Changes to Statutory Safeguarding Policy for 2021

As a freelance safeguarding children consultant, one of my roles I’ve developed over the years is to be a source of information to changes in statutory safeguarding guidance. As I often say in my training, the speed and depth of change increases constantly. Years ago guidance documents were published and expected to stand the test of time for at least five years, sometimes ten. These days we can expect annual changes. It is a real challenge to keep on top of it, and yet always seeking to improve our safeguarding practice is everyone’s responsibility and absolutely crucial. Change to policy only happens because we are always developing our understanding of the safeguarding needs that children have and the risks they are exposed to – and that is surely a good thing.

The primary document setting out the statutory safeguarding responsibilities of every organisation in the UK working with children is called ‘Working to Together to Safeguard Children’ (WTSC). The first edition of this was entitled ‘Working Together Under the Children Act’ published in 1992, shortly after the 1989 Children Act was passed. It was renamed as WTSC in its next formulation in 1999, and has continued with this title ever since. Currently the last major update the document experienced was in 2018, and indeed the most up to date document online is still entitled ‘WTSC 2018’. But in December 2020, there were a series of minor changes made (listed below). Being aware of these specific changes helps us understand the general direction safeguarding is taking and therefore I provide lengthy explanations of the reason for these changes. My suggestions for actions as a result of these changes are also listed.

(i) The importance of mental health concerns for children has been emphasised throughout the revised WTSC. In the very definition of safeguarding, impairment of children’s health has been changed to specify both children’s mental and physical health (a change that first appeared in ‘Keeping Children Safe in Education’ 2020). The significance of mental health concerns about a child have been linked to abuse, neglect or exploitation. The following paragraph has also been added to the guidance which will affect schools (although this has been stated in other guidance aimed at schools, this is the first time it is stated in WTSC):

‘In schools, it is important that staff are aware that mental health problems can, in some cases, be an indicator that a child has suffered or is at risk of suffering abuse, neglect or exploitation. Only appropriately trained professionals should attempt to make a diagnosis of a mental health problem, however school staff are well placed to observe children day-to-day and identify those whose behaviour suggests that they may be experiencing a mental health problem or be at risk of developing one. Where children have suffered abuse and neglect, or other potentially traumatic adverse childhood experiences, this can have a lasting impact throughout childhood, adolescence and into adulthood. It is key that school staff are aware of how these children’s experiences can impact on their mental health, behaviour and education.’ (WTSC page 14)

Action: Mental health problems and the risk of developing a mental health problem should be added to your safeguarding policy and supporting documentation as a sign of possible abuse. You also need to change your definition of safeguarding in policies and other documentation to read as follows:

‘a. protecting children from maltreatment

b. preventing impairment of children’s mental and physical health or development

c. ensuring that children are growing up in circumstances consistent with the provision of safe and effective care

d. taking action to enable all children to have the best outcomes’ (WTSC page 7)

(ii) The importance of early intervention has again been underlined in WTSC – a pattern over many years. The description of how agencies should respond to early help in terms to their arrangements has been expanded, particularly in the need to provide effective assessments (see below about changes regarding parental consent to information sharing in regard to early help assessments). A child who ‘has a parent/carer in custody’ has also been added to the list of children in need of potential help.

Action: Make sure you and your staff team are aware of Early Help arrangements in your area – they are very vulnerable to change. When explaining in your safeguarding policy and supporting documentation examples of when children may need an early intervention, ensure your list includes the following:

  • ‘disabled and has specific additional needs
  • special educational needs
  • young carer
  • signs of being drawn into anti-social or criminal behaviour
  • frequently missing/goes missing from care or from home
  • risk of modern slavery, trafficking or exploitation
  • risk of being radicalised or exploited
  • family drug and alcohol misuse, mental health issues, domestic abuse
  • misusing drugs or alcohol
  • returned home to their family from care
  • privately fostered
  • a parent/carer in custody’

(iii) WTSC has added further details on lawful sharing of safeguarding information under GDPR and the steps practitioners should be aware of. This includes the explicit statement that data protection legislation does not prevent the sharing of information to keep a child safe. In making decisions about appropriate information sharing, the guidance now recommends using GDPR lawful bases for sharing, i.e. legal obligation (the exercise of official authority) or public task (a task performed in the public interest). Further information about this is available in the new appendices (Appendix B), as well as the extremely useful ‘myth busting guide’ on page 21 which first appeared in 2018 and which I’ve often quoted to settings who have questions about GDPR and safeguarding. It is also stated that in regard to seeking parental consent for an Early Help assessment, the agreement of the child and parents is not required to share information for assessment, although it is important inform them that information is being shared and why: ‘in cases where agreement to an early help assessment cannot be obtained, practitioners should consider how the needs of the child might be met. However, practitioners should still inform individuals that their data will be recorded and shared and the purpose explained to them.’ (WTSC page 15)

Action: It might be useful to quote this explicit statement in your safeguarding policy and supporting documentation from WTSC:

‘The Data Protection Act 2018 and General Data Protection Regulations (GDPR) do not prevent the sharing of information for the purposes of keeping children safe. Fears about sharing information must not be allowed to stand in the way of the need to promote the welfare and protect the safety of children.’ (WTSC page 19)

Also make clear the possibly of sharing information without parental consent in regard to seeking an Early Help assessment (whilst informing parents that information is being shared and why).

