Innovations in Children’s Social Care – to what extent are parents and children included?

This is a post by a parent. NESTA is an ‘innovation foundation’ backing new ideas to tackle ‘the big challenges of our time’. The What Works Centre for Children’s Social Care is a new project to foster evidence-informed practice in the sector in England. The Development Team is helping to identify what the Centre should focus on, how it should identify and share evidence, and how it should be managed and led.

She poses the stark question – are children and families going to be direct participants in this endeavour or is it more an effort to find cheaper innovations with no clear definition of what is meant by ‘success’? I would be interested to know what response this parent receives…



​Dear Sir/Madam

I’m the parent of a young person who entered Care in adolescence. I’ve been campaigning and working for better rights for families in similar circumstances and for children with disabilities who enter Care since then.

I understand that NESTA will have a key role in the new What Works Centre for Children’s Social Care

As I understand it, there are a number of ethical issues that need to be addressed as regards the aims of the Centre and how these should be achieved. The Children’s Act 1989, is the primary piece of legislation to protect the welfare of children and it is generally accepted that it was intended to promote collaborative working between families and Agencies in the best interests of children.

The Main Principles of the Act are:
– the welfare of the child is the paramount consideration.
– wherever possible, children should be brought up and cared for within their own families.
– parents with children in need should be helped to bring up their children themselves; this help would be provided as a service to the child and his family.

It seems apparent that we are at a crossroads as regards working with families in England and Wales with some stark choices:-
​ Are the principles of the Children’s Act to be bravely embraced as never before including involving parents and carers in real decision-making at strategic level when it comes to designing social care services for children and families?
Are children and families to be treated as ‘guinea pigs’ in developing commercially viable ‘interventions’ in the name of ‘innovative practice in child protection’ with little say in the matter and no clear idea of how success is defined relative to the Children’s Act 1989?

I have been in a considerable number of rooms containing child protection professionals with a ‘we know best’ attitude when it comes to working with families and I find this both dispiriting and disturbing. What I’m sure of is that this attitude will never deliver for children and families. Not all programmes are like this thankfully. I’m a parent/carer member of a NHS Programme for example which has an ethos of co-production.

Please, please involve families (birth, adoptive, kinship etc) in the new Centre at decision-making level. To do anything other than this is highly unethical and will undermine the stated aims of the Centre.

This is my submission to the Care Crisis Review for what it is worth.

I look forward to a response to this email.

Yours Sincerely

27 thoughts on “Innovations in Children’s Social Care – to what extent are parents and children included?

  1. Angelo Granda

    I expect that all these big brother , snooping, social engineering tactics a LA 1984 have been used by LA’s for a long time including breeches of data-protection.After the outing of Cambridge analytica ,they will be looking to get retrospective approval to continue as they have been doing behind closed doors up until now. Possibly they have put these proposals forward. Unless someone blows the whistle though, I can only surmise,of course.
    I only know the team managers spend a lot of time on their computers but they could just be checking social media ,the CPR and parents ‘phone records,I suppose.
    Sarah,is this sort of thing okay as far as our human rights are concerned?

    1. Sarah Phillimore Post author

      Surveillance is not permitted without authorisation under the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000. Even checking a parents public Facebook page could be deemed surveillance if its done more than once. Phone records would definitely need a court order if parents didn’t agree to provide them.

  2. Angelo Granda

    The way I look at it is that methods will come and methods will go. The critical matter is that of FOCUS.
    Whatever the strategies and avenues open to LA’s and other agencies in child protection,the effects will depend on whether they are used with legitimate aims or not.
    Checks and procedural safeguards must be implemented scrupulously especially those in regard to our human rights ( proportionality,social needs etc.).
    Any SW ,public official or lawyer who puts the interests of agencies before those of children and families just cannot be trusted particularly where we consider the Judicial system and the funding of justice.
    It would appear the Troubled Families programme referred to in the above links is open to abuse in that sums are payable to LA’s (plus incremental bonuses) which identify and interfere with families before they hit the rocks.
    They try to predict what might happen and then deliberately engineer child a protection referrals to justify needless Interference.
    Who will not be concerned about these trends?

  3. looked_after_child

    Well there seems to be a few grey areas – I understand social workers can demand phones (usually from young women who have had violent partners) and then check the call history before handing the phone back? This is not always consensual. I know about it for that reason. It is about ‘finding the evidence’ and it can feel like harassment

    QUOTE from the TFP blog – I think there’s more we need to do to test the ethics and what is socially acceptable and supported by citizens in this new age, for example setting up Ethics Committees with local residents considering the risks and benefits.


