Streamlined system marks new era for safeguarding children

Replacing LSCBs with partnerships between councils, police and CCGs will lead to more regional working and thematic reviews of child deaths. Advocates say this will improve learning, but concerns remain over leadership.

A new system of local and national reviews for safeguarding children practice was rolled out at the end of September, two-and-a-half years after a review called for "significant reform".

Sir Alan Wood's review of the role and functions of local safeguarding children boards (LSCB) highlighted inconsistencies in the ways lessons were learned from serious case reviews (SCR) and raised concerns about how responsibility - and cost - for safeguarding work was co-ordinated between key agencies.

A new statutory framework was recommended by Wood - a government adviser and former president of the Association of Directors of Children's Services (ADCS) - to help drive the improvements on a strategic level.

This was adopted by the government and was implemented through the Children and Social Work Act 2017, supported by new statutory guidance: Working Together to Safeguard Children 2018.

The framework is meant to bring more flexibility, so that organisations with a stake in children's safeguarding can decide how they respond to local need.

While there are concerns about aspects of the reforms, Dan Martin, principle officer for social care at the National Children's Bureau - which has spent a year working with local areas on the Department for Education's early adopter programme - says there is some "real creativity in the new arrangements".

"Everybody is working towards the goal of improving outcomes for children, which was the original intention from the Wood review," he says.

Key statutory changes

The key change under the new arrangements is that LSCBs have been abolished and replaced with local safeguarding children partnerships (LSCPs).

These are made up of three key partners: councils, police and clinical commissioning groups (CCGs). They have an equal duty to work together to safeguard and promote the welfare of all children.

Boards were run by councils and consisted of representatives from multiple agencies.

Martin says now that children's services, police and the CCG share responsibility, decision-making is more efficient.

"Generally, you have the senior person from the responsible agency in the room with the other two senior people, and that means decisions can happen much quicker and they can take action much quicker," he says.

There is now no statutory requirement for an independent chair and while independent scrutiny is required, partnerships can agree their own procedures.

Early adopters have tried to integrate scrutiny across their arrangements, according to Martin.

SCRs have been scrapped and replaced by new 15-day rapid reviews, aimed at producing concise and lesson-focused reports that can lead to change quickly.

Following the conclusion of the rapid review, a more in-depth local child safeguarding practice review may be carried out. In some cases, these will be overseen by a national child safeguarding practice review panel and the partnership must keep the panel, as well as Ofsted and the DfE, informed of their decision-making.

A panel review may take place when there are complex issues to be considered or in cases of national importance.

"The new safeguarding reviews are still in their early stages, but I've been happy with the early judgments of the panel," says Sir Paul Ennals, who chairs three partnerships.

The panel, chaired by former children's minister Edward Timpson, has published its terms of reference on the government website and has already begun reviewing cases, though these are not currently publicly available.

A themed approach recommended by Wood has been adopted by the panel, with topics such as serious youth violence and exploitation.

"The panel's focus on a theme rather than an individual case is helpful and we look forward to the publication of its first report and the learning it will identify," says Jenny Coles, ADCS vice-president.

LSCBs' responsibility for reviewing child deaths has passed to new child death review partnerships (CDRPs), formed by local authorities and CCGs. These reviews are organised around an agreed geographical footprint to examine a minimum of 60 child deaths, and therefore may include co-operation between multiple councils and CCGs.

All partnerships were required to publish their arrangements by 29 June and these had to be put into practice by 29 September 2019.

LSCPs - many of which have their own websites - must publish a report at least once a year setting out what they have done as a result of the arrangements, and how effective they have been.

Early adopter programme

Martin says of the early adopter sites: "It's quite a nice opportunity to look at what they've been doing and build on what was good in their existing work. There's lots of aspects of the old safeguarding boards that were very good.

"The model isn't: ‘Let's make something new regardless. The model is: ‘Let's keep doing that if it's good, but at least we've had the chance to decide that it is good in the context of the new framework'."

The programme trialed a variety of models including different approaches to independent scrutiny, working with schools and other agencies, regional working, how to include the voice of the child, and reviewing child deaths.

