Tag Archives: serious case reviews

SCRs: to publish or not to publish?

In the fallout from the Edlington case – where 2 brothers subjected 2 other children to a sustained attack – aspects of social services have again come under the public microscope. This time, it is serious case reviews (SCRs).

The Conservatives, and others, have called for the full Edlington case SCR to be published, rather than just the summary. Labour has rejected these calls.

As reported by the BBC last week, Conservative leader David Cameron believes fully-published SCRs would lead to a greater understanding of what went wrong and result in quicker action to prevent such events happening again in the future.

In the report, he said: “There is a sense at the moment that it is a sort of establishment stitch-up where all the people who have taken part in this issue are not named, they are not having to take proper responsibility, the public isn’t able to see what has gone wrong and the pressure isn’t there to put it right.”

It seems to me that Cameron is indicating that SCRs should be about ‘naming and shaming’ – to use a tabloid buzzphrase – and damning those who were at fault for the case going wrong. The assumption being that the SCR is there to do that and that there is always someone to point the finger at.

There is a common misconception that SCRs are there to apportion blame. They aren’t. They are – or should be – about learning from mistakes so they don’t happen again in the future. They apply to local conditions and social work practice – out of this context they lose some of their relevance. This should be explained better by the sector.

Secondly, cases are anonymised for a reason; there are child protection factors to be considered, as well as protecting the social care professionals involved. If they were public, would the media pass up the chance to splash the details? The Baby Peter case, for one, indicates otherwise.

Social workers do take proper responsibility; if there is proved to be negligent practice, for instance, they are disciplined. But again, that is not the job of the SCR.

I would argue also that there is pressure to “put things right”, not only from the public, but from within the sector. Ofsted makes regular inspections and there was the recent Social Work Task Force report, but surely all social workers want to ensure that practice is as good as practically possible?

SCRs are not perfect by any means – critics say they often focus on protocol rather than frontline practice – but to open them up fully could create more problems than it solves.

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Serious case reviews are improving

Good news for social work; serious case reviews are improving and 40% are now good, with only 1 in 6 inadequate.

Latest figures from regulator Ofsted – as reported in the Daily Telegraph – covering 114 SCRs between April and December 2009, found that 45 were good, while 51 were adequate. Only 18 were judged inadequate. None were said to be outstanding.

In the year to March 31, 2009, 1 in 3 SCRs, out of 173, were judged to be inadequate.

So while there is clearly still room for improvement, this nevertheless shows that they are moving in the right direction and the messages from Lord Laming’s review and Ofsted’s report Learning lessons from serious case reviews; year 2 have been taken on board and are having an effect.

While these bare statistics don’t reveal how effective the learning is from SCRs – the true barometer of its worth – it does show they are being written to a higher standard at least.

But it was the comments of shadow children’s minister, Tim Loughton that caught my eye. In a couple of sentences he managed to – in my reading of them – insinuate that under a Conservative government the SCR regime will be changed, and that the party has little faith in Ofsted.

Here are the comments, judge for yourself; “We need to re-think this process so that professionals and the public can be reassured that lessons are being learnt.

“For this to happen the Government must agree to publish the full reports, not just executive summaries – at the moment we only have Ofsted’s word to go on that standards are improving.”

It looks pretty clear that under the Tories, SCRs would be published in full. While this would aid transparency – always a political winner – it would also no doubt help journalists to compile anti-social work stories when the next tragedy happens. SCRs should be about learning from why things did (or didn’t) happen and ensuring that mistakes aren’t repeated, rather than damning those involved and I suspect that if they were released in full, they would be used as a stick to beat social work with.

Also, as Ofsted is the regulator of social care, you would think that they are experts in what makes a good SCR and are ideally placed to judge whether standards are improving. Apparently not. Would the government (of any hue) be any better judges, given that they are not trained and/or experienced in child protection? I suspect not.

While Loughton’s comments smack of political points-scoring – expect much, much more of that in the coming months – it does raise questions in my mind about whether a Conservative government will tinker with social care regulation. Surely, stability is what is needed, rather than more changes. We will have to wait and see.

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