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Applying social work law with children and families
Applying social work law with children and families

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7 Policy, implementation and practice

Policies are often derived from research, the findings of which can become enshrined in good practice guidance or legislation. It is important to recognise this when studying the law that frames social work practice.

In June 2010, Professor Eileen Munro conducted an independent review of the child protection system in England. In the final report of her review, A Child Centred System (Munro, 2011), she concluded that child protection had become too focused on compliance and procedures and had lost its focus on the needs and experiences of individual children. This particular finding is reflected within research, which has found that professionals within the child protection system seem to be overly reliant on bureaucratic requirements. Arguably, this may compromise the ability of practitioners to develop relationships with children and young people, and thus to establish their views and wishes.

Similar recommendations have also been made by reviews covering other areas of the UK, such as the review into the family justice system, by the Family Justice Review Panel (2011) – in Wales. The panel published its final report [Tip: hold Ctrl and click a link to open it in a new tab. (Hide tip)] in November 2011, and made a number of recommendations aimed at ensuring that children’s wishes are truly central to the operation of the system.

The recommendations outlined in reviews are supported by research, such as the small-scale study conducted by Woolfson et al. (2010), in which eleven children and young people from one Scottish local authority were interviewed about their experiences of the child protection system in one Scottish local authority. Their recommendations for improving the child protection system included greater involvement of children and young people in the decision-making process.

In May 2012, Professor Munro published her progress update on the reforms set out in her review. The updating report (Munro, 2012) stated that a culture change in the child protection system was underway, with reforms moving the focus of support and protection onto children and young people, and away from excessive bureaucratic demands.

More information about Professor Munro’s work and the changes and pace of reform can be accessed at: Munro review reports.

Many of the reforms highlighted by research and national reviews have subsequently been reflected within national guidance across the UK. For example, the National Guidance for Child Protection in Scotland (Scottish Government, 2014, p. 92) is explicit about the involvement of children in child protection processes, stating that: ‘Children should be listened to at every stage of the child protection process and given appropriate information about the decisions being made’. Similarly, the statutory guidance – Working Together to Safeguard Children (Department for Education, 2018, p. 10), which relates to England – encourages professionals to take a child-centred approach: ‘see and speak to the child; listen to what they say; take their views seriously; and work with them collaboratively when deciding how to support their needs.’

Social work practice within Northern Ireland has also been significantly impacted by events, inquiries, reviews and research originating from elsewhere in the UK (Duffy et al., 2016), and a key principle of the Co-operating to Safeguard Children and Young People in Northern Ireland (Department of Health, Social Services and Public Safety, 2017) guidance is that ‘the voice of the child or young person should be heard’.