The Staying Safe Action Plan was launched by Ed Balls in February 2008, but what does the government hope to achieve with Staying Safe, and will it work? Susie Roome discusses the policy and practical implications of this three-year strategy

What is ‘Staying Safe’?

Staying Safe was launched for consultation in July 2007 by the Department for Children, Schools and Families (DCSF), with the aim of promoting a widespread discussion on how best to keep children and young adults safe, and how to respond when they have been harmed. More than 1,000 people responded to the consultation − parents, practitioners, voluntary groups and, perhaps most importantly, children and young people themselves.

These responses all fed into the creation of the Staying Safe Action Plan, an 80-page document published in February 2008, which sets out the government’s three-year strategy for improving the safety of children and young people.

Why has the government placed such emphasis on safety?

Safety is an essential part of the government’s ambitions for children and young people in this country. It is integral to the success of the Children’s Plan, and reflects one of the key outcomes highlighted in Every Child Matters. In fact, when questioned, most children and young people highlighted safety as the outcome that was most important to them. To quote Ed Balls, ‘Safety is fundamental − if children are not safe, they cannot be happy, healthy, achieve or reach their full potential.’

Most sensible people would agree. But what about the fun of childhood − the adventures, exploring and learning? Here, the government will say that Staying Safe represents a departure from previous policy. Rather than wrap children in cotton wool, Staying Safe identifies the need to strike a balance between protecting our children and young people from harm, and allowing them the freedom to develop, to gain independence and enjoy their childhoods.

This was clearly the message that the government wanted to convey when launching Staying Safe, by focusing the attention of the press on the new guidance on school trips. So risk is back in favour. But this is only one small aspect of the plan, which also promotes balance, with some key safeguarding strategies ranging from safer recruitment to accident prevention.

Whose responsibility is it to keep children and young people safe?

The short answer is − everybody’s. Staying Safe has been heralded as the first ever cross-government strategy for improving children and young people’s safety, and reflects actions for various departments − including the Home Office, Ministry of Justice, Departments for Health, Transport, Culture, Media and Sport.

And that’s not the half of it. The plan identifies ways in which professionals, families, communities and children and young people themselves can create a culture where children are safe to develop and have fun. The government’s vision is one of collective responsibility.

So what is the actual plan?

The plan is wide ranging, but can be divided into three sections:

  • Universal safeguarding: strategies to keep all children and young people safe and create a safe environment, including initiatives to promote play and positive activities, and understand and manage risks. This is balanced with initiatives for safe recruitment, the reduction of accidents, and increasing the effectiveness of Local Safeguarding Children Boards.
  • Targeted safeguarding: strategies targeted at particularly vulnerable children and young people, such as initiatives aimed at improving practice in social care, helping children who suffer from bullying or substance misuse, and the disabled.
  • Responsive safeguarding: strategies to respond quickly and appropriately to support a child or young person who has been harmed, such as improved listening services, plans to tackle human trafficking and forced marriages, and provide support where this has occurred.

Will the plan work?

Certainly many of these initiatives are welcome. It has to be a good thing to provide a cohesive focus on child safety, to draw together and build upon the wide array of child-focused guidance and policy launched over recent years.

But the proof will be in its implementation, and two obvious challenges must be faced for the government to achieve success. First, efforts must be made to engage parents. It is widely accepted that children who are generally more at risk from harm are those whose parents currently fail to engage with the support services on offer. Without a strategy to encourage change, there is a strong possibility that these children will continue to miss out on the opportunities and safeguards proposed in the plan − they will continue to slip through the net.

Second, many of the strategic initiatives set out in the plan require multi-agency working. This issue has been highlighted since the Laming Report in 2003, yet we still battle against barriers to information sharing. These problems must be tackled to make a truly cross-agency service possible.

Staying Safe is an ambitious plan. Let’s hope that this ambition is matched by government determination to drive these changes through, from the home to the community around us. After all, it only aims to achieve what we all want − a country where children can thrive and develop, free from harm.

This e-bulletin issue was first published in May 2008

About the author: Susie Roome is an associate solicitor with the firm having joined in 2003. She is based at Browne Jacobson’s Nottingham office and specialises in social services, education and the care sector.