The finalised version of Working Together to Safeguard Children was published on July 4th 2018. This is the statutory guidance to implement the changes from the Social Work and Children Act 2017. The major changes are the move from Local Safeguarding Children Boards (LSCB) to Safeguarding Partners. The Safeguarding Partners will be the Local Authority, Police and Health and the partners will be based in geographical areas around the Local Authority areas. Schools, along with other agencies, will be relevant agencies. The other major change is from Serious Case Reviews to Child Safeguarding Practice Reviews (The Panel) which are to be held at a national level to ensure that learning from complex cases or cases of national importance are shared and applied nationally. The model is reflected with Child Death Reviews.
Though schools will be significantly impacted by these changes and I will go through them later in this article, many of the minor changes will be of more direct and immediate importance.
It is explicitly stated that this guidance
• applies, in its entirety, to all schools.
• It applies to all children up to the age of 18 years whether living with their families, in state care, or living independently.
• should be complied with unless exceptional circumstances arise (page 7).
There is a significant change in language from the use of ‘children and young people’ to the exclusive use of the word ‘children’. This is reflective of the findings of Serious Case Reviews into CSE rings on the importance of remembering that all those under 18 are children and entitled to protection as children, regardless of where they are living or how they are behaving.
There is a similar change in wording throughout the document where the word ‘professional’ has been changed to ‘practitioner’. There is part of me that as a teacher bridles at the change, but on reflection I see that it is making clear the responsibilities of ‘everyone who comes into contact with children and families’ (page 6) and the importance of listening to those workers (and volunteers) who know the child best who may not be the holders of professional qualifications.
These wording changes should be reflected in school Safeguarding Policies.
Contextual Safeguarding and a Child-Centred Approach
WTSC is clear about the importance of a child-centred approach, reflecting the Contextual Safeguarding approach. There is a theme of reminding practitioners that assessments should be a dynamic process and respond to changing needs and information.
‘Children may be vulnerable to neglect and abuse or exploitation from within their family and from individuals they come across in their day-to-day lives. These threats can take a variety of different forms, including: sexual, physical and emotional abuse; neglect; exploitation by criminal gangs and organised crime groups; trafficking; online abuse; sexual exploitation and the influences of extremism leading to radicalisation. Whatever the form of abuse or neglect, practitioners should put the needs of children first when determining what action to take.’ (page 9)
On page 23 in the section on Contextual Safeguarding this is clarified:
‘Risks in and outside family at school, peer group or wider community, different forms and can be multiple exploitation by criminal gangs and organised crime groups such as county lines; trafficking, online abuse; sexual exploitation and the influences of extremism leading to radicalisation. Extremist groups make use of the internet to radicalise and recruit and to promote extremist materials. Any potential harmful effects to individuals identified as vulnerable to extremist ideologies or being drawn into terrorism should also be considered’ (page 23).
There is also an awareness of the need to consider:
• child ‘perpetrators’ as potential victims whose actions are reflective of the abuse they are or have suffered.
• groups of children
• parental capacity to support and protect their children and their understanding of the risks.
This section also includes a reminder that ‘The Children Act 1989 promotes the view that all children and their parents should be considered as individuals and that family structures, culture, religion, ethnic origins and other characteristics should be respected. Local authorities should ensure they support and promote fundamental British values….’ (page 24) It is clear that these concerns should be included in multi-agency, and by extension single agency training in schools (page 13).
There is an interesting addition to the section on what children say they need which is ‘to be protected against all forms of abuse and discrimination and the right to special protection and help if a refugee.’ There is also a reminder:
‘Anyone working with children should see and speak to the child; listen to what they say; take their views seriously; and work with them and their families collaboratively when deciding how to support their needs. Special provision should be put in place to support dialogue with children who have communication difficulties, unaccompanied children, refugees and those children who are victims of modern slavery and/or trafficking.’ (page 10)
The list of children who would benefit from Early Help (page 14) is the same as that in KCSIE 2018, though there is a wider list of possible lead practitioners. There is an emphasis on the need to work with the child and their family and in the wider community context (page 15). It is made explicit that if consent is not given, we need to consider how the child’s needs will be met and the need to consider a referral to social care. It is made clear that there should be a linking of Early Help and social care involvement. This should be seen as part of a continuum of support to respond to the different levels of need of individual children and families. When services are commissioned in response to an EHA, they should include ‘services for disabled children and be aligned with the short breaks services statement’ (page 16).
