The UK Experience by Malcolm Morley*
One of the most demanding and important areas of responsibility and activity for councils is the safeguarding of children. As the quotation from Hugh Cunningham states: “Children become the victims or the beneficiaries of adult actions.”
A recent high profile failure to protect a child from becoming a victim of adult actions has caused the UK Government to commission a review of safeguarding services.
The review was carried out by Lord Laming, a former Chief Inspector of Social Services.
Lord Laming found that, while much has been achieved under a policy of Every Child Matters, it has become clear that much more needs to be done.
He specifically focused on interagency working and while acknowledging that there has been considerable progress in interagency working, often driven by Local Safeguarding Children Boards (local multi-agency partnerships), there remain significant problems.
These include problems in relation to the day to day reality of working across organisational boundaries and cultures, sharing information to protect children and a lack of feedback when professionals raise concerns about a child.
He found that many attempts to protect children and young people and to improve their wellbeing effectively were undermined by the low quality of training and support given to often overstretched frontline staff across social care, health and police.
Social work case loads are often very high and more than 60 per cent of health visitor case loads are above recommended levels.
The pressure of high case loads is exacerbated by the fact that many social workers believe their training fails to prepare them for working with families in crisis.
It is also a fact that these important services are too often provided by temporary members of staff because recruitment to permanent posts is very difficult.
Staff turnover creates its own problems in terms of consistency and challenges to continuity of addressing potential and actual problems/risks.
A further issue is the challenge of getting beyond the deceit and manipulation by adults in some cases. Before information can be shared between appropriate professionals and organisations it first has to be gained.
This is a major challenge for social workers and others and requires engagement with the child as well as the parents/carers.
Engagement takes time and the development of trust with the ability to achieve two way communication outside of the influence of adults. This will only be achieved by professionals with the skills and time to develop this trust.
It also requires consistency with the avoidance of regular changes of professionals.
Fifty eight recommendations have been produced to address the failings found. Action is being taken by all agencies involved in child protection.
The report concludes: “There is a clear need for a determined focus on improvement of practice in child protection across all the agencies that support children. New ways should be created to share good practice and learn lessons when things go wrong.”
This is equally relevant to many other Local Government services.
The report can be found at http://publications.everychildmatters.gov.uk/eOrderingDownload/HC-330.pdf
*Malcolm Morley is Chief Executive of Harlow District Council and can be contacted via the Editor, email firstname.lastname@example.org The views expressed in this article are not necessarily those of his employer.