Information-sharing: Effective safeguarding practice

Written by: Elizabeth Rose | Published:
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The Child Safeguarding Review Panel has identified timely and appropriate information-sharing as a key area of safeguarding that often needs to be improved. Elizabeth Rose offers best practice advice for schools


Information-sharing is one of the central tenets of effective safeguarding practice.

From encouraging staff to share concerns with the safeguarding lead, to responding to subject access requests, to knowing how to effectively share information at child protection conferences, safeguarding professionals are constantly making information-sharing decisions.

Safeguarding training makes it clear that everyone has a responsibility to share information, but too often we still see incidents where children have been significantly harmed or have died as a result of a failure in sharing information in a timely and effective way.

The Child Safeguarding Review Panel (CSRP) has just released its annual report for 2020, looking at learning from a range of reviews of cases where children have been seriously harmed or have died. The panel has identified “six key themes to address to make a difference”, with the intention that these themes will reduce the risk of serious harm and instances where children die as a result of abuse or neglect. One of these is, “sharing information in a timely and appropriate way”.

Poor information-sharing is often highlighted in reviews of child protection practice and despite years of discussion and training around this, the issue persists.

Safeguarding teams in schools are one very important cog in a wider support network around families and although we may not be able to solve this problem across the board, we can certainly review our own practices to ensure that we are sharing what we need to in order to keep children safe.


Safeguarding information and the GDPR

I regularly have conversations with schools where individuals are worried about making a mistake and sharing something they should not.

Although most people are now more comfortable and confident with the General Data Protection Regulation, a nervousness persists in some cases. This is because professionals want to do the right thing by keeping data safe and secure, but it makes it clear in Keeping Children Safe in Education (DfE, 2021) that “the Data Protection Act 2018 and GDPR do not prevent the sharing of information for the purposes of keeping children safe”. It continues: “Fears about sharing information must not be allowed to stand in the way of the need to safeguard and promote the welfare and protect the safety of children.”

Lord Laming’s report from the Victoria Climbié inquiry (2003) highlighted this as a problem and it was once again referenced in the CSPR 2020 annual report. The report found that information-sharing constraints were present in both local and national reviews and that there is still a concern that worries around data protection regulations may limit when information is shared.


Best practice advice

  • Read and disseminate key messages from the document Information-sharing advice for safeguarding practitioners (DfE, 2018). It has clear, to-the-point advice on when you can and should share information and it is a useful document to refer to when you are not sure of whether you can (or should) share.
  • Train staff so that they feel confident to share concerns with the safeguarding team – not only about children themselves, but about siblings, domestic abuse concerns, parental substance misuse and parental mental health concerns.
  • Make use of the Information Commissioner’s Office website and helpline. There is a wealth of support online around the GDPR and Data Protection Act (2018) and lots of frequently asked questions. It is particularly useful if you receive a subject access request and need guidance on how to respond. If you are still unsure of what you can share, you can contact them by telephone and they will help you with your query.
  • Liaise with the data protection officers at your local authority, if you are able to.
  • Always remember that data protection laws should never prevent action being taken to keep a child safe.


SAFEGUARDING PODCAST: Elizabeth Rose is among the expert guests on a recent episode of The SecEd Podcast focused on effective safeguarding practice and which touches upon a range of issues, including sexual harassment and abuse. Listen for free via:https://bit.ly/3tyyY5r



Transition and in-year transfers

Transition to secondary school or college is very much on our minds at this time of year and schools work hard to help children move to a new educational setting. It is important to keep in mind that designated safeguarding leads have a responsibility to pass on a child’s records when they move school – either at the main transition points or mid-year.


Best practice advice

First, devise a system where you obtain a receipt for file transfers. This may be automatic if your system is online, or you may need to create a paper form. Keep the receipts as part of your data-sharing records. Follow-up any instances where you are not provided with a receipt, especially at the end of the year when lots of children transfer and it might be more likely that something will be missed.

Second, consider cases where children are receiving higher levels of support due to safeguarding issues and ensure you plan transitions for victims and perpetrators of peer-on-peer abuse carefully.

Make sure you share relevant information with a child’s new school to help to keep them (and other children) safe.

Keeping Children Safe in Education (DfE, 2021) makes it clear that “the designated safeguarding lead should also consider if it would be appropriate to share any information with the new school or college in advance of a child leaving”.

Don’t let concerns about information-sharing prevent you from arranging appropriate safeguarding support when a child leaves your school.


Working with other agencies

Effective multi-agency information-sharing and recording is crucial when children are experiencing, or are at risk of experiencing, harm. It is important to prepare thoroughly for any meetings that you attend and use the tools that will be most effective in supporting you to work with others.


Best practice advice

  • If you have not already done so, contact your local authority to see if they have a template for multi-agency meetings. It helps if everyone is using the same framework and the same terminology when sharing information and making decisions about a child’s safety.
  • If you do not receive minutes of multi-agency meetings, chase them up. The same applies to the outcomes of any referrals you make to social care. It is important to check that your information has been received and acted upon and it is your responsibility to do so – see paragraph 51 of Keeping Children Safe in Education (DfE, 2021).
  • Make sure that the language you use in referrals or meetings is specific. Phrases like, “situation has deteriorated” or “improvements seen” are vague and may be misinterpreted by another professional. Be clear in what you want (and need) to share and add evidence or examples as necessary.


Your own record-keeping procedures

Schools’ own data-sharing is only as good as the quality of the information available and this will mainly be taken from safeguarding and child protection records. There are a number of things to consider when adding information to this record.

  • A child’s safeguarding records could be part of a subject access request. This means that the parents or the child themselves might read what has been written. This should not be a barrier to recording concerns, but does highlight that the recording should be accurate and professional.
  • Staff should be trained in how to take a disclosure and how to record what they have been told. It is also advisable to train them in how to appropriately record other concerns, including the level of detail required and any actions taken. This is becoming increasingly important now that many schools have electronic systems that allow any member of staff to add a concern to a child’s file.
  • Make sure that there is a chronological list of concerns so that you can identify trends and patterns over time. This is easier when software is used because it happens automatically, but a chronological front sheet (or similar) should be added to paper files. This will also help if you need to make a referral because the information will be accessible and clear.
  • It can be helpful to complete an audit of a selection of files at some point in the academic year to check on staff recording and make sure everything is up-to-date. Members of staff change over time but the files remain and they need to be a complete and accurate reflection of any concerns or actions taken.


Moving forwards

The tips and strategies needed for effective information-sharing are relatively straightforward, with a focus on accuracy, timeliness and follow-up where necessary. The challenge is consistency – ensuring we always apply these rules to every safeguarding record or referral to make sure nothing is missed.

As we have discussed, staff training is crucial, having tools to help you to record and share information is useful, and reflecting on practice, having high expectations of yourself and others and holding yourself and other agencies to account will help to support practice, which fundamentally keeps children safer.

Reviews that are carried out following incidents of serious harm or child deaths are intended to support us in moving practice forward to stop tragedies happening again. Hopefully with renewed scrutiny being placed on information-sharing we will be able to overcome barriers and make sure we do everything we can to protect children.

  • Elizabeth Rose is an independent safeguarding consultant and the director of So Safeguarding. She has worked in education for more than 15 years and is a former secondary designated safeguarding lead and local authority safeguarding in education advisor. Visit www.sosafeguarding.co.uk or follow her @sosafeguarding. Find her previous articles for Headteacher Update via http://bit.ly/htu-rose
Further information & references


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