Changes to child protection guidance ‘fail to help social workers'

By Joe Lepper

| 12 June 2012

Government plans to cut child protection bureaucracy will do little to improve support for vulnerable children, according to social workers.

BASW said the revised guidance fail to address "unmanageable" caseloads. Image: Morguefile

Children’s minister Tim Loughton has launched a consultation on plans to revamp child protection guidance, which will see the volume of guidance reduced and national targets for assessing children scrapped.

But the British Association of Social Workers  (BASW) and Unison say the measures will make little difference to the quality of services and fail to address social workers concerns over funding cuts and “unmanageable” caseloads.

Nushra Mansuri, BASW professional officer, said: "Social workers won't quibble with efforts to cut red tape and reduce the time they spend on administration, but Tim Loughton is being utterly disingenuous in suggesting this move is anywhere near enough to make a difference to the real concerns that social workers have identified; namely unmanageable caseloads, stress, plummeting morale and cuts to administrative support staff.”

Instead of reducing guidance Mansuri would prefer to see information presented in a different way, with “a weighty policy document for senior management; a user friendly guide for frontline social workers to refer to; and a longer series of guides on different topics available for reference as needed”.

Unison urged the government to instead look at reducing the level of cuts affecting council services.

Helga Pile, the union’s national officer for social work, said: “By making a fetish out of cutting the number of pages in social work instruction manuals the government is focusing all its attention on just one aspect of a huge problem.

“Talk to any social worker and they will tell you that it is cuts and spiralling caseloads that pose the biggest threat to child protection, making it impossible to keep up with all those in need.”

The NSPCC’s chief executive Andrew Flanagan also warned that cutting red tape “on its own is not a quick fix to the challenges of protecting children”.

“These measures must go hand in hand with better training, support and retention of social workers and other professionals working with vulnerable children so the guidance is replaced with real experience and professional knowledge,” he said.

“We must not keep losing our best and most senior social workers. If this continues we will end up with a plethora of ad-hoc additional guidance being created to fill the void for inexperienced staff.”

The government plans will see existing statutory child protection guidance reduced in size from around 700 pages to just 68 across three documents; Working Together to Safeguard Children; the Framework for the Assessment of Children in Need and their Families; and a third covering serious case reviews (SCR).

The overhaul of SCR guidance will see a greater emphasis on improvements needed to prevent similar incidents happening again.

Flanagan added: “We welcome the government’s focus on learning from past tragedies by publishing serious case reviews in full. This will give greater accountability and boost public confidence in the system.”

The College of Social Work urged social workers to respond to the Department for Education’s consultation.

Professor Corinne May-Chahal, co-chair of the college, said: “This is a long-awaited consultation for the social work profession and for the agencies that they work with.

“The college has been closely involved with commenting on revisions to the Working Together document as it has been developed.

“It is crucial that all social workers and other professionals involved with safeguarding children take part in this and make their views known.”

The consultation ends on September 4.

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