To support Early Help and referral to children’s services, Safeguarding Partners will need to publish a threshold document and clear procedures and processes for cases relating to:
• the abuse, neglect and exploitation of children
• children managed within the youth secure estate
• disabled children (page 17)
Anyone who has concerns about a child’s welfare should make a referral to local authority children’s social care and should do so immediately if there is a concern that the child is suffering significant harm or is likely to do so. Practitioners who make a referral should always follow up their concerns if they are not satisfied with the response (page 17). Any information practitioners have on the child’s developmental needs, the capacity of the child’s parents or carers to meet those needs and any external factors that may be undermining their capacity to parent should be included in any assessment including Early Help. Early Help is not a prerequisite for a referral. If a practitioner have concerns that a child may be a victim of modern day or human trafficking they should refer to the national referral mechanism.
Information Sharing (page18-20)
This section is amplified and extended in the new Information Sharing guidance.
It reflects the learning from serious case reviews on the importance of proactive information sharing. It is clear that this should include adults a child may have had contact with and the need to record information to establish patterns of behaviour. We need to consider both how we share information in our own organisations and with others who may be involved in the child’s life, particularly when a child moves from one local authority to another.
All practitioners should be aware that the Data Protection Act 2018 contains ‘safeguarding of children and individuals at risk’ as a processing condition that allows the sharing of information This includes allowing practitioners to share information without consent, if it is not possible to gain consent, it cannot be reasonably expected that a practitioner gains consent, or if to gain consent would place a child at risk.’ (page 19). A record should be kept of what information has been shared, if information has been shared without consent.
There is a useful Myth bursting guide to information sharing’ (page 20, also in the Information Sharing guidance)
There is a need to follow local protocols for assessments to ensure that links are made between assessments and between agencies. There needs to be awareness of those with particular needs including ‘young carers, those with SEND, unborn children where there are concerns, children in hospital, children with specific communication needs, asylum seeking children, children considered at risk of gang activity and association with organised crime groups, children at risk of female genital mutilation, children who are in the youth justice system, and children returning home.’ (page 25) The local protocol must include a complaints procedure.
We are reminded that
‘Assessment should be a dynamic process, which analyses and responds to the changing nature and level of need and/or risk faced by the child from within and outside their family. It is important that the impact of what is happening to a child is clearly identified and that information is gathered, recorded and checked systematically, and discussed with the child and their parents/carers where appropriate’ (page 25).
The focus should be on the needs of the child and reflect the unique characteristics of the child within their family and community context. This needs to consider siblings, links to foreign countries, information draw from a range of practitioners including schools and early years and use previous assessments if the children have been looked after or returned home. (page 28-29). The assessment will need ongoing review and revision as part of this dynamic process. This includes planning in advance for transitions (page 31).
As with the previous documents, the procedures and the roles of different agencies are clearly laid out. There are a few points to pick out as clarifications:
• There is continual use of the phrase ‘all practitioners should seek advice and guidance as required and in line with local practice guidance’.
• Once the referral is accepted by social care, the social worker becomes the lead practitioner and they should clarify the nature of the concerns with the referrer (page 31).
• Response to referral should be within one working day (page 31)
• When requested by the local authority’s social care, other practitioners from within the local authority have a duty to co-operate (DTC) (page 32).
• The child and family must be informed of the action, unless it would jeopardise a police investigation or place the child at risk of significant harm (page 32)
• The role of health in strategy meetings (page 41)
Chapter 2: Organisational responsibilities
This section looks at the roles of different organisation and groups in safeguarding including schools and colleges under section 11 of the Children Act 2004. There is a focus on the need for whistleblowing procedures and a clear escalation policy for staff to follow if their child safeguarding concerns are not being addressed within their organisation or by other agencies. There are several mentions of criminal exploitation and county lines.
• The section on People in positions of Trust (page 58) clarifies the role of the designated officer in managing allegations against people working with children.
• Page 60 reasserts that the guidance applies in its entirety to all schools
• Page 60 states for Early years and Childcare, their safeguarding policy and procedures must include action to be taken when there are a safeguarding concerns and allegations and must cover the use of mobile phones and cameras in the setting.
• Page 62 looks at the role of designated health professionals
• Page 67 Strengthens the role of the probation service to check on offenders with caring roles for or contact with children and clarifies their responsibilities to check with children’s services if the children are known to them.
