Schools, police and health services have made several improvements to child safeguarding following the baby Peter case.
Although much of the media coverage of the baby Peter case has focused on the actions of social services, Lord Laming recognised the need to consider the role of other statutory services in touch with children too.
In particular, his progress report on The Protection of Children in England, published in March, said the inspection bodies responsible for overseeing all the key services that came into contact with children and families – including schools, the police and health services, as well as social services – needed to up their game.
“There is a clear need for a determined focus on the improvement of practice in child protection across all agencies that support children,” he stressed. “There is a need to strengthen the inspection processes of each of the services responsible for the safety of children.”
Last month, the government published its official response to Laming’s recommendations, setting out exactly what work is already being done to improve safeguarding and child protection, and what else is in the pipeline.
Here we look at the changes afoot to improve safeguarding arrangements in schools, the police, and the health service.
Since April 2007, Ofsted has been responsible for inspecting schools’ safeguarding and child protection arrangements. Laming criticised how the inspectorate, which took over this duty from the then Commission for Social Care Inspection, reviewed these arrangements. Singling out Ofsted as the worst offender, he pointed out how “weaknesses in some inspection processes have been as a result of lack of expertise and limited experience in child protection in the key inspection bodies”.
Laming recommended that Ofsted revise the inspection and improvement regime for schools to give “greater prominence to how well schools are fulfilling their responsibilities for child protection”.
In response, Ofsted has designed a new school inspection framework that will apply from September this year. The current inspection framework already includes a judgement about whether a school’s safeguarding arrangements are satisfactory. The new framework will build on this by introducing a new grading scale: in future a school’s safeguarding arrangements will be rated from 1 (outstanding) to 4 (inadequate). If a school receives a grade 4, it is also likely to be awarded an inadequate grade for its overall performance and will need to make urgent improvements. In the government’s response to Laming’s report, it says these new arrangements will “raise the bar” about the importance of safeguarding for schools, and help identify and share good practice.
The new inspection frameworks for schools are still in the process of being piloted but, according to a spokesperson for Ofsted, further details will be published in the coming months.
In order to avoid a repeat of the errors made in the Baby P case, Laming called for all police, probation, adult mental health, and adult drugs and alcohol services to have “well understood referral processes which prioritise the protection and well-being of children”.
This will be reflected in the revised Working Together to Safeguard Children guidance due out by December this year. But the Home Office is also working with the Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO), the Association of Police Authorities and the National Police Improvement Agency to develop a new strategic framework for delivering protective services. For the first time, a clear structure for pushing forward the delivery of all protective services will be produced, and child protection is one of its first priorities. “It will make it clear that child protection is a national priority and must be given the resources and attention it needs,” a Home Office spokesperson says.
ACPO and the Home Office are jointly developing a series of performance indicators for child abuse investigation units to help them measure the effectiveness of their safeguarding role where children are at risk. Subject to endorsement by the ACPO’s child abuse investigations working group this month, a pilot of the indicators will start in the summer and run until April 2010.
The National Police Improvement Agency also has plans to update its specialist training programme on child protection and safeguarding for police forces in light of the Laming report, and expects to do so by December.
Meanwhile, the body that inspects the police service in England and Wales, Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary (HMIC), is acting on Laming’s calls for it to review its inspection framework of its frontline services to drive safeguarding and child protection improvements.
The HMIC plans to move to a process called “rounded assessment”, an indicator-based method. A rounded assessment of every police force will be conducted regularly throughout the year to identify key areas of vulnerability that may then trigger separate, dedicated inspections. Police forces will be inspected across five domains, with child abuse investigations and safeguarding children coming under the “protection from serious harm” domain.
Fieldwork on the rounded assessment is expected to start this July or August, and graded judgements produced by the end of November. “Assessment frameworks and key ‘triggers’ are currently being developed,” a Home Office spokesperson says. The HMIC is reviewing its staffing arrangements to support this new approach.
The engagement of health professionals – and particularly GPs – in children’s trusts, local safeguarding children boards and other multi-agency forums for safeguarding children is “varied”, according to Laming. His report found a common problem was the “difficulty in attracting ‘designated’ and ‘named’ health professionals in primary and secondary care with responsibility for child protection”.
To combat this, Laming recommended that the Department of Health work with partners to develop a national training programme to improve the skills and understanding of the children’s health workforce to help them when dealing with safeguarding and child protection issues.
Sheila Shribman, the DH’s national clinical director for children, young people and maternity services, is now working with NHS and other professional leaders to review the current training programmes around child protection and safeguarding to identify any gaps. The DH is also sponsoring the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health to develop further components of its child protection training, and working with it to develop child protection clinical networks within the NHS. These should be in place by December 2009.
All health and adult social care services in England are regulated by the Care Quality Commission (CQC), which came into effect on 1 April this year. The CQC’s annual health check of all NHS trusts in England – which includes an assessment of the quality of safeguarding arrangements against core standards criteria – revealed that all trusts had declared compliance or otherwise with standards relating to child protection arrangements by 1 May 2009. The CQC has promised that any non-compliance will result in follow-up action.
Further strengthening of safeguarding procedures is promised in the new regulatory framework to be established by the Health and Social Care Act 2008 from 2010.
This article is published in the 4 June 2009 edition of Community Care magazine under the headline What progress on protection