Child protection facing criticism
- Children in care: Now and then
- More children in care go missing
- Girl's Cries For Help 'Fell on Deaf Ears'
- Child snatched in RSPCA raid must be given up for adoption, rules judge
- Facing up to Canada's dark history
- BC foster care in crisis, report and social workers agree
- Adoption law couple leave country
- What is being said in the Care Profiling Study
- It takes more than money to protect our children
- Hospitals fail to do routine checks on injured children despite Baby P
12 March 2009 / BBC News
Reforms brought in after Victoria Climbie's murder nine years ago have not been properly implemented, a report is expected to say.
Lord Laming led the original inquiry and was asked to review progress after Baby P's death in Haringey, London.
It comes amid criticism that his initial reforms have added to social workers' bureaucratic burden.
The government will announce that all directors of children's services in England should be retrained.
Child protection has been under the microscope since details of Baby P's case came to light.
The 17-month-old died in August 2007 having suffered months of abuse, despite being seen 60 times by various professionals, including doctors and social workers.
Lord Laming has already prompted one major reform of England's child protection system with his inquiry into the horrific death of Victoria Climbie in the same north London borough.
The eight-year-old was abused by her aunt for months before she died in February 2000.
Children's Secretary Ed Balls asked Lord Laming to examine how much things have improved since then and whether his recommendations have been properly implemented.
His report is likely to conclude that child protection in some areas of England is unacceptably poor, exposing some children to unnecessary risk and abuse.
Ways of strengthening serious case reviews - the system for learning from errors when a child has died - are likely to be recommended.
Lord Laming will also advise on how to raise the quality and status of social workers to help tackle a national shortage of people entering the profession.
Dr Eileen Munro, reader in social policy at the London School of Economics, said she hoped to see "some humility" in the report and acceptance that the reforms, especially the increased form-filling, were part of the problem.
She said now that social workers spent 80% of their time in front of their computers, they "hardly had time to talk to the parents, let alone the children".
"The reforms aren't putting children at the centre of it, they're putting the targets at the centre," she said.
"In Haringey, the Ofsted inspection went in after Baby P had been murdered and still gave them three stars.
"So they're not picking up on the quality of practice, they're picking up on the quantity, and it's in the quality that the mistakes are made."
Social worker Joanna Nicolas told the BBC a lot had changed since Lord Laming's first report, which contained more than 100 recommendations.
"We do have very effective child protection processes in place now," she said.
"The trouble is they are not being adhered to because of the amount of work social workers have.
"The emphasis from senior managers is on filling in forms... The performance indicators that each local authority are measured on and therefore their funding is affected are what counts and not spending time with families."
But Sue Berelowitz, deputy children's commissioner for England, insisted the reforms were the right way forward.
"I travel around the country, I also talk to directors of children's services. I've come out of local authority work myself and I know that the reforms are making a real difference," she said.
Dr Ray Jones, professor of social work at Kingston University, believes too many changes in the past few years have led to confusion.
"One of the fears I have in terms of what's going to happen now is that we'll have more change, more re-organisation, more disruption," he told BBC Radio 5 Live.
He added that those on the frontline - the social workers, health workers, police officers - needed to focus on the child and the family but "sometimes they were distracted by the changes".
John Dunford, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said the reforms from Lord Laming's first report in 2003 - particularly the merging of education and children's services at the local authority level - had not yet "settled down".
He told BBC Radio 4's Today programme he could see the logic of "joining-up" but councils were "struggling to balance" the responsibilities of child protection and education.
He added directors of children's services had the "job from hell".
"I think part of the problem is the incredibly high profile you get in the media when these cases go wrong," he said.
"And that will inevitably cause people to watch their backs, to make sure they've filled all the forms in and so on."
Back to basics
Ahead of the new report's publication, Mr Balls said the directors of children's services would be told to spend time with vulnerable families under their department's care.
"If we are to deliver a world-class child protection system... we need excellent leadership and clear accountability at every level of the system."
He is expected to confirm plans to extend the remit of the head teachers' training establishment, the National College for School Leadership, to include programmes for training directors of children's services.
"Social workers do a vital but tough job, often under difficult circumstances - but there are real challenges around leadership, retention and career progression," said the minister.
The organisation will be renamed the National College for School and Children's Leadership.
Mr Balls has already embraced the theme of improving the esteem of social workers, setting up a task force to propose reform.
He is also keen to improve the training of social care middle managers so that they regularly "go back to the floor" and work alongside their staff, handling case files and spending time with families.