Thresholds – What Every Single Member of the Children’s Workforce Needs to Know

Thresholds – what every single member of the children’s workforce needs to know

I start off every Safeguarding: Basic Awareness session with a practical exercise on thresholds and then a clear diagrammatic explanation of what exactly they mean in theory and then practice. I do this because it gives participants an overview of the safeguarding children services, and some idea of how they as professionals fit into this overview. The idea is that once they have the overview of Safeguarding thresholds, then the detail of safeguarding – spotting signs, working in partnership with parents, referral pathways – is a lot easier to grasp. From the feedback I’ve received, I think it works very well.

Thresholds describe the point that agencies will intervene to offer support and/or protection to a child or family. Clarity around thresholds is absolute critical. The draft statutory guidance, Working Together to Safeguard Children (2018), emphasises the importance of having clear thresholds for taking action to safeguard children which are understood by professionals. It is absolutely vital that all children receive the right level of support and or/protection at the right time to prevent harm and to prevent problems from escalating.

Most Serious Case Reviews – investigations which takes place when a child dies, or is seriously harmed, as a result of abuse or neglect – include an account of how professionals may have misjudged thresholds. The stakes are very high when it comes to getting thresholds wrong – intervening too late, too early, or not at all.

But thresholds are a thorny matter. Most of my safeguarding training has entailed discussion of different scenarios and how they might be interpreted as more or less serious, given the facts available and the knowledge and values of the participants who are assessing them. These threshold discussions are mirrored across the children’s workforce in the real world – they take place between social workers, police, health professionals and the Crown Prosecution Service – and everybody else involved in children’s safeguarding.

The challenge is this: thresholds differ between professionals. They differ between agencies. They will differ across geographical & socio-economical areas. They will even differ between members of one team!

Since 2013, statutory guidance had required all Local Safeguarding Children Boards to publish a threshold document that will define how decisions will be made when assessing children’s needs. Each local authority threshold document aims to clarify the kind of services that can help children at different levels of need and risk. These threshold documents are very different. If you are a setting which works with children from a variety of different local authorities, it is the child’s residence rather than the address of the setting that will guide which threshold document will apply.

This week the Bristol Safeguarding Children Board launched a much needed refresh of their local Threshold Guidance Document. If you are based in Bristol and have the earlier version please put it in the recycling. The document was approved by representatives from across the city, and like all threshold documents, it includes carefully worded matrices that work alongside this document to provide support to people to use their judgement to make decisions about when they think a child needs additional support or protection.

The guidance can be accessed here:

Other threshold documents can be found through:

For a clear and up to date of explanation and discussion of thresholds, I do encourage you to attend my next Safeguarding: Basic Awareness course. I hope to see you there!…