On 9th December 2020, the government issued an updated version of Working Together to Safeguard Children. It is still branded as Working Together to Safeguard Children, July 2018 and the blurb from the DfE referred only to factual changes in relation to information sharing, the homelessness duty and references to domestic abuse, but this is more than that.
Much has changed in safeguarding since WTSC 2018 was published. We have had the Multi-Agency Safeguarding Partners, who replaced the Local Safeguarding Boards, in operation since at least September 2019. The changed procedures for Child Death Review and Practice Review are in operation. There have been changes in thinking about the impact of mental health, domestic abuse and child criminal exploitation. So, a tidy up of WTSC to reflect this and the move from proposals about the Safeguarding Partners to their real life operation was long overdue.
There is a renewal of focus and emphasis on the need for the Safeguarding partners and other agencies to work together, including the need for strong leadership and the active involvement of all safeguarding partners. There is increased clarity on the working relationships with relevant agencies. This includes a recognition of the pivotal role of schools in safeguarding and promoting children’s welfare (p.79). Schools’ ‘buy in ’is seen as vital for success, including the need for full engagement of schools as relevant agencies. The role of KCSIE as part of this is recognised. Underlying the guidance is a focus on information sharing between agencies and clarity about the need for safeguarding arrangements to be published (p.81) and that this should include information on the role of education settings, training arrangements, the processes for local child safeguarding practice reviews and a threshold document.
Many of the other in WTSC changes while important for DSLs are not going to have a significant impact on the day to day delivery of safeguarding in schools. In fact, many of the changes to WTSC are to bring it in line with those introduced in KCSIE in 2019 and 2020, so should already be embedded in school policy and practice. However there a number of key points that will need to be reflected in safeguarding work in schools.
There is an emphasis on mental health throughout the document. The definition of safeguarding now reflects the definition introduced in KCSIE 2020 and includes mental and physical health (p.7).
The section on Early Help (p.14) includes the importance of school staff being 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.’ As in KCSIE it is emphasise that school staff should not attempt to make a diagnosis of mental health problems, but make observations and share information. There is an emphasis on the long term impact of mental health issues. There is an interesting point on page 18 that where a child or young person is admitted to a mental health facility, practitioners should consider whether a referral to local authority children’s social care is necessary.
Through the document there is a stress on domestic abuse, including controlling and coercive behaviour. The issues of domestic abuse in teenage relationships is highlighted. The section on the role of the police (p.65) includes information on their role in incidents of domestic abuse. It emphasises that harm may be indirect and non-physical as, for example, in the case of some domestic abuse which may involve controlling and coercive behaviour and economic abuse. This is reflected in the definitions of domestic abuse and coercive and controlling behaviour included in the Glossary in Annexe A.
There is more information about the children who may benefit from Early Help including those with a parent/carer in custody (p.14).
There is considerable material about information sharing. Much of this reflects the practice that should have already been embedded in schools in line with the Data Protection: toolkit for Schools and highlights that 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. There are a couple of points of note:
If agreement for Early Help is not obtained, practitioners need to consider how to meet the needs of the child and need to explain that data will still be recorded and shared (p.18)
It is not necessary to seek consent to share information for the purposes of safeguarding and promoting the welfare of a child provided that there is a lawful basis to process any personal information required (p19).
There is an important addition in the section on People in positions of trust (p.60) which reflects the changes in KCSIE 2020 to include ‘those behaved or may have behaved in a way that indicates they may not be suitable to work with children.’ This should already be reflected in school policies and practice. It is encouraging to see it extended to all those working with children.
There is a new section on The Homelessness Duty under The Homelessness Reduction Act 2017 (p23). This emphasises the role of all agencies to prevent homelessness and the importance of early intervention to prevent children becoming homeless, including where there is a risk of someone becoming homeless, ‘intentionally homeless’ or rough sleeping. The risks for 16 and 17 year olds are highlighted.
To reflect the change in KCSIE 2020, the language of Contextual Safeguarding has been removed and is replaced with a focus on the assessment of risks outside the home, including teenage relationship abuse (p.25).
There is an increased clarity on child criminal exploitation and county lines, including their inclusion in the Glossary in Appendix A. A reminder in the section on the role of the police (p.65) that a child in possession of Class A drugs may be a victim of Child Criminal Exploitation. There is a focus on the role of the British Transport Police in this issue.
There is a recognition of the importance of transitions and the need for these to be planned. There is a clarity about the need to plan for the transition of support as children move to adult services (p.38) and rewrite of the guidance about children returning home from care (p.56).
There is clarification about the role of health services in strategy discussions (p.43).
The section on voluntary services is extended to include social enterprise and faith based organisations (p.73).
Chapters 4 and 5 look at the review processes for Child protection and safeguarding practice and the child death panel. It is important that DSLs are clear about the role of these reviews and keep up to date with their findings and the implications for safeguarding practice in schools.
The Glossary in Appendix A has been updated to include an emphasis on mental health, the impact of domestic abuse, the risks of online abuse and its role to facilitate abuse. Definitions have been added for the LADO, safeguarding partners, child death review partners, County Lines, Child criminal exploitation, Domestic abuse and controlling and coercive behaviour. This is useful, but unfortunately not in alphabetical order.
Possible actions for Schools
The majority of changes to practice and policies should have already been made in relation to the changes in KCSIE 2020.
Update your policies, procedures and practices to reflect the emphasis on mental health and coercive and controlling behaviours in domestic abuse, if this has not been done in line with KCSIE 2020
Consider your schools’ policies and reporting of concerns about those at risk of homelessness and how you engage with other agencies to support these families/children
Check that you are considering the use of Early Help to support children with a parent or carer in prison.
Remember that the Glossary contains some useful definitions. This has always been an underused part of this document.