    1. Angelo Granda

      So…………… if we test the ethics of data analytics for use as a means of predicating the future difficulties of troubled families with the aim of making a risk assessment and supplying support to a family in order to lessen the risk of significant harm to a child then I don’t suppose too many citizens would object. After all, everything might be significant, i suppose, for example if it can be established that a parent shops at Harrods rather than the Co-op or the local convenience store or that a family is politically correct and cuts down on junk food , it may mean a child is in less danger. If families eat fish and chips ,pizza etc. every day and eats between meals or purchases the wrong type of baked beans ,does not buy clothes from top shop or wherever ,it may be a bad sign. But predication, guesswork and data such as that must never be used in a factual matrix for use in our Family Court system.
      Ethically it would not be all that different than what we have already though, would it? Currently, the Court is supplied with a one-sided matrix based largely on predication and other data disguised as facts . Data actually means facts literally, as it happens, but computer input is not genuine fact although it is looked upon as a data-base. With the right aims and computer programme, in theory we could do away with the Courts and judicial discretion ,saving a mountain of expense ,if we just entered the informational matrix into a computer and relied on robotics to analyse every case and come to realistic appraisals. Ideally ,the computer would not be biased and have no conflict of interests; fairness would be programmed in and where all procedures and safeguards are not followed, where SW assessments are irrational etc. it would be spotted automatically and the no-order principle implemented. Likewise, if court orders are flouted or statements and reports lodged late.
      I suppose a computer could be programmed to read and understand medical assessments too thus biased professional judgments submitted by the LA itself would not hold too much sway.
      However, if we were to rely on a robotic system, naturally there would have to be limits on the power it is given. Support plans to be focussed on solely and no need to go to Court at all in most cases thus much more money to spend on family preservation in accordance with the Children Act. More money all round to pay for advocacy too.
      Yes, in my view, ethically it would not be too much different to what we already have but possibly better in a way! Really the power of the present family courts should be limited too. Presently, the matrix is very brief and almost always one-sided; also professional evidence is preferred to that of respondents. Not proportional and not fair to order such draconian sanctions.
      Data analytics calls to my mind psethology i.e. the study of electoral systems. Psetho means stones or grit used in a matrix of concrete .Every stone and particle of sand and cement and water in the matrix provided to a court or entered into a computer must be counted and taken into account for it to mean anything at all . In ancient history ,each man would be given a number of stones depending on his status and for voting purposes the stones would be gathered up and counted. Unless they were all counted, the poll would be an unfair one and the same applies to a Court matrix in this day and age. There must be a full and fair matrix and every stone must be given equal value and counted or the decisions are not fair or proportionate.
      Were the Children Act focussed on and power limited to family preservation and support only there would be no real problem with the use of computers.
      These are my initial thoughts re- the ethics and I look forward to all comments etc.

  4. looked_after_child

    We know data is increasingly being joined up e.g the highly controversial ‘Gang databases’ held by the Met police. We also know we are entering the age of ‘Predictive Analytics’ – so will this now stop until local (unfunded and with no powers even if they did exist, Also what is local – what size the footprint?) Ethics Committees are set up?

    If not, is this fine because ‘people like us’ are not affected and because it is useful? (but to whom and to what purpose?)

    1. looked_after_child


      The mentality of those in power who endorsed the experimental drugging of ‘problem children’ without their or their parent’s consent has not gone away. The hermetically sealed structure of the What Work Centre and sim programmes is just another face.
      There are whole industries living off these children – there is no real interrogation of why this is needed or who the players are or what good looks like. Those on the inside have no idea of what it feels or looks like on the outside and until they do, nothing can change.

  5. Angelo Granda


    Are we or are we not actually up against what Orwell was specifically portraying and predicting in his work of fiction published way back in 1948 I.e. covert spying and surveillance using all manner of new technologies for the purpose of authoritarianism ,control,restriction of our freedom and human rights?

    Excess use of power by officialdom is against the law without a court order and immoral even with one.

  6. HelenSparkles

    The What Works Centre appears to be yet another effort at colonising SW rather than doing SW. Those of us in practice are largely ignoring it, it is part of the neoliberal agenda promoted by governments of various hues, and which includes Morning Lane Associates (reclaiming SW), Frontline (only the brightest and the best because all the SW we have now are not the brightest and the best) and firms like KPMG being involved in accreditation. Not only does the Chief Social Worker have various links which don’t appear kosher, we are awaiting some FOI responses, but she is a government lacky imho.

