Munro review: free social workers from bureaucracy

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Social workers should be freed up to respond to child protection issues locally without the restrictions of central Government targets, the Munro report has recommended.

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Professor Eileen Munro, who led the review, said that currently the child protection system has a tick-box culture and a one-size-fits all approach that does not focus on the needs of the child.

She called the report  'A child-centred system' to reflect the fact that the effectiveness of help and the experiences of children, young people and families were central to her recommendations for reform.

A new duty on local services should be introduced to co-ordinate an early offer of help to families who do not meet the criteria of social services, to address problems before they escalate to child protection issues, the report said.

Professor Munro (pictured) 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.’

She added, ‘ While 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 co-ordinate early help for families because this is vital if we are to prevent less severe problems escalating to neglect or abuse.’

Key recommendations in the Government-commissioned review are:

  • Local authorities should no longer have to fulfil statutory requirements for completing assessments within set timescales
  • Local services that work with children and families should not have to meet Government targets, national IT systems and national ways of working and should be free to re-design services that pay more attention to the impact on children’s safety and welfare
  • A change of approach to serious case reviews – the current system is too focused on what happened, not why
  • Ofsted inspections should give more weight to feedback from children and families and directly observe social workers’ interaction with children and families
  • Experienced social workers should be kept on the frontline after they become managers so that their skills and experience are not lost. The expertise and status of social work should be continually improved with continuous professional development
  • All local authorities should have a Principal Child and Family Social Worker to report views and experiences on the frontline to management. A Chief Social Worker should be appointed to advise the Government.

Children's minister Tim Loughton said, '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.'

      Commenting on the proposals, Sir Paul Ennals, chief executive of the National Children’s Bureau, said, ‘Professor Munro is right to focus on the child’s experience as being central to improving our child protection systems, and the voices of young people need to be heard as part of this process. The system exists to serve the needs of children and young people. It is high time it learnt from their experiences.’

      However, he said that there was ‘unprecedented pressure’ in children’s services and funding available for early help has been reduced by 22 per cent since March last year.

      He adds, ‘While most authorities have protected social worker posts from their cuts, many services which contribute to keeping children safe are closing. Professor Munro stresses that early help is vital to keeping children safe, and proposes that local authorities should be given a duty to provide early help. This seems like shutting the stable door too late.’

      ‘In addition, Munro’s support for the Director of Children’s Services role may be fighting a losing battle, since Government has been publicly urging councils to slash their senior management posts, in order to save money. We know that a whole child approach is essential to effective child protection and that schools, health services and social workers all need to work together to protect children from harm.’

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