Last reviewed 31 August 2018

Michael Evans considers the new statutory guidance for the safeguarding of children.

Why something new?

In October last year, following the Children and Social Work Act 2017, the Government consulted on proposed changes to its guidance on Working Together to Safeguard Children. This has resulted in a new statutory framework, together with statutory guidance that was published in July this year. The aim is to introduce a new system of multi-agency arrangements for local and national child safeguarding practice.

A full partnership to ensure safeguarding of children’s welfare

The message is that while parents and carers have primary responsibility for the care of their children, local authorities (LAs), working with partner organisations and agencies, have specific duties to safeguard and promote the welfare of children in their area. These duties can only be discharged with the full co-operation of other partners, many of whom have individual duties when carrying out their functions under s.11 of the Children Act 2004.

It is clear that an LA has a duty to make arrangements to promote co-operation between itself and partner organisations to improve the wellbeing of local children and that this co-operation should exist and be effective at all levels, from strategic level to operational delivery.

The Children and Social Work Act 2017 strengthens this important relationship by placing new duties on key agencies in a local area. Everyone who comes into contact with children and families has a role to play.

Definition of safeguarding

The new guidance defines safeguarding as:

  • protecting children from maltreatment

  • preventing impairment of children’s health or development

  • ensuring that children grow up in circumstances consistent with the provision of safe and effective care

  • taking action to enable all children to have the best outcomes.

All educational establishments are involved

Since the guidance applies to all organisations and agencies who have functions relating to children, it applies to all schools. The guidance applies to all children up to the age of 18 years whether they are living with their families, in state care, or living independently.

Since all educational providers including schools, multi-academy trusts and colleges, are relevant agencies, they have a statutory duty to co-operate with the published arrangements. Safeguarding partners should ensure that all educational providers in a local area have the opportunity to be fully engaged, involved and included in the new safeguarding arrangements.

The revised guidance has a new section dealing with “people in positions of trust”. This states that organisations and agencies working with children and families should have clear policies for dealing with allegations against people who work with children.

Out with the old and in with the new

As part of the streamlining operation, the current Local Safeguarding Children Boards (LSCBs) and Serious Case Reviews (SCRs) will be phased out and a new Child Safeguarding Practice Review Panel (the Panel) will be set up, which will include arrangements for child death review. Under the new legislation, there will be three safeguarding partners: LAs, chief officers of police and clinical commissioning groups. They must make arrangements to work together with schools and other relevant agencies to safeguard and protect the welfare of children in the area.

LAs were tasked with beginning transition from LSCBs to safeguarding partner and child death review partner arrangements from the end of June this year, with the expectation of completion by the end of September 2019.

Following the setting up of the new safeguarding partner and child death review partner arrangements, LSCBs in an area will have a statutory “grace” period of up to 12 months to complete and publish outstanding SCRs and up to four months to complete outstanding child death reviews.

A very important function of the safeguarding partners will be to identify serious child safeguarding cases where a child has died or been seriously harmed, and where abuse or neglect is known or suspected. From 29 June 2018, the new statutory duty has required all LAs to notify the Child Safeguarding Practice Review Panel of any incidents where they know or suspect that a child has been abused or neglected and the child has died or been seriously harmed.

The need to work together

In all cases, safeguarding partners should ensure that their arrangements to work together to identify and respond to the needs of children in the area include provision to consider what improvements to practice can be made, based on information from SCRs. It should be made clear in the arrangements that this provision is applicable whether the SCRs are published, complete but unpublished or still incomplete at the point of transition to the new safeguarding partner arrangements.

The Minister for Children and Families Nadhim Zahawi said:

“We want to improve care and support for every child, which is why it is so important we reflect and learn from the most serious cases of abuse or neglect, to help ensure the right protection is in place for some of the most vulnerable children in our society. The new Child Safeguarding Practice Review Panel will play an important part in improving this understanding.”

Listen to what children have to say

A final point — anyone working with children should listen to what they say and take their views seriously. It is important to work closely and in collaboration with children and their families to determine the level of support that is needed. Particular care is necessary with children who have problems with communication, unaccompanied children, refugees and those children who are victims of modern slavery and/or trafficking.

The Children Act 1989 requires LAs to give due regard to a child’s wishes when determining what services to provide and before making decisions about action to be taken to protect individual children. These wishes complement requirements relating to the wishes and feelings of children who are, or may be, looked after, including those who have been provided with accommodation and those taken into police protection.