Safeguarding system needs to tackle “stubborn challenges”, review panel says
A report by the Child Safeguarding Practice Review Panel calls for those who work to safeguard children to have a shared focus on tackling “weak information sharing and risk assessment” in child protection.
The Child Safeguarding Practice Review Panel has published its Annual Report for 2020, criticising persistent problems for Government departments and child protection professionals such as information sharing and risk assessment.
The independent expert panel reviews serious child safeguarding cases – when a child dies or suffers serious harm, and abuse or neglect is known or suspected. New figures show the panel received 482 serious incident notifications which occurred in 2020, with 206 of these incidents involving children who tragically died.
The report praised safeguarding partners for their “resilience, creativity and adaptability” to maintain support for vulnerable children and families during the COVID-19 pandemic. However, the analysis shows that all agencies need to address the “stubborn challenges”, such as weak information sharing and risk assessment.
The panel highlighted examples including initial risk assessments not being updated in response to new information about parental mental health concerns and alcohol and substance misuse, or information of previous convictions for sexual offences not being shared due to a lack of understanding about GDPR and data protection regulations.
Annie Hudson, Chair of the Child Safeguarding Practice Review Panel, praised professionals’ “extraordinary ability and resourcefulness” in adapting and innovating in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, but highlighted an “urgent need” to tackle challenges.
“The national Panel focusses on the most serious cases of child abuse and neglect; through this specific lens, we have been able to highlight the urgent need for everyone involved in safeguarding children to address some of the stubborn challenges which have bedevilled much child protection practice.
“Issues related to effective information sharing, risk assessment and decision making have assumed even greater significance over the past year. It is vital therefore that government departments work together, and with the Panel and local safeguarding partners, to tackle these challenges in what is always very challenging and difficult but potentially lifesaving work.”
The Child Safeguarding Practice Review Panel was set up in 2018 to identify, commission and oversee reviews of serious child safeguarding cases. It brings together experts from social care, policing and health to provide a multi-agency view on cases which they believe raise issues that are complex, or of national importance.
The panel identifies 6 ‘cross-cutting practice themes’ for safeguarding partners to make a difference in reducing serious harm and preventing child deaths in the context of abuse or neglect, including understanding the child’s daily life; working with families where their engagement is reluctant; critical thinking and challenge. Responding to changing risk and need; sharing information in a timely and appropriate way; and organisational leadership and culture for good outcomes were also identified as areas to effect change.
Underpinning all of these issues is the importance of effective leadership and culture, the panel says, describing them as “dimensions which too often are left unexplored in the case reviews that we see.”
To tackle these issues, the panel says it is prioritising risk assessment and decision making in its 2021 work programme, as well as working with the ongoing review of children’s social care in England to ensure any recommendations take account of the patterns and trends from serious incidents to better protect all vulnerable children.
The Panel also says it is looking to support the development of an “effective learning culture”.
“This is where agencies at every level are honest when things go wrong, where partners are properly held to account without scapegoating, where there is time and determination to reflect and learn, and where that learning translates quickly into policy and practice,” the report reads.
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