This blog was written by Annie Hudson, Chair of the Child Safeguarding Practice Review Panel
The new national safeguarding arrangements were established just over four years ago. Yet there can be no doubt that the multi-agency landscape is being transformed and that many significant changes are taking place in how we work, lead and learn together to help and protect children.
The Child Safeguarding Practice Review Panel (‘the Panel’) was established to help safeguarding professionals make sense of and learn from the most serious incidents of abuse and neglect. I know, as a former social worker and Director of Children’s Services, that learning from such events is intrinsically challenging and often very tough. It involves a capacity to look deeply at the intricacies of practice, and the very balanced judgements safeguarding professionals make every day. The fear of blame and censure (including from the media) should never be underestimated but, more important, is communicating a sense of trust and confidence that learning will make a difference to practice and therefore to children and families.
In my time as Chair, I have been struck by the investment by both safeguarding leaders and front-line practitioners in learning from serious incidents and making necessary practice changes when needed. The way that statutory safeguarding partners (local authority, police and health) are developing and demonstrating tripartite leadership is impressive though the impact of differing professional priorities, cultures and ways of ‘seeing’ the world cannot be downplayed. Indeed, such issues often shape the good and the lively multi-disciplinary discussions we have at the Panel about what makes for effective safeguarding.
Today the Panel and What Works for Children’s Social Care have published the second joint analysis of yearly reports by safeguarding partners that set out how the new arrangements are working. The year 2020-21 represents the first full year of reporting and, overall, we were encouraged by the steps that have been taken in many areas to enact the ambitions for new safeguarding partner arrangements. Positively, it is evident that some areas have enhanced their approach to reporting; for example, some have drawn upon feedback from last year’s analysis of yearly reports and given stronger attention to learning and the use of evidence.
It is, however, concerning that only 49% of partnerships had submitted their reports for 2020-21 by the deadline for inclusion in this analysis. This represents a missed opportunity for sharing knowledge and learning about what is happening across the country. Crucially too, the analysis suggests that yearly reports need to have a sharper focus on how safeguarding partners are making a difference to local practice and to outcomes for children. In the future, yearly reports need to be more explicit about how and what they are learning from serious incidents and other evidence. This will support not only local but national learning and improvement.
Too many yearly reports did not include information about how safeguarding partners made key decisions, for example, about their priorities and work plans. It is important too that safeguarding partners are open and transparent about the challenges of their local context and how they are tackling these.
The reports published today evidence the timely progress that is being made but they also highlight how much more work we need to do together to strengthen the work and impact of local safeguarding partners. The Panel’s Child Protection in England report published in May 2022 suggests some ways in which this might be done. The Panel wants to play its role, with others in supporting these developments, for example, by facilitating safeguarding partners to learn from one another.
Today, the Panel has also published its Annual Report for 2021. This highlights six cross-cutting practice themes to make a difference in reducing serious harm and preventing child deaths caused by abuse or neglect.
- Supporting critical thinking and professional challenge through effective leadership and culture.
- The importance of a whole family approach to risk assessment and support.
- Giving central consideration to racial, ethnic and cultural identity, and its impact on the lived experience of children and families.
- Recognising and responding to the vulnerability of babies.
- Domestic abuse and harm to children – working across services.
- Keeping a focus on risks outside the family.
As 2022 draws to a close, we can look forward to the publication early in the new year of the Government’s Implementation Strategy. This is therefore an exciting and potentially pivotal moment that should be of benefit to children and families. In the meantime, I hope that the commentary and analysis in this ‘suite’ of reports will stimulate critical reflection to help strengthen the English child protection system.