Of the 39 local authorities involved in the early adopter programme, 22 have formed regionalised partnerships, including the West Midlands and North East (see case studies).

Partnership develops preventative safeguarding approach

Northumberland, Tyne and Wear Safeguarding Partnership is one of the early adopter areas that has moved to a regional model, working together to identify any issues that apply to more than one area.

It brings together six councils - Northumberland, Newcastle, North Tyneside, Gateshead, South Tyneside and Sunderland - five CCGs - Northumberland, North Tyneside, Newcastle & Gateshead, South Tyneside & Sunderland - and Northumbria Police.

Leaders co-ordinated on developing a single strategic approach to preventative safeguarding and improved lesson learning.

Richard Burrows, who chaired North Tyneside LSCB, says domestic abuse was identified as a key area that could benefit from a regional prevention strategy.

There are also plans to improve how the partnership includes the voice of children in the arrangements.

Burrows highlights how the partnership has required an "additional level of commitment" from key leaders, which is an ongoing challenge.

"Negotiation and working towards a shared vision and agreed objectives has progressed from the level of principle to the point where shortly a range of pilots will be launched, intended to identify where efficiencies and benefits can be confirmed."

What did local safeguarding children boards achieve and will the new system retain the best bits?

By Sir Paul Ennals, chair of three safeguarding children partnerships

"No one ever mourns the loss of a committee, so it is not surprising that this change has not attracted much attention. But it is a significant moment; there is no doubt that LSCBs improved the robustness of safeguarding arrangements in many places after they were introduced in 2005.

Local safeguarding children's partnerships have taken their place, and in many areas almost the only change you can see so far is in the title on the headed paper. But change is coming, some positive, and some perhaps more worrying.

A good LSCB brought new rigour to the positive challenge between partners. The introduction of an independent chair meant that it was much harder for the director of children's services (DCS) to dominate the proceedings, in the way that the old directors of social services used to do.

The DCS will always be a big beast in the partnership, and should be in the light of their statutory duties and the wide range of their responsibilities.

All senior managers function better when there is strong accountability, and the multi-agency challenge that has been brought to bear by the effective boards and strong chairs, has undoubtedly brought greater transparency to safeguarding practice.

Time will tell whether really effective scrutiny models emerge. Processes such as peer reviews are extremely valuable, and if the new arrangements herald an increase in these, that will be positive. In my experience, having a strong independent chair provides a constant check and balance to partners, helps to limit the potential for one agency to become over-bearing, and provides a means of resolving disputes between the agencies.

Even in the best run families of agencies, there will be disagreements over policies, or whether a case meets the criteria for a child safeguarding practice review - I don't think there is a better way to tackle these issues than to retain an independent chair.

Creative approaches to multi-agency training might not have emerged without LSCBs.

The new guidance places fewer restrictions on how local areas carry out their roles, which makes it easier for neighbouring areas to work together on those safeguarding topics that are best handled over a larger patch. I welcome that new flexibility.

But it is too soon to know whether we will see a flowering of new initiatives, or a rush to a new statutory minimum."

Partnership focuses on leadership challenge and role of schools

Solihull Local Safeguarding Children Partnership focused on involvement of schools and other non-statutory agencies, as well as how it would carry out scrutiny.

It has decided to retain the independent chair, with a new focus developed with support from the Local Government Association.

"It refocused the role on challenge," says Steve Eccleston, interim business manager for the partnership. "We want the partners to understand that the independent chair's role is challenge."

On new statutory partners, Eccleston continues: "We didn't want to see these arrangements become too narrow towards the three statutory agencies and we wanted to make sure we kept our schools and education settings involved.

"There was a big debate during the consultation between Ofsted and the DfE about whether schools should have been a fourth safeguarding provider.

"I was on the ‘yes' side, on the basis of their potential to provide early help and the number of referrals of concern that they make. We achieved a real balance. We have a very strong education and relevant agencies group now, and a dedicated head teacher represented within our slimmed down executive.

"The model is to improve agency engagement and we can use their time so they are actively contributing rather than sitting around a board table."

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