Agencies get on board for protection

The summer silly season was punctuated at the end of July with the government’s publication of draft guidelines on how the new local safeguarding children’s boards, a central plank in its children’s services reforms, will work when they come into force next April.

The statutory boards, which will replace area child protection committees, will have a much wider remit and involve a far greater range of agencies than their non-statutory predecessors.

There will be a heavy emphasis on prevention and promoting welfare. Within this the boards will be required to co-ordinate services and make sure that the member organisations are working effectively. But it is clear that protection will remain their key focus and only when that is sorted will boards be free to take on a wider remit.

For the first time, agencies such as youth offending teams, primary care trusts and the police will be legally required to co-operate in setting up, running and delivering the boards’ functions. Schools, FE colleges, children’s centres and the voluntary sector will also be important partners.

By April 2008, the boards will be required to review all child deaths and co-ordinate the response to unexpected child deaths through new child death overview panels. Everyone involved with a child’s care before or after their death will have to submit all relevant paperwork to the panel, and every primary care trust should have a named consultant paediatrician available to give advice on such deaths.

Where abuse or neglect is known or suspected to be a factor in a child’s death, boards will take over responsibility for undertaking serious case reviews to look at professionals’ and organisations’ involvement with the child and their family. Each relevant service must review its involvement with the child and family, and the board will then commission an overview report that will analyse the findings and make recommendations.

While much in the guidance has been welcomed concerns remain, notably around whether the costs of the new boards will be adequately met.

There is also anxiety around the risk posed during the transition period when authorities will effectively be running two child protection systems in tandem.

Key points for boards

  • Councils will be responsible for appointing the board chair, but those appointed do not necessarily have to be a senior officer of the local authority.
  • Boards will have a key role in co-ordinating and devising multi-agency child protection training.
  • Boards should consider leading on tackling bullying and domestic violence.
  • Partner agencies will continue to be regulated by their individual inspectorates, but the LSCBs will be covered by three-yearly joint area reviews, which will focus on whether they have co-ordinated child protection work in their area effectively.
  • Primary care trusts will have a legal duty to be involved in, and committed to, the work of the boards at an appropriate level of seniority.

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