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Helping frontline staff to learn from serious case reviews of child neglect

Early years student

The Faculty’s Institute for Child Centred Interprofessional Practice (ICCIP) has been investigating how practitioners and managers can learn from Serious Case Reviews (SCRs). The team won a contract from the Department for Education to look at the current barriers to learning from SCRs and to recommend some improvements to the system.

Several common themes emerged from the researchers’ interviews and focus groups with frontline practitioners and managers, as well as the questionnaires completed by staff. Key areas of concern focused on SCR publications, the learning culture and training, and the way in which new policy and procedures were implemented.

The team said due to their length and content, SCR publications create an ethos of blame and defensiveness which is exacerbated by media coverage, and the number of recommendations in the reports is overwhelming.
They also found there is insufficient regular training tailored to the different roles and responsibilities of staff from the private, voluntary and independent sectors.

Crucially, frontline staff have limited involvement in the generation of learning and ensuring its relevance and applicability. In general, the researchers found that communication systems are ineffectual in ensuring that learning from SCRs informs practitioners across disciplines, agencies and sectors.

As rapid changes to established systems can be destabilising and undermining, new policy and procedures can also impact negatively on frontline staff creating an increased workload, confusion and tension. In addition, implementing these changes can have a significant human and emotional toll and add to the workloads of practitioners who are already very busy.

The team concluded that using Serious Case Reviews as a process for embedding learning across disciplines required in-depth investigation. They also recommended the development of a database that allows all practitioners to access summaries of SCRs, as well as regular themed reports in a variety of formats for professional and agency audiences.

To encourage targeted learning, the researchers said new evidence based learning tools with a strong focus on multi professionalism could be the answer. These tools would encourage staff to have the confidence to challenge their attitudes on the frontline, for example, when working with non-compliant parents or carers. A new Continuous Professional Development (CPD) programme could develop practitioners’ interpersonal skills and teach them the legal and work based requirements.

Finally, the team recommended that a set of mandatory ‘National Safeguarding and Child Protection Standards’ could be developed, which would be applicable to all professions, agencies and disciplines working with children and young people.