The guidance ‘Working Together to Safeguard Children: A Guide to Inter-agency Working to Safeguard and Promote the Welfare of Children’ is highly relevant to SENCOs.
The new guidance – although addressed in large part to managers in organisations that are responsible for commissioning or providing services – is also targeted at practitioners and front-line managers who have particular responsibilities for safeguarding and promoting the welfare of children.
This guidance* is addressed to organisations that have a particular responsibility for safeguarding and promoting the welfare of children, especially safeguarding children who may be particularly vulnerable. Whilst some are in situations unlikely to be encountered by SENCOs, most SENCOs will have been engaged at some time with such vulnerable children. In view of the increased emphasis on collaborative multi-agency approaches encouraged by the Every Child Matters agenda, all SENCOs should be aware of the guidance and framework for supporting these children.
Particularly vulnerable children
The guidance describes particularly vulnerable children as: children living away from home; disabled children; children whose behaviour indicates a lack of parental control; children living in households where there is domestic violence; children of drug misusing parents; children whose carers believe in ‘possession’ or ‘witchcraft’; children of families living in temporary accommodation; migrant children, in particular child victims of trafficking and unaccompanied asylum seeking children. At the very least SENCOs should be aware of the titles, roles and responsibilities of key bodies such as local safeguarding children boards and arrangements for child protection such as multi-agency public protection arrangements.
Changes in policy The changes in safeguarding policy and practice follow from the statutory inquiry into the death of Victoria Climbié and the first joint chief inspectors’ report on safeguarding children which highlighted the lack of priority status given to safeguarding. The government response to these findings included Every Child Matters, and the provisions in the Children Act 2004.
Important aspects of the government’s response in this context are:
- the creation of Children’s Trusts
- the setting up of local safeguarding children boards
- the placing of a duty on all agencies to make arrangements to safeguard and promote the welfare of children.
The guidance strongly advocates the view that shared responsibility and effective joint working between agencies and professionals that have different roles and expertise are required if children are to be protected from harm and their welfare promoted.
Roles and responsibilities
The guidance argues that all organisations dealing with vulnerable children should have clearly defined roles and responsibilities. It states that all organisations working with or for children and young people should:
- have senior managers that are committed to children’s and young people’s wellbeing and safety
- be clear about people’s responsibilities to safeguard and promote children’s and young people’s welfare
- have effective recruitment and human resources procedures, including checking all new staff and volunteers to make sure they are safe to work with children and young people
- have procedures for dealing with allegations of abuse against members of staff and volunteers
- provide training that helps staff do their job well
- have procedures about how to safeguard and promote the welfare of young people
- have agreements about working with other organisations.
An overview of duties and the structure of children’s services under the Children Act 2004 are set out (in the preface to this guidance and appendix 1). Within this context, the guidance discusses the contributions made by different organisations.
Safeguarding and promoting the welfare of children is the responsibility of the local authority, working in partnership with other public organisations, the voluntary sector and children and young people, parents and carers and the wider community. A key objective for local authorities is to ensure children are protected from harm.
Schools should create and maintain a safe learning environment for children and young people; and identify where there are child welfare concerns and take action to address them, in partnership with other organisations where appropriate.
Health professionals and organisations have a key role to play in safeguarding and promoting the welfare of children. They should aim to ensure all affected children receive appropriate and timely therapeutic and preventative interventions. The police have child abuse investigation units (CAIU) and should be notified as soon as possible where a criminal offence has been, or is suspected of, being committed.
Probation services supervise offenders who are parents/carers, 16 and 17 year olds on community punishment; work with youth offending teams and provide a service to child victims of serious sexual or violent offences.
Youth offending teams (YOTs) are responsible for the supervision of children and young people subject to pre-court interventions and statutory court disposals. YOTs have a duty to make arrangements to ensure that their functions are discharged having regard to the need to safeguard and promote the welfare of children.
Childminders and everyone working in day care services should know how to recognise and respond to the possible abuse and neglect of a child. All organisations providing day care must have a designated person who liaises with local child protection agencies and Ofsted on child protection issues.
In care and related proceedings under the Children Act 1989 the responsibility of the Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service (CAFCASS) is to safeguard and promote the interests of individual children who are the subject of family proceedings by providing independent social work advice to the court.
