The first report issued by the Munro Review said changes to the child protection system over the last 40 years have been driven by high-profile cases and have failed to deliver lasting improvements.
Professor Eileen Munro said that although reforms such as those following the Baby P case were “well-meaning and well-informed”, they focused too heavily on parts of the protection system rather than considering it as a whole.
The report added that an unintentional consequence was to tie up social workers in red tape which prevented professionals from exercising their own judgement.
Ms Munro said: “A key question for the review is why the well-intentioned reforms of the past haven’t worked.
“Piecemeal changes have resulted in a system where social workers are more focused on complying with procedures. This is taking them away from spending time with children and families and limiting their ability to make informed judgements.
“Professionals should rightly take responsibility when things go wrong, but they need more freedom to make decisions, more support and understanding, and less prescription and censure.”
Ms Munro, professor of social policy at the London School of Economics, was commissioned to carry out a review of children’s social work by children’s minister Tim Loughton in June. The final report will be published in April 2011.
Mr Loughton said Ms Munro had started to expose the underlying causes of problems in the child protection system.
He added: “I have spent the last week shadowing social workers in an immersive exercise to see what happens at the sharp end. Social workers need to have the confidence to make tough decisions and make a positive difference.”