Child protection review slams 'tick-box' social work

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The Independent Online

Social workers should spend less time filling in forms and more time talking to children, the head of an independent review into child protection in England said today.

Professor Eileen Munro also wants to strip Ofsted of the power to evaluate reports into the deaths of abused or neglected children.

And the regulator should scrap making pre-planned checks on children's services in favour of unannounced visits, the review found.

Prof Munro's report also stresses the importance of having a management and inspection process that monitors whether children are getting the help they need, rather than being a "tick-box exercise".

She said: "Everyone in the profession can think of meetings and forms that don't actually make a child safer.

"Whilst some regulation is needed, we need to reduce it to a small, manageable size.

"Professionals should be spending more time with children, asking how they feel, whether they understand why the social worker is involved in their family, and finding out what they want to happen.

"Placing a timescale on completing a form puts pressure on professionals which can distract from making decent quality judgments."

Her second interim report found that experienced social workers should be kept on the front line to supervise more junior staff.

It also stressed the importance of giving health, police and family support professionals easier access to social work advice when they have concerns about abuse and neglect.

The Munro Review of Child Protection was created following a number of high-profile cases in recent years that have highlighted failings in the protection of young people.

Baby P died aged 17 months in August 2007 having sustained more than 50 injuries at the hands of his abusive mother, her boyfriend and their lodger.

Children's Minister Tim Loughton said: "Professor Munro has identified areas where professionals' time is being wasted and children's needs are not being properly identified.

"I welcome her approach to getting help to the neediest children and families as early as possible, and recognising that child protection is not just the responsibility of social workers."

Prof Munro will submit her final report in April.

Prof Munro told the BBC Radio 4 Today programme: "We are not giving enough attention to whether we are actually protecting children.

"One of the problems is that rules give people a sense of security, but it is a false sense of security."

An Ofsted spokesman said: "Ofsted welcomes the report and the proposals both for the children's social work field and for the inspection of these services. We endorse the importance placed on prevention and early intervention, as well as services focused on those children identified as being at risk.

"It is also encouraging to see that inspection is valued by the review and the sector as a significant factor in driving improvement and the finding that inspection should continue to play this distinct role. We welcome the opportunity to further improve the inspection process and look forward to the extension and development of unannounced inspections that cover all children's services.

"While we believe that Ofsted's work in the evaluation of serious case reviews (SCRs) has had a positive impact in improving their quality, we agree that these should now end and have been suggesting this ourselves for some time.

"Ofsted supports the review's proposals for how SCRs are likely to be approached in the future to maximise learning and improve practice."