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.