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Home Education

A Review of Child Protection – recommendations (Munro 2011)

In 2010 the Secretary of State for Education, Michael Gove commissioned Professor Eileen Munro to review child protection in England. The following passages are from the conclusion of The Munro Review of Child Protection: Final Report A child-centred system (2011)

“As the review has described, abuse and neglect can be hard to see, with many of the indicative signs or symptoms being ambiguous and possibly having other benign explanations. Moreover, some parents go to extreme lengths to conceal the truth. There is a degree of uncertainty about recognising that children and/or young people are suffering significant harm that cannot be eliminated, though training helps professionals to know what to look for and procedures help them know what to do with their concerns. Managing this inescapable uncertainty is a problem that bedevils child protection services around the world and examples from this country illustrate how this central problem influences priorities in practice. If uncertainty is managed by referring even small signs of concern to children’s social care, then the level of demand for assessment is so high that it absorbs the bulk of resources, and provision of early help to children and families is cut in consequence. Families then only get access to help when problems are very severe and hard to resolve. Moreover, it means that many children are subject to intrusive and distressing enquiries but the families are finally deemed non-abusive and offered no help.”

“However, workers still face the problem of knowing when a voluntary, supportive service is not appropriate because children are suffering abuse or neglect to a degree that requires a statutory response. The review has been impressed by those places developing multi-agency teams to assess referrals and to talk to referrers about what is worrying them. A key characteristic of these teams has been the presence of a skilled and experienced social worker. The emerging evidence indicates that this approach appears to be shifting the investigative question from ‘is this a child protection case or not?’ to ‘does this child or young person need help and, if so, which service is appropriate?’ It also appears to help, to a certain degree, to manage the understandable anxiety about possibly missing a case of serious harm. Ensuring that those supporting children and families feel confident about when to refer to child protection is crucial in reducing the numbers of children who get referred to children’s social care, but are not deemed to warrant a child protection response. Further, it is likely to lead to better identification of those children and young people who are suffering, or likely to suffer, significant harm. This is because there is less resource expended on prioritising large numbers of referrals and more time spent with children and families.”

“Anxiety is already a major force in the system because of the complexity and emotional intensity of work with families where children could be or are being harmed. As already discussed, anxiety about missing a case of abuse or neglect leads to the high level of referrals to children’s social care. Social workers, in turn, can be driven by anxiety into applying to remove children from their birth family at a lower level of risk. Waves of anxiety travel through the system when there is a high profile death, leading to more referrals being made. The media and the public have a role to play in taking a more realistic view of the impossibility of eradicating all uncertainty from child protection. The false hope of eliminating risk has contributed significantly to the repeated use of increasing prescription as the solution to perceived problems. Consequently, this has increased defensive practice by professionals so that children and young people’s best interests are not always at the heart of decisions. It is major challenge to all involved in child protection to make the system less ‘risk averse’ and more ‘risk sensible’.”

Read in full: The Munro Review of Child Protection: Final Report A child-centred system (Munro, 2011)

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