The Secretary of State for Education, Michael Gove, and Children and Families Minister Tim Loughton, today asked Professor Eileen Munro to conduct an independent review to improve child protection at the front line and to report back with final recommendations in April 2011.
In a letter to Professor Eileen Munro, ministers paid tribute to the dedication and hard work of frontline professionals but expressed concerns that the system of child protection in England is not working as well as it should.
Tim Loughton today has also written to all chairs of local safeguarding children boards, and directors of children’s services to confirm that the overview report and the executive summary of all new serious case reviews (SCRs) initiated from today should be published.
The presumption will be that both the overview report and the executive summary should be published - anonymised and without identifying details - unless there are compelling reasons relating to the welfare of any children directly concerned in the case for this not to happen. There is an important balance to be struck between transparency and openness and the protection and welfare of individuals.
In addition to this new requirement for SCRs initiated from today, the government has today confirmed its intention that the first SCR overview reports published will be those on the Peter Connelly case. The government is also committed to ensuring that the SCR overview reports on the recent high-profile cases in Edlington, Kirklees and Birmingham will also be published. In all these cases, identifying details will be removed.
Tim Loughton will also say that the Munro Review will be wide-ranging but its focus will be to look at how to remove barriers and bureaucracy from social work practice, which prevents social workers from having face-to-face time with children and families.
It is the government’s view that we need fundamental reform to frontline social work practice and to make sure that we liberate the skills and talent of professionals. The Government wants a strong profession so that social workers are in a better position to make well-informed judgements, based on relevant evidence, in the best interests of children, free from unnecessary bureaucracy and regulation.
We are keen to ensure that Professor Munro’s remit is broad and considers a wide range of issues. Three principles will underpin the government’s approach to reform child protection and aim to improve social work practice:
- early intervention
- trusting professionals and removing bureaucracy so they can spend more of their time on the frontline
- greater transparency and accountability
There are 2 areas of government policy which are assumed
Children and Families Minister, Tim Loughton, said:
- scrapping ContactPoint and considering its replacement with an alternative approach to support vulnerable children. The government has already committed to scrap ContactPoint as soon as practical and the scope for a signposting system focusing on genuinely vulnerable children will be considered in parallel to this review.
- publishing redacted and anonymised SCRs except where there are compelling reasons relating to the welfare of children not to do so. Professor Munro has also been asked to look at alternative ways of learning from experience that could be more effective.
Children and Families Minister, Tim Loughton, said:
Everything about child protection should start with the child at the centre and questions should then be asked, ‘what helps or hinders professionals from making the best judgements and interventions they can to protect a vulnerable child?’
A culture has taken hold in child protection which places too much emphasis on bureaucratic box ticking above close personal attention to the circumstances of individual children.
This was evident in the case of Peter Connelly and the serious case review into his death, amongst others, tells us precisely what went wrong. This is why we have committed to publishing serious case reviews. I recognise that the publication of serious case reviews is a sensitive and complex matter. An important part of publishing SCRs is not to delve into personal details but to learn from shared failings of these cases from across the country.
In order for lessons to be learned professionals need access to information which helps them fully understand in each case, what went wrong. In order for such tragedies to be avoided in the future a greater level of transparency is needed and sharing of overview reports will help lessons to be learned properly.
For too long now social workers have raised concerns about the amount of time they spend on paperwork and how that takes away from the time they have to spend with children and families who are in desperate need of their support.
I believe Professor Munro is well placed to take on this complex and wide-ranging review, with her extensive experience in child protection research. I am very grateful to her for taking on this work.
Professor Eileen Munro said:
Social workers have one of the most difficult jobs in the world and we really need to look at how we can ensure children are at the heart of what they do. Less time in front of computers and filling in forms and more time working with vulnerable children, young people and their families, many of whom so desperately need the support of a good social worker.
