Will the latest safeguarding changes make a difference?

Written by: Suzanne O'Connell | Published:
Image: Adobe Stock

Schools are on the front-line when it comes to safeguarding our children. With government guidance currently being overhauled after the Children and Social Work Act, what should schools be aware of?

Local Safeguarding Children Boards (LSCBs) are on their way out. Following the Wood Review in May 2016 it was recommended that LSCBs be replaced along with serious case reviews. There will be a transition period and it is likely that the new arrangements will start in September 2019.

It is the Children and Social Work Act 2017 that has created new duties for police, health and the local authority to make local arrangements to safeguard and promote the welfare of children.

The three partners do not include education, and schools are now classed as “relevant agencies” – a turn of events that has caused some concerns among unions and schools themselves.

However, as the government’s safeguarding documents are reviewed and updated schools should find that even without their partnership status, they will be just as key to safeguarding children as ever.

Change is needed

According to the NSPCC more than 51,000 children in England were identified as needing protection from abuse in 2017 and reports of sexual offences against children have increased sharply. In 2017, 390,000 children were receiving support from children’s services in England.

However, these statistics mean little as they stand. It is the individual cases, and in particular those that end tragically, that are the ones that really underline the damage, pain and humiliation that some children experience on a day-to-day basis – not only at the hands of adults but also by other children.

In spite of what many feel are stringent responsibilities and an awareness of the importance of safeguarding, tragic deaths of children attending school continue. Serious case reviews often demonstrate the gaps in the system and its vulnerability as a result of overwork, funding cuts, lack of focus or failure to communicate.

Some kind of overhaul was needed and the Children and Social Work Act 2017 was the result. Working Together to Safeguard Children is the key statutory guidance to safeguarding across agencies and a consultation was held from October to December 2017 to review its contents in the light of the new law.

Consultation on Keeping Children Safe in Education, the key document for schools, ended in February 2018.
Together the new law and the guidance documents should provide the safeguarding framework and detail for the future, with schools’ position shifted in terms of local authority decision-making.

A relevant agency

In the Children and Social Work Act, schools became a “relevant agency” rather than a safeguarding partner. It is the police, health and the local authority who are placed in pole position as the three safeguarding partners.

These partners are responsible for:

  • Geographical boundaries.
  • Organisation of safeguarding arrangements and their publication.
  • Which relevant agencies they should work with and how safeguarding arrangements should work in the area.
  • Schools and other educational partners.
  • Making arrangements for independent scrutiny of what they do.
  • Securing funding.
  • Resolving disputes.
  • Information requests.
  • Publishing an annual report about what they have done and how effective it has been.

The National Association of Head Teachers (NAHT) was one of the organisations that expressed concern that schools’ importance in relation to safeguarding must continue to be recognised by the safeguarding partners: “In our response we highlighted the importance of schools being involved in local safeguarding arrangements and safeguarding partners ensuring that schools have every opportunity to engage.”

This concern was acknowledged in the government consultation response – Changes to Statutory Guidance: Working Together to Safeguarding Children and new regulations – and in April 2018 the draft replacement document Working Together to Safeguard Children was published.

This document highlights that it applies to all schools and that schools and other educational partners must be included in the safeguarding arrangements: “The safeguarding partners should make arrangements to allow all schools and other educational partners in the local area to be fully engaged and involved, making sure communication is effective.” (p 81)

It acknowledges that schools have an important role to play in multi-agency safeguarding arrangements and that schools will continue to be held to account for this by Ofsted.

Although this document sets out schools’ position as a relevant agency rather than a partner, it is the document Keeping Children Safe in Education which should provide greater guidance.

Guidance for schools

A further consultation has been held on the school-specific guidance Keeping Children Safe in Education. This document should help schools interpret and understand what is required from them following the changes to the law. It is expected that the result of this consultation will be published in summer 2018 with new arrangements likely to be in place by September 2019. This consultation document proposes that:

  • Schools should have more than one emergency contact number for pupils.
  • Safeguarding and welfare concerns are taken into account when restraint is used on children with SEND.
  • There is clarification when “homestays” are arranged by schools in the UK, that those hosting children are subject to enhanced DBS and a barred list checks.
  • Schools have their own child protection policy to reflect local circumstances.
  • Multi-academy trusts no longer need to maintain separate Single Central Records for each school.
  • The role of deputy Designated Safeguarding Lead (DSL) is included in their job description.
  • There are changes to arrangements for the DSL in sole proprietor owned schools to ensure that they have “sufficient independence”.
  • There is new information about county lines, honour-based violence, sexual violence and sexual harassment between children.

The consultation also asks for opinions about the contents of the Single Central Record, references, carrying out overseas checks, and the length of the document in general.

Is there capacity?

In the consultation document it was pointed out that establishing safeguarding partners brings the police and healthcare in-line with the local authorities as having equal responsibility. This is in order to acknowledge the increased complexity of safeguarding to include radicalisation, internet safety and public health.

There is no doubt that the health service, local authorities and the police service should have a key role in establishing effective safeguarding arrangements for children. However, as anyone who works in a multi-agency capacity knows, it is prone to difficulties. Both the police service and health service are under pressure and local authorities have found themselves struggling in their capacity to offer more than basic services.

As families come under increasing financial pressure, schools report more deprivation and environmental difficulties for their pupils. As such, the most effective and finely tuned safeguarding procedures may struggle to improve the safety of our children.

The new law and guidance documents may have good intentions, but without capacity and in the current social climate, it is unlikely that the child protection statistics will be reduced anytime soon.

Further information

  • The Children and Social Work Act 2017, HM Government: http://bit.ly/2HPDTbi
  • Working Together to Safeguard Children: A guide to inter-agency working to safeguard and promote the welfare of children: Draft for consultation, HM Government, April 2018: http://bit.ly/2vt2Syl
  • Keeping Children Safe in Education, consultation documents, DfE (consultation now closed): http://bit.ly/2F21wua

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