Following a consultation on proposed revisions to the 2015 statutory guidance at the end of 2017, the government has published an updated version of Working Together to Safeguard Children (2018). This guidance, eagerly awaited by professionals trying to understand what legislative changes to multi-agency safeguarding through the Children and Social Work Act 2017 will mean in practice, sets out the expectations of new arrangements for multi-agency safeguarding and improving child protection and safeguarding practice through review.
The proposal to take schools and education providers out of local multi-agency safeguarding arrangements is still of concern. However, whilst they are no longer named as statutory partners for safeguarding arrangements, it is positive to see the expectation set out in the guidance that local safeguarding partners (comprising local authorities, health and the police) will name schools, colleges and other educational providers as relevant agencies and will be encouraged to ensure their meaningful active engagement in arrangements. There is more to be done to understand the role that schools will play in future multi-agency safeguarding arrangements and we will expect to see, through NCB’s facilitation of the Early Adopters Programme, that early adopters co-produce arrangements with partners across wider agencies that are identified and not just the core partners.
The emphasis in the updated guidance on the needs of the whole population of children and young people is welcome, as is the emphasis on the need to link these arrangements to other strategic partnership work happening locally to support children and families. In addition to setting out the new arrangements, the guidance includes some important updates to reflect the wider system change that has taken place since the last iteration, much of which supports child-centred approaches to safeguarding.
A focus on outcomes
There is an important language change from improving outcomes to achieving ‘best possible outcomes’ for children and young people and a clear call for safeguarding partners and all relevant agencies to agree priorities in relation to this. It’s encouraging to see this emphasis on outcomes, which builds on the recommendations of the Wood Review and chimes with the renewed focus on outcomes across the broad legislative framework for children, which is particularly strong in the Children and Families Act 2014.
The language relating to decision making promotes greater autonomy and accountability for social workers who know children and families best and seems to advocate for a peer support approach. However, there is also some concern that the change in emphasis on the role of the manager in decision making could reduce the support available to social workers. Although the guidance does not prevent managers from being involved in this process, and we would hope that practitioners will continue to liaise with their managers for support, experience and analysis, the lack of a direct requirement to do so may have an impact on the availability and capacity of managers to do so.
Voice of the child
We’ve seen an increased emphasis on the importance of hearing the child’s voice in both legislation and practice, and the latest version of the statutory guidance includes a section outlining what children have identified they need in order to be kept safe: vigilance; understanding and action; stability; respect; information and engagement; explanation; support; advocacy and protection. This section is an important addition since it’s vital that children are central to action and decision-making that takes place to safeguard and promote their welfare. This emphasis is key to ensuring the culture shift towards true multi-agency safeguarding is successful.
The updated guidance includes a new section on ‘contextual safeguarding’ taking into account the vulnerabilities that exist for children outside of the family home. It also includes some new terms in the glossary that reflect some of these risks, including extremism, county lines and child criminal exploitation. This is a welcome inclusion, that goes some way to reflect on the question posed in Wood’s Review about whether the core model of child protection which was designed to deal with abuse and neglect within a family setting can cope effectively with more complex issues of safeguarding, such as trafficked children, child sexual abuse and exploitation, female genital mutilation, radicalisation and extremism. I think there is still more to consider in terms of the suitability of existing, established safeguarding frameworks and how able they are to safely and effectively respond to some of the risks and pressures that children and young people growing up today face.
This new guidance comes at the beginning of a 12 month transition period to the new safeguarding partner arrangements, and goes some way to setting out those duties and responsibilities that local areas must take into account. What remains to be done is to translate guidance and emerging evidence from early adopters into strong multi-agency arrangements. There is a need to learn from what’s worked well, draw on the expertise already in the system, and develop an evidence-based national framework to underpin local safeguarding arrangements that are responsive to local circumstances and fully engage the right people.
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 Wood, A. (2016) ‘Wood report: Review of the role and functions of Local Safeguarding Children Boards’. Department for Education.