Page last updated at 17:07 GMT, Thursday, 12 March 2009

Action urged on child protection

Lord Laming: 'We must improve the recruitment and training of social workers'

Child protection must be given higher priority to protect vulnerable young people from abuse, a report has warned.

Lord Laming's review told those working in children's services most of the necessary reforms were in place and that they should "now just do it".

The peer also called for a step change in the way services are run following the deaths of Victoria Climbie and Baby P after months of abuse.

Children's Secretary Ed Balls said he accepted all the new recommendations.

READ LORD LAMING'S REPORT

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No barrier or bureaucracy should get in the way of keeping children safe, he told MPs in the House of Commons.

Mr Balls, who promised a detailed response to all of Lord Laming's recommendations before the end of next month, appointed Barnardo's head Sir Roger Singleton as the first chief government adviser on the safety of children.

He also announced that ministers would be taking control of Doncaster children's services and appointing a new management team because of concerns over the deaths of seven children through abuse or neglect in the past five years.

In a separate move, the BBC understands the Welsh Assembly is also to intervene in the running of Swansea council's children's services department following two critical reports into its child protection procedures.

'Impatient'

Lord Laming's review of children's services in England concluded that child protection issues in England had not had "the priority they deserved" and many of the reforms brought in after Victoria Climbie's death in 2000 had not been properly implemented.

Other findings included:

  • There had been an "over-emphasis on process and targets", resulting in a "loss of confidence" among social workers, who were overstretched and undertrained
  • Progress was being "hampered" by the lack of a centralised computer system and an "over-complicated... tick-box assessment and recording system"
  • There was a lack of communication and joined-up working between agencies
  • A lack of funding made social and child protection work a "Cinderella service".

Lord Laming - who headed the Climbie inquiry - said the key services involved in child protection agreed the reforms introduced after that review were necessary.

Ed Balls addresses the House of Commons about the government's strategy

And his report stressed the key message in capital letters, saying: "In such circumstances it is hard to resist the urge to respond by saying to each of the key services, if that is so, 'NOW JUST DO IT!'"

"I'm just impatient to make sure that we get ahead and just do it now. It can be done and we could, in these circumstances, have the best child protection services in the world," Lord Laming said after the report's publication.

His review made 58 new recommendations on how to protect children from harm.

They included:

  • The introduction of targets for child protection, similar to school targets
  • Ensuring directors of children's services with no background in child protection have a senior manager with child protection experience in their team
  • School inspections to assess how well they carry out child protection duties
  • A national strategy to address recruitment and retention problems in children's social work
  • National guidelines setting out maximum case loads for social workers
  • Increased quality of degrees in social work and the introduction of a children's social worker post-graduate qualification.

Child protection has been under the microscope since details of Baby P's case came to light last year.


The emphasis from senior managers is on filling in forms

Social worker Joanna Nicolas

The 17-month-old died in August 2007 in the London borough of Haringey having suffered months of abuse, despite being seen 60 times by various professionals, including doctors and social workers.

Lord Laming had previously made 108 recommendations after his inquiry into the death of eight-year-old Victoria Climbie, also in Haringey, who was abused by her aunt for months before she died in February 2000.

Most of the recommendations were adopted in the 2004 Children's Act and Every Child Matters policies.

But following the death of Baby P, Children's Secretary Ed Balls asked Lord Laming to examine whether his recommendations had been properly implemented in England.

Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland have their own systems to monitor child protection and are not covered by the review.

Tory schools spokesman Michael Gove told the Commons the events that had led to the publication of Lord Laming's latest report were "horrific" and haunted the nation's conscience.

Baby P
Baby P died despite being seen more than 60 times by professionals

He said the peer's "scathing" report into the bureaucratic burden on social workers and its description of child protection as a Cinderella service was "a remarkable indictment of the state of child protection in this country".

But Beverley Hughes, children's minister for England, rejected suggestions that the government was to blame for the weaknesses exposed in Lord Laming's report.

"We instituted his reforms about six years ago, we acknowledged then that it would be a 10-year programme," she said.

She added: "We've made progress there. There are many more children being saved now than before."

'Target-driven'

However, some accused Lord Laming's initial reforms themselves of adding to social workers' bureaucratic burden.

Dr Eileen Munro, reader in social policy at the London School of Economics, said social workers spent 80% of their time in front of their computers and "hardly had time to talk to the parents, let alone the children".

Victoria Climbie
Victoria's great aunt and boyfriend were jailed for her murder

Social worker Joanna Nicolas told the BBC although a lot had changed since Lord Laming's first report, processes were not being followed because of the workload of social workers.

"The emphasis from senior managers is on filling in forms," she said.

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.

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SEE ALSO
Childcare team 'seriously weak'
12 Mar 09 |  South Yorkshire
Schools 'losing out' in shake up
12 Mar 09 |  Education
Profile: Lord Laming
12 Mar 09 |  UK
Children services inquiry ordered
12 Jan 09 |  South Yorkshire

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