Liverpool’s safeguarding children board has shown it is possible to both challenge and scrutinise local agencies effectively. The key might be having an independent chair who is a local, writes Molly Garboden
(Pictured: Bernie Brown, independent chair of Liverpool’s safeguarding board, says it is crucial to remember to nver let go of the aim of effective multi-agency working)
Local safeguarding children boards (LSCBs) have an important role to play in challenging and scrutinising child protection services, Professor Eileen Munro stated in her final report on child protection services in England. It is an area in which many have struggled, although Liverpool is not one of them.
Bernie Brown, independent chair of the city’s SCB, says the key is to make sure that different agencies talk to the board as well as each other. Liverpool has achieved this is by creating a “scrutiny calendar”.
“At each board meeting, we have a scheduled guest from a particular agency who has to present us with their current action plan,” she says. “Board members then ask questions and raise any concerns they might have in that agency’s area. For instance, our most recent meeting had a representative from Cafcass, who was asked about the cause of court delays in Liverpool and what the board could do to support the process better.”
Brown was recently praised in an Ofsted safeguarding inspection for being particularly effective and she believes she has a strong advantage as an independent chair because Liverpool is her home.
“I grew up in Liverpool and I live here now, so this really is my community,” she says. “I access universal services, so I know what it’s like on both sides. Going about my family life, I see which services work and which ones don’t. I read the local paper and if I see that there’s a child missing and I haven’t heard about it, I ask why I haven’t heard about it. I think it makes a big difference to be local.”
Brown says it is crucial for the LSCB chair to remember to never let go of the aim of truly effective multi-agency working. “If everything you do works towards that ultimate goal, a culture of co-operation will develop.”
This is especially true, she says, when ensuring lessons are learned from serious case reviews, another area of Ofsted praise for Liverpool SCB.
“We’ve had a number of SCRs over the past few years and decided we needed to review them to clarify what was going on in child protection in the city,” Brown says. “We created a programme called Confidential Conversations where we pulled together frontline staff across the partnerships and talked to them about the SCRs that have been done. We reviewed the cases and gathered the different agencies’ impressions of them.”
Brown says the exercise raised issues that agencies had within the child protection system, past and present: “One was the question of supervision in complex cases. So we had a multi-agency development day to help us explore what staff want from supervision. From the information gathered on that day, we were able to create an action plan.”
Brown views maintaining stable thresholds across the city as another key task: “We audit agencies’ compliance to this guidance and have found a lot of inappropriate referrals to children’s services being made. We’re such a big authority, the volume of referrals is huge and we have to stay on top of them. Talking to all the agencies fills in the gaps.”
One solution has been to align training on the common assessment framework with training on thresholds.
“We’ve now got a common language and understanding across agencies that we have to deal with a lot more stuff at the early intervention end,” she says. “It helps that we have a very strong commitment from all the partners in Liverpool. If there’s an issue, people are willing to talk about it. The collaboration is really there, along with a thorough belief that child protection is a shared responsibility.”
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This article is published in the 7 July 2011 edition of Community Care under the headline “Liverpool lessons”