clear role for the Department of Health. That is lamentable because there is so much about child abuse and neglect that is health related that I cannot see how any important initiative can move forward without health being at its centre. Sadly Labour still seems to be ploughing on in the same furrow as the last Labour government’s Every Child Matters approach, which not only took responsibility for child protection away from the Department for Health but also somehow succeeded in marginalising many health professionals.

Secondly Labour’s initiative appears to be very much criminal justice led, announced by the Shadow Home Secretary herself and bristling with tough talk. Cooper is reported as saying that the priorities would be “… prevention of abuse, tougher sentences for offenders and quicker pursuit of those suspected of committing crimes.”

Thirdly it seems clear that what Labour is proposing is a central government ‘unit’, packed I expect with civil servants – and probably a few spin doctors - most of whom will never had any contact with an abused or neglected child. That’s a recipe for irrelevant and unrealistic twaddle, not sensible policies.

Fourthly the initiative is clearly top down: a little unit in Whitehall “driving” the changes. Again that’s a recipe for unworkable proposals, because it ignores all the practice wisdom and knowledge that there is out there. We need a bit of bottom-up for a change.

Fifthly I don’t like the emphasis on revolutionising child protection. Just what is it that Yvette Cooper and her colleagues know that the rest of us don’t? I expect that in the final analysis it will reduce to media friendly sound bites. I would have liked to hear much more about improvement, not revolution. Why British politicians of all parties seem incapable of realising that what child protection needs is steady and sustained improvement, not discontinuous and disruptive revolution, is beyond me. Perhaps there are no votes in it?

Lastly there was nothing in the reports of the speech about listening to the views of children and young people, of trying to understand their needs and wishes and of trying to design services that meet their needs. Not a priority I expect.

Friday, 20 February 2015

Privatised Child Protection - becoming a reality in Northamptonshire?

Northamptonshire County Council has announced that it is implementing plans to outsource all its services, including child protection services.

The organisation which will operate children's services for the council is described as a 'mutual', but it is clear that the council envisages that it will have a great deal of commercial freedom, including the ability to tender for contracts with other authorities.

Cabinet member for finance Cllr Bill Parker is quoted as saying: 

“As well as these larger organisations the message is clear that other services would also be able to form new enterprises either as private businesses, social enterprises, charities or as part of the voluntary sector. They would all be free to win other contracts to generate additional income to help reduce their costs to the council."

Looks like privatisation is here, like it or not. How much thought has been given to the consequences of these changes, I wonder?

Thursday, 19 February 2015

Mandatory Reporting of child protection concerns in Pennsylvania

Those who maintain that mandatory reporting does not result in increases in referrals should take note of what is currently happening in Pennsylvania. 

It is said that there are nearly 80% increases of reports of child maltreatment following the introduction of a new mandatory reporting law. It is also said that although reports have increased greatly, the number of substantiated cases has remained the same.

The new law is said to have resulted in heavy increases in the workloads of child protection workers.So what is happening is more work is being done for the same result.

Campaigners for mandatory reporting in England should pause for thought.

Tuesday, 17 February 2015

Child Sexual Exploitation – listening to children and young people

In the wake of Rotherham, there is a great deal to think about in the new report on Child Sexual Exploitation from the Office of the Children’s Commissioner for England.

It seems to me that the core of the problem is probably captured in a single sentence:

“Children’s voices are still not heard as part of the process. Investigation findings often provide an adult perspective and not that of the child.” (Page 24)

I also liked very much the emphasis on involving children and young people in the design of services. The report says:

“In too many areas, children are not being involved in the design and development of local measures to protect them from CSE. This is contrary to Article 12 of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC), which states that children have a right to express their views on matters which affect them. Of those LSCBs with a CSE strategy, only 31% have involved children and young people in its design, and the participation of children has been described (as) ‘tokenistic’ by voluntary sector agencies.” (Page 7)

Of course that is something that could be said, and should apply, more widely. I believe that in order to provide high quality child protection services of all kinds it is necessary to involve children and young people, especially those who have experienced the services, in improving the design.

Services will never meet children’s needs if they are provided from an adult perspective. We all understand that a hotel that does not listen to feedback from its guests is likely to have a lot of vacancies. So why do we seem to find it so hard to accept that we will never appropriately safeguard children and promote their welfare unless we listen to them?

Sunday, 15 February 2015

Labour and Mandatory Reporting

Two articles in the weekend’s papers should make us sit up and take notice.

The Independent reports on the Labour Party’s declared intention to undertake a “radical overhaul” of child protection if it wins the next election.

Sadly it just makes me despair to hear the Shadow Home Secretary, Yvette Cooper, trotting out ill-thought-out arguments in favour of mandatory reporting. It sounds all well and good to say that children have been failed, but will the threat of criminal sanction against professionals who fail to report abuse make any difference?

I think the answer lies in The Guardian’s article about why staff at Stoke Mandeville Hospital did not report abuse conducted by Jimmy Savile.

It is said that there was a bullying regime at Stoke Mandeville Hospital. As a result junior staff were too scared to report Savile’s abuse.

That is the key. It’s not a matter of putting the frighteners on junior employees – as it seems Yvette Cooper is planning to do – but rather a question of how all members of staff can be protected, supported and encouraged to report abuse. A positive approach of making it easy to report is what is required; not criminal sanctions if people get it wrong or are pressurised by senior managers into staying silent.

Approved Child and Family Practitioner status – completely the wrong approach

The Government’s approach to approved status for children and family social workers in England is outlined in an article in Community Care.

I have to say that I can think of little worse. A bureaucratic pass/fail test devised by central government is likely to be of little or no value and may well result in valuable individuals, unlucky enough to fail, leaving the profession.

This type of approved status should not be regulated by government departments, but by professional bodies. That’s how it works with the royal colleges in medicine. And the aim should be to raise practice standards and support individuals in achieving them.

Wednesday, 11 February 2015

Change the Culture

The parliamentary health services ombudsman, Julie Mellor, was on the radio last week talking about problems with making complaints in the NHS.

Today it was the turn of Robert Francis to make some very important comments about openness and whistle blowing in the NHS.

The abiding message is that without a willingness to talk openly and honestly about the things that go wrong, and a culture in which those who raise concerns are supported and respected, safety will always be compromised. 

You only need to read Ray Jones excellent book, The Story of Baby P, to appreciate the full extent of the oppressive culture of blame and scapegoating which so often persists in the world of child protection in the UK.

Legislators and policy makers should be looking at ways of creating open reporting cultures as the top priority. Without that sort of change there will be no improvement.  

Thursday, 5 February 2015

Ofsted and Rotherham

It is very difficult to square Louise Casey's findings with Ofsted's repeated failures in its inspections of Rotherham to spot the widespread sexual exploitation of young people in the town. Rotherham's council is described in Casey's report as 'not fit for purpose'. Ofsted described it as adequate.

In January Ofsted admitted that it's inspections had not been good enough.

I think this is all part of a fundamental problem with the inspection of child protection services. An organisation like Ofsted seems to me to be ill suited to the task. In my view 'inspection' of child protection should be more investigative and research based. It needs to bring expertise and knowledge to the organisations inspected, not just a superficial examination of whether rules are being followed. And, of course, it needs to be focused on improvements in both the quality and safety of the service.

I think it is time to move on. The government needs to organise a root and branch review of the arrangements for inspection which I think would result in taking the responsibility for inspecting child protection away from Ofsted.