What can schools learn from the Baby P case? Jenni Whitehead examines the report on Haringey children’s services and gives advice on how to prepare for unannounced inspections

Following the conviction of two men and a woman for causing or allowing the death of Baby P, the secretary of state for children, schools and families, Ed Balls, instructed Ofsted, along with the Healthcare Commission and the chief inspector of constabulary, to carry out an urgent review of services to children and young people in Haringey, with particular regard to safeguarding. This joint area review has since been published.

In a press statement given on 1 December 2008, Mr Balls said:

‘The whole nation has been shocked and moved by the tragic and horrific death of Baby P. All of us find it impossible to comprehend how adults could commit such terrible acts of evil against this little boy. And the public is angry that nobody stepped in to prevent this tragedy from happening.

‘I want to say very clearly at the outset: social workers, police officers, GPs, health professionals, all the people who work to keep children safe, do a very difficult job, often in really challenging circumstances – all around the country and in particular in Haringey.

‘They make difficult judgements every day that help to keep children safe – and many of them are unsung heroes.

‘But they must also be accountable for their decisions. And where things go badly wrong, people are right to want to know why and what will be done about it. In the case of Baby P, things did go tragically wrong.’

Concerns

The joint area review expresses serious concerns about the leadership and management of safeguarding, frontline practice and the supervision of frontline staff within children’s services in Haringey (see box). Its criticisms appear to be based on how Haringey measures up to the recommendations made in Lord Laming’s report published following the death of Victoria Climbié.
As a consequence of the joint area review, both the leader of Haringey Council and the lead member for children’s services announced their resignations. Ed Balls has directed Haringey to appoint John Coughlan as director of children’s services and the council has sacked the former director, Sharon Shoesmith, without payment of compensation.

The serious case review carried out by Haringey and published on the same day as the conviction (see Protecting Children Update, November) is described in the joint area review as inadequate.
According to Ofsted’s first national evaluation of serious case reviews there is variable quality across the country in conducting such reviews. (Learning Lessons, Taking Action). As a result of this finding Ed Balls announced that he would be asking ‘each local safeguarding children board responsible for a serious case review which has been judged inadequate to convene a panel to be chaired by an independent person to reconsider the review.’

Main findings of the joint area review

The main findings of the inspection point to significant weakness in safeguarding and child protection arrangements in Haringey. They also show that the arrangements for the leadership and management of safeguarding by the local authority and partner agencies in Haringey are inadequate.

  • Insufficient strategic leadership and management oversight of safeguarding of children and young people from Haringey by elected members, senior officers and others within the strategic partnership.
  • Managerial failure to ensure full compliance with some requirements of the inquiry into the death of Victoria Climbie, such as the lack of written feedback to those making referrals to social care services.
  • The local safeguarding children board (LSCB) fails to provide sufficient challenge to its member agencies. This is further compounded by the lack of an independent chairperson.
  • Inadequate communication and collaboration between social care, health services and police to ensure effective assessment, planning and review of cases of vulnerable children and young people.
  • Too often assessments of children and young people, in all agencies, fail to identify those who are at immediate risk of harm and to address their needs.
  • The quality of front-line practice across all agencies is inconsistent and not effectively monitored by line managers.
  • Child protection plans were found to be ‘generally poor’.
  • Arrangements for scrutinising performance across the council and the partnership are insufficiently developed and fail to provide systematic support and appropriate challenge to both managers and practitioners.
  • The standard of record keeping on case files across all agencies is inconsistent and often poor.
  • There is too much reliance on quantitative data to measure social care, health, and police performance, without sufficiently robust analysis of the underlying quality of service provision and practice.

Ed Balls has announced that Ofsted will carry out annual reviews of children’s services across the country. Reading the main findings of the joint area review gives us an idea as to what Ofsted will be looking for in such reviews. The main findings are given in the box above, and its recommendations are listed in the box below. Schools will be included in such reviews and as the main referring agency need to take account of the joint area review.

Recommendations of the joint area review

The joint area review made the following recommendations.

The Department for Children, Schools and Families should:
n provide immediate appropriate support and challenge to the local authority to ensure that comprehensive and effective safeguarding arrangements for children and young people are established.

The Local Authority, working with its partners and in particular health and the police, should:

  • improve governance of safeguarding arrangements
  • establish more secure assessment and earlier intervention strategies which ensure that, in all cases where concerns about children are identified, agencies can intervene and assess risks of significant harm to children in a timely manner
  • establish more systematic monitoring of the quality of practice
  • ensure that managers and staff at all levels are accountable for casework decisions, and that they draw as necessary on the expertise of partner agencies to inform the decision making process
  • take steps to integrate individual service processes and systems across all agencies more effectively
  • assure the competence of leadership and management in all areas of children’s services and develop clear and effective accountability structures
  • establish rigorous arrangements for management of performance across all agencies, which ensure that the quality of practice is evaluated and reported regularly and reliably, and that accountability for each action is defined and monitored
  • make explicit to all staff and elected members the expectations and standards required of front line child protection practice
  • establish rigorous procedures to audit and monitor the quality of case files across all partner agencies and ensure processes are in place to deliver improvement
  • establish clear procedures and protocols for communication and collaboration between social care, health and police services to support safeguarding of children, and ensure that these are adhered to
  • assure the competence of service and team managers in conducting rigorous and evaluative supervision and monitoring of safeguarding practice
  • appoint an independent chairperson to the local safeguarding children board (LSCB).

Whilst not a mandatory requirement, it would be good practice for the Local Authority to:

  • ensure that all elected members have CRB checks
  • ensure that all elected members undertake safeguarding training.

How does this affect education staff?

The following points are made to help schools check their current child protection practice in light of criticisms made by the joint area review in Haringey.

