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Meg Munn MP - Sheffield Heeley's voice in Parliament | Welcome
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Child Protection

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

During a debate in the House of Commons on Child Protection Meg made the following remarks.

 

I shall deal with just three issues in my contribution. I want to speak about the importance of raising the status of those who work in child protection, and about the need for better training and better inspection.

 

I very much welcome the tone that Members across the House have taken on the importance of social work and the jobs that are done. That is something of a turnaround; in my 20 years in social work, I certainly never felt loved by the public generally, or by any Government of the day.

 

The reality is that for years, Governments have not focused on the profession. The number of people in social work is much smaller than the number in teaching and nursing. The time has come to focus on the issue, and to raise the status of all involved, whether they are child care workers, nursery nurses, health visitors or social workers. That will mean more money, and more investment. We should not just raise salaries—it has been amply demonstrated that that needs to happen—but make investment in ongoing training.

 

Training is enormously important at the outset of the career, but continuous professional development is equally important. Quite apart from the issues that we have debated, such as whether social workers are too much tied to computers or to recording, I worry that not enough time is put aside in their day, week or month for professional development and learning.

 

I recently tabled a question, to which my right hon. Friend the Minister for Children, Young People and Families responded, on what research is being undertaken on those issues. There are 22 such pieces of research being undertaken. They take up two pages of A4. My concern is not that that is too much research, or that it is problematic; my question is how people on the front line will get to know the outcome of that research. What aid will they be given to learn from those detailed investigations?

 

I want to come on to an issue that we have talked about at great length—serious case reviews. I do not know whether any other Members of the House have ever been involved in serious case reviews or what preceded them, but I certainly have. I have chaired them, written them, and given evidence to them. I remain strongly of the view that they should not be published. I do not think that they would give a great deal of help. They are important within authorities, because they help people in those authorities to understand what went wrong in their area, and to learn from it, but the summaries should be sufficient to enable people to learn. I commend the NSPCC for publishing those summaries on its website. That is where one goes to if one wants to find out what the child protection issues are. I ask the Department to look at the matter more carefully.

 

Research done on the back of those summaries to bring together the lessons learned is important. The real tragedy of all the cases that we are discussing is not that we do not know what is going wrong, but that the same things go wrong year in, year out. To concentrate on saying, “Publish serious case reviews” is to miss the point. We know a great deal about what goes wrong, so we need to concentrate on learning that and making sure that all professionals have that information.

 

We also need to do more about learning from good practice. I recall a case of sexual abuse that I was involved with some 15 years ago. We were congratulated by our local authority at the end of the process; we worked very well with the police and a conviction was secured. The people in the policy section of the council said, “We must come and see how you did that, and what made it work.” Of course, they never did. So much more time and effort goes into looking at the cases that go wrong than into those that go well.

 

Another enormously important issue is better inspection. I am not sure that I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Huddersfield (Mr. Sheerman) on the idea of embedding inspectors in departments; I would worry about their independence.

 

However, closer involvement is important. The way in which inspections have been carried out means that individual social workers, and managers, can go years without their practices ever being looked at by any external person; that is not right. We need to change that, and we need to be more rigorous in that regard.

 

My final plea is that we make a big effort on the issue. The Government should look at what the social work taskforce comes up with in due course, and something should then happen on the ground. In 1998, social workers stood up and cheered when the Labour Government gave money to the Quality Protects programme, and for the first time in 10 years we stopped cutting social work posts and invested in doing something about children. We need the same kind of energy now. We need a new initiative, but one that focuses on child protection specifically, rather than on children’s services as a whole.

 


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