Children & Social Work Bill [Lords]

Written evidence submitted by Dr Peter Whitaker (CSWB 28)

Children and Social Work Bill: power to test different ways of working (new clauses 2 to 9)

Objection from a practitioner:

1 I am a registered child and family psychologist, a family therapist and honorary lecturer in the Research Department of Clinical Educational and Health Psychology at UCL, currently vice-chair of the Buckinghamshire adoption and permanency panel. I have 27 years of professional practice as a child psychologist, and 19 as an expert witness in the family court in Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire. I have been a long-standing member of two subcommittees of the Buckinghamshire Safeguarding Children Board (Strategic and Serious Case Review Group, and Child Death Overview Panel), and have written management reviews on behalf of Buckinghamshire schools as part of Serious Case Reviews.

2 I was trained in safeguarding as part of my initial professional training, and have throughout my professional life taken an active role in casework, consultation and training to promote good practice in safeguarding. For many years, I delivered a seminar in safeguarding for the postgraduate training course (DECPsy) in educational and child psychology at University College London, and was responsible as the designated person for safeguarding for similar training for my own and other services in my Local Authority.

3 My comments are based upon my knowledge of the research literature, and on many years of clinical practice; it is evident, not least from the many Serious Case Reviews undertaken by LAs, that retained LA services have not been able to avoid errors and shortcomings, indeed, looking back over a quarter of a century in the various areas of Buckinghamshire where I have worked, I can with hindsight recognise judgements I made that have later been shown to be mistaken. I have learned from this, and have shared my learning. Doing nothing is however no way to avoid adverse consequences in this field.

4 The key question here is whether there is any good reason to think that removing the duty to safeguard children from LAs will offer the likelihood of better outcomes for children - or indeed, even outcomes to equal those presently achieved. If LAs, in the severe financial stress that now affects all of them, are relieved of a statutory duty, it is certain that they will be obliged to leave the associated powers unused, simply to save money. This will have the effect of increasing risks to children and young people, a devastating enough consequence in its own terms: however, the 'downstream' effects are not restricted to one generation. Rather, abuse and neglect are transmitted to the descendents of those for whom safeguarding was inadequate, and whose parenting abilities are compromised. The answer to the deficiencies of LA services is not to dispense with such services (and to do so cannot be dignified with the label 'experiment': we are in Swiftian territory here!): it is to maintain, develop and improve them, an enterprise in which the previous administration has invested significant and productive effort.

5 Translating this proposed 'testing' into the context of the NHS is perhaps an instructive thought experiment: how many government ministers and MPs would support a proposal to 'test' the consequences of removing the duty on the NHS to provide the MMR vaccine, taking their own offspring as the 'test' cohort? (I am hoping the unanimous answer will be: none.)

6 We have I believe no choice but to work with the child protection services that exist, in the conviction that they should and will do better; simply ceasing to respond to the harm and distress of vulnerable children may suit Assad, but should be dismissed as irreconcilable with 'British' or indeed any ethical values. Outsourcing offers us no better hope, as the history of G4S, Serco and Capita in service provision makes all too painfully clear.

7 As the many recent scandals concerning historic child abuse make clear, we do not yet understand the extent of child maltreatment; but we are beginning to grasp its seriousness. This is not the time to indulge in dangerous 'testing' that can only amount to planned neglect.

8 Please therefore in your deliberations think about the importance of doing the best we can to protect children from harm, and do not allow the reinstatement of the euphemistically labelled 'innovation' clauses.

Dr Peter Whitaker

Child and Family Psychologist

December 2016

21 December 2016


Prepared 5th January 2017