Direction Has to Change; AGENDA John Hemming MP and Allan Norman Ask: Have Child Welfare Reforms Worked?

The Birmingham Post (England), November 19, 2008 | Go to article overview

Direction Has to Change; AGENDA John Hemming MP and Allan Norman Ask: Have Child Welfare Reforms Worked?


There have been many reports in the last year about False Positives where the state intervenes when it should not. What is often missed is that the issue of False Negatives where the state fails to intervene when it should is actually part of the same debate.

An obvious case where the system should have intervened is Baby P from Haringey. This case, however, is not unique although in many ways it is more extreme than the case of Victoria Climbie.

It is, however, very wrong to respond by demonising Social Workers. the press coverage nationally has misguided and misplaced. The people who were responsible for the death of Baby P were those responsible for his day-to-day care. However, the system has failed and it is to the system we need to look for changes even if greater accountability is needed for individuals as well.

The government's response seems perverse. They are happy for the head of children's services to investigate the case in Haringey. They are also happy for Lord Laming to investigate whether his proposals for change were the right solution to the right problem. The inspection system failed - Haringey had a 3-star rating, yet the inspectors are seen as the solution. It has thus far proved impossible for us to obtain from the Department for Children, Schools and Families recent, detailed data on the numbers of child deaths and serious injuries However, we - an MP, social worker turned lawyer and academic suggest that it is possible the reformed system may well increase unsafe practices.

Our discussion is informed by general findings from an Economic and Social Research Council funded study by Sue White and colleagues, which involved detailed observation of everyday practices across 5 local authority sites in England and Wales. A turning point in the reform agenda was the death of Victoria Climbie and the resulting public inquiry by Lord Laming. This drove a number of changes in Child Protection intended to prevent future deaths and protect children, including the complete reorganisation of Social Services across England.

We are concerned that the reforms following Laming's report have been counter-productive. Laming's report concluded that the death of Victoria Climbie resulted from the health and social care agencies not following their own procedures.

The proposal that procedures should be completely rewritten seems to be at odds with this conclusion. Notwithstanding this, however, procedures have been rewritten and social services and education have been reorganised separating children's and adults services.

The Child Protection Register has been abolished and a complicated system of electronic standard documents called the Integrated Children's System (ICS) has been introduced. ICS is a centrally specified system for categorising children and their needs. It also incorporates audit data on performance targets and demographics for the DCSF all of which must be entered by social workers.

Documents designed to fulfil the need for government statistics are swallowing up large amounts of social workers' time. Put simply, social workers cannot be out seeing families while they are in the office inputting data.

The system also forces social workers and team managers to categorise a case very early. It has been known for decades that human beings tend to look for evidence to support their original categorizations.

An error we can see inn the case Baby P, where professionals were distracted by the mother's claim that he was injuring himself and had behaviour problems. This tendency coupled with pressure from the system to maintain the categorisation and 'workflow' the case through the IT pathways we believe must increase the likelihood of error. …

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Direction Has to Change; AGENDA John Hemming MP and Allan Norman Ask: Have Child Welfare Reforms Worked?
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