Press release

Independent review into child protection says: Free professionals from central government control to let them do their jobs properly

A wide-ranging review in to frontline child protection practice has been published.

This was published under the 2010 to 2015 Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition government

Local areas should have more freedom to develop their own effective child protection services, rather than focusing on meeting central government targets, an independent review into child protection recommends today.

Professor Eileen Munro, who has conducted a wide ranging review into frontline child protection practice, concludes that a one-size-fits-all approach to child protection is preventing local areas from focusing on the child.

Professor Munro says that the government and local authorities should operate in an open culture, continually learn from what has happened in the past, trust professionals and give them the best possible training.

Her recommendations signal a radical shift from previous reforms that, while well-intentioned resulted in a tick-box culture and a loss of focus on the needs of the child. Currently local areas are judged on how well they have carried out certain processes and procedures rather than what the end result has been for children themselves.

Professor Munro’s recommendations to reform the child protection system are:

  • The government should remove the specific statutory requirement on local authorities for completing assessments within often artificial set timescales, so that professionals can give equal weight to helping children, young people, and families, as well as assessing their problems.
  • Local services that work with children and families should be freed from unhelpful government targets, national IT systems and nationally prescribed ways of working. They should be free to re-design services that are informed by research and feedback from children and families, and that pay more attention to the impact on children’s safety and welfare.
  • A change of approach to serious case reviews (SCRs), learning from the approach taken in sectors such as aviation and healthcare. There should be a stronger focus on understanding the underlying issues that made professionals behave the way they did and what prevented them from being able properly to help and protect children. The current system is too focused on what happened, not why.
  • The introduction of a duty on all local services to coordinate an early offer of help to families who do not meet the criteria for social care services, to address problems before they escalate to child protection issues.
  • Ofsted inspections of children’s services should add more weight to feedback from children and families, directly observe social workers’ interaction with children and families, as they do when inspecting schools, and pay more attention to whether children have benefited from the help given.
  • Experienced social workers should be kept on the frontline even when they become managers so that their experience and skills are not lost. The expertise and status of the social work profession should be improved with continual professional development that focuses on the skills that are needed in child protection.
  • Each local authority should designate a principal child and family social worker to report the views and experiences of the front line to all levels of management. At national level, a Chief Social Worker would be established to advise the government on social work practice.

Professor Eileen Munro said:

A one-size-fits-all approach is not the right way for child protection services to operate. Top down government targets and too many forms and procedures are preventing professionals from being able to give children the help they need and assess whether that help has made a difference.

That is why I am recommending that unhelpful targets for completing assessments within a set timescale are removed. Professionals should instead concentrate on making good quality assessments that really focus on delivering the right help for the child, and checking whether that help has improved the child’s life.

To give local areas more freedom, we need to be sure that inspection systems are fit for purpose. That is why I have been working with Ofsted to look at how the criteria they use can be better focused on the experiences of children, young people and their families.

Whilst reducing prescription is a key theme of my recommendations, it is important to keep rules that help local services work together better. Professionals in social services, health, education and the police need to know what to expect of each other. I have therefore recommended a new duty on local services to coordinate early help for families because this is vital if we are to prevent less severe problems escalating to neglect or abuse.

We’re not going to solve the current problems overnight. Child protection is one of the most complex and crucial areas for public services. The responsibility doesn’t just fall to social workers, but is shared by other services that are there to help children. I have deliberately kept my recommendations as modest as possible to allow professionals and local areas to innovate. I want to avoid the mistake of placing extra restrictions on the workforce as has happened unintentionally in the past.

Children’s Minister Tim Loughton said:

This is the first review of child protection that hasn’t been initiated in the wake of a child death or serious case. This has allowed for a wide-ranging and in-depth review with some radically different proposals for reform. It is clear that Professor Munro has taken a long hard look at what is preventing child protection services from working as well as they should in this country and I welcome her thorough analysis of the problems.

