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Working Together to Safeguard Children 2023: Summary and possible actions for schools

Updated: Jan 4



In this blog, I intend to provide a guide to Working Together 2023 including identifying key themes and changes that are relevant to schools. I will then suggest some possible actions for schools. This is based on my views and understanding and should not be regarded as a substitute for reading the document but a guide for doing so. I have also added a glossary for some the new acronyms that seem to be creeping in and may be unfamiliar.

I am also offering an online webinar on January 8th at 4.00- 5.00pm to discuss the changes. To join this please book via Eventbite.


What is Working Together to Safeguard Children?

Working Together is the core statutory guidance setting out how all agencies and professionals should work together to promote children's welfare. It was first published in 1999 and this is the sixth version.


Working Together 2023

This latest addition of Working Together is based on the government’s plan Stable Homes Built on Love. There are no statutory changes. Despite that it is a very different document, in appearance and length from its previous incarnations. It is expanded from 116 pages in 2020 to 168 pages. Though broken up by bullet points, there is far more continuous prose. There are fewer flow charts and tables to show the responsibilities of different agencies at different stages of the safeguarding and child protection processes. Much of this information is now included on ‘blue’ highlighted pages. This change in presentation makes it hard to identify what are changes and what is previous information re-ordered or re-presented.


Layout

The document is laid out in six chapters plus and a  introduction and two appendices - one is a glossary and the other references and sources of further information.


1.       A shared responsibility: Much of this chapter is new and includes principles and expectations for multi-agency working for working with parents and carers across a range of roles and activities.

2.       Multi-Agency Safeguarding Arrangements: This chapter sets out to clarify the roles and responsibilities of the safeguarding partners. This includes the role of schools as ‘a relevant agency with a pivotal role’.

3.       Providing Help, Support and Protection looks at the procedures and roles of different agencies in three sections:

a.       Early Help

b.       Safeguarding and promoting the welfare of children.

c.       Child Protection

4.       Organisational Responsibilities: This examines the roles of different agencies in safeguarding and child protection. There is little new of direct relevance to schools here. Though it is worth being aware of the additional responsibilities put on the prison and probation services, including in regard to mother and baby units in prisons, MAPPA (multi-agency protection arrangements) and assessments for those identified as people posing a risk to children (PPRC).

5.       Learning from Serious Child Safeguarding Incidents- again there is little new information of direct relevance to schools.

6.       Child Death Reviews- also little new and directly relevant for schools.


Key themes

For me, a number of issues seem to re-occur throughout the document.


The role of schools

Currently one in five referrals of at-risk pupils to children’s social care comes from schools. There is now a general recognition that when local safeguarding partners were introduced, in the 2017 Children and Social Work Act, it was a mistake that they did not include education. This cannot be rectified without a change in legislation. Although the government are beginning the process of consulting on this, it is very unlikely to happen within this parliament.


However, Working Together 2023 continually emphasises the importance of all local education and childcare providers working with children up to the age of 18, (including alternative provision, pupil referral units and further education’s) role as a relevant agency in safeguarding. They are considered to play a pivotal role in children’s daily lives and there is a recognition of the amount of time children spend in school.


We are told (page 32) that as a relevant agency education settings should:

·       have a clear understanding of its responsibilities in relation to safeguarding children locally, and how it will discharge them.

·       co-operate with safeguarding partners to improve, implement, and monitor effectiveness of the local safeguarding arrangements.

·       share information and data about safeguarding issues and concerns affecting the children involved in their organisation to contribute to local priorities.

·       ensure local multi-agency safeguarding arrangements are fully understood, and rigorously applied within their organisation.


Education providers also play a vital role in sharing and contributing to key information about children, including attendance data, exclusions, concerns about abuse, neglect, exploitation, and wider social and environmental factors including extra-familial contexts, which are a key aspect of keeping children safe (page 34).


