Related Sector: Health & Social Care

The independent review of children’s social care (May 2022) and the National child safeguarding practice review into the murders of Arthur Labinjo-Hughes and Star Hobson (26 May 2022) both recommend the establishment of multi-agency child protection units (MACPUs) in each local authority. Whilst it will be for the Department of Education to decide if this dual recommendation is to be implemented as part of their five-year reform plan, Bond Solon’s child safeguarding subject matter expert and family barrister, Francesca Burfield, examines whether the introduction of MACPUs is likely to enhance the ability for professionals to safeguard and protect children more readily and effectively, or whether the current system is ‘good enough’.

Are MACPUs necessary?

In essence, the recommendation is that these MACPUs would:

  • Provide child protection advice;
  • Lead strategy discussions;
  • Organise child protection medicals;
  • Undertake section 47 child protection enquiries;
  • Chair child protection conferences;
  • Oversee and review child protection plans;
  • Recommend applications to the family court; and
  • Provide expert multi-disciplinary evidence to the court.

However, all of the above responsibilities already fall under the remit of social workers, and in most cases social workers are doing them anyway, to the best of their ability.

Protecting children from harm is intrinsically complex and challenging work for all professionals. It requires expertise in ascertaining what has happened within a family to evaluate and make professional decisions without appearing intrusive. All child protection practice requires confidence, capability, collaboration, and expertise. Having considered the ‘learning’ from both reviews, we wonder if the introduction of MACPU’s are necessary and whether the ‘rethink’ could be much timelier and more effective with a ‘fresh thinking about the multi-disciplinary’ approach to child protection without the need for a major reorganisation of children’s social care. 

Where does the current system of child protection need to improve?

Through assisting dozens of local authority social work departments each year, we have identified the following key areas highlighted in the review to help improve the current system of child protection:

  • Social workers and other professionals should work more readily in partnership with families to build trust and secure engagement; they should explore their understanding of the current difficulties and listen to families’ suggestions about how things might change.
  • The child’s voice, the parent’s voice and the wider family’s voice should be ascertained and listened to upon referrals, as well as throughout the whole process.
  • Professionals should offer families more responsive respectful and effective support; expectations need to be plain and simple with families having an opportunity to demonstrate an understanding by showing not just ‘telling’, clear, observable goals by which to determine whether change has occurred.
  • The aim of an assessment of capacity to change is to reduce uncertainty for the child. It asks whether parents, over a specified period of time, and if provided with the right support are ready, willing and able to make the necessary changes (sustained over time) to ensure their child’s wellbeing and safety. However decisions should be made within the children’s identified timescales rather than the parents. Professionals need to be clear with parents what those timescales are and be honest about ‘the bottom line’.
  • Wider family networks should be encouraged to care for children supported by the community.
  • Professionals should have a better understanding of culture, identity, ethnicity, diverse communities and sexual orientation and be aware of and cautious of their own unconscious bias.
  • Professionals should be familiar with and ready to recognise all types of harm including those outside of the family.
  • All professionals that know the child and their family should be consulted at all stages of the process to help build a full holistic picture of the child so that the best decisions for that child can be made.
  • Where appropriate, all professionals need more robust critical thinking and challenge in their engagement with families but also within and between multi agencies.
  • All partners and professionals should sign up to and commit to safeguarding and protecting children in a more collaborative or cohesive way by sharing information more readily, attending strategy discussions, being proactive in any CIN or CP plans and supporting children’s social care in applications for orders in the family court.
  • There needs to be consistent and high skilled multi-disciplinary professionals proactive at every stage in a child’s journey.

In addition, particularly for social workers ‘there is a need for sharper specialist child protection skills and expertise, especially in relation to complex risk assessments and decision making; engaging reluctant parents, understanding the daily life of children and domestic abuse’ (National child safeguarding practice review into the murders of Arthur Labinjo-Hughes and Star Hobson).

So how is this achievable?

We would recommend that professionals embark on regular training, not only to keep abreast of all developments in their industry but also to remind them of the core safeguarding principles and processes that must be adhered to.

Bond Solon’s two-day training course Safeguarding Children: Social Worker’s Responsibilities is a highly interactive course, where delegates will explore the definition ‘Safeguarding Children’ and will identify and work through the 9 stage process involved in Safeguarding Children. This includes exploration and identification of the most effective partnerships to establish with families and multi agencies, the appropriate responses, sharing of information and risk assessments, multi-agency decision making, the correct provision of resources and services at the right time, at each stage from targeted ‘Early Help’ through to the ‘Final Care Plan’.

Article first published: 27th June 2022

Author: Francesca Burfield 

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