Local safeguarding children boards
The Local Safeguarding Children Board (LSCB) is the key statutory mechanism for agreeing how the relevant organisations in each local area will cooperate to safeguard and promote the welfare of children, and for ensuring the effectiveness of what they do. The scope of the LSCB role falls into three categories:
- activities that safeguard all children and aim to identify and prevent maltreatment, or impairment of health or development, and ensure that children are growing up in circumstances consistent with safe and effective care
- proactive work that aims to target particular groups
- arrangements for responsive work to protect children who are suffering, or at risk of suffering, maltreatment.
Membership of the LSCB will be made up of senior managers from different services and agencies in a local area, including the independent and voluntary sector. In addition, the board will receive input from experts.
The LSCB’s work to ensure the effectiveness of work by member organisations will be a peer review process based on self-evaluation, performance indicators, and joint audit.
Inter-agency training and development
Employers are responsible for ensuring their employees are confident and competent in carrying out their responsibilities and for ensuring employees are aware of how to recognise and respond to safeguarding concerns. They should also identify adequate resources and support for inter-agency training. Local authorities and their partners are responsible for ensuring that workforce strategies are developed in the local area, including making sure that the training opportunities to meet the needs of the workforce are identified and met by LSCBs.
All training in safeguarding and promoting the welfare of children should create an ethos which: values working collaboratively; respects diversity; promotes equality; is child centred; and promotes the participation of children and families in the processes.
Training should also work within the Common Core of Skills and Knowledge (2005) (found at www.everychildmatters.gov.uk/delivery/delivering services/commoncore). This sets out the areas of expertise that everyone working with children, young people and families should be able to demonstrate.
Managing individual cases
There are four key processes that underpin work with children and families: assessment; planning; intervention; and reviewing. These should be followed when undertaking assessments on children in need and their families.
The processes to be followed when safeguarding children include:
- responding to concerns about the welfare of a child and making a referral to a statutory organisation (children’s social care, the police or the NSPCC) that can take action to safeguard and promote the welfare of children
- undertaking an initial assessment of the child’s situation and deciding what to do next
- taking urgent action to protect the child from harm, if necessary
- holding a strategy discussion where there are concerns that a child may be suffering significant harm, and where appropriate convening a child protection conference
- deciding whether a child is at continuing risk of significant harm and therefore should be the subject of a child protection plan, implementing the plan and reviewing it at regular intervals.
Lessons from research and inspection
The key messages from research and inspection that have informed this guidance emphasise the need for professionals to take special care to help safeguard and promote the welfare of children who may be living in particularly stressful circumstances.
Examples are families:
- living in poverty;
- where there is domestic violence;
- where a parent has a mental illness;
- where a parent is misusing drugs or alcohol;
- where a parent has a learning disability;
- facing racism and other forms of social isolation;
- living in areas where there is with high crime, poor housing and a lot of unemployment.
Implementing the principles on working with children and their families
Family Group Conferences (FGCs) may be appropriate in a number of contexts where there is a plan or decision to be made. The family is the primary planning group in the process. When there are plans to use FGCs in situations where there are concerns about possible harm to a child, they should be developed and implemented under the LSCB. FGCs should not replace or remove the need for child protection conferences.
Children and families may be supported through their involvement in safeguarding processes by advice and advocacy services, and they should always be informed of services which exist locally and nationally.
Local authorities have a responsibility to children and adults to ensure that they understand the processes that will be followed when there are concerns about the child. Information should be available in the family’s preferred language.
Managing Individuals who pose a risk of harm to children.
The Multi-Agency Public Protection Arrangements (MAPPA) provide a national framework for the assessment and management of risks posed by serious and violent offenders. The responsible authorities need to ensure that strategies to address risk are identified and plans developed, implemented and reviewed on a regular basis. The MAPPA framework identifies three separate, but connected, levels at which risk are managed: ordinary risk management; local inter-agency risk management; and MAPPP – Multi-Agency Public Protection Panels. There are other processes and mechanisms for working with and monitoring people who may present a risk to children.
The Safeguarding Vulnerable Groups Bill, the legislation necessary to implement the government’s response to the Bichard Inquiry’s recommendations to set up a vetting and barring scheme, was introduced to parliament on 28th February 2006. It can be seen at www.everychild matters.gov.uk/vettingandbarring
* Working Together to Safeguard Children: A Guide to Inter-agency Working to Safeguard and Promote the Welfare of Children. Available online at www.everychildmatters.gov.uk/socialcare/safeguarding/workingtogether