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Child Protection

Volume 546: debated on Tuesday 12 June 2012

Today I am launching a consultation on proposals to reform radically the child protection system. We are seeking to move away from a culture of compliance to one which places trust in front-line professionals and allows them to carry out their vital work, without being hampered by unnecessary rules and targets. The three draft documents published today will help create such a culture by replacing overly prescriptive manuals with short, precise guidance and checklists clearly setting out roles and responsibilities.

Professor Munro’s final report, “A child-centred system”, concluded that over the years the child protection system has become overly focused on compliance and dependency on central prescription and guidance. This consultation on “Working Together to Safeguard Children; Managing individual cases: the Framework for the Assessment of Children in Need and their Families” and “Guidance on Learning and Improvement” proposes to replace over 700 pages of detailed instructions with concise, clear guidance. It places trust in health professionals, teachers, early years professionals, youth workers, police and social workers and gives them the space to exercise their judgment.

This revised guidance proposes to give local areas more freedom to organise their services in a way that suits local needs and will allow more face-to-face time with children and families. It provides a clear framework within which professionals must operate.

The revised “Working Together to Safeguard Children” guidance sets out the “must dos” and makes the statutory requirements clear for all organisations.

The revised guidance “Managing individual cases: the Framework for the Assessment of Children in Need and their Families” sets out a framework for managing individual cases when there are concerns about a child’s safety. Informed by evidence from eight local authorities which have been trialing more flexible approaches to assessing the needs of children, this guidance proposes to replace nationally prescribed time scales for assessment with locally agreed frameworks. The guidance puts the child’s needs, rather than compliance with inflexible time scales and recording processes, at the centre of assessment.

This Government are clear that serious case reviews (SCRs) need to be much more strongly focused on learning, rather than process, and that SCR reports should be published. Our proposed “Statutory Guidance on Learning and Improvement” proposes changes so that SCRs get to the heart of what happened in a particular case and why, and what improvements need to be made to help reduce the risk of similar tragedies in the future.

In parallel with this consultation, I am also publishing the new “Children’s Safeguarding Performance Information Framework” along with the Government response to the full public consultation. This framework is intended to move the focus of the child protection system from processes and indicators towards performance measures that improve professional understanding and drive improvements.

Today’s consultation forms part of our wider programme of reforms. These include Ofsted’s new inspection framework which began in May 2012 with a stronger focus on the quality of practice and the effectiveness of help provided to children, including early help to provide support to children and families as soon as a problem emerges in their lives.

We are also continuing to work with children’s services, police and the NHS to shift the focus on to earlier intervention, recognising that the earlier that help is given to vulnerable children and families, the more chance there is of turning lives around and protecting children from harm.

In addition, in 2011-12 we invested £80 million in a national programme of social work reform, to improve skill levels for social workers and tackle high vacancy rates in child protection. We are improving the social work degree and developing further the skills of existing social workers in critical areas such as child protection. We are well on the way with recruiting the first chief social worker for England, who will work with the new College of Social Work and the newly designated Principal Child and Family Social Workers in local authorities to drive improvement and raise standards.

Together these reforms will shift the child protection system from a culture of compliance to one where children and families are at the centre.

Copies of the consultation documents “Working Together to Safeguard Children, Managing individual cases: the Framework for the Assessment of Children in Need and their Families” and “Statutory Guidance on Learning and Improvement” have been placed in the House Libraries.