My very experienced social worker colleagues have told me that changes to national laws and guidance in relation to safeguarding used to be expected every 10-15 years. Nowadays, as I like to share on my safeguarding training, the pace of change has vastly increased and major reviews of legislation and/or key guidance now occur with a rapidity and depth that is extremely challenging (which is just one of the reasons why safeguarding refreshers are so important!). It is therefore advisable to be ahead of the game – so I am sharing with you in advance major proposed changes to statutory guidance that will have huge repercussions for all of us.
Following the Royal Assent of the Children and Social Work Act 2017 earlier this year, the government has launched a consultation on its proposed changes to the statutory guidance ‘Working Together to Safeguard Children’ (WTSG) for publication in 2018. The last WTSC review took place in 2015.
The big headline news is that the new guidance intends to ensure that:
- Local Children Safeguarding Boards (LCSBs) are going to be replaced with ‘local safeguarding partners’ and their ‘relevant agencies’.
- A new national Child Safeguarding Practice Review Panel will be set up to give national direction and coordination to local Serious Case Reviews.
- Responsibility for child death reviews will be transferred from Local Safeguarding Children Boards to new Child Death Review Partners.
So what does this mean in practice?
It is proposed that there will be new flexible local safeguarding arrangements led by three ‘safeguarding partners’:
- local authorities;
- chief officers of police; and
- clinical commissioning groups.
This effectively means that local authorities will no longer be solely responsible for safeguarding leadership as they currently are through Local Safeguarding Children Boards (LSCBs). By including police and health as joint and equal partners, the structure will recognise that society’s perspective on safeguarding issues is developing; from the traditional understanding of interfamilial abuse to a more complex spectrum which involves issues including radicalisation, internet safety and public health. This issue – of recognising that abuse can occur outside of the family context – was one of the factors in recent Child Sexual Exploitation cases, where it was noted that safeguarding processes were not really designed to spot abuse taking place from criminal, sometimes organised, abusers.
It is proposed that the safeguarding partners will have a duty to make arrangements to work with any ‘relevant agencies’ for the purpose of safeguarding and promoting the welfare of children in their area. ‘Relevant agencies’ will be the term used to describe all the bodies and groups whose functions within a local area play a crucial role in coordinating the safeguarding and welfare of children.
The agencies currently comprise the current statutory membership of Local Safeguarding Children Boards so it is thought there will be little change there. But the proposed guidance will also specifically state that the role of schools must be recognised as key safeguarding partners: All schools (including maintained schools, special schools, independent schools, academies and free schools) have key duties in relation to safeguarding children and promoting their welfare…we expect all local safeguarding arrangements to contain explicit reference to how the safeguarding partners plan to involve, and give a voice to, all local schools and academies in their work.’ Not a safeguarding partner as such, school are still expected to play a key role in safeguarding arrangements.
It is proposed that the safeguarding partners will have much more flexibility than LSCBs to determine the geographical boundaries for their area (which may include two or more local authority areas), which relevant agencies they should work with, how safeguarding arrangements should work in their area, how to provide for independent scrutiny of their work and the best way to secure appropriate and sustainable funding. It could mean that, in the Bristol area, safeguarding arrangements would be citywide across different local authority boundaries, and incorporate parts of South Glos, BANES and North Somerset. It may mean that the current completely different ways of referring for Child Protection and Early Help across different local authority boundaries – confusing for professionals and parents – may be made much more consistent.
On the other hand, there is an awful lot of work to do and safeguarding partners will still be expected to raise their own funding to pay for most of their work. The proposals make it clear that there will be no clear format or set template to standardise referral procedures nationally, which is always a real concern for some of my learners when first encountering the range of different and difficult to interpret ‘Threshold Documents’ produced by each local authority (the requirement to produce Threshold documents dates from WTSC 2013 but so many people are still unfamiliar with them in my experience).
The consultation document says that ‘clear criteria for taking action are made available to relevant agencies and others in a transparent, accessible and well-understood way’, but it is proposed that the new guidance is now not even going to stipulate that a Threshold Document is going to have to be written – what the referral procedures are and how the ‘clear criteria’ are communicated will be left up to the ideas of the safeguarding partners. The danger is that the systems may become even more inconsistent nationally.
As the LSCBs have before them, it is proposed that the new safeguarding partners will have to identify and arrange for the review of serious child safeguarding cases which they think raise issues of importance in relation to their area. But proposals outline how they will also be required to liaise with a newly established national Child Safeguarding Practice Review Panel which will commission and publish reviews of serious child safeguarding cases which it thinks raise issues that are complex or of national importance. I think this is a welcome development as access to locally held Serious Case Reviews can be inconsistent (I’ve certainly struggled to get hold of some for research purposes), the learning lacks direction and any recommendations are not automatically given a national platform.
The consultation also proposes some minor changes which reflect current concerns. For instance, allegations of non-recent abuse in sport have raised the profile of this issue. There will be a stated need to strengthen links between local authorities and statutory services with the sport sector.
It is important that your voice is heard in regard to these proposed changes.
The consultation will end on 31st December 2017 and all the documents can be found here.
There is also a series of face to face consultation events across the country, the most local being in Bristol: 4th Dec 2017 at 10:00 – 13:00 More information about the event Bristol consultation event – at RSC Office, 2 Rivergate, Temple Quay, Bristol BS1 6EH.
If you wish to book a place on this event please email firstname.lastname@example.org