Scrutiny and safeguarding in Brent – guest blog
Cllr Ketan Sheth discusses how they have scrutinised ‘Signs for Safety’
“The single most important factor in minimizing errors is to admit you may be wrong” – it’s not an easy maxim for anybody to follow, especially members of a scrutiny committee.
It’s actually by Professor Eileen Munro who was writing about the complexities and challenges of child protection and social work. So, what does that quote have to do with scrutiny? Let me explain.
In November 2015, Ofsted published a report after inspecting aspects of children’s services at Brent Council. In the report, Ofsted made some recommendations for scrutiny as well as the department.
Ofsted’s view was that scrutiny should focus more on children’s social care and be more challenging. In the past, scrutiny’s work programme had focused too much on education and early years, and had given too little consideration to children’s welfare and safeguarding. It was not possible to see what impact scrutiny had made on those areas, warned Ofsted.
In 2016, there was a shake-up of scrutiny at Brent and I became chair of the new Community and Wellbeing Scrutiny Committee. To go back to Professor Munro’s maxim, it seemed to me that we had to acknowledge that we hadn’t got it right in this area and needed to pay more attention to children’s social care. Scrutiny taking a closer look at a new framework for social workers called Signs of Safety was a good place to start.
In October 2014, Brent was one of ten local authorities awarded funding from the England Innovations Programme, which is supported by the Department for Education, to introduce Signs of Safety as its practice framework for working with children and families. Professor Munro and her colleagues at Munro, Turnell & Murphy have been working with the councils as part of the programme.
Children’s social care can be a fraught area for elected members. We are all aware of high-profile cases where scrutiny of children’s services and safeguarding has been too weak. Yet, Brent’s implementation of Signs of Safety, which the department started in early 2015, was certainly worth scrutiny’s attention. It is recognised around the world as one of the leading frameworks for social work which should improve the safety of the borough’s children who are most at risk of harm.
In September 2016 my committee set up a task and finish group to review implementation of Signs of Safety in Brent. They went out and spoke to front-line social workers to understand how the Signs of Safety model works in practice, and talked to them about the challenges of what they do. It was extremely eye-opening for members.
Now, one of the principles of Signs of Safety is for practitioners to think critically, or in other words to reflect on what has worked or not worked, being balanced about strengths and risks to avoid an overly negative or positive view, and remaining open-minded, all of which can be encapsulated in Professor Munro’s maxim.
Next month the task group’s report and recommendations will be discussed by the council’s Cabinet. One of the recommendations involves scrutiny as well, which is that we need to be going back to Signs of Safety in a year, to review how implementation is progressing.
Yet, I think critical thinking is a principle scrutiny shouldn’t just be remembering in a year. It seems to me that it offers an important insight which scrutiny should bear in mind all of the time and is something which could help to improve our practice.
Cllr Ketan Sheth, Chair, Community and Wellbeing Scrutiny Committee, Brent Council
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