There is an interesting part about training for education on page 29. We are told one of the key functions of the delegated safeguarding partners (DSP) is the provision of appropriate multi-agency safeguarding professional development and training. Yet on page 34 (para79) we are reminded that where education providers, including multi-academy trusts, work across several LAs they need to play their full part in local safeguarding arrangements in all of them. This needs to be more than responding to safeguarding audits of quality and compliance. They need to ensure that policies are consistent with the local multi-agency safeguarding arrangements and relevant legislation and/or regulations. Also they should provide staff and governor training that meets local and national safeguarding requirements. It is not clear who ‘they’ are in the paragraph and if the training responsibilities lie with the Safeguarding Partners, Local authority or education providers. It continues training for designated safeguarding leads and designated teachers should include shared understanding about different levels of need and how these need to be responded to.


The focus on the role of schools is also reflected in an underlying concern throughout the document about children not in school. On page 47 we are reminded:

•       All children aged 5 to 16 are legally entitled to a full-time education, suitable to any special educational need.

•       Education is essential for children’s progress, wellbeing and wider development and being in school is a protective factor against wider harms, including exploitation.

•        Where children are not receiving education, either because they are persistently missing school, or are not registered at a school and not receiving a suitable education otherwise, this could be a possible indicator of neglect, abuse or exploitation or could in itself constitute neglect in severe and sustained cases.

•       Local authorities are therefore expected to identify and pay particular attention to young people who are not in education, employment or training or whose current activity is not known.

•       Local authorities also have a statutory duty to secure sufficient suitable education and training provision for all young people aged 16 to 19 and for those up to age 25 with a learning difficulty assessment or, EHC plan, in their area.

•       As education and childcare settings have daily contact with most children and families, they are uniquely placed to identify concerns and, with partners as appropriate, address them early. Safeguarding professionals, including safeguarding partners and their delegates, should work closely with education and childcare settings to ensure information about children is shared effectively, risks of harm are correctly identified and understood, and children and families receive the services they need. This includes, but is not limited to, information, such as increased absence or mental health problems, which may be indicators that a child has suffered or is at risk of suffering neglect, abuse, and exploitation.

•       Those working in education and childcare settings need to be aware of how children’s experiences can impact on their mental health, behaviour, attendance and progress at nursery, school, or college. Where children have suffered abuse, neglect and exploitation, or other potentially traumatic adverse childhood experiences, this can have a lasting impact throughout childhood, adolescence and into adulthood.


We are reminded on page 48 about the risks and rights of Elective Home Education (EHE).

•       Parents have a right to educate their children at home providing the education is suitable.

•       When a child of school age is not a registered pupil at a school and is not receiving suitable education at home, this could be an indicator of neglect, abuse, or exploitation.

•       Schools must notify LA of any removal from the school roll at a non-standard transition point.


We are also reminded about OFSTED’s remit to make judgements about safeguarding (para 81).


The role of parents and families.

The document describes itself as following ‘a child centred approach within a whole family focus’ (p11) and looks to promote engagement of parents and working with them. This fits with much of the current government’s agenda of parents know best and are best placed to make decisions in their child’s interests- as reflected in the draft guidance on supporting gender-questioning children.

While parental rights are important. They must come with responsibilities and recognition of parental capacity. We know that many parents are not able, for a variety of reasons, to make decisions in the best interests of the child(ren). There are others who deliberately set out to harm or at least fail to protect their children.

 

There is a fear that a focus on working with parents, carers and wider family could distract from the needs and voice of the child. Even that professionals may be put in the position of standing by or being distracted from protecting children from harm by the need to engage and communicate with parents who some cases will include the perpetrators of abuse. There may also be incompatibilities with the recognition of children as the victims of domestic abuse under the 2021 Domestic Abuse Act.

 

While these concerns are real, much of the content looks less dramatic than some of the headlines. We are told on page 14, in the context of a child-centred approach:

·       all practitioners should work in partnership with parents and carers as far as possible.

·       Parents and carers need to understand what is happening, what they can expect from the help and support provided, what is expected of them and be supported to say what they think.

·        Working collaboratively will mean parents and carers have the best chance of making changes, and practitioners can make fair and accurate decisions about how to support children and keep them safe.

