Does all-London committee signal a shift towards standardisation?

The pan-London child
protection committee will enable staff to track children as they move within
the capital, but how much standardisation is desirable, asks Lauren Revans.

The face of child
protection in London was given a make-over last week, with the publication of
draft all-London child protection procedures and the establishment of a
pan-London child protection committee (News, page 8, 11 July).

The need for change,
already highlighted by an audit of London’s existing 32 area child protection
committees, was crystallised by evidence from professionals to the Victoria
Climbié inquiry.

The clear message
from the audit was one of inconsistency in child protection practice between
boroughs. The clear message from the inquiry was one of procedures routinely
not being followed, communication between agencies and between boroughs
breaking down, different agencies’ roles not being understood, and ACPCs not
working effectively.

The new London-wide
approach to child protection is, then, an attempt by the various agencies
involved to tackle these problems and inconsistencies head on.

Seen by most as a
“big step forward”, in many ways the idea has been in the public arena for some
time in the Department of Health guidance, Working Together to Safeguard

The guidance states:
“Where boundaries between local authorities, the health service and the police
are not coterminous, there can be problems for some member agencies in having
to work to different procedures and protocols according to the area involved, or
in having to participate in several ACPCs.

“It may be helpful in
these circumstances for an ACPC to cover an area that includes more than one
local authority area, or for adjoining ACPCs to collaborate as far as possible
on establishing common procedures and protocols for inter-agency training.”

Although individual
ACPCs will continue to exist at local level, the pan-London committee will
provide a strategic overview and “ensure consistency” between ACPCs in terms of
their roles and functions. It will also look at quality assurance and learning
development (see panel).

The ACPCs’ locally
negotiated procedures will be replaced by the new all-London procedures once
they are published in final draft form in October, although these will not be
officially finalised until Lord Laming publishes his report on the Victoria
Climbié Inquiry at the end of the year. Practice guidance will continue to be
produced locally until planned work on standardised guidance on some of the key
issues has been completed.

Hannah Miller,
director of social services at Croydon Council and children’s lead for the
Greater London Association of Directors of Social Services, played a key role
in the development of the London-wide procedures and was a member of the
Metropolitan Police’s multi-agency child protection steering group that
pre-dated the new committee.

Miller believes that
as the draft procedures are based on accepted best practice and on information
and material supplied by the very agencies who will use them, it is essential
they are not tinkered with locally once they have been finalised.

“If you start
doctoring them, you immediately start watering down the effect of having a
standardised document,” she warns.

Miller cites the
mobility of London’s population as a major factor behind this attempt to
standardise child protection procedures across the capital. “The key thing is
that London boroughs are static entities, but the families and children we work
with are not,” Miller says. “They are constantly moving between boroughs, particularly
asylum seeking families and homeless families in bed & breakfasts.

“We want the
certainty that wherever a child turns up with child protection issues,
everybody knows there is one clear set of procedures that we all work to.”

Mobility of staff,
according to Miller, is another key factor behind the all-London procedures.
This is particularly pertinent for social services departments given that many
are suffering high turnover rates and are having to rely on agency staff who
may be working in more than one borough at any one time.

It is also relevant
for other professionals, such as health visitors and hospital staff, whose
catchment areas may cut across borough boundaries. As director of Haringey
social services department Anne Bristow says: “The North Middlesex Hospital
serves us and Enfield, and although our basic procedures are the same, the
detail is different. We are asking staff to read two sets of procedures.” This
problem has been exacerbated by last year’s centralisation of the formerly
borough-based police child protection units and the switch in April from a
district-based to a London-wide probation service.

As a result, it is no
longer feasible to expect staff working in these agencies to familiarise
themselves with a set of child protection procedures that is broken down into
32  different child protection manuals.

“As some of the key
partners are London-wide, we are a sensible grouping,” Bristow says.

“Working Together had
always foreseen that we would develop a set of local procedures. All we are
doing here is redefining what we mean by local. I can see it would work for
other areas too, but whether it would work for all I don’t know.”

As far as detective
chief inspector Mick Hopwood is concerned, regional ACPCs and procedures would
certainly make sense in West Yorkshire, where he heads the police child
protection unit and sits on the county’s five local ACPCs.

“I have got five sets
of procedures and five business plans, and they are all very similar,” Hopwood
says. “A county-wide basis is sufficiently tight to maintain the local focus,
whereas a nationwide child protection committee would lack local focus and
become even more bureaucratic than the current system.”

Izzy Atkinson, a
senior practitioner for Peterborough Council’s intake and assessment team and a
member of Peterborough ACPC’s sub-groups on communication and sexual
exploitation, agrees it is vital that responses to local needs are not lost in
any move to standard procedures.

“There are things
happening in Peterborough that might not be happening in Chelsea,” Atkinson
says. “We all need to have a hymn sheet, but we need to be able to write some
of the music ourselves.”

But, for Norfolk’s
director of social services, David Wright, the key is not so much whether
procedures are local, regional, or national, but whether the agencies involved
actually adhere to them and work together effectively.

“The critical issue
is to ensure that all agencies who are signatories abide by the procedures and
that their performance is measured by their own inspectorate,” he says.

To aid this
compliance and improve joint-working, the Met has designed an interactive
multi-agency training programme, known as Hydra, to be piloted in Tower
Hamlets, Harrow and Croydon.

According to the
Met’s child protection lead, deputy assistant commissioner Carole Howlett, the
programme immerses managers from different agencies for a day and a half into a
“Victoria Climbié-type scenario” where they have to make decisions. They are
then brought together to discuss those decisions and their possible impact. The
initiative, which has been welcomed, will then be rolled out to the rest of

It is without doubt,
then, that the public spotlight on the collective failure of agencies to
prevent the death of Victoria Climbié over two years ago has acted as a
catalyst for change for the capital’s child protection system. And, as Bristow
puts it: “The opportunity has been seized.”

Now it just remains
to be seen whether the new procedures can achieve better practice on the ground
and if the new high profile afforded to child protection in London can be

Committee’s tasks

The new all-London
child protection committee is intended to secure consistency in the handling of
child protection issues by all agencies, provide strategic leadership,
disseminate and ensure adoption of best practice, and lead the development of
protocols for the sharing of information. It will also lead the development of
a training strategy and communication strategy, influence and inform the
development of policy, and identify and promote changes to legislation.

More from Community Care

Comments are closed.