(iv) WTSC now includes a new section on the Homelessness Duty and the duty to refer (page 23) in relation to local authorities’ duties to intervene at an earlier stage in homelessness. Full information is found in the Homelessness Code of Guidance. Every organisation needs to be aware of the significance of this new law and its capacity to support children’s welfare – and their role in early intervention to prevent homelessness, especially with 16 and 17 year olds.

Action: Make references in your safeguarding policy and supporting documentation to the Homelessness Duty, the duty to refer and the Code of Guidance.

(v)  As our understanding and acknowledgement of the extra familial risks posed to children and our ability to develop new approaches to address these, so terminology changes. WTSC now refers to Contextual Safeguarding as ‘Assessment of risk outside the home’, and it also adds teenage relationship abuse as a factor.

Action: Changes references in your safeguarding policy and supporting documentation from Contextual Safeguarding to ‘Assessment of risk outside the home’.

(vi)  In the section People in Positions of Trust, WTSC has now added ‘behaved or may have behaved in a way that indicates they may not be suitable to work with children’ (WTSC page 60) as a sign that some professionals working with children may pose a risk to them. This was added earlier to Keeping Children Safe in Education 2020 to capture concerns around transferable risk; for example where a person who works with children is involved in a domestic abuse incident at home and this may have implications for their suitability to work with children.

Action: Add in your safeguarding policy and supporting documentation ‘behaved or may have behaved in a way that indicates they may not be suitable to work with children’ to lists of possible signs of unsafe professional practice and give an example ‘e.g. perpetrating domestic abuse.’

(vii) WTSC makes changes to the term domestic abuse in a number of places to include controlling and coercive behaviour, with an emphasis on practitioners being able to recognise it especially in the context of children who are being exploited.

Action: Make sure in your safeguarding policy and supporting documentation that where you define Domestic Violence and Abuse you reference to controlling and coercive behaviour. Also reference controlling and coercive behaviour as one aspect of Child Sexual Exploitation.

(viii) In the section on Relevant Agencies, WTSC now says safeguarding partners ‘should’ set out in their published arrangements which organisations and agencies they will be working with to safeguard and promote the welfare of children – previously it said ‘must’ set out. This is a small change but presents the possibility that some safeguarding partners leading arrangements in their local areas may pause in informing us about their plans at the current time of national pandemic.

Action: Keep up to date with changes to local safeguarding children partnership arrangements where possible, including attending briefing meetings and checking websites..

Changes to other guidance:

There is currently a consultation on Keeping children safe in education, the statutory guidance for schools and other registered settings. It closes on 4/3/21, and heralds changes to be made Sept 2021. Many of the changes are to improve readability and to ensure that this guidance is in line with other statutory
documents. Other suggested changes include:

  • introducing a new condensed annex that schools may decide to use with staff who do not work ‘directly with children’, instead of them reading and understanding the whole of Part One;
  • reminding schools that they should include cyberbullying in the behaviour policy;
  • making the section on information sharing much clearer, for example, stating that ‘schools and colleges have clear powers to share, hold and use information for [identifying and tackling all forms of abuse and neglect, and in promoting children’s welfare, including their educational outcomes]’;
  • linking safeguarding to the behaviour management section of the Teacher Standards to ‘ensure a good and safe educational environment’; and
  • including ‘child abduction and community safety incidents’ in the potential harms section.
  • The sections that see the greatest potential changes are in safer recruitment, child on child sexual violence and sexual harassment (peer-on-peer abuse) and the role of the designated safeguarding lead.

Changes have also been proposed to the Sexual Violence and Sexual Harassment advice from the Department of Education; the consultation closes on 4th March 2021. Many of the suggested changes are to improve readability, update information sources and to clarify meaning. The consultation is open until 4th March 2021 (11:45pm) and can be found online here:

Recently the DfE published their guidance to schools in this new period of lockdown across England (does not include maintained nursery schools or pre-reception classes). From a safeguarding perspective these are the key points:

  • Update safeguarding and child protection policy ‘to reflect the move to remote education for most pupils’ (see also below)
  • DSL should be available on-site, but if not ‘available to be contacted via phone or online video’
  • Remote education will include ‘recorded or live direct teaching time, and time for pupils to complete tasks and assignments independently’
  • Identify a named senior leader with overarching responsibility for the quality and delivery of remote education (I think the DSL should liaise with this person)
  • Social workers should be notified about vulnerable children who need to self-isolate to agree ‘the best way to maintain contact and offer support to the vulnerable child or young person.’
  • Check if vulnerable children are ‘able to access remote education support, to support them to access it (as far as possible) and to regularly check if they are doing so.’

Download the guidance here:

Need more information? Please sign up to future training on Advanced Safeguarding with Delegated Services in partnership with Mandy Parry Training .