From left: Vivien Lines, Kathy Bundred and Kay Bell are the capital’s three regional safeguarding advisers
The capital’s regional safeguarding advisers provide free support to agencies on local issues and stand by for emergency child protection situations, learns Louise Hunt
● Project name: London Regional Safeguarding Advisers
● Aims and objectives: To be a floating hub of information, advice and expertise at a senior level for all children’s services across the capital.
● Run by: The current three advisers are employed by the London Safeguarding Children Board and funded by London Councils, Capital Ambition and the Department for Education.
● Number of service users: All 33 London boroughs, with three host boroughs.
● Cost of project: £360,000 in 2010-11
● Timescale: Two-year pilot, started in April 2010
Vivien Lines, one of London’s three regional safeguarding advisers, says that what she particularly enjoys about her job is understanding the burdens for individual social work practitioners and also dealing with the wider governance framework. “I particularly like moving between those levels,” she says.
Lines, a former assistant director of children’s services, says it is a unique role, designed to be a floating core of expertise available to all London boroughs as and when needed. The role was created in April and Kay Bell, another of the advisers, says they have three main uses.
Firstly, the advisers are a rapid response team that can be parachuted into a service struggling with a safeguarding issue. “We are ready to go in at short-notice as and when a situation arises.”
Then there is their pan-London work, where they provide up to 10 days’ free support to authorities and partner agencies on specific safeguarding projects or local issues. This might include helping with service redesign, reviewing services or drafting improvement plans after external inspections have identified problems. One adviser, for example, is working with the police on how to reduce court delays.
This work feeds into the core function of their role, which is to be a hub of safeguarding knowledge that can be disseminated to authorities. “Because of our intelligence from working across London we can identify good practice and share information on problems that are common to all boroughs, so they don’t have to reinvent the wheel. We are also looking at how to create efficiencies, without diminishing services,” Bell says.
The advisers work out of London Councils‘ office, but they are each attached to a host authority, which funds part of their salary in return for regular, support work on local priorities. Bell is working with Kensington and Chelsea and one of her projects is to work with partners in adult social care and health services to look at the area’s family assessment approach to parental mental health, using the Social Care Institute for Excellence Think Family model.
Lines is co-hosted by Barking and Dagenham, while the third adviser, Kathy Bundred, is posted at Hillingdon, west London. Having this regular contact “is an opportunity to work operationally with senior and local managers and ensure we get feedback from practitioners to help them to improve”, says Bell.
The final, strategic strand of their work is to advise the London Safeguarding Childen Board on its priorities, which includes working with the NHS on how to strengthen safeguarding in primary care, particularly in relation to the new commissioning roles for GPs. Bell is also working with the voluntary sector on how to develop its role with the statutory sector, so it can tender on its key strengths.
Bell says the role has been successful so far, but she admits there has been less demand than expected for the advisers’ rapid response services. “Things have moved on significantly since the Baby P case and the vacancies at senior levels have settled down so the need for us to go in as a rapid response team has not transpired in the way we had thought.”
However, there has been great demand for the short-term project support, which Bell says now takes up the bulk of their work. “London boroughs are calling for our expertise and capacity is getting tight,” she says.
It is not surprising that authorities have leapt at the opportunity to take up the offer of 10 days’ free support; any further work is subject to a negotiated daily charge. “We are good value compared with consultants, and some projects, such as the work to reduce court delays and number of children going into care, should provide evidence in the longer term that our support can have an effect,” she adds.
Bell feels there is scope for nationwide expansion of the regional adviser role. “We have been contacted by other regions to share our experience and the way in which our jobs have developed, with a view to them considering replicating the role in their own regions.”
Another spur for their growth may be triggered by the abolition of the regional government offices, which were providing support to local safeguarding children’s boards similar to that provided by the London advisers, particularly around learning from serious case reviews. “Some local boards say they still need support. This may be something we could be involved in, so there is a possible need for more advisers. With the coming cuts there will be even more need for hubs of information like ourselves,” she says.
London regional safeguarding adviser Vivien Lines describes a typical day:
“Kathy, one of the other two advisers, is in her host borough today so I make a quick call to her first to discuss some of the benchmarking work we’re doing across boroughs’ child protection statistics. We chat about some of the themes emerging including ensuring child protection concerns are being responded to properly and whether there are effective collaborations between police, education, health and social care.
“I spend the morning presenting the findings of a review of child protection arrangements in a borough to its local safeguarding children board. It includes some recommendations for further improvements, particularly around engaging families and partners better in addressing identified risks. London Safeguarding Children Board (LSCB) members had a really good discussion about their role in monitoring the contribution of agencies.
“Afterwards I meet with some local managers to plan a programme of development for staff in all agencies in line with the plans the LSCB has agreed. They mention a case they are considering for review and I wonder whether it might be suitable for a project we are just starting to pilot, which is the Social Care Institute for Excellence (Scie) case review methodology in London. I call Kay, the third adviser, who is leading the pilot with Scie, and she feels the case may well be appropriate and will invite the LSCB lead to a meeting with Scie.
“I head off to a meeting with a colleague in the NHS. Today we’re talking to designated child protection doctors and nurses from across London in order to put together a response from a safeguarding children perspective to the current changes proposed in the NHS White Paper.
“I return to the London Councils offices, where we’re based. I catch up on some events being planned by the London board including safeguarding briefings for elected members, legal training for safeguarding professionals and development days for local boards. Lots of emails to deal with including a request for some support work in a borough on issues arising from a recent inspection. It looks like the work around good practice in safeguarding arrangements for disabled children could be of interest to a number of boroughs so I’m hopeful we’ll be able to get involved.”
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This article is published in the 27 January 2011 edition of Community Care under the headline “London calling”