Child protection: improving practice
Submitting InstitutionLondon School of Economics & Political Science
Unit of AssessmentSocial Work and Social Policy
Summary Impact TypeSocietal
Research Subject Area(s)
Medical and Health Sciences: Public Health and Health Services
Commerce, Management, Tourism and Services: Business and Management
Summary of the impact
The Unit's work has had a direct impact on the child protection system in
England. In 2010, the Secretary of State for Education invited Eileen
Munro to review the child protection system, giving her a wide remit
enabling her to address systemic factors (such as the inspection
framework, statutory guidance and performance management systems) as well
as front line practice. All 15 recommendations of her final 2011 report
[B] have been accepted and are being implemented. Munro's research has had
significant reach: she has given evidence to two state government reviews
of child protection in Australia; and in Queensland a charity is running a
campaign to persuade the state government to learn from her work.
Research Insights and Outputs: Munro's work has centred on
improving practice in child protection systems by studying why poor
performance occurs. She began by studying individual errors then broadened
out to look at how factors in the wider system interact to influence the
quality of performance. Her work was brought together in: `Learning to
reduce risk in child protection' . In this she argued that system-wide
changes were needed. Her conclusion was informed by research relating to
professional errors, reasoning and organisational factors.
Munro's initial research interest in professional errors involved an
analysis of child abuse inquiry reports, and used a framework of common
errors identified by psychological research. She found that criticisms of
professional practice could be classified according to this framework. Her
work offered a deeper understanding of how errors occurred, illustrated
how they manifested themselves in child protection work, and outlined
organisational changes needed to minimise their occurrence. These related
in particular to professional supervision and the need for a culture
whereby revising a judgement, in light of new evidence or critical
challenge, was seen as good practice .
However, feedback from child protection workers revealed that they found
it difficult to implement Munro's proposals. This led her to study how
intuitive and analytic thinking and emotions played a part in practice.
Drawing on research in the fields of psychology and psycho-neurology, her
book `Effective Child Protection'  outlined an approach to risk
assessment and decision making encompassing three dimensions of reasoning:
intuitive, analytical and emotional. This work also emphasised how
expertise is developed, requiring experience, feedback and reflection.
Further feedback from practitioners and managers led Munro to see that
their practice was additionally constrained by organisational factors such
as performance management and a culture that had become risk-averse and
defensive. This led her to focus on the organisational context to explore
how it influenced priorities and practices. She drew on the systems
approach to accident investigation adopted in engineering to develop a
systems approach to child protection . She subsequently trialled and
developed, in conjunction with the Social Care Institute for Excellence a
model of child protection as socio-technical system (akin to that in
aviation but adapted due to the different balance between social and
technical elements and the complex relationships in child protection) .
Munro's work has sought to address the crucial issue of organisational
complexity further. Building on the systems approach in case reviews, she
has explored the multiple factors in organisations that influence the
quality of work and analysed how factors such as the inspection process
, the performance management system (including targets and levels of
regulation), the computer software, and the level of public criticism in
child protection have cumulatively created an over-bureaucratised,
defensive, compliance culture, where the focus on helping children has
become obscured .In her 2010 paper  which brought together these key
themes, Munro concluded that systemic reform of the child protection
system was needed, in particular with respect to:
Organisational change: The focus on performance management and
targets needed to change to one focused on the needs of the child; more
interaction between professionals was needed; and uncertainty had to be
Professional expertise: Professional expertise and reasoning
needed to improve; and learning opportunities needed to be provided.
Key Researcher: Professor Munro has been at LSE since 1993.
References to the research
 Munro, E. (2010) `Learning to reduce risk in child protection'. British
Journal of Social Work, 40, 1135-1151. DOI: 10.1093/bjsw/bcq024
 Munro. E. (1999) `Common Errors of Reasoning in Child Protection'. Child
Abuse and Neglect: The International Journal, 23, 745-758. LSE
Research Online ID: 358
 Munro, E. (2008) Effective Child Protection, 2nd Edition.
London, Sage Publications. LSE Research Online ID: 12773
 Munro, E. (2005) `Improving practice: child protection as a systems
problem'. Children and Youth Services Review, 27, 4, 375-391. DOI:
 Fish, S, Munro, E., and Bairstow, S. (2008) Learning Together to
Safeguard Children. London, Social Care Institute for Excellence.
LSE Research Online ID: 51627
 Munro, E. (2004) `The impact of audit on social work practice'. British
Journal of Social Work, 34, 1077-1097. DOI: 10.1093/bjsw/bch130
 Munro, E. (2009) `Managing societal and institutional risks in child
protection'. Risk Analysis, 29, 7, 1015-1023. DOI:
Evidence of quality: references , , ,  and  are
peer-reviewed journal articles;  is a book published by a
Details of the impact
Nature of the Impact: Munro's research led to an invitation from
the Secretary of State for Education to undertake a review of child
protection in England. Her first report [A] analysed how different factors
had interacted to create a system that was risk averse, focusing on rules,
process and compliance rather than on its impact on children. Her analysis
was corroborated by feedback from the sector and subsequent reports
developed solutions [B,C,D]. Munro's final report [B] made 15
recommendations [BRec1-15] that sought to introduce change at several
points in the system: the ultimate aim was to move from a compliance
culture involving performance indicators to a learning culture, with
evidence about the impact on children becoming the key driver of practice.