• Page 71 offers details on the role of Multi-Agency Public Protection Arrangements (MAPPA).
• Page 70-72 clarifies the duties and responsibilities of those working with Voluntary, charity, social enterprise, faith based organisations and private sectors (VCSE) whether they are paid, or volunteers they must have regard to safeguarding. The organisation must have policies in place and work with safeguarding partners.
• Page 72 specifies the responsibilities of Sports clubs and organisations
Chapter 3 Multi-agency safeguarding arrangements
This section gives the details of the new Safeguarding Partners and they are to work together with relevant agencies.
Relevant agencies are ‘those organisations and agencies whose involvement the safeguarding partners consider is required to safeguard and promote the welfare of local children’ (page 76), these include schools. There is a national list of relevant agencies and each set of Safeguarding Partners will publish their own list of relevant agencies.
The role of schools is clearly stated:
‘Schools, colleges and other educational providers have a pivotal role to play in safeguarding children and promoting their welfare. Their co-operation and buy-in to the new arrangements will be vital for success.’ (page 77)
‘It is expected that local safeguarding partners will name schools, colleges and other educational providers as relevant agencies and will reach their own conclusions on how best locally to achieve the active engagement of individual institutions in a meaningful way.’ (page 77)
As a relevant agency schools and colleges are ‘under a statutory duty to co-operate with the published arrangements.
’ Schools must follow KCSIE and schools of all kinds are to be fully engaged, involved and included. This includes sharing information and responding to information requests (page 78).
The Safeguarding Partners must allow independent scrutiny and produce an Annual report. They remain responsible for commissioning multi-agency training.
Chapter 4 and 5 Improving child protection and safeguarding practice and Child Death Reviews
The is section looks at the move from Serious Case Reviews (SCR) to the introduction of children safeguarding practice reviews (The Panel) to review cases for learning at national level. Safeguarding partners will conduct reviews for learning at local level. Referral to The Panel will start with a local ‘rapid review’ leading to a decision if this remains a local review or if there are issues which ‘are complex or of national importance’ so a national review may be seen as appropriate. There are similar arrangements for Child Death Reviews. While schools are rarely directly involved in these, they will need to continue to consider the learning and apply it within their policies, practices and reflect it in their training.
The transition from LSCB to Safeguarding Partners and child death review partner arrangements must be completed by 29th September 2019. By June 29th 2019 all Safeguarding Partners must have published their local arrangements and then they will have 3 months to implement the changes. All SCR must be completed by 29th September 2020 and child death reviews by 29th January 2020. The details can be found in the transition arrangement document.
There is a useful glossary on page 103 and a set of links to relevant documents and guidance on page 108
Possible Actions for schools
• Update your Safeguarding policy to reflect the change of wording from professionals to practitioners and consider referring to children, not young people, throughout.
• If you have EYFS, your safeguarding policy must include the use of mobile phones and cameras in the setting.
• Ensure that you are aware of the changes in your local areas and that you update your policies and training as the change to Safeguarding Partners is implemented in your area. There will be a 3 month window from publication of plans to implementation.
• Watch out for the new Threshold document from your Safeguarding Partners when it is shared. This document is vital in making referrals to social care.
• Ensure your policy and training includes
o The importance of a Child centred approach
o Contextual Safeguarding, so that all staff (and volunteers) are aware that they need to consider the risks to children not only within their home and school, but also within their community and peer group.
o County lines
o Special protection and help for refugees
o Planning for transitions- remember the DSL should consider sharing information in advance of a child moving setting.
• DSLs should consider signing up to the Contextual Safeguarding Network to receive their updates or at least looking at their website and considering using their materials in their training.
• Check your information sharing protocols, including when children move settings and that all staff (and volunteers) are aware the GDPR is not a barrier to information sharing to safeguard children and individuals at risk.
• Consider the clarity and sharing of your whistle blowing and escalation policies and procedures. Do all staff and volunteers know about them?
• Consider if the guidance on the responsibilities of voluntary, charity, social enterprise, faith base organisations and private sectors (page 70—72) applies to your PTA or any other groups that you are working with and if they have the appropriate policies and information sharing in place.
• Check that any Sports Clubs or Organisations that you are working with are compliant under the guidance on page 72
Please note there have also been changes to the Information Sharing Guidance and Disqualification by Association Guidance which I deal with in a separate articles.