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Under review

Monday, March 23, 2009

The following article was published on the website of Progress –

http://www.progressonline.org.uk/Magazine/article.asp?a=3911

 

Is the Laming report the start of a new chapter in child protection?

During my time working in the child protection field I have too often found myself experiencing ‘déjà vu’. A child dies, questions are asked, did the professionals get it right, the newspapers jump in and a review is called for. The latest is by Lord Laming and was commissioned following the death of Baby P.

His report, The Protection of Children in England: A Progress Report, has been called “the start of a new chapter in child protection” by the NSPCC. We must hope it is, but history suggests this is unlikely. The reports following the deaths of children, from Maria Colwell in the 1970s through to Victoria Climbie, make for depressing reading. Not just because of their tragically short and brutal lives, but the same mistakes arise time and time again.

Some welcomed the Government’s quickness in agreeing to every recommendation in the report. But this quick acceptance appears designed to head off further criticism rather than be the really considered response that is required. For example, Laming recommends that the protection of children must be a higher strategic priority across all front line services – which must be right. However it’s far from clear that a new national body, the National Safeguarding Delivery Unit, will achieve change on the ground.

In my twenty years in social work I saw only two examples of significant change in services – both were accomplished by focussed drive from ministers, clear goals and significant investment. These were the introduction of Community Care services for the elderly in the early 1990s and the Quality Protects programme for children launched by this Government in 1998. Crucially Quality Protects achieved a cultural change, especially with local councillors, whose responsibilities toward children in their care were clearly outlined. Unfortunately Laming’s report is thin on the role of local councillors and makes no recommendations for them.

There has been comment about the lack of social work experience of many Directors of Children’s Services. Laming addresses this by specifying that Directors without direct experience of child protection should have a senior manager with the necessary skills and experience. I find this a sensible and workable proposal.

Laming wants to see “good practice become standard practice in every service”.  This means better trained workers and managers, but his report is light on how this should happen. My questions to ministers have revealed extensive research on child protection issues but DCSF has no strategy for getting that knowledge to the front line.

A national children’s social worker supply strategy is a good idea. This Government has failed to give social workers the same support that teachers and nurses have received, leaving them with comparatively lower salaries. Change must mean better rewards at all levels – but Government has failed to identify any additional resources.

Government also will also need to consider the outcome of the Social Work Taskforce. This must show real imagination in identifying ways to ensure all front line workers are properly trained and supported to protect children. Moving social workers between roles every few years could broaden experience while preventing burn out in particularly demanding roles.  

The Laming report contains 58 recommendations, the most important will not be the easiest to implement. While most are to be welcomed, strong direction from the Secretary of State will be needed to ensure their implementation. Finally Government must urgently identify resources, without significant money these changes will not happen. 


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