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Managing acceptable risk in children’s social care decisions


The child protection system strives to keep children with their birth family while also protecting them from significant harm. The procedure for removing children usually starts with extensive efforts to preserve and support the family. Only if these fail will the system move to a court case and decisions about removal.

In making these decisions, judges and social workers have to weigh evidence of risk. Research indicates that a significant proportion of the children returned home at this point in the process become known to social services again because of concerns relating to their care. Some of these will suffer as a consequence. As such, we feel it is imperative that we ask ourselves the question – are we, as a sector, assessing risk correctly? Are there things that can be learned from other disciplines about managing risk and identifying the levers for improvement?

This seminar brought together speakers from a range of disciplines and professional backgrounds, including from outside social care, to explore the notion of ‘acceptable risk’ in relation to the best interests of the child:

  • Professor Judith Masson, Professor of Socio-legal Studies, University of Bristol
  • Dave Hill, President, Association of Directors of Children’s Services
  • Professor Sir David Spiegelhalter, Winton Professor for the Public Understanding of Risk, University of Cambridge
  • Professor Anthony Finkelstein CBE, Professor of Software Systems Engineering, The Alan Turing Institute
  • The Rt. Hon. Sir James Munby, President of the Family Division of the High Court of England and Wales and Head of Family Justice
  • Professor Sir Michael Rutter, Professor of Development Psychopathology, King’s College London

Please read the seminar’s briefing note for more information.

Below are PDFs of presentations from the speakers:

As well as key speakers, the event involved a panel of Directors of Children’s Services and over 100 attendees from a range of related relevant domains:

  • Anne Turner, Director of Children’s Safeguarding & Social Work, London Borough of Camden
  • David Johnston, Managing Director Children’s Social Care and Learning, Buckinghamshire County Council
  • Dawn Warwick, Director of Children’s Services, Wandsworth Council
  • Gail Tolley, Strategic Director of Children and Young People, Brent Council
  • Michael Rosen, Executive Director of Children’s Services, Norfolk County Council
  • Sarah Hammond, Assistant Director for West Kent, Kent County Council

Download the event’s programme below.

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