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BASW welcomes plan to free social workers from bureaucracy

A new review of child protection work promises to cut down on the paperwork confronting social workers in their jobs.

LSE social work professor Eileen Munro has been asked by education secretary Michael Gove to lead the review, which will look at removing the barriers and bureaucracy preventing social workers from spending more time on face-to-face work with troubled families.

Issues the government has asked the Munro review to consider include early intervention and whether social work can be better supported by services like Sure Start; reducing bureaucracy and targets with more trust being placed in social workers’ professional judgement; and how greater transparency and accountability can be achieved to command public confidence in social work.

In a letter to Professor Munro, Mr Gove said frontline social work practice needed reform.  “I want to strengthen the profession so social workers are in a better position to make well informed judgements, based on up to date evidence, in the best interests of children, free from unnecessary bureaucracy and regulation,” he said.

Welcomed by BASW chief executive Hilton Dawson, the review follows the government’s decision to publish anonymised serious case reviews in full and abolish the ContactPoint database.

Child death inquiries, including the one into the death of Baby Peter in Haringey three years ago, have repeatedly raised the issue of paperwork.  Surveys have shown that child protection workers frequently spend more than 60% of their time on their computers filling in forms and bureaucracy was a major concern for the Social Work Task Force, whose work Professor Munro said she wanted to build on.

Speaking on Radio 4’s Today programme this morning, Professor Munro said bureaucracy in social work had “mushroomed out of control”.  She praised the child protection system introduced in Hackney, where social workers were able to focus on children while administrators dealt with the paperwork.

She said that increasing amounts of procedures and guidance had “accidentally undermined the social work skill” and practitioners had to be able to go into families to support children and deal with aggressive parents.  But she added that it would never be possible to eradicate child deaths:  “Some of them happen in a family that didn’t look so dangerous and suddenly it spirals out of control.”

Asked whether she could recommend improved pay and conditions for social workers, she said no one in the government had told her not to.  “We can make much better use of the money that’s in the system at the moment,” Professor Munro said.  “There’s an awful lot of time and money being spent on bureaucracy that isn’t directly helping children.”

Mr Dawson said that BASW had spent years campaigning to free social workers from bureaucracy.  “It is great news that the government is taking this fundamentally important matter so seriously that they are prepared to address it within their first 50 days.”

He added: “Social work must be enabled to grow and develop even at a time of public expenditure cuts.  This government must reverse the trend of the last one and cut the centralised, ineffective, unaccountable quangos and give the utmost priority to supporting the people who do their job on the frontline to protect our vulnerable children, families and communities.”