Following the acceptance of Professor Eileen Munro’s recommendations, change was to be expected. Now the Government has consulted on three draft safeguarding guidance documents. Here Suzanne O’Connell looks at what they have to say.

Introduction

Bad luck is said to come in threes. Hopefully this does not extend to the three draft safeguarding guidance documents that we have been given for consultation.

The Munro Review of Child Protection: Final Report. A Child-centred System has been accepted as the blueprint for the way forward for child protection. These three documents illustrate how this might look in practice.

  • Working Together to Safeguard Children.

  • Managing Individual Cases: the Framework for the Assessment of Children in Need and their Families.

  • Statutory Guidance on Learning and Improvement.

Together they represent a much shorter set of guidance materials. We are told that they “provide essential clarity on requirements while allowing scope for professional judgment and innovation”.

Working Together to Safeguard Children

Working Together to Safeguard Children is largely a re-write of earlier safeguarding material with a vast reduction in the quantity of guidance and a greater focus on legislative requirements. It includes the statutory and multi-agency responsibilities of different organisations and the role of Local Safeguarding Children Boards (LSCBs).

There should be little in this document that is new for schools. However, the fact that it is in an abbreviated form means that people are more likely to become familiar with it. Particularly useful is the section which outlines the statutory responsibilities of different organisations.

Those provided for education, early years and childcare should not come as a surprise. It is their role in helping to identify welfare and safeguarding concerns at an early stage that is flagged up. There is a reminder that there should be a designated member of staff who takes lead responsibility, provides advice and support to others and liaises with the local authority.

Schools are reminded that they have a responsibility to attend child protection meetings supporting the implementation of child protection plans and that they should follow the guidance in Safeguarding Children and Safer Recruitment in Education. As might be expected, there continues to be emphasis on multi-agency working including the use of “common and shared assessments”.

It is good to see specific reference to the need for teachers, health visitors and early years workers to discuss concerns they may have about children and families with social workers in the local authority. This is a vital step that schools have sometimes felt discouraged from doing. The advice that social care can provide at this stage is a key component in enabling timely referrals to take place.

Managing Individual Cases

This draft guidance includes the procedures for assessing children in need, including statutory assessments and managing individual cases. It outlines the process following referral and provides a number of flow charts to clearly identify the alternatives at each stage.

The main difference that schools need to be aware of is the relaxation on nationally determined timescales with the majority being decided locally. The national expectations that remain include that:

  • the social worker has one day in which to decide upon a course of action after a referral and feedback must be given to the referrer

  • the child must be seen by a qualified social worker as soon as possible following a referral

  • an internal review point must be set at the outset for completing assessments

  • managers must regularly review cases and monitor progress towards the dates set.

The idea is that assessment is ongoing throughout and that prescribed timescales are not necessarily helpful in enabling the right decision to be made. Instead there will be internal review points to help ensure that assessment is on track. The need for both an initial and separate core assessment has been removed.

In terms of the role of the strategy discussion, child protection conference and child protection review conference, little has changed and child protection plans will continue to be the focal point for multi-agency working. Core groups will continue to meet to steer the child protection plan and monitor its implementation.

Statutory Guidance on Learning and Improvement

“Learning and improvement” means the review of practice and subsequent identification of ways in which it might be improved. This document focuses mostly on the role of the serious case review and the adoption of a systems methodology approach.

There are three types of review referred to.

  • Serious case reviews (SCR), where abuse or neglect is suspected to be linked to a child’s death or serious harm.

  • Child death reviews, which occur every time a child dies.

  • Management reviews, where the criteria for an SCR are not met but review might provide valuable information.

This guidance sets out the principles which LSCBs and partners should follow when conducting reviews. The framework of learning and development is to be developed locally by individual LSCBs, and the use of systems methodology is required as recommended by Professor Munro. This means that the reviews should focus on how the actions of professionals were influenced by the organisations and systems in which they were working.

It is not a case of witch-hunting an individual for the mistakes he or she made but looking at the faults in the system which cause those mistakes in the first place. The guidance does indicate that it will take time to ensure that there are sufficient people trained in implementing this approach.

To conclude

The Government states that the intention is to reverse compliance culture, the imposition of timescales and create more space for professional judgment and local innovation; an intention to which most people working in children’s services would subscribe.

However, there are those who point out that the professions need clear, and sometimes detailed, guidance too. The adoption of systems methodology will take time to skill up the necessary people and requires a different mindset during investigations of what went wrong. It may take a while for this to become a feature of the way practice is reviewed.

Reducing guidance and timescales will not necessarily remedy what social workers see as unmanageable workloads. The level of need in the community is increasing, but the resources to deal with this are not always there. There is a tension when reform is introduced at the same time as cutbacks.

The consultation closed on 4 September. It remains to be seen whether these documents will provide the right balance and the best way forward to enable professionals to fulfil their role in protecting children.

Last reviewed 3 September 2012