There is no underestimating the resource and systemic pressure Local Authorities and other organisations are under in relation to safeguarding children and young people at all levels. From the general duty to protect a child’s welfare to complex child protection cases, the challenge to gauge an appropriate professional response and at the right time and pace is great.

It is perhaps not surprising that agencies and professionals do not always see eye to eye on what risks are posed to a child or young person, by whom and how this should be managed. This can be particularly difficult for an agency or professional closest to the child who may become frustrated that they are being told that the thresholds for action by children’s social care are not met or that their referrals into safeguarding are not accepted. Where any agency remains dissatisfied it is important that the referring agency acts as a "critical friend" and initiates the multi-agency escalation process where they believe this is required.

The escalation process is not an antagonistic process by which each agency criticise each other but a formal and professional mechanism to positively and constructively confer on professional differences. This is then used to reach a consensus agreement as to the key areas of risk and what the multiagency response to those risks should be to safeguard and protect the child or young person.

Each Local Safeguarding Children Board should publish their regional multi-agency escalation policy on their website, and remind all agencies that they do have a duty to escalate where this is necessary. All professionals working with children should be aware of, and be confident enough to initiate the escalation policy.

However, our experience from advising on children’s safeguarding is that professionals are not always aware of the escalation process and at times merely accept the decision conveyed to them.  Also at times agencies and professional may consider they “have passed the baton” and therefore the safeguarding responsibility. However, if concerns or suspicions around the child continue and any agency considers the management around this inadequate to protect the child, then the escalation policy must be initiated

The typical escalation mechanism and policy will involve a three step escalation starting at lower level management; then to executive level to seek resolution, and finally escalating to the Children’s Board if necessary. Use of the escalation policy should be timely and a formal process, well documented and time limited to avoid drift and lack of clarity on how agencies can best protect a child or young person.

The local Children’s Safeguarding Board will always want to see agencies using the escalation process to support a positive reporting culture where professionals have concerns or have suspicions about a child, but where perspectives may differ as to the level of risk.  Nationally, Serious Case Reviews have highlighted what can happen when escalation is not used and how consequently children and their families can be left with a sub optimal safeguarding response or no response at all.

We would advise all organisations working with children to ensure that the escalation policy is embedded into their safeguarding function and that professionals know when and how to use this process. Safeguarding children is everyone’s business and we know from Serious Case and other learning reviews that escalation can make a real difference to how effectively children and young people are protected.

For further information or to discuss any aspect of this article, please contact Deborah Jeremiah, Associate.