In this article...
One cannot fail to be appalled at the tragedy that is the death of Baby P. With ongoing scrutiny of those agencies involved, it would seem that, notwithstanding previous and equally tragic cases, systems to safeguard children do not yet protect all children even when many agencies are involved or provide intense input.
Those professionals involved in child services generally, and in particular in safeguarding, will understand that some cases present with extremely complex and changing circumstances and require sophisticated decision making around a holistic family approach. Some would argue that perhaps the pendulum has swung too far toward supporting parents with their own health and social problems and that focus on the child is sometimes lost in “a benefit of the doubt” ethos. Removing a child from his or her birth parents or siblings is also seen quite naturally, as a draconian or last resort act, although of course agencies do take such steps to safeguard many children.
However the Children’s Act mantra goes on and stands good “the child’s welfare is paramount”. What to do then for those reeling in the exposure of the death of Baby P and those health, social and educational agencies who look to learn from that death.
From a legal and governance prospective, the care principles lie in the following:-
There should be genuine leadership, understanding and strategy at a corporate level which denotes a corporate responsibility for any organisation caring for or providing a service to children and the young adult. This may involve service redesign or a Non-Executive Director acting as a check and balance for those with executive responsibilities for this area.
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There must be an honesty between staff and agencies on the ground and those in senior positions such as experienced managers, to allow staff to speak up when struggling to make difficult decisions. Equally, managers should be more effectively performance managed on actively supervising cases to bring their own experience and objectivity to bear.
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Communication and information sharing particularly inter-agency, was a key learning point of the Victoria Climbe inquiry and prompted a review of information sharing protocols between health, local authorities and the police. Safeguarding is everyone’s business from schoolteacher to GP to police officer to A&E nurse. Even where there is a therapeutic contract with a child if a disclosure is made, to keep the child safe that must be acted upon.
As lawyers specialising in children’s law one would prefer to defend a challenge on an alleged inappropriate sharing of information then defend a failure to release what may be a key part of the jigsaw, and subsequently a child then suffers harm.
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Learning may come from effective supervision to support staff in navigating the difficult cases and managing sheer volume. Formal learning through training is important and a key component of staff development. Audit is also an important learning tool. Protocols and policies may be in place, but are people doing what they say they will do? What is the objective evidence on outcomes? Organisational learning, as part of the wider governance structure, captures what is required to reach best practice.
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Across an organisation there should be real clarity as to who the designated individuals are for safeguarding children. This role in itself calls for a real commitment to fulfil the safeguarding agenda first articulated in “Every Child Matters”. Designated nurses, doctors and other professionals play a key role in supporting staff in taking away the fear they may feel when having to confront difficult cases and families.
These principles therefore serve to put the child central to the safeguarding agenda and to empower those professionals with safeguarding responsibilities to make decisions with confidence and consensus.
The Children’s Law Team at Bevan Brittan have worked with a wide range of clients in relation to children’s services, design strategy and safeguarding and if you think your organisation could benefit from sharing that experience and expertise please contact Deborah Jeremiah at Bevan Brittan LLP, Kings Orchard, 1 Queen Street, Bristol, BS2 0HQ, direct line number 0870 194 1748. Back to top