·       While collaborative relationships between practitioners and, parents and carers are important, the wishes, feelings and  best interests of the child remain central to decision-making.

·       Practitioners need to be particularly skilled in engaging and working with parents and carers whom services have found difficult to engage. Some examples may be parents and carers of disabled children, parents, and carers whose children are at risk of, or experiencing, harm from outside the home, fathers, and male carers, and those who are neurodivergent.

·       Practitioners also need to recognise, engage, and work with parents and carers who are unwilling or unable to engage with services.


Hopefully, this is common sense and is already embedded with good and respectful practice. This is extended by 4 principles to underpin working with parents (pages 14-15):

1.       Effective partnership working with parents and carers happens when practitioners build strong, positive, trusting, and co-operative relationships.

2.       Verbal and non-verbal communication should be respectful, non-blaming, clear,

inclusive, and adapted to parents and carers needs.

3.       Practitioners empower parents and carers to participate in decision-making to help, support and protect children.

4.       Practitioners involve parents, carers, families, and local communities in designing processes that affect them, including those focused on safeguarding children. They value their contributions, expertise and knowledge reflecting them in service design and continuously seek feedback from parents, carers, family networks, children, and local communities to inform service improvements.


There is a belief running through the document that children are best raised within their families or family network. This includes ongoing emphasis on the role of family group decision making forums with the aim of keeping the child with the family network rather than them going into care. This includes the Family group conference model (a voluntary model with informed consent to review family role and resources). They may include an independent co-ordinator. Such meeting should include when a child is returned home from care.


Few would doubt that the vast majority of children are best raised within their family network, though a cynic might comment that SGOs (Special Guardianship Orders) and Kinship placements are cheaper than other forms of foster care and looked after child status. We should always work to keep children with their families and recognise that it is important to involved families. However, we must remember that the ‘welfare of the child are paramount’ and this must not be superseded by the rights or voice of the parents. Children need to be at the centre of our work and the needs of the child and their parents, unfortunately, do not always align.


Within this there is a sub-theme about proactive and transparent information sharing.

•       Including where problem first emerge e.g. persistent school absence.

•       Sharing information about adults

•       Identification of patterns including missing from education

•       Information about welfare and safety

•       Being as transparent as possible with families about what information they are sharing and with whom, provided that it is safe to do so.

This reinforces the line from the updated Sharing information: advice for safeguarding practitioners (July 2023) about only sharing information when it is safe to do so and that it is not necessary to seek consent to share information for safeguarding purposes (page 19).


Risks inside and outside the home, including of exploitation and familial risks

This is a recurring theme, picking up on the work of the Contextual Safeguarding Organisation and others. We are told harm can occur in a range of extra-familial contexts, including schools, peer groups, or within community/public spaces, and/or online. Children may experience this type of harm from other children and/or from adults. Forms of extra-familial harm include exploitation by criminal and organised crime groups and individuals (such as county lines and financial exploitation), serious violence, modern slavery and trafficking, online harm, sexual exploitation, teenage relationship abuse, and the influences of extremism which could lead to radicalisation. Children of all ages can experience extra-familial harm (page 67).


Although there is a recognition (here and elsewhere in the document) of the risks and harm including inside and outside of the home, including online there is little explicit explanation or consideration of what these online risks and harms might be or how children, families or practitioners should be supported or trained to tackle these.


Nevertheless, a good assessment (page 68) should:

•       build an understanding of the child’s strengths, interests, identity, and culture.

•       respond to each of the vulnerabilities and/or challenges that the child may be facing.

•        gather information on past experiences of trauma and how this may impact on the child’s current experience of harm and on how they interact with practitioners.

•       explore how the child's experiences within their families and networks, including their friends and peer groups, interplay with the risk of harm outside of the home and identify what needs to change.

•       support parents, carers, and family networks to understand what is happening to the child, working with them to ensure they can best meet the child’s needs and play an active part in the solutions and processes to help create safety for the child.