Making referrals

  • Make sure all staff are aware of child protection procedures. If you are the named person, make sure that staff are passing on their concerns to you promptly.
  • If you are asked to monitor a situation, or if you are asking members of staff to monitor, make sure that there is a clear plan. Agree how long the monitoring period will be. Be clear about what you or your staff are looking out for. Make sure you have systems in place in respect of recording throughout the monitoring period. Make sure that records are kept securely and not within the child’s curriculum file.
  • If you make a child protection referral, make sure that you inform children’s social care of any past concerns or referrals. Research shows that where incidents are described in isolation there is a danger that they will be treated as discrete events. Remember it is often the relationship between incidents that is crucial in understanding the level of risk to the child.
  • Follow up your referral in writing. (Many LAs have a child protection referral form for this purpose, check with your LA’s designated officer.)
  • Be prepared to stand your ground. If in your professional judgement the situation warrants a child protection referral as opposed to a CAF assessment, stand firm. CAF assessments should not be used for child protection cases, they require a much more specialist assessment.
  • When making a referral give as much detail as you can about the family make-up. If you know that people who are not part of the family are living in the household include this information in your referral. If children or adults in the family are known by more than one name make sure this information is given at referral.
  • Keep records securely. If teachers and other staff make handwritten notes as part of their monitoring, keep the handwritten note and the typed-up version together.
  • Keep records in a chronological order. Make sure all children in the family are acknowledged in your record keeping and where concerns are raised about one child, check with members of staff whether there are any concerns for the other children; if so, include this information in your referral.

Supervision

  • If you are responsible for the management of staff involved in child protection work, ensure that supervision is offered on a regular basis and that it includes opportunities to address concerns about safeguarding.
  • Some schools employ social workers. Be aware that registered social workers are entitled to regular supervision by an appropriate level of management.
  • Ensure staff with child protection responsibilities are given adequate time to make case records. If you need to record an event, do so as soon as possible after it happens; if you are finding it hard to find time to record, take this up in supervision.

Training
Named persons must refresh their child protection training every two years. All other education staff must refresh every three years. Check with your safeguarding board how you can access training.

Working together The joint area review criticised the lack of collaboration and communication between agencies, and specific reference was made to agencies not being present at strategic meetings, case conferences and core group meetings. Such meetings provide a forum to share information and decision-making.

Working together successfully depends on the development of professional relationships across agencies. Strategic meetings can help to develop relationships but it is also useful to meet other professionals in less formal settings. Consider inviting social care workers into school to meet staff informally or to give a presentation to a staff meeting about their work.

  • Make sure strategies are in place to ensure that members of staff are able to attend child protection meetings.
  • In respect of case conferences, remember that it is important that the person who attends on behalf of school is in a position to make decisions and to commit resources.
  • If the named person feels that the class teacher is the most appropriate person to attend, make sure that the case is discussed thoroughly beforehand.
  • Schools are asked to prepare a report for the case conference. This needs time to prepare and schools are usually asked to send the report in before the conference. Also bear in mind that parents are invited to case conferences and children’s social care will want to go through any reports submitted to the conference with the parents beforehand.
  • If you disagree with the recommendations made at a case conference, ask for your opinion to be minuted, otherwise it will be presumed that you agree.
  • If you cannot attend the conference and cannot send a representative, let the chair of the conference know and request that the minutes be sent to you. Make sure that you check the minutes as a recommendation may have been made in your absence that you cannot commit or agree to. If this happens, contact the chair and ask for the conference notes to be amended.
  • In respect of core groups, make sure appropriate staff are able to attend. Core groups demand consistency in membership. Core group meetings are where professionals and parents can really address the child protection plan. The first core group meeting date is usually set at the end of the case conference. This first meeting is absolutely key in keeping up the momentum from the case conference where parents will have been confronted with the issues and the need to change. If there is a long delay between case conference and first core group meeting the case can slip into drift, parents interpreting the delay as a message that issues raised at the case conference were perhaps not as serious as the conference had suggested.
  • Strong multi-agency membership of core groups make it harder for deviant parents to play one agency against the other and ensures that all concerned are kept up to date with the progress of the case.
  • Participation in core group meetings is expected; if you are asked to be a member try to get dates for future meetings set early to ensure that school can plan cover for your attendance.
  • If the child protection plan is not bringing about the expected changes in how the parents respond to their children’s needs the case conference should be reconvened, if necessary before the date set for review.

Ongoing vigilance
The joint area review criticised the level of ongoing communication between all agencies. I have mentioned above some of the ways agency collaboration can be improved. However, it takes will on all parties to continue working together practice. One of the issues highlighted in the joint area review is that agencies did not keep each other up to date in respect of changed circumstances in the family or in terms of change of worker. On the first point, never presume that the parents have told the social worker what they have told you – always check. Parents may innocently tell one member of the professional network about a change in circumstance or an incident, presuming that in telling one professional they are telling all those working with them. On the other hand, the parent who is intent on covering up incidents may give one story to one professional and another story to someone else.

Child Protection in schools

As you are aware, schools have a statutory duty to safeguard and promote children’s welfare; make sure your child protection policy is regularly reviewed and that your governors are supportive of the child protection structures and processes. If you have concerns about how a case is progressing, seek advice from your education designated officer, the senior case worker for the case or your local safeguarding board.

Read Joint Area Review Haringey Children’s Services Authority Area

Ed Balls has announced that Ofsted will carry out annual reviews of children’s services across the country… Schools will be included in such reviews

We are unable to publish reader comments about individual child protection concerns on this website. If you are worried about a child please call the NSPCC Helpline on 0808 800 5000 for help and advice. Alternatively you can contact your Local Safeguarding Children Board (LSCB) through your local council.

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