Lord Laming’s second report into child protection procedures in England was published yesterday. The conclusions are not the subject of banner headlines this morning in the national press. Weeks ago, we were treated to headlines condemning social workers – how could they not have known, etc… This from a media that is normally more comfortable criticising the interference of the ‘nanny state’.
Laming’s second report (available at: http://publications.everychildmatters.gov.uk/eOrderingDownload/HC-330.pdf) gets straight to the heart of some difficult issues. The processes are there on paper – the problem is implementation. And the failure of implementation is not simply incompetence, idleness or malice, as too many easy headlines might suggest. Instead, it is about people in a system that is creaking at the seams. And, at the best of times, the role of social worker is not an easy one. Laming puts it well in the introduction: ‘Frontline staff in each of the key services have a demanding task. Their work requires not only knowledge and skill but also determination, courage, and an ability to cope with sometimes intense conflict.’ Recognising the complexity of the role and consciously developing staff to make judgements and to act on those judgements is key.
But Laming spots the other big problem – the commitment of senior managers. The two issues are closely linked. Managers need to know that their child protection staff are well trained and that their judgements can be trusted. Social workers need to know that their managers will support those judgements.
Once again, it is people and their relationships within and between organisations that determines how effective a policy is.