•       understand the risk of extra-familial harm for siblings, for example, where older children are exploited, younger siblings may also be at risk of being targeted.


Other themes and omissions

Throughout the document, there are references to the idea found in the 2021 Domestic Act that children can and should be identified as victims of domestic abuse of all kinds. There are also many references to considering the protected characteristics of children and their families and the impact of these on their experiences. However there is very little about either children or families identifying or being identified as LGBTQI+.

There are interesting silences on:

•       the impact of social media and gaming on children

•       children’s understanding of and ability to give informed consent either in relations to abuse and exploitation or the sharing of information with practitioners and others.


Key changes

New definitions

On page 7, we are given an updated and extended definition of safeguarding and promoting the welfare of children which is:

•       providing help and support to meet the needs of children as soon as problems emerge.

•       protecting children from maltreatment, whether that is within or outside the home, including online.

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

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

•       promoting the upbringing of children with their birth parents, or otherwise their family network through a kinship care arrangement, whenever possible and where this is in the best interests of the children.

•       taking action to enable all children to have the best outcomes in line with the outcomes set out in the Children’s Social Care National Framework.


This goes on to remind us, that Child protection

•       is part of safeguarding and promoting the welfare of children.

•       is activity that is undertaken to protect specific children who are suspected to be suffering, or likely to suffer, significant harm.

•       This includes harm that occurs inside or outside the home, including online.

•       Effective safeguarding means practitioners should understand and be sensitive to factors, including economic and social circumstances and ethnicity, which can impact children and families’ lives.


Pages 82-84 are a useful summary about the recognition of significant harm, Section 47 enquiries, child protection conferences and plans- worth printing as an aide memoir.

The Children’s Social Care National Framework underpins this guidance and sets out the principles (page 11) that:

•       children’s welfare is paramount.

•       children’s wishes and feelings are sought, heard, and responded to

•       children’s social care works in partnership with whole families.

•       children are raised by their families, with their family networks or in family environments wherever possible.

•       Local authorities work with other agencies to effectively identify and meet the needs of children, young people, and families.

•       local authorities consider the economic and social circumstances impacting children, young people, and families.


 We are also reminded on pages 12-13 that anyone working with children

•       should see and speak to the child, listen to what they say, observe their behaviour, take their views seriously, and work with them and their families and the people who know them well when deciding how to support their needs.

•       be aware that children may find it difficult to always speak about what they need, what is happening to them or what has happened to them. Legal duties under the Equality Act 2010 must be complied with, including putting special provision in place to support dialogue with children who may not be able to convey their wishes and feelings as they may want to. This might include, for example, those who have communication difficulties, unaccompanied children, refugees, those children who are victims of modern slavery and/or trafficking and those who do not speak English or for whom English is not their first language.

•       This approach sits within a whole family culture in which the needs of all members of the family are explored as individuals and how their needs impact on one another is drawn out.


New roles and structures

1. Changes to safeguarding partners

The local Safeguarding Partners remain the local authority, police and health, but health is now represented by the ICB (Integrated Care Board) meaning they are

·       the local authority,

·       an ICB for an area, any part of which falls within the local authority area,

·       the Chief Constable for police for a police area, any part of which falls within the local authority area (page 23).

2. New roles within safeguarding partners

Each Safeguarding Partner needs to appoint a strategic lead safeguarding partner who is publicly named and accountable. The LSP is already defined as the Chief Officer of Police. For local authorities, the LSP should be the Head of Paid Service, also known as the Chief Executive, and for ICBs the LSP should be the Chief Executive. They are required to:

•       Act as a team to ensure their own agency discharges statutory and legislative duties to safeguard and promote welfare of children.

•       Meet regularly to set vision, lead organisation’s contribution, review and sign partnership documents, provide oversight, ensure necessary business support arrangements and ensure all relevant agencies, including education settings, are clear on their role and contribute to multi-agency arrangements.

•       Be responsible for the implementation of recommendations and learning from serious incidents, local child safeguarding practice reviews and national reviews.

