The Local Government Association is warning that Lord Laming's recommendation for a "formal initial assessment" of every child protection referral from other professionals could be counterproductive. They are concerned it risks further overloading the system. The LGA say only 13% of time to produce such an assessment is spent with the child or family – 87% on paperwork and process. They conclude that social workers should be left with discretion. But can they be trusted? Would not a better answer be to have the requirement but to change what constitutes a "formal initial assessment" to make it less bureaucratic?
Certainly the thrust of Lord Laming's recommendation – that social workers should sit down with the other professionals involved with the child (police, doctors, teachers) makes sense. A formal record showing concerns raised by other professionals would improve the accountability of social workers in a practical way.
Lord Laming's report certainly acknowledges the need to reduce bureaucracy. For instance he says: "On average care proceedings take 45 weeks in the Family Proceedings courts and 56 weeks in the County and High Courts. It is clear that for many children he length of delay in a court case is unacceptable." His stress on early intervention is also right – even if it increases burdens on social workers in the short term.
The battle comes with the detail. It is a matter of implementing Laming's proposals in a way that provides better safeguards and real accountability with less box ticking and people covering their own backs.
Cllr Shireen Ritchie, Chairman of the LGA's children and Young People Board, says to the BBC:
"The aim of this research is to help turn well-meaning proposals into practices which strengthen the safety net which keeps children safe from harm."
"Children who are at risk and families which are struggling will benefit more from additional time with experienced social workers than they will from an increase in the number of forms filled in about them.
"Some paperwork is essential to doing the best possible job but it is right to try to reduce bureaucracy where it can ease the pressure on social workers and increase the quality of care offered to children."
Cllr Ritchie tells Community Care that making "proper use of the Common Assessment Framework would be hugely helpful in terms of freeing up social worker time." That's probably right but isn't working at present.
One of the reasons social workers spend so much of their time behind computers is the introduction of the Goverrnment's ICS system.
Cllr Ritchie says:
"It needs to be able to do the work and not bog social workers down in bureaucracy. In my own council, Kensington and Chelsea, we didn't take the government grant and instead sat down with a social worker and IT bodies to make sure it actually helped frontline workers in their job. I don't know if the ICS system can be modified to a similar model but it's clear there is a lot of disillusionment with the original version."