Munro finds reforms have damaged frontline social work

Previous reforms to the social care system have led to social workers spending less time with vulnerable children and families, according to the first report from Professor Eileen Munro’s review of the child protection system in England.

Early evidence from the review  shows that while previous reforms were well-intentioned, they did not deliver positive, long-lasting improvements at the frontline. She added that changes made in reaction to high-profile cases over the past four decades have focused on parts of the system, rather than considering the whole system.

Presenting the initial findings, Munro said: “I want to be clear from the start that there are no simple quick-fix solutions to improving the child protection system. A key question for the review is why the well-intentioned reforms of the past haven’t worked.

“Piecemeal changes have resulted in a system where social workers are more focused on complying with procedures. This is taking them away from spending time with children and families and limiting their ability to make informed judgements.”

Problems identified in the report include an over-emphasis on compliance with rules and regulations, resulting in less time spent on assessing children’s needs, a target-driven culture stopping staff from exercising professional judgement and the impact on children from delays in the family court system.

Munro added: “Professionals should rightly take responsibility when things go wrong, but they need more freedom to make decisions, more support and understanding, and less prescription and censure. Too often social workers are either criticised for breaking up families or for missing a case of abuse. But the system they work in is built around predicting a parent’s ability to look after their child, which is never certain.

“We need a system that constantly looks to do things better. Any solution must prioritise meeting the needs of children.”

Responding to the initial scoping report, junior children’s minister Tim Loughton said: “I have spent the last week shadowing social workers in an immersive exercise to see what happens at the sharp end. Social workers need to have the confidence to make tough decisions and make a positive difference.”