Department for Education
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Government responds to the Munro Review of Child Protection

Ministers write to health, police, education and early years’ services setting out plans for reform

The Government yesterday published its response to Professor Eileen Munro’s recommendations to reform the child protection system, set out earlier this year.

The response outlines the Government’s intention, working with professionals, to build a system focused on the needs, views and experiences of vulnerable children. The Government will reduce central regulation and prescription and place greater trust and responsibility in skilled professionals and local leaders to bring about long-term reform.

Yesterday the Children’s Minister Tim Loughton has outlined the changes in a letter to all schools, Directors of Children’s Services and early years’ providers. He has also written a joint letter with Anne Milton, Minister for Public Health, to all local health services, and with Lynne Featherstone, Minister for Equalities and Criminal Information, to police forces. Ministers see these professionals as central to leading the reforms.

The Government’s ambition is for a child protection system that truly values and acts on the feedback of children, young people and their families. Ministers agree with Professor Munro that the current system is overly focused on complying with procedures and targets as a measure of success. The new approach is based on developing professional expertise and providing a range of help and services to children and families that meet all their needs.

Children’s Minister Tim Loughton said:

Today’s response is the first stage of a journey which will fundamentally change the child protection system – we’re not just tinkering at the edges and fixing short term problems. We are freeing hardworking social workers and other professionals from structures, procedures and rulebooks so they can do their best for vulnerable children and their families.

This is a new mindset and a new relationship between central Government and local services. I am determined that we build on the excellent work of Professor Munro and I trust the workforce to deliver the reforms without working to prescription.

We have worked openly and collaboratively with professionals and children’s leaders to create reforms that are sustainable in the long term. The Government is not in the business of telling local services how to implement the reforms - as has happened in the past - because this has been shown by Professor Munro to result in unintended consequences.

The changes will take time to fully implement. We have outlined some key milestones so that we keep up momentum and ensure that the process is advanced by next year. I am confident that working together we will give more of our children a safe and happy childhood.

Professor Munro will continue to advise the Government and will undertake an interim assessment of progress next year.

Professor Eileen Munro, Professor of Social Policy at the London School of Economics said:

This is the start of a reform process to move the focus of help and protection firmly onto children and young people and away from compliance with excessive bureaucratic demands. It is time to give professionals more freedom and responsibility for improving their skills in helping children and young people. The presence and influence of professionals working with the Government is crucial in delivering the reforms in the longer term.

An Implementation Working Group, drawing on expertise from local authority children’s services, social workers, education, police and the health service, advised the Government on its response to Professor Munro’s report.

The response includes the following actions by the Government:

  • A radical reduction in the amount of central regulation and locally designed rules and procedures.
  • Slimmed down statutory guidance in the interim by December 2011 including removing timescales for assessments and removing the distinction between initial and core assessment.
  • A Chief Social Worker to provide a permanent professional presence for social work in Government, to cover children and adults, in place by the end of 2012.
  • The Department for Education to establish a joint programme of work with the Department of Health by September 2011 to make sure children’s safeguarding is a central consideration of the health reforms.
  • Undertake further work with the sector to consider the evidence and opportunities for using systems review methodology for Serious Case Reviews (SCRs) to help all local services properly learn the lessons from SCRs.

Actions for local services to implement include:

  • Local authorities to appoint a practising senior social worker as a Principal Child and Family Social Worker.
  • Local services to increase the range and number of preventative services and to provide families with an ‘early help offer’.
  • Local authorities to assess and redesign child and family social services, based on feedback from children and families.

The Government is clear that with greater freedoms come greater accountability. Therefore there are several actions in the plan to improve inspection.

These include:

  • All local services – health, education, police, probation and the justice system – to be inspected on how well they protect children.
  • The experiences of children and families to be at the heart of Ofsted’s inspection system, looking at how effective the help has been rather than whether certain processes have been met.

Ministers have agreed to extend ongoing trials to give social workers greater autonomy so they can better exercise their professional judgment. Current trials in Westminster, Knowsley, Cumbria and Hackney have seen social workers completing assessments within timescales that they think would meet children’s needs better.

The current trials will now run to December 2011, and be extended to five Community Budget areas - Hull, Kensington and Chelsea, Hammersmith and Fulham, Wandsworth and Swindon. Evidence will be used to inform changes to the statutory guidance on assessment.

Corinne May-Chahal, interim chair of The College of Social Work, said:

The Munro Review concentrated on the importance of focussing on the experience of children as they come into contact with the child protection system. Social workers have wanted to do this for many years but unnecessary bureaucracy, unhelpful timescales and poor ICT systems have made that difficult.

The review proposes developing a learning culture in child protection, rather than a blame culture, valuing the knowledge and capabilities of social workers and of their health and education partners. The government’s response demonstrates a new understanding of the realities of child protection and the need for improvement to be led by social workers and those that employ them.

The College of Social Work welcomes this and knows that change of this magnitude takes time. We are ready to support social workers and their employers to meet the challenges involved in taking the reforms forward.

Matt Dunkley, Director of Children’s Services in East Sussex, said:

My personal reflection is to strongly welcome the collaborative and transparent way in which the Minister has worked with the sector to formulate the Government's response to Professor Munro's Review. There will be significant challenges in the transition to the locally determined and professionally-led approach to child protection it promises, but with the same collaboration, trust and transparency, I believe we have a good chance of making it a reality.

Notes to editors:

1. The Government’s response to the Munro Review is published today on the Munro Review section of our website.

2. The members of the Munro Review Implementation Group:

Tim Loughton MP Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Children and Families - Chair
Anne Milton MP Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Public Health
Yasmin Bevan Executive Principal and Headteacher of Denbigh High School and Challney High School for Boys
Anne Marie Carrie Chief Executive, Barnardo’s
Corinne May Chahal Co-Chair, National College of Social Work
John Goldup Social Care Director, Ofsted
Reena Keeble Headteacher, Cannon Lane First School
Andrew Martin Emergency Duty Social Work Team Manager (London Borough of Haringey)
Brian Moore Chief Constable Wiltshire and ACPO lead Violence, Public Protection and Risk
Roger Morgan Children’s Rights Director for England
Mark Rogers Deputy Chair, Social Work Reform Board and, Chief Executive Solihull Metropolitan Borough Council
Amanda Thomas Child Protection Officer, Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health
Isabelle Trowler Assistant Director, Children’s Social Care (London Borough of Hackney)
Heather Gwynn Director, Children, Families and Maternity, Department of Health, representing Anne Milton MP
Matt Dunkley President, Association of Directors of Children’s Services and, Director of Children’s Services, East Sussex County Council
Kevin Jones Assistant Director, Children’s Social Care (Cumbria County Council)
Jo Webber Deputy Policy director and Interim Director Ambulance Service Network, NHS Confederation
Graham Wright Cabinet Member for Children and Family services (Knowsley Metropolitan Borough Council)

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