Dai Durbridge, a safeguarding expert at Browne Jacobson solicitors, examines the new Working Together to Safeguard Children guidance and summaries the key changes below

Working Together to Safeguard Children has been the cornerstone guidance for child protection within the education sector for many years. Without a comprehensive update since 2006, it was in urgent need of updating to reflect the changes in practice over the last four years. 

What is Working Together to Safeguard Children?
The full title is Working Together to Safeguard Children – a Guide to Inter-agency Working to Safeguard and Promote the Welfare of Children. It sets out how organisations, agencies and individuals working with children should work together to safeguard and promote their welfare in accordance with the Children Act 1989 and Children Act 2004. It is not a new piece of guidance but rather an updated version of the 2006 Working Together document.

Why has it been updated?
It has been updated to reflect developments in legislation, policy and practice relating to safeguarding children over the past four years. Importantly, it incorporates some of the recommendations made by Lord Laming in his report The Protection of Children in England: A Progress Report. Lord Laming made 58 recommendations relating to a number of areas including support for children, inter-agency working, the children’s workforce and the legal framework. All 58 recommendations were accepted by the government and 23 of them are addressed in this guidance.

What are the key changes for education?
The guidance is split into two parts. Part one is the statutory guidance to which all sectors have to have regard and Part two is non-statutory practice guidance which sets out a standard of good practice and also takes into account guidance previously given to each separate agency.

Chapter five deals with managing concerns about a child’s safety and welfare and helps explain the child protection process. Importantly, when discussing child protection referrals the guidance says that a referrer should always be able to discuss their concerns with a qualified social worker. This will hopefully strengthen relationships between schools and children’s services departments – relationships that have often been reported as being hard to forge.

Finally, this chapter takes you through the child protection process from the point of referral to the initial assessment and has increased the timescale for completing these steps from seven to 10 days. It also states that schools should be included in every part of the process, highlighting the importance of the school attending child protection meetings.

The 2006 version was a very long document, is the revised version more succinct?
Sadly not. The 2006 version was a cumbersome 256-page document and it was hoped that the revised guidance would be more accessible. Instead, the 2010 version runs to 391 pages – more than 50% larger than the 2006 guidance. Criticism was made of the length of the new draft during the consultation process, but to no avail. In failing to acknowledge those comments there is a risk that practitioners will not be able to engage with the guidance, increasing the risk that it simply will not be referred to at all.

Is it supported by any supplementary guidance?
Yes, it is. Chapter six summaries the supplementary guidance, listing 10 key documents that link in to Working Together. They include the guidance on trafficked children, forced marriages, safeguarding disabled children and the 2010 gang activity guidance.

Are there any plans to make the document more accessible?
The DCSF intends to produce a web-based version of the guidance with hyperlinks to the supporting guidance as necessary. They have also suggested working with stakeholders to produce a succinct practitioner guide and to explore ways to present the guidance more effectively.

Do I need to know about it?
Schools (including independent and non-maintained schools) and further education institutions have a legal duty to safeguard and promote the welfare of children under the Education Act 2002. As part of that duty, you must have regard to statutory guidance. Part one of Working Together 2010 is statutory guidance to which you must have regard.

How can I find out more about Working Together and its impact in the education sector?
You can find out further information, download or order the full document from the DCSF Every Child Matters website. You may also be interested in attending the Working in Partnership to Safeguard Vulnerable Students National Conference on 16 June in Central London to share in the latest best practice in this area. This conference will explore the specific role of schools and colleges under the new Working Together guidance and tackle issues such as making the decision to refer, information sharing, engaging multi-agency support and effectively using CAF.

This e-bulletin issue was first published in April 2010

About the author: Dai Durbridge is a solicitor for Browne Jacobson specialising in child protection and education. To find out more about the legal services Browne Jacobson provides in the education sector and to visit their website, please follow this link www.brownejacobson.com.