Social workers `misinterpret' Children Act

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The Independent Online
ROSIE WATERHOUSE

Social Services Correspondent

The vast majority of families accused of neglecting or abusing their children are sucked into the child-protection system "apparently unnecessarily" according to a study commissioned by the Department of Health.

The research revealed that 85 per cent of children who entered the system were filtered out without needing to be placed on a child-protection register.

Extrapolating from the figures from eight local authorities' social services departments, at least 180,000 child-abuse investigations a year were taking place nationally, but only 15 per cent of children were thought to be sufficiently at risk to be registered. And although many of the families investigated were probably in need of help, only a minority received any.

The research, by academics in the Social Work Development Unit at the University of East Anglia, is one of a series of studies on child protection commissioned by the DoH, which will be launched at a conference in London on Wednesday.

Several of the researchers conclude there should be a fundamental change in the system to place more emphasis on prevention, providing services and promoting the welfare of the family. Some also call for a shift in resources away from investigation towards welfare services.

The DoH says it has "no immediate plans" to revise the guidance on how to implement the Children Act. However, when launching the research John Bowis, health minister, is to announce that social workers "will need to look at their practice in the light of the research".

Jane Gibbons, one of the authors of the report, Operating the Child Protection System, said: "We have seen that many children and families were sucked into the child-protection system to no apparent purpose." The "unproductive" work was a waste of social workers' time, she said, and too many families were unnecessarily interviewed.

However, ministers fear a public outcry at any suggestion that child- abuse allegations should not be thoroughly investigated. They will argue that social workers have misinterpreted the Children Act. They emphasise that although once a suspicion of abuse is raised, social workers have a duty to conduct "inquiries", they also have a duty to provide support services for all families in need.

Letters, page16

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