Call to end 'child protection red tape'

Local child protection services should be freed from central government red tape to allow them to focus on the needs of children, an independent review recommends today.

Staff should be set free from regulations which prevent them from learning from mistakes, Professor Eileen Munro of the London School of Economics suggests in a report commissioned after the death of Baby P.

Prof Munro says local children's services should be concentrating on what happened rather than why - which she says is not encouraged under the current system.

Ofsted should be stripped of its role in evaluating reports into the deaths of abused children, Prof Munro's review, conducted for the Department for Education, also said.

Local services are currently judged on how well they have carried out processes and procedures rather than on what the end result was for the children themselves, Prof Munro added.

If implemented, local child protection services would no longer be required to complete assessments within a set timescale, which Prof Munro said would leave them free to give equal weight to helping children and families, as well as assessing their problems.

She believes if all local services co-ordinated to offer help to families who did not meet the criteria for social care services, problems could be addressed before they escalated to child protection issues.

She 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."

Inspection systems must be "fit for purpose" Prof Munro added.

"That is why I have been working with Ofsted to look at how the criteria they use can be better focused on the experiences of children, young people and their families."

She emphasised that the responsibility of a child's welfare did not just fall with social workers, but was shared with other services that were there to help children.

"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."

Children's Minister Tim Loughton, who voiced support for the findings of her interim report earlier this year, said: "This is the first review of child protection that hasn't been initiated in the wake of a child death or serious case.

"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."

Baby Peter Connelly was found dead in August 2007 with more than 50 injuries, including fractured ribs and a broken back. His mother, her partner and a lodger were jailed for their parts in his death.

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