The recommendations, building on key themes identified in Munro's
research, have all been accepted [E, F] impacting on legislation, policy
Organisational change: A recommendation for a new inspection
framework [BRec3: implemented 04/12[G]], shifts the emphasis from data
about process to evidence of the quality of work and its impact on
children. It requires local authorities (LAs) to gather feedback from
users and provide evidence of impact as part of their monitoring.
Prescribed statutory timescales for some processes at the beginning of the
family's contact with the child protection system have been removed
(implemented 05/13[H]), the aim being to reduce the dominance they had
acquired in determining priorities. LAs and other children's services are
now required to monitor the child's journey through the system. Inspectors
will also observe practice and talk to workers and users so that judgments
are not based on written records alone.
Given the distorting effects of performance indicators, with agencies
merely seeking to score well, and not necessarily provide a high quality
of service, new performance information was recommended [BRec4]
(implemented 04/12[I]). A mixture of national and local data is now
provided which must be interrogated before a judgment on quality of
performance is formed. Interaction between many professions and agencies
is required for the child protection system to function. A further
recommendation [BRec3] focused on conducting joint inspections; this is to
commence, in a modified form, in 2013-14 [J]. Revised statutory guidance
[H] also includes a requirement that Local Safeguarding Children's Boards
should include an assessment of the effectiveness of the help provided
[BRec6]. Creating a culture of shared acceptance of the inherent
uncertainty in making predictions about children's futures is also vital:
Ministerial statements reflect this uncertainty [K] as does the wording in
new statutory guidance [H].
With the changes in guidance, inspection and performance information,
children's social care departments are now required to give more attention
to the quality of help they are providing rather than focusing on
performance indicators. At least 50 LAs have radically redesigned their
work to improve the focus on helping families [D].
Professional expertise: Munro's recommendations have sought to
increase flexibility so that professionals can respond to the varied needs
and circumstances of children and families, and adapt their practices
having learned about their impact. The revised statutory guidance [BRec1]
(implemented 01/13[H]) includes a radical reduction in prescription,
limiting it to essential rules for professional co-operation, with
responsibility for professional guidance being left to the professions. It
also replaces timescales with judgements of timeliness plus quality. The
Government has also decommissioned the former electronic Common Assessment
Form, so that local areas can adapt assessment frameworks to meet their
own needs [L]. The aim is to make it easier for organisations to create
the working conditions for improving professional expertise when working
Munro was also asked to pay particular attention to improving social
work, building on the work of the Social Work Taskforce (2009). Drawing on
her research on professional reasoning and the development of expertise in
basic training and later practice, a capabilities framework for child and
family social work has been developed by the College of Social Work
[BRec11] [M]. The Government has additionally published expectations for
HEI/employer partnerships regarding the quality of placements for trainee
social workers [BRec12] [N].
For social work, improving expertise requires a change in career options
with a route to seniority in which staff can remain involved in direct
work and be rewarded for becoming more skilled. LAs are now required to
appoint a Principal Child and Family Social Worker at a senior level who
is still actively engaged with direct practice [BRec14]. This
recommendation has also been taken up in adult social care: the Care and
Support White Paper [O] proposes that all LAs should appoint a Principal
Social Worker for adult services. The Government has additionally created
posts of Chief Social Worker [BRec15) for both children's and adult social
work to improve the skills and role of the profession.
Munro's work has had impact beyond England. The Isle of Man is taking
forward her work to improve childcare services [P]. In Australia, she gave
evidence to reviews of child protection in state governments in Victoria
and New South Wales; and in Queensland, a charity is running a `Munro
campaign' to persuade the state government to learn from her work [Q].
Wider Implications: Protecting children from maltreatment is an
important task. The English child protection system was in need of major
reform as it had become dominated by a `blame culture' in which compliance
with procedures outweighed a focus on children's needs. The reforms that
have been introduced as a result of the work of the Unit are leading to
significant cultural changes and expertise in helping children, with
evidence about the impact of services on children now being prioritised
which should improve the quality of help provided and so assist with
improving the welfare of children.
Sources to corroborate the impact
All Sources listed below can also be seen at: https://apps.lse.ac.uk/impact/case-study/view/61
The Department for Education (DfE) website reports progress of Munro
[A] Munro, E. (2010) The Munro Review of Child Protection: Part
One: A Systems Analysis.
[B] Munro, E. (2011) The Munro Review of Child Protection, Final
Report: A Child-centred System.
[C] Munro, E. (2011) The Munro Review of Child Protection: Part Two:
The Child's Journey.
[D] Munro, E. (2012) Munro Review of Child Protection, Interim Progress
Report: Moving towards a child-centred system, London, DfE.
[E] DfE (2011) A child-centred system, The Government's response to the
Munro review of child protection, London, DfE.
[F] DfE (2011) Oral answer by Q. 18 by Michael Gove on Munro Report,
implementation of recommendations of Munro report into child protection, 4th
[G] Ofsted (2012) Framework for the inspection of local authority
arrangements for the protection of children, London, Ofsted.
[H] DfE (2013) Working together to safeguard children, London, DfE.
[I] DfE (2012) Children's safeguarding performance information framework,
[J] Ofsted (2013) A single inspection framework for children's services.
[K] Gove, M. (2012) Letter from the Education Secretary on the
publication of the Edlington SCR. http://www.education.gov.uk/inthenews/inthenews/a00205952/letter-from-the-education-secretary-on-the-publication-of-the-edlington-scr
[L] Decommissioning National eCAF.
[M] College of Social Work (2012) Professional Capabilities Framework,
[N] DfE (2013) Step up to Social Work.
[O] Department of Health (2012) White Paper, Caring for our Future. P.52.