Does child protection need a rethink?

David N Jones and Maggie Blyth are Independent chairs of Local Safeguarding Children Boards (LSCBs) and David Jones is also chair of the Association of Independent LSCB Chairs. In today’s post they explain why the review of local safeguarding children boards is an opportunity to improve accountability of schools, health and social care and police.

This was originally posted on the Guardian site Wednesday 13th January. To see the original post click here.

Maggie Blyth

Maggie Blyth

David Jones

David Jones

Buried in the prime minister’s December announcement about improving children’s services was a review of Local Safeguarding Children Boards (LSCBs), which coordinate child protection in England.

This is the first stocktake of these arrangements since the battered baby syndrome guidance was first issued in 1970. This review, undertaken by former director of children’s services, Alan Wood is hugely significant, with enormous implications for the protection of children.

Support and protect?

In response to this review, the Association of Independent LSCB Chairs – those who lead the local boards – has convened a roundtable to analyse safeguarding challenges and explore options for improvement. This debate has to extend beyond local politicians and professionals. How do we both support families and ensure that children are protected?

Since 1970 we have seen a string of tragic cases; some have stirred strong emotions and resulted in changes in the law. The public, politicians and media react strongly to cases of abuse but are also quick to condemn the breakup of families without good reason.

This review is happening as awareness of abuse and problems of parenting is increasing. The prime minister upgraded child sexual abuse to a “national threat” in March 2015 and created a cabinet taskforce in June.

Crisis

Adults disclosing historic child sexual abuse, the scandals surrounding child sexual exploitation cases and the significant increase in the number of new abuse cases could indicate child protection is facing a crisis. The numbers of children on child protection plans and investigations into child sexual abuse are higher than ever before. Serious case reviews tend to highlight problems of poor communication in working together to protect children.

“England and Wales have one of the safest child protection systems in the world”

Is this review a response to a service needing overhaul? Or is it about improved understanding of child welfare, effective work to protect children and a renewed commitment to put the protection of children at the heart of public services?

Contrary to what is too often reported, England and Wales have one of the safest child protection systems in the world. The number of children who die as a result of maltreatment has not increased over the last thirty years.

Social workers, teachers, health visitors and police officers often successfully intervene to make children’s lives better. There are many examples of agencies working together to tackle exploitation, make communities safer and protect children.

Nonetheless, there are three reasons why this review is so important.

Accountability and partnerships

The legislation that created LSCBs is now over 10 years old and requires updating. These boards were set up primarily to coordinate the multi-agency partnership and ensure its effectiveness. There is a strong case for giving the LSCB, or whatever replaces it, a clear mandate to hold local organisations to account for the quality of services and for enhancing the scrutiny role already inherent in legislation, but not always used. Are new tools or powers needed to make this possible?

Secondly, we need better ways to change ineffective local partnerships. There are many strong child protection arrangements around the country; over 20 LSCBs have recently been graded good by Ofsted. Improving the lives of children can only be achieved by all agencies working closely together.

The local child protection partnership remains essential but there are opportunities to establish wider regional structures to hold local arrangements to account. Functions such as policies and procedures and staff training could be undertaken more cost-effectively on a regional basis, as is being explored in the West Midlands.

And thirdly, LSCBs are a partnership between local agencies, with an independent chair to support them to hold each other to account. Experience demonstrates the importance of local challenge and learning, but the role of independence could be strengthened.

The independent commissioners appointed in a few poorly performing local authority areas could provide a model for greater independent accountability and oversight of child protection as part of an improvement agenda.

Child protection depends on effective working between schools, health, police and social care. It is essential this review ensures all these agencies cooperate in safeguarding children and are jointly held to account. When children are not adequately protected, we need quicker remedies. This framework requires legal backing; to remove the statutory requirements would expose children to harm and set back the improvements of the last decade.

LSCBs are the body tasked with oversight of all these agencies. We have the opportunity to use the accountability and scrutiny functions to properly hold the organisations and their leaders to account, to ensure improvement where it is needed and to keep the child protection partnership working well. This review offers a potential step change in making sure all professionals put the protection of children first.

#LSCBrev

You can follow David Jones and Maggie Blyth on Twitter @JonesDavidN @Maggie_Blyth and stay up-to-date with the activities of The Association of Independent LSCB Chairs, the national membership organisation for Independent Chairs of Local Safeguarding Children Boards here @AssocLSCBChairs

If you liked this you may also be interested in:

3REPLACEMENT_Moving on from Munro [FC]Moving on from Munro by Maggie Blyth – Four years after the publication of the influential Munro Report (2011) this important publication draws together a range of experts working in the field of child protection to critically examine what impact the reforms have had on multi agency child protection systems in this country, at both local and national level. 

The story of Baby P 4webThe Story of Baby P by Ray Jones – This book is the first to tell what happened to ‘Baby P’, how the story was told by the media and its considerable impact on the child protection system in England. It makes a crucial contribution to the topic. 

Both books are available to order from the Policy Press website. Remember that Policy Press newsletter subscribers receive a 35% discount – if you’re not a member of our community why not sign up here today?

The views and opinions expressed on this blog site are solely those of the original blogpost authors and other contributors. These views and opinions do not necessarily represent those of the Policy Press and/or any/all contributors to this site.

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