They appoint an operational Delegated safeguarding partner (DSP) who

•       should be sufficiently senior to be able to speak with authority, take decisions on behalf of the LSP and hold their sectors to account.

•       should have the authority to carry out these functions, while ultimate accountability remains with the LSP.

•       should have oversight of the quality and compliance of the delivery of agreed shared priorities.

One is appointed partnership chair.

The DSPs should meet sufficiently frequently to undertake the following joint functions:

•        Delivery and monitoring of multi-agency priorities and procedures to protect and safeguard children in the local area.

•       Close partnership working and engagement with education (at strategic and operational level) and other relevant agencies,

•       The implementation of effective information sharing arrangements between agencies

•       Delivery of high-quality and timely rapid reviews and local child safeguarding practice reviews, with the impact of learning from local and national reviews independent scrutiny clearly evidenced in yearly reports.

•       The provision of appropriate multi-agency safeguarding professional development and training.

•       Seeking of, and responding to, feedback from children and families about their experiences of services and co-designing services to ensure children from different communities and groups can access the help and protection they need.


3. Expectations for multi-agency working

This should work at 3 levels:

 

It should be noted that the ‘senior and middle leaders’ descriptor includes a huge range of practitioners with a huge range of different responsibilities. The direct practice examples omit TAs who do so much important work with children and families.

At each level practitioners need to follow the principles of

•       Collaborate

•       Learn

•       Resource

•       Include

•       Mutual challenge.


The role of the Lead practitioner

There has been a lot of concern at the consultation stage about the increasing role for lead practitioners who are not social work trained. The Lead practitioner should co-ordinate activities, ensures assessments and plans respond to family needs. The section on Safeguarding (page 54) clarifies a broader range of practitioners, including social workers, can be the lead practitioner for children and families receiving support and services under section 17 of the Children Act 1989. This is making explicit what is increasingly common practice that a lead practitioner need not be and often isn’t a social worker.


When allocating the lead practitioner, local authorities and their partners should

•       consider the needs of the child and their family to ensure the lead practitioner has the time required to undertake the role.

•       The lead practitioner should have the skills, knowledge, competence, and experience to work effectively with the child and their family. (para 158)

•       Lead practitioners should have access to high quality supervision. This is important for schools where DSLs do not receive supervision but might be called upon to be a lead practitioner.

•       For Section 17, the assessment should be led by a lead practitioner and approved by a social work qualified practice supervisor or manager. That means that there should be some social work involvement and support.

•       The lead practitioner should always be a social worker for child protection (Section 47) enquiries.

The lead practitioner should:

•       lead on an assessment and complete it in line with the locally agreed protocol according to the child’s needs and within 45 working days from the point of referral into local authority children’s social care.

•       see the child within a timescale that is appropriate to the nature of the concerns expressed at referral, according to an agreed plan.

•       conduct interviews with the child and family members, separately and together as appropriate. Initial discussions with the child should be conducted in a way that minimises distress to them and maximises the likelihood that they will provide accurate and complete information, avoiding leading or suggestive questions.

•       record the assessment findings and decisions and next steps following the assessment.

•       inform, in writing, all the relevant agencies and the family of their decisions and, if the child is a child in need, of the plan for providing support.

•        inform the referrer of what action has been or will be taken.

As education settings, we need to be clear what we can do and what we are trained to do. We should use WTSC to state when our staff are not qualified, do not have the time, skills or experience to act as the lead practitioner.


Layers of Safeguarding

The layers of safeguarding and child protection support have not changed, but some of the emphasis has.

Firstly, all those working with children and families should be trained (para 123) so that they:

•       know when to share information with other practitioners and what action to take to support early identification and assessment.

•       are able to identify and recognise all forms of abuse, neglect, and exploitation.

•       have an understanding of domestic and sexual abuse, including controlling and coercive behaviour as well as parental conflict that is frequent, intense, and unresolved.

•       are aware of new and emerging threats, including online harm, grooming, sexual exploitation, criminal exploitation, radicalisation, and the role of technology and social media in presenting harm.

•       are aware that a child and their family may be experiencing multiple needs at the same time.

