The second interim report on child protection, published today, has called for stripping Ofsted of the power to evaluate Serious Case Reviews (SCRs).
In her report, Child Protection: Interim Report, The Child's Journey, Professor Eileen Munro looked at how managerial targets, regulations, and general bureaucracy is interfering with child protection work by preventing social workers from doing their jobs properly.
Professor Munro concluded that Ofsted's external evaluation of SCRs has distorted the priorities in conducting these reviews, added to bureaucracy, and inhibited learning. The report recommends that Ofsted should be replaced with a national team of experts who would evaluate SCRs and make recommendations for improvement.
Announced and unannounced inspections should be channged to unannounced inspections only, Professor Munro says, which should cover all children's services and take into account the quality of learning provided by SCRs.
The report also highlights the importance of having multi-agency services based in the community and giving other professionals - health, police and family support services - easier access to social work advice when they have concerns about abuse and neglect.
Experienced social workers should be kept on the front line so they can develop their skills and better supervise more junior social workers, the report recommends.
Professor Munro said: "Too often questions are asked if rules and procedures have been met but not whether this has helped children. Everyone in the profession can think of meetings and forms that don't actually make a child safer.
"Whilst some regulation is needed, we need to reduce it to a small, manageable size. Professionals should be spending more time with children, asking how they feel, whether they understand why the social worker is involved in their family, and finding out what they want to happen.
"Placing a timescale on completing a form puts pressure on professionals which can distract from making decent quality judgements. We now have more knowledge about the kind of parenting that really harms children. Assessments should be skilled enough to distinguish between the families most in need and the parents who are struggling and just need a bit of help - possibly not from social workers," Professor Munro added.
Ofsted has welcomed the report and said it had recommended for some time that they stop carrying out evaluations of SCRs. A spokesperson said: "We endorse the importance placed on prevention and early intervention as well as services focused on those children identified as being at risk.
"It is also encouraging to see that inspection is valued by the Review and the sector as a significant factor in driving improvement and the finding that inspection should continue to play this distinct role. We welcome the opportunity to further improve the inspection process and look forward to the extension and development of unannounced inspections that cover all children's services.
"While we believe that Ofsted's work in the evaluation of Serious Case Reviews has had a positive impact in improving their quality, we agree that these should now end and have been suggesting this ourselves for some time. Ofsted supports the Review's proposals for how SCRs are likely to be approached in the future to maximise learning and improve practice."