OPEN LETTER TO RT HON NICKY MORGAN MP, SECRETARY OF STATE FOR EDUCATION, AND EDWARD TIMPSON MP, PARLIAMENTARY UNDER-SECRETARY OF STATE FOR CHILDREN AND FAMILIES
VCF – The Victoria Climbié Foundation UK is deeply concerned about the current state of the child protection system in the wake of recent public interest cases that mirror Victoria Climbié despite additional reforms introduced to reduce the number of preventable child deaths.
We welcome the government’s continuing response to the Munro review and its aims to improve outcomes for children and families. We know and accept the challenges within the sector not least because of the myriad of reforms within the NHS, Probation Services, Social Care and Legal Services. However, we believe that none of these reforms will have achieved their aims if we do not see commitment by sector leaders to bring about much needed change in practice; to consult and to trust in their workforce, and to actively support their efforts within the communities they work.
In November 2013, VCF held the 10-year anniversary conference ‘The Child Protection System; Reforms and Developments from Laming to Munro’ which highlighted achievements during the past decade and anticipated the challenges faced by the sector in light of the government commissioned Munro review and PLO reforms; updates of which were provided by former children’s minister, Tim Loughton MP and Family Justice Board Chair David Norgrove. The conference provided an opportunity for sector leads from the Metropolitan Police, NHS England and the Association of Directors of Children’s Services (ADCS) to share their respective messages to a multi agency audience, and more importantly an opportunity for those leads to hear from safeguarding practitioners, parents, young people and the community – a role that VCF increasingly plays as an independent organisation, to facilitate all perspectives. One of the key success factors, based on feedback from the event, is that the conference delivered a positive message for social work.
Supporting social workers in the delivery of quality services to children
Of course, the challenge for social care and social workers continues, with new requirements – as a result of changes to the public and private law outline – to deliver, as an expert, robust and evidence-based practice within a 26-week timeline for care proceedings. Thus, the recruitment and standardised training of social workers becomes ever more vital if they are to be considered credible alongside their statutory peers. Compliance and recruitment have not generally been at the heart of our campaigns for improvements in the system, however, getting social care recruitment and retention right is a key aspect to safeguarding and protecting children.
In March 2014, VCF partnered with HCL Social Care, a major recruiter of permanent and temporary social workers to local government, in order to engage with social workers of all levels and experience. Our recent collaboration; a survey to hear from both employed and locum social workers elicited responses from almost 500 practitioners who provided comprehensive and significant feedback. Four key themes emerged: lack of management support, not listening to front line social workers, inconsistent training and development of the workforce, and poor recruitment and retention practices – particularly in the locum sector. According to the last comprehensive research by Community Care in 2013, 11% of social work teams in England’s local authorities are agency staff, on average. In our partnership research report ‘Voices from the Front Line: Supporting our social workers in the delivery of quality services to children’, VCF makes six key recommendations which we believe would enable social workers to meet the practice demands and deadlines laid down in the Children and Families Act 2014.
It is vital that children’s social care is able to effectively engage with partners from across the sector; police, probation, health and education – all major players in keeping children safe.
Enhancing the multi-agency approach
The UK appears to lead the way in relation to child protection frameworks but it is the integrated approach that we need to develop, sustain and maintain.
Early Help programmes need to be implemented, calling for multi-agency co-operation and proactive engagement with the safeguarding children agenda from frontline practitioners in health, police and probation.
Multi-agency safeguarding hubs (MASH) have now been implemented across London and other regions; some of which have been evaluated in relation to their effectiveness, and the general consensus appears to be that it works. The turn-around time for cases with child protection concerns has reportedly almost halved in some areas, albeit at VCF we believe there is more to be done to improve the experience for children and families in practice.