JimOne of the articles on CareKnowledge this week came from the Guardian. In it, Carol Long, of the NSPCC, argues that critics of Serious Case Reviews (SCR) are missing the point and that they are a valuable learning tool. Jim Kennedy asks if, even after Munro, we understand enough about the real barriers to learning and practice development in safeguarding:

This is a topic of real interest to CareKnowledge since we have a fairly full archive of the various overview reports that have tried to pull together the lessons from Reviews. And, now that Local Children’s Safeguarding Boards have been required to make reports publicly available, we are featuring an increasing number of individual reports.

We also have some history in trying to collate and simplify the key messages that emerged from the sequence of SCR reviews published before 2009 – the subject of one of our special reports, and in our briefings on important new Reviews that have been published since.

NSPCC themselves have also begun to publish a series of helpfully concise briefings that pick up on some of the key thematic issues identified within SCRs. Their latest is on SCRs involving people whose first language is not English.

And yet, and yet… there clearly remains a real problem in getting review messages across. And, beyond that, developing the criticisms made in SCRs into better practice material that busy social workers (and other professionals) can make use of in the real world.

As Carol Long notes in her Guardian article, a recent survey by the British Association of Social Workers suggested the majority of social workers do not read SCRs. I assume the survey did not distinguish between individual review reports and the series of published overview reports which are available, which may have provided a concise summary of major findings in certain cases.

Our own evidence – from CareKnowledge readership statistics – doesn’t suggest that even those collated summaries are necessarily reaching their intended audience.

I know from personal experience how reluctant people can be to read critical comment, especially when the messages often seem so familiar. The NSPCC’s attempt to link effective practice tips to the identified problem issues in their themed briefings is one way of trying to break through that.

Again, it’s something we tried in our Special Report, breaking the positive practice messages implied by SCR criticisms, into key messages for front-line staff, managers and organisations.

But I’m still concerned that these attempts to get information across are not reaching their targets, and that some fundamental issue (or issues) that we haven’t properly debated or understood is making it really difficult to get the best out of SCR learning.

Munro has obviously identified some of the key contributory factors – work pressure, over-bureaucratisation, and a failure to nurture sufficient professional discretion, among them. But is there something additional, possibly less tangible – blocking progress? If the profession isn’t even accessing the material, what’s the issue? And what might really help to overcome any identified barriers?

Incidentally, the NSPCC article arrived not long after the publication of the overview SCRs on the seven children involved in child sexual exploitation in Rochdale.

As I said in my CareKnowledge briefing, I believe it is one set of SCRs everyone involved in child protection should find the time to read, not just because of the issues raised, but because the main report is one of the most comprehensive, and widely-referenced, I have read. In that sense, it represents another opportunity to gain a lot of learning from a single source.

The report also discusses, in detail, the real nitty-gritty of the agency and cross-agency practice that frustrated attempts to provide adequate safeguarding to the children concerned. And, although the seriousness, and particular nature of the problems in Rochdale, may have been more extreme and different, I’m sure they will echo much wider real-world experiences.

It’s not possible to do justice to the reports’ discussions and findings in two or three paragraphs of a blog but, based on an initial reading, what struck me as different, or more apparent in these reports was:
· A more critical tone in relation to children’s social care’s attitude to other agencies
· A cross-agency failure to adequately respond to the needs of children with learning disabilities
· Longstanding failings in leadership and direction at the most senior levels of key agencies
· Longstanding difficulties in achieving effective multi-agency working at the most senior levels
· Failure by strategic managers to focus on routine safeguarding practice
· A recognition of the highly manipulative behaviour of the adult offenders involved
· Policies, culture and attitudes within many agencies which were actively unhelpful to work with adolescents

More familiar core problems identified include:
· The lack, or poor implementation, of relevant policies and procedures
· The absence of high quality supervision, challenge and line management oversight
· Resource pressures and high workloads
· Performance frameworks which focussed on quantitative practice rather than on quality

So, more food for thought on how we convert lessons learned in tragic circumstances into real, practical support for the professionals involved and, even more importantly, into approaches that will underpin better safeguarding for children.