It is now up to the government and the children’s sector to work together to look at the recommendations in detail and assess the implications of their implementation in practice for the long term, not as a short term fix. To do this the government will be working closely with a group of professionals from across the children’s sector and we will respond to Professor Munro’s recommendations later this year.

Marion Davis, Past President of the Association of Directors of Children’s Services, and member of the Munro reference group said:

Professor Munro’s review is robust and comprehensive and, by looking across the whole system and all agencies involved in child protection, seeks to make the whole system more coherent. It is important that this systematic approach continues in the implementation of all the review’s recommendations across local and national government.

This review gives all social work employers a strong steer on what steps need to be taken to support an excellent child protection system and it will be strongly welcomed. It throws down the challenge to local leaders and partner agencies to come together to develop better services that deliver what children and families need locally and to support staff in doing the best that they can for vulnerable children. Such systematic change will take time and resource to build and sustain, but will lead to a stronger and more confident profession that works more closely with children and families to give them the support that they need.

We are confident that local authorities will embrace this programme but it will also require strong leadership from central government to see through the national recommendations.

Corinne May-Chahal, Interim Chair of The College of Social Work, said:

Professor Munro’s findings are an excellent opportunity to put child protection social work on a proper professional footing and enable every social worker to perform to the high standards that the public rightly expects.

This is vital if the public image of social work is to improve and the College will be keen to ensure that, where relevant, the lessons from Munro are applied to social work with adults too.

The College will work closely with social workers and their employers to ensure that the profession can rise to the important challenges set out in Professor Munro’s final report.

Professor Munro has recommended that Local Safeguarding Children Boards (LSCBs) should be required to use a ‘systems approach’ for serious case reviews (SCRs). This is similar to the approach taken by the health sector and aviation industry - other high risk areas of work with very complex systems, and where safety is an absolute priority. SCRs should consider what in the child protection system is causing professionals to make errors.

Professor Munro has therefore suggested that an individual trained in ‘systems approach’ should be made available to LSCBs when conducting SCRs. She also recommends that the government takes responsibility for disseminating key lessons so they are learned across the country. This will help professionals learn the right lessons, improve practices, and move away from a focus on apportioning blame.

Professor Munro has concluded that individual recommendations are not taken forward in isolation, as she does not believe there is one single quick-fix solution and that change needs to happen across the system. For example, whilst she is recommending that the government appoints a chief social worker to advise on social work practice, this recommendation alone would not solve all the problems in the child protection system.

The Government has given the Children’s Workforce Development Council £79.9 million for social work funding between 2011-12. This money is to be spent on helping local areas address specific challenges including high vacancy rates, problems recruiting child protection social workers, and increasing referrals of children to social care services.

Professor Munro interview Listen to Professor Munro talking about the report, which concludes that a one-size-fits-all approach is not the right way for child protection services to operate.

Notes to editors

  1. The Munro Review of Child Protection is published on the Department for Education’s website.
  2. Today, the government has also published the executive summary of a major research programme on safeguarding children, which has informed Professor Munro’s review. Copies of the overview report will be made available in the autumn and will support implementation of Professor Munro’s findings.
  3. The Munro Review was informed by a call for evidence that ran throughout July last year. Over 450 individuals and organisations, including social workers, children, young people, families, local authorities, health professionals, the police and lawyers submitted more than 1,000 pieces of evidence.
  4. Professor Munro published two interim reports. The first report in October 2010 identified that there are no simple quick-fix solutions to improving the child protection system. Professor Munro found that previous reforms had been made in reaction to high-profile cases and had not delivered positive long-lasting improvements at the front line.
  5. In the second interim report, published in February this year, Professor Munro found that professionals were spending too much time and effort preparing for inspections, and meeting the bureaucratic requirements for Ofsted evaluations of SCRs. Professor Munro therefore recommended that Ofsted no longer evaluate SCRs, and that Ofsted should move from announced and unannounced inspections to unannounced inspections only.

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Published 10 May 2011