This should provide the agenda and menu for our basic safeguarding training in all settings.


Early Help  

The information on early help includes the role of education and childcare settings in supporting children and keeping them safe, including information on a child’s right to education. The approach to working with families has been strengthened throughout the guidance, outlining the role of family networks, including stronger guidance on the use of family group conferences to improve family network engagement in decision making and supporting children. It is clear that:

•       Early Help is not an individual service, but a system of support- some through universal services, other co-ordinated by local authority and/or their partners.

•       Voluntary and requires family’s consent.

•       May be provided before or after statutory intervention.


There is a widening in the risk factors for practitioners to consider when identifying children and families who may benefit from early help. The additions include when a child:

•       is bereaved.

•       is showing signs of being drawn into anti-social or criminal behaviour, including being affected by gangs and county lines and organised crime groups and/or serious violence, including knife crime.

•       is viewing problematic and/or inappropriate online content (for example, linked to violence), or developing inappropriate relationships online is viewing problematic and/or inappropriate online content (for example, linked to violence), or developing inappropriate relationships online.

•        is suffering from mental ill health.

•        has a parent or carer in custody.

•       is missing education, or persistently absent from school, or not in receipt of full-time education.

•       has experienced multiple suspensions and is at risk of or has been permanently excluded.

The full list is on pages 46-47.


Early Help Assessment should:

•       be undertaken with the agreement of the child and their parents or carers, involving the child and family as well as all the practitioners who are working with them.

•       take account of the child’s wishes and feelings wherever possible which could include providing advocacy support where this is needed to enable a child to share their views.

•       take account of the child’s age, family circumstances and extra-familial contexts and whether these factors are contributing to or preventing good outcomes.

•        take account of the needs of all members of the family as individuals and consider how their needs impact on one another which includes considering needs relating to education, early years development, mental health and physical health, substance misuse, financial stability, housing, family relationships, domestic abuse and crime. Practitioners should be aware of situations where there has been a breakdown in relationship between the child and their family and engaging the whole family may not be appropriate.

•       cover both presenting needs and any underlying issues with the understanding that a family’s needs can change overtime, for example, when a child moves up to secondary school.

•       based on facts, and explore and build on strengths

•       be clear about the action to be taken and services to be provided.

•       identify what help the child and family require to prevent needs escalating.

•       provide the basis for any future assessments if they are needed, for example, under sections 17 and 47 of the Children Act 1989

There should be effective join up between specific local Early Help and universal service so families can move between them, including explicit links to

•       respite and short break services for disabled children

•       Family and parenting programmes

•       Assistance with school attendance

•       Assistance with mental health,

•       enabling financial stability

•       supporting secure housing

•        responses to emerging concerns in extra-familial contexts

•        responding to a parent in custody,

•       Help for emerging problems relating to domestic abuse, drug or alcohol misuse.


Safeguarding and promoting the welfare of children.

This section is clear that a range of practitioners can act as lead practitioner. It also clarifies the role of children’s social care in supporting disabled children and their families, children at risk of, or experiencing, harm outside the home, children in mother and baby units (in prisons) and children at risk from people in prison and people supervised by the probation service.

 Local authorities, with their safeguarding partners and any relevant agencies, should develop, agree, and publish local protocols for assessments. A local protocol (page 54) for section 17 cases should:

•       be consistent with the requirements of this statutory guidance.

•       set out clear arrangements for how cases will be managed once a child is referred into local authority children’s social care.

•       set out who can act as a lead practitioner in supporting children and their families under section 17,

•       set out the skills, knowledge, experience, and competence required for the lead practitioner role and how this will be monitored locally.

•       set out clearly the governance arrangements to support effective decision-making, including roles, responsibilities, and accountabilities, and how these take account of high-level risk, risks that are dynamic and/or complex.

•       clarify how organisations, agencies and practitioners undertaking assessments and providing services can work in partnership including when sharing and seeking information.

•       set out how and when organisations and agencies should communicate with children and families.

•       set out the process for challenge by children and families by publishing the complaints procedures.


