Why did the Department of Social Care adopt the discredited Every Child Matters system of referrals? More to the point – who was responsible for instigating it? The public rejected it. The Minister distances himself from this ‘mistake’, which occurred prior to his appointment. Nobody now wants to be associated with it in any way. Nor is anyone inclined to name names or explain how it was introduced, it seems. So who introduced it? And how was a non-statutory board brought into a highly sensitive situation? All this happened quite by chance? Of course not. We need names.
The transcript of the recent Tynwald Standing Committee on Social Affairs Policy Review confirms that the Every Child Matters policy ‘ tended to engender additional referrals‘ . We are further informed that ‘we had a culture out there which was tending towards adopting the Every Child Matters agenda.’ and that the agenda ‘had the unfortunate impact of very broad referral criteria.’ Resulting in 959 referrals from which only 60 cases required further action, it seems. Consequently, these working practices necessitated ‘the use of many, many agency social workers’. It seems that ‘Government invested a lot of time and effort in generating support for Every Child Matters’ . So why does the department not simply pull the plug on a highly unsatisfactory system? Mr Robertshaw asserts that this might result in missing a genuine case. However, it is hardly unreasonable to suggest that over-burdened social workers could well overlook a genuine case, having difficulty distinguishing wood from trees.
We are reminded, that a birth rate of around one thousand children per year almost equates to the referral quota. In response the committee was advised that multiple referrals from various agencies could apply to one child, which raised the question of who monitors the quantity of children referred in comparison to the quantity of initial referrals. Response? It seems the department doesn’t know. The Speaker also raised the issue that innocent families were being stigmatised and suffering as a result of the system in use, which we discover, is not ‘refined or defined in statutes‘.
The transcript contains references to the ‘terrific turnover of staff‘ in the department, with a total of 51 agency social workers employed over two years. From those 28 did not stay here. In turn raising the question of why we import social workers rather than training locally. We learn that the department is presently the subject of an external investigation to be conducted by the Scottish Government Care Inspectorate, itself presently embroiled in the introduction of Getting it Right for Every Child (GIRFEC) – a seemingly more intrusive system than ECM. Indeed, many believe it will generate more over-referrals than its Isle of Man counterpart, ECM. However, we are assured that ECM practices would not be reintroduced as ‘It was a mistake. Everyone understands and recognises it was’.
The system was an import – no surprises there! Copied and pasted, as usual? With the words Gloucestershire County Council appearing on the department’s website the question of the suitability of procedures for our island community was also raised.
Amongst all these issues, however, one point is of particular concern. The Protecting Children Board ‘does not operate under statute’. This surely must be causing government a headache. There is no statutory basis for this board which deals with highly sensitive matters. What would happen if someone decided to contest this? How does PCB operate? It is not a department of Social Care. ‘it actually goes through to the Chief Secretary’s Office‘! And is it registered for Data Protection? It seems not.
I think the implication of what the Chairman (Brenda Cannell) is saying is, of course, unless the board operates according to statutory policy, given the experience of people being incorrectly sucked into the Child Protection arena, then if the procedures operate without statute, there is going to be some difficulty in defending those procedures in court of law if they are operating without statutory authority.
The Chairman concluded that the Committee would follow things up with the Chief Secretary’s Office (Laughter) [Not my comment – this appears in the transcript. Manxasthehills.]
… it is of concern that there is a group of people sitting with this level of involvement without being protected by statute and appear to be answerable to nobody other than the Council of Ministers. (The Chairman).