'Terrifying' welfare reforms will drive up care referrals, warns Munro

Lauren Higgs
Friday, July 6, 2012

The architect of the government's child protection reforms has warned that changes to welfare policy could inadvertently increase the number of children being referred to social care services.

Munro said some political statements on welfare reforms are "terrifying". Image: UK Parliament
Munro said some political statements on welfare reforms are "terrifying". Image: UK Parliament

Speaking at the Association of Directors of Children’s Services annual conference, Professor Eileen Munro argued that increasing unemployment and insecurity over benefit changes is putting a strain on family life.

“Some of the political statements on what they might do with welfare are quite terrifying,” she said. “The idea of stopping child benefit after three children, for example. Do you stop feeding the others?

“It doesn’t seem helpful. There are plenty who go on being good parents, but those who are under great stress are more likely to be abusive parents. It does mean that you may get more referrals.”

Airing her concerns on other elements of the government’s family policies, Munro urged children’s professionals against using evidence-based programmes without first fully assessing the individual needs of each family.

She said there was a worry that evidence-based programmes were becoming a replacement for the processes and procedures favoured by the last Labour administration.

“One of my worries is that if people lose the security of following procedures they will look to research to give them the same security and answers, but research doesn’t offer that,” she said.

“I have a horrible feeling that we might end up with Family Nurse Partnership for everybody, regardless of what their actual problems are; or parenting classes seen as a panacea for everything.”

She added that the use of payment-by-results must be monitored carefully, because outcomes for families with complex problems are notoriously difficult to measure.

“Payment-by-results is an approach which I find very worrying,” she said. “We need services that are in there for the long-haul, but we continually have to respond to short-term goals.”

On new adoption targets, Munro branded the government’s approach as “mildly inconsistent”. She called on directors of children’s services to put pressure on ministers to use adoption statistics to improve services for children, rather than rank council performance.

“Adoption data is important to collect, but it’s how it is used that matters,” she said. “If you insist on using it as information that you put into context and interrogate in the child’s best interests, then it may stop anyone trying to turn it into a simple set of indicators and league tables.”

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