This should include the specific needs of certain groups including:

•       young carers,

•       children with special educational needs and/or disabilities (including to inform and be informed by EHC plans),

•       unborn children where there are concerns,

•       children in hospital

•       children in mental health in patient settings,

•        children with specific communication needs,

•       asylum seeking children,

•       children considered at risk of exploitation and harm outside the home (including serious violence and association with organised crime groups),

•       children at risk of female genital mutilation,

•       children who are in the youth justice system,

•       children with a parent in custody

•       children in kinship care

•       children returning home from care.


Assessment should focus on the needs and outcomes for children.

•       be multi-agency and multi-disciplinary, based on information gathered from relevant practitioners and agencies, and drawing in the relevant expertise.

•       be discussed with the child and their parents or carers, as appropriate.

•       build a full picture of all aspects of a child’s and their family’s life, including their strengths and interests as well as any previous referrals and interventions.

•       be holistic in approach and address presenting and underlying issues and each of the child’s needs, giving sufficient recognition and priority to the specific needs of disabled children and young carers and to any risks the child faces within or outside the home, including online.

•       explore the needs of all members of the family as individuals and consider how their needs impact on one another as well as how the family network could support and help de-escalate issues.

•       be a dynamic process, not an event, analysing and responding to the changing nature and level of need and/or risk faced by the child from within and outside their family.

•       recognise and respect the individual and protected characteristics of families, including the ways in which these can overlap and intersect, ensuring support reflects their diversity of needs and experiences.

•       lead to action, including the provision of services, the impact of which is reviewed on an ongoing basis.

•       recognise a child’s entitlement to a full-time education and the positive impact attendance at school has on personal development and attainment.

•       Where there are concerns that a child may be at risk of, or experiencing harm outside the home, assessments should include work with the child, parents, carers, family networks and partners to determine:

•       the nature and duration of the harm

•       where risk is located and understand the context in which harm is or may be happening, including online.

•       the level of risk associated with each concern and context identified.

•       Assessments should consider how a child’s experience within their family and networks, including their friends and peer groups, and extra-familial contexts, such as the places and spaces where they spend their time, interplay with the risk of harm outside of the home.


Further, assessments should be child-centred and responsive to the voice of the child. This means decisions should be made in the child’s best interests, rooted in child development, age-appropriate, sensitive to the impact of adversity and trauma and informed by evidence. Observation can be an important way to get the perspective of babies, infants, and non-verbal children. In the case of disabled children, practitioners should consider whether any specialist communication support is required and consider how advocacy services can support the child to communicate their views.


EHA is not a prerequisite for a referral, but where one has been undertaken it should be used to support further referrals.


Child protection

The Child protection section introduces the new national multi-agency child protection standards (pages 80-81) to set out actions, considerations and behaviours for improved child protection practice and outcomes for children.


National multi-agency practice standards for child protection state

•       Practice to help keep children safe inside and outside of their homes.

       The term practitioner is used refer to individuals who work with children and their families in any capacity, including a range of professionals, such as qualified social workers and those who work for the statutory safeguarding partners or in education settings.

•       Local safeguarding partners need to ensure all practitioners are supported to be able to achieve these child protection standards, including through:

•        an unrelenting focus on protection and the best outcomes for children

•       creating learning cultures in which practitioners stay up to date as new evidence of best practice emerges.

•        creating an environment in which it is safe to challenge, including assumptions that relate to ethnicity, sex, disability, and sexuality.

•       supporting practitioners with effective supervision as determined by their regulatory body in which they can critically reflect on their findings and strengthen their analysis.

•       helping practitioners to understand the impact of their decisions on the child and family.


Alongside the offer of help and support, there must be strong and effective multi-agency child protection arrangements. Children who need protecting may include those who experience harm in their own family and those who are harmed or exploited by others, including their peers, in their community and/or online. Suffering or being likely to suffer significant harm is the threshold for child protection enquiries and can take different forms, including sexual, physical or emotional abuse, neglect or domestic abuse (including controlling or coercive behaviour), exploitation by criminal gangs or organised crime groups, trafficking, online abuse, sexual exploitation, and the influences of extremism which could lead to radicalisation. 


