The government are currently consulting on the controversial new safeguarding bill which could devolve powers of child protection to individual local authorities, who could manage them as they see fit.
This could involve outsourcing responsibilities to private companies to provide a cheaper service. The bill would also allow local authorities to opt to become exempt from some of their current legal obligations regarding child protection, including investigating if a child is suffering significant harm.
Critics point out that current safeguarding legislation has been amended in line with learning from tragic child deaths or where a young person has suffered significant harm. Potentially 80 years’ worth of learning could be discarded in order to cut costs. The government have stated that the plans will enable them to “test new ways of working”.
The bill goes back to the House of Lords on 18 October before a third reading and progression to the House of Commons.
The introduction of this bill demonstrates the ever evolving legislation and guidance that schools need to be aware of and action.
An increase in child protection and the impact on schools and academies
This week the National Audit Office has reported "over the past ten years there has been a 124% increase in serious cases where the local authority believes a child may be suffering, or likely to suffer, significant harm."
"Six years have passed since the Department recognised that children's services were not good enough. It is extremely disappointing that, after all its efforts, far too many children's services are still not good enough. To achieve its new goal of improving the quality of all services by 2020 the Department will need to inject more energy, pace and determination in delivering on its responsibilities," (Amyas Morse, head of the National Audit Office, 12 October 2016).
As a result of this schools and academies are now managing an increased number of caseloads. So how can schools cope with increasing demand whilst ensuring that children are safeguarded?
Firstly, it is essential that schools regularly self-assess their safeguarding practice and procedures to ensure safeguarding is embedded throughout the school. Everyone with responsibility for safeguarding and child protection should have clear written roles and responsibilities and all staff should be fully aware of the school’s and local children’s safeguarding board escalation procedures. Safeguarding and child protection policies should be reviewed annually at the very least, involving those who regularly manage caseloads.
It goes without saying that all staff within schools and academies should receive regular child protection training including annual refreshers. Designated Safeguarding Leads and their deputies must receive training every two years and should also be trained on the Prevent Duty. As part of the schools self-assessment process and evaluation of the local context, it should be identified if the school would benefit from additional training on specific areas of abuse. The National Audit Office reports "the most common risks to a child’s welfare are domestic violence and mental health concerns.’’ So schools should have training around these areas at the very least.
Keeping Children Safe in Education 2016, states everyone in schools and academies should be trained on the early help process and be able to spot the signs and indicators that children, young people and families would benefit from early help. Professor Eileen Munro and Lord Laming both agree that early help reduces child deaths. Working Together to Safeguard Children (2015) places a great emphasis on providing early help to stop issues escalating to crisis points. As a result of this, there should be a number of trained professionals within school who are able to complete and monitor those assessments.
With a growing number of staff in schools taking on early help and child protection roles, it’s essential that staff who manage caseloads receive adequate supervision to share ideas, reflect on practice and most importantly, remain child-focused. Group supervision at least half-termly is invaluable to staff to shape future practice and build on strengths. There should be a culture of professional challenge within schools to ensure that the needs of the child remain the centre-point of any work undertaken.
Schools have a vital role in improving outcomes for children and young people and need to have the policies, procedures and skills to act appropriately and confidently in protecting children and young people.
For more information about legislation, guidance, best practice and how day-to-day safeguarding arrangements are affected, please contact Carrie-Ann Varey or Hayley Smith. Don’t forget to keep checking our website for reactions and guidance following of the outcome of the consultation.