I want to build on the work of Moira Gibb and her team as I start this review and the key thing is to ensure social workers have the support and confidence to help vulnerable children and families while we look at what needs to be done to further improve frontline practice. I am honoured to be asked to conduct a review within such an important area of work and on something I feel so passionate about.
The government is committed to implementing the recommendations of the Social Work Task Force, which provide a strong starting point for Professor Munro’s review. We look to the Social Work Reform Board to make progress with those recommendations while the review is in progress.
To further support improvement on the front line, the Department for Education (DfE) is confirming today that the £23 million Local Social Work Improvement Fund will be available to local authority children’s services in the year 2010 to 2011. The successful Children’s Workforce Development Council programmes to support recruitment and retention of social workers will also continue, subject to some efficiencies which have been achieved by reducing unnecessary bureaucracy and marketing and overlap with the work of the Social Work Reform Board.
DfE is also confirming the funding that will support the establishment of an independent College of Social Work and that pilots of social work practices will continue. This confirmation relates to funding which has been protected in the financial year 2010 to 2011. Funding for future years will need to be confirmed as part of the forthcoming comprehensive spending review.
In a letter to Professor Munro, ministers outlined 3 principles to underpin the government’s approach to reform of child protection. They are:
- How can interaction between social work teams and universal services for children and families be improved?
- In particular, how can Sure Start children’s centres and health visitors make sure that the families who need the specialist input of social workers are identified effectively?
- What are the barriers to consistent good social work practice?How can other agencies help social workers undertake more effective practice?
Trusting frontline social workers
- How could regulation be simplified and bureaucracy reduced so social workers can spend more time with vulnerable children and their families?
- How have targets got in the way of good practice? What are better ways of using data to improve social work practice?
- How can recording of cases contribute to supporting the work of professionals and improving the service experienced by children? How can ICT contribute to strengthening good practice?
- How could social workers be given greater professional freedom and how could support for social workers be improved? How can social workers be supported to have the confidence to challenge difficult families when that is what is needed to protect children? What role might social work practices, new models of social work delivery and volunteer social workers play? What can be learnt by what happens in other countries?
- How could poor performing areas come up to the standard of the best? How could councils most effectively share best practice with each other, including sharing information about how good outcomes can be achieved in a cost-effective way?
Transparency and accountability
- How can greater transparency in the system be achieved in a way which commands public confidence and protects the privacy and welfare of vulnerable children and their families?
- It is the government’s intention to publish anonymised full serious case reviews. How could reviews be strengthened? Are there alternative ways of learning from experience that could be more effective? What might be learnt from other sectors?
- How can risk be managed so that agencies do not develop a blame culture and their focus remains on protecting children?
- What approaches to inspection would better capture the quality of frontline practice and lead to better services for children?
- How could the system champion the profession, raising its status? Is there a role for a chief social worker?
Professor Eileen Munro will produce 3 reports: an evidence report in September, an interim report in January 2011 and final report in April 2011. Professor Munro has identified a small number of experts to act as a reference group to support the review and will talk to people working in the voluntary and statutory sector on specific issues. The full reference group list will follow in due course.
Notes to Editors
The letter outlining the terms of reference and remit letter can be downloaded here.
Professor Munro’s personal reference group will be formed of experts acting in a personal, rather than any representative, capacity.
There will be 3 reports:
- the first due to be received by the end of September will set out the scope of the report and identify the main problems uncovered by Professor Munro
- the second, an interim report in January 2011, will set out detailed analysis of these problems
- a final report in April 2011 will provide recommendations for tackling these problems
The remit letter asks the professor to urgently address the issues of the future model of SCRs, or alternative learning models and how future ICT should contribute to strengthening front-line practice.
The cross-government National Safeguarding Delivery Unit will be disbanded with immediate effect and resource allocated to new safeguarding priorities, including supporting the Munro Review. The Safeguarding Group within the Department for Education will retain lead responsibility for the government’s child protection policy and will continue to work closely with other government departments, in particular the Department of Health, the Home Office, and the Ministry of Justice.