I suspect, too, that there would be widespread agreement that unnecessary bureaucracy and an obsession with process can be a major factor in this. So the focus of the Munro Review of Child Protection on ensuring that a child's experiences are always paramount in decision-making has rightly been welcomed. There is appreciation, too, for the emphasis on the judgment of dedicated staff rather than standardised, prescriptive procedures.
But as Professor Munro herself has recognised, there are no quick fixes to the challenges identified. She has called for sustained investment to improve the capacity and capabilities of social workers.
Our fear at the NSPCC is that in an environment where funding for children's services is already being reduced, neither the time nor resources needed will be given.
So while I support the vision behind the Munro recommendations, I'm concerned about what might happen in practice. These reforms will be difficult and will take time to bed in. While we at NSPCC are impatient to see better services for children, rushed implementation without investment could lead to worse protection and support.
The highly skilled workforce at the heart of the review's reform will take 10 years to build and a measured, well-funded approach is necessary. There is a real danger in removing controls that guard against poor practice before this is realised.
Procedures might stifle flexibility and individual responsibility. But doing away with them does not automatically result in a workforce that is better able to deal with the complexities of child protection.
The NSPCC is determined to play its role in building this new skilled workforce by growing its training and learning resources and services. We are also working hard to identify innovative approaches to child protection, which we want to share with other agencies. Encouraging collaboration is another key plank of the Munro Review.
I'm concerned as well about the review's concentration on the standards of social workers. Children are far more likely to come into contact with a teacher, a police officer or a GP. A highly skilled workforce in children's services cannot be effective in isolation. We need to improve skills and capabilities across the board.
This leads to what I feel is the biggest missed opportunity and omission. We know that only a fraction of the children who suffer abuse and neglect come into contact with the child protection system. Our recent survey indicated that one in five secondary school children is severely abused or neglected in childhood. Yet there are currently only 46,000 children of all ages on a local child protection plan or register.
If we are to tackle abuse and neglect, we have to look beyond improving the skills of professionals. We have to find new ways to encourage the public, individuals and communities to help keep our children safe. This is a challenge that the Munro Review does not address but as a society we must.
Andrew Flanagan, chief executive, NSPCC
HOW TO CREATE A CHILD PROTECTION SYSTEM THAT IS LASTING AND SAFE
- Design a 10-year plan to train, equip, support and supervise staff so they have the skills, resources and back-up to intervene when children are at risk
- Don't remove regulations and guidance before the quality and professionalism of the workforce is at the right level. Exposing vulnerable children to inconsistencies in the quality of child protection services will put them at risk of harm
- Make child protection everyone's responsibility by raising awareness of its existence and impact and by encouraging communities to find ways to ensure that children are safe
- Ensure that children have a voice in decisions about them and that they have someone to turn to if they feel unsafe
- Look beyond the social work workforce to achieve change - improve skills and capabilities in other professions too
- Encourage greater collaboration, both in the way services are delivered and to ensure that new innovations are shared
- Sustain funding for services for vulnerable children and invest in its workforce, even at a time of public spending cuts