Gove sets up inquiry into children's social services

11 Jun 10
The government has launched an independent inquiry into children's social work, paving the way for a fundamental reform of child protection practices
By Lucy Phillips

11 June 2010

The government has launched an independent inquiry into children’s social work, paving the way for a fundamental reform of child protection practices.

Education Secretary Michael Gove has written to Eileen Munro, professor of social policy at the London School of Economics, asking her to look at how barriers and bureaucracy can be stripped out of social workers’ case loads, freeing them to spend more time on the front line.

In his letter Gove said the child protection system in England was ‘not working as well as it should be’. He added: ‘I firmly believe we need to reform to frontline social work practice’ and called for three principles to underpin the review: early intervention; trusting frontline workers; and transparency and accountability.  

It follows a number of high-profile cases in recent years, including the death of toddler Peter Connelly, known as Baby P, in 2007.

Munro welcomed the opportunity. ‘Social workers have one of the most difficult jobs in the world and we really need to look at how we can ensure children are at the heart of what they do,’ she said. Her final review will be published in April next year and an interim report in January.

The Association of Directors of Children’s Services gave their backing to the review. ADCS president Marion Davis said: ‘We believe there is scope to improve the practice of social work by redirecting resources, human and financial, away from obeying detailed step-by-step instructions and procedures to supporting confident young professionals to spend more time and effort on directly working with children, young people and their families.’   

The announcement came after children’s minister Tim Loughton committed to publishing summaries of serious case reviews. These are official investigations into child protection instances that have gone wrong and have been kept private.

Loughton said: ‘In order for lessons to be learned professionals need access to information which helps them fully understand in each case, what went wrong.’ 

Meanwhile, the Local Government Association warned that the number of child protection cases was set to soar, requiring an urgent reduction in back-office bureaucracy.  An analysis by the National Foundation for Educational Research, commissioned by the Local Government Association, found that the number of children coming into care shot up following the Baby P case and is expected to settle at a higher rate. The think-tank estimates a 35% increase in referrals over the next two years, or an additional 61,000 children in the English care system.

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