Under section 47 of the Children Act 1989, the local authority has a duty to make enquiries when this is the case and to take decisive action when needed to protect a child from abuse, neglect, and exploitation. Practitioners responsible for child protection decision-making should be skilled, experienced and have the right expertise to collate, analyse and distil complex information in a changing context. Where child protection enquiries are necessary, the lead practitioner should always be a social worker.


Disabled children.

There are ongoing references to children with SEND as possible beneficiaries of Early Help and possibly even Section 17 support. There was a declared intention within the document to provide clarity on the support for children with disabilities. However the information on support for children in these groups is disappointing. We are told on page 65 that.

•       Practitioners should recognise additional pressures on the family and distinct challenges.

•       Child and family assessments needs to be strength based to ensure the child achieves the best possible outcomes.

•       enable the child’s family to continue in their caring role where that is right for the child.

•        safeguard children in cases where there is abuse, neglect, and exploitation.

•       ensure that appropriate practical support is in place to enable disabled children and their families to thrive.


This seems to me to lack substance and clarity. There is no definition of disabled. Further, despite talking about strength based assessments, best possible outcomes and practical support to enable children and families to thrive, there is focus on the negative impacts on families’ lives of living with and caring for a disabled child with little practical guidance about the shape and nature of the support to be offered. I am not convinced this will improve the current situation where children and their families are both patronised as ‘unfortunates’ and forced to fight repeatedly for every bit of additional support.


Possible Actions for Schools

·       Ensure that we are using the updated definitions of safeguarding and child protection and that this is reflected in all our policies and training.

·       Introduce changes in all training to reflect the changes in WTSC using the training requirements in paragraph 123.

·       Ensure that we are proactive about sharing information about children’s school attendance. We can use this document to highlight the importance of this as an issue and try to push LA involvement.

·       Ensure that we proactively include information about the key adults in a child’s life in all referrals to social care and/ or communication with other safeguarding partners. We need to remember that this will include when we have no information. Within this it will be important to share but differentiate known facts, concerns and reported information.

·       Consider when and how we share information with families. Also how we work to engage with them. At the same time we need to remember that the ‘welfare of the child is paramount’ and it is not necessary to seek consent to share information for safeguarding purposes. If it would further endanger a child, we should share without consent. Sharing information: advice for safeguarding practitioners (July 2023) is very clear about this.

·       Consider if there are any additional children who could or might come under the definition of those who might benefit from Early Help given the widened criteria. Most children and families who actually receive Early Help support have needs under multiple categories.

·       Recognise that even more schools will be asked to provide the lead practitioner for Early Help and Section 17 cases. We need to consider how these people will be trained, supported and provided with the time to fulfil these roles. This should include the provision of supportive non-managerial supervision as part of their DSL role.

Schools also need to be clear about their role and what can be reasonably expected of them. This will include being clear where they feel that they lack the skills, experience, expertise or time to be a lead practitioner in a particular case. This is part of safeguarding children.

·       The addition of young carers from January 2023 to the school census leads to questions about how these children are identified and even more importantly how they and their families are supported. Identifying children as young carers alone merely complete statistical records, it does not change their experience. Young Carers in Schools have some excellent resources to help with this

Download pages 82-84 as guide to significant harm.





•       DMO Designated Medical Officer

•       DSCO Designated Social Care Officer (for disabled children)

•       DSP Delegated safeguarding partner.

•       ICB Integrated care board.

•       ICTG Independent Child Trafficking Guardians are an independent source of advice for children who have been trafficked and somebody who can speak up on their behalf.

•       JSNA joint Strategic Needs assessment (used to inform EH offer)

•       LSP lead safeguarding partner

•       MASA multi-agency safeguarding arrangements.

•       VCSE voluntary, charity and social enterprise organisation

There is a full and useful Glossary with WTSC in Appendix A on page 154.

 



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