The government has revised its statutory guidance on safeguarding children in England, splitting the existing Working Together to Safeguard Children (2010) into three separate and much shorter draft documents. These are:
- Working Together to Safeguard Children (2012): what is expected of organisations responsible for safeguarding children, individually and jointly
- Managing Individual Cases: a framework for the assessment of children in need
- Statutory Guidance on Learning and Improvement: proposed new arrangements for serious case reviews (SCRs) and child death reviews
A consultation on the draft documents ends on 4 September.
This 21-page document summarises the legislative requirements and expectations on individual services, including midwives, health visitors, GPs, teachers, police officers and social workers, regardless of whether they have a statutory duty to safeguard and promote the welfare of children, and sets out how these services should work together.
Key messages for children’s social workers:
- A teacher, health visitor, early years worker or other professional must be able to discuss concerns they may have about children and families with a social worker. It is the responsibility of local authority children’s services to provide advice about whether a referral is appropriate.
- Once a referral has been made, a social worker must make a decision within one working day about the type of response that is required (see “Managing Individual Cases”, below). If the referral may involve a criminal offence, the police must be notified.
- Children’s services should provide feedback to the person who made the referral on the decisions made and next steps.
- A social worker must see the child as soon as possible if the decision is taken that the referral requires further assessment.
- Children’s services should work with all professionals known to the child and family to agree timings of meetings to discuss the case.
There is no specific statutory duty on adult social care services to safeguard children, however, social workers providing services to adults have a responsibility to ask whether there are children in the family and consider whether they need help or protection from harm.
The guidance also sets out the requirements on local safeguarding children boards (LSCBs).
Managing Individual Cases
This guidance, which used to be part of Working Together, sets out a framework for assessing cases once they have been referred to children’s services. It supersedes nationally prescribed timescales and focuses instead on the core principles of carrying out good assessments. Local authorities with their partner agencies must develop and publish their own local frameworks for assessment, including guidance on how soon a child should be visited after referral.
Key messages for children’s social workers:
- Social workers will be required to make judgements on a case-by-case basis on how quickly an assessment should be carried out after a referral. This should be done in discussion with a manager. Some complex cases will need longer to complete, but social workers must not wait until then to put supportive services in place.
- Social workers are responsible for determining what response is required, depending on whether the child may be in need or is at more immediate risk of harm (so whether the case requires a section 17 or section 47 assessment, for example. See p8 of the guidance).
- The social worker must discuss the child’s case with other professionals and agree how quickly meetings should be convened.
- It is also the responsibility of the social worker to make it clear to children and families how the assessment will be carried out and when they can expect a decision to be made on the next steps.
- Any decisions should be properly recorded, as should any information regarding the child’s development, to reduce the need for repeat assessments during care proceedings.
- A social worker must make a decision about the type of response required to a referral within one working day.
- The child must be seen by a social worker as soon as possible after a referral.
- The local framework for assessment must set an internal review point for completing assessments.
The guidance also includes flowcharts on what action to take upon receiving a referral and, depending on what response is required, sets out the specific responsibilities for social workers (p10 onwards).
Statutory Guidance on Learning and Improvement
This guidance sets out a new approach to learning and improvement from serious case reviews (SCRs) and child death reviews. It requires greater transparency and asks LSCBs and their partner organisations to translate the finding from these reviews into programmes of action. It replaces the statutory guidance in Working Together (2010).
Key messages for social workers:
- Social workers must be fully involved in SCRs and invited to contribute their perspectives without fear of being blamed for actions they took using sound judgement and good intentions.
- SCRs should be conducted using systems methodology as recommended by Eileen Munro in her review of child protection systems in England. This means gathering information not only about what professionals did in the case, but also about why they took that action and what this reveals about how the system needs to change.
- The LSCB should aim to complete an SCR within six months.
- Social workers supporting parents and family members should assure them the objective of the child death review process is not to place blame, but to learn lessons.
The guidance also sets out the criteria for instigating an SCR.
Source: Department for Education, June 2012.
Kirsty McGregor is Community Care’s workforce editor