    Until legislation or statutory guidance changes, social workers are concentrating on doing social work. Oh and (as I have said before) if anyone thinks I have time to be on FB ever they need to come and spend a day with me. People are not under surveillance by SW & it is very difficult (as it should be) for the police to put anyone under surveillance anyway. SW should not be demanding phones or anything from anyone – I accept of course that there is bad practice, but most of the women who I have worked with who have experienced abusive texts have sent me screenshots because they want me to have the evidence.

  7. Angelo Granda

    Research has revealed ,it is reported, that vegan Mums are 40% more likely to divorce their husbands which leads to broken families and emotional disturbance.Even though they are less likely to be obese etc.
    Thus, if any SW predicated the future on the basis that healthy eating is always less neglectful may be quite wrong.
    Would it be best for computers to do the assessment?
    Or would it be wiser not to predicate on such data and stick to actual facts?

        1. Angelo Granda

          Sarah, Two questions if you don’t mind:-

          1. In your many years of experience have you ever known a secret dossier be presented to court by an LA or by the Police acting under the auspices of RIBA?
          I do hope and pray your answer is NO.
          2. If such a dossier were presented and entered into the matrix ,would you be allowed to tell us and could you reveal the contents to the family involved?

    1. Sarah Phillimore Post author

      I was involved in one case where there was a ‘special advocates bundle’ as there was material which should not be shown the father as the mother was alleging forced marriage and said revealing the information would put her at risk. I didn’t think that was justified at the time. I had another case representing a father and I think there were concerns he was a terrorist as there was a hearing in London that I wasn’t allowed to go to. So I think it happens very rarely that evidence is withheld from the lawyers or parents and it should only be for serious reasons; such as risk of harm to another or risk to national security.

      I have had some cases where the LA were authorised to carry out surveillance of the front door of someone’s flat – this turned out to be very relevant evidence as the mother was saying that her violent ex was having no contact with the children; CCTV showed him coming and going from the flat.

  8. Angelo Granda

    Thank you for your reply,Sarah. I think it is fair for readers to conclude that covert surveillance of families and their properties by LA’s for use in CIVIL Family Court proceedings is not unusual . Plus there is such an animal as secret ‘special advocates bundles’ or dossiers which can be presented as evidence unbeknown to the subject parents.
    Of course, we already knew that phone records can be accessed, telephones bugged , computer data monitored ,algorithms studied etc. Plus online resources such as this one can be secretly monitored.And then there are facebook accounts.
    I presume the special advocate’s bundles are passed about in the Court antechamber (foyer). Are you allowed to show them to parents and tell them the contents?

    1. Sarah Phillimore Post author

      No, the whole point of a Special Advocates bundle is that it is NOT shown to the parents. However, this is a highly unusual set of circumstances and i have encountered it only once in over 20 years of practice, which gives you an indication of how often it is used.

      I appreciate there is a lot of suspicion and distrust about the ‘system’ and I am sad about that. But again, I hope a reassuring factor is that I have been able over many years now to offer quite serious criticisms of that system and its methods without my blog being shut down or any other repercussions. We are not quite yet in an East German Stasi state.

      1. Angelo Granda

        Yes, I agree with you. It does ,however, need looking at.

        Lord Mumby laid down the requirement for openness,honesty, giving parents the chance to reply to ‘concerns’ etc.

        We have to bear in mind the rule of law. As David Burrows pointed out on one thread,the whole question of ‘disclosure’ and belief is at the very root of all that is wrong with the Family Court system. I agree with him.

        If such evidence is considered admissible and i agree with you there are certain circumstances in which it might, then there must be limits laid down.Civil hearings are not related to national security and not related to criminal charges.

        1. Angelo Granda

          Regarding the special advocates bundles NOT to be shown to parents, covert surveillance reports and other ‘secret’ evidence.
          Are barristers and Judges obliged to inform respondent’s that such a dossier has been entered into proceedings and used against them? If they at least knew of their existence, they could possibly apply to see it or appeal to a higher court citing Articles 6 and 8 ECHR .

          1. Sarah Phillimore Post author

            In my case everyone knew there was a ‘secret file’ – by the end of the case it was agreed it shouldn’t be secret. In my other case involving terrorism (I think!) my client certainly wasn’t told – so far as I know.

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