How can we better safeguard children taken out of the local authority area?

Dave Watson outlines how data sharing can be help local authorities stay on top of child protection cases where the child goes to emergency departments out of area

child
Photo: Konstantin Yuganov/Fotolia

by Dave Watson

A child you have on a child protection plan is taken to an emergency department outside your local authority area. Do you know about it? Have you got the complete picture about that child?

At Hampshire council, where I head up the safeguarding unit, guaranteeing we could answer ‘yes’ to both those questions was the reason we implemented Child Protection – Information Sharing, which we went live with in November 2016.

The Child Protection – Information Sharing project, or CP-IS for short, is the first and only national means for local authorities and unscheduled healthcare settings (such as emergency departments and minor injury units) to share information about vulnerable children securely.

It simply connects existing IT systems together to allow notifications about children to be shared safely.

Like other areas, we in Hampshire had an existing safeguarding process in place with our local healthcare trusts. If a looked-after child, or one on a child protection plan, visited one of their sites, the child’s social worker was informed.

But what if a child attended an emergency department elsewhere in the country, either because they’d been placed out of area, or worse, because an abuser was trying to avoid detection?

You would like to think that if one of the children known to our social services team attended an emergency department or minor injuries unit and staff there had reasons to be concerned, then we would be notified. But that couldn’t be guaranteed.

Alert

CP-IS can solve this. When a child is known to our social services team and is either a looked-after child or on a current or recently expired child protection plan, basic information about that plan is extracted from our IT systems automatically and shared securely with the NHS.

If that child attends an unscheduled care setting, the health team is alerted that the child is on a plan and they have access to the contact details for the social care team. The social care team is automatically notified that the child has attended, and both parties can see details of the child’s previous 25 visits to unscheduled care settings in England.

In Hampshire, we have had over 850 notifications through in the year we have been live. Most of these have, as you would expect, come from local healthcare settings, but a significant minority haven’t.

Earlier this year Derbyshire Safeguarding Children Board published a serious case review around the death of a 21-month-old girl, ‘Polly’, while in the care of her mother and her mother’s boyfriend in 2014. It showed she had recently moved counties and had attended NHS unscheduled care settings many times in the months before her death, but her social worker and health staff were not always aware of these.

It is possible that CP-IS could have helped avoid that gap in knowledge. It could have enabled the staff involved in her care to see the complete picture. One of the nine recommendations in the report was to implement CP-IS because of the additional protection it provides to the most vulnerable children.

Implementation

Implementing CP-IS was not a complicated process. Operationally, it was simply a case of clearly briefing our IT team on what we needed the system to be able to do, and ensuring that we include NHS numbers on all our children’s records. Our IT team worked closely with NHS Digital – the body responsible for rolling out CP-IS – to get us up and running.

Their support in making it a seamless process was invaluable and NHS Digital says the whole process can be achieved in as little as six weeks.

It was helpful to us that NHS settings in our local area went live at the same time, but this is not always possible and is no reason to delay. After all, it is a national system – you probably have local safeguarding arrangements in place already that this system augments rather than replaces.

CP-IS works, and it makes a difference. But it can only truly claim to be a ‘national’ system once sufficient numbers of local authorities and healthcare settings are live.

At the time of writing, just over half of all local authorities and a quarter of NHS settings have gone live and information relating to more than 91,000 children is attached to it.

The onus is on us on the frontline to implement it now, so it can be used to its full potential, and give us the best chance of having the complete picture about the children we look after.

Dave Watson is the Head of the Safeguarding Unit at Hampshire County Council

2 Responses to How can we better safeguard children taken out of the local authority area?

  1. Andy Foster December 12, 2017 at 8:06 pm #

    The CP-IS procedure is a considered, rational and logical means of affording some children at least a modicum of ‘extra’ protection. However, the CP-IS notification function ignores the shameful and enduring obscenity of placing children out-of-authority. A swathe of this population would be absorbed by remaining in their own communities, thereby rendering CP-IS a procedure which would need to be actioned exceptionally and less frequently, whilst improving the life chances of children who are or will become ‘out-of-authority placements’. It is not acceptable for local authorities and successive governments to continue to bleat on about simply not being able to secure
    appropriate numbers of foster carers. So, the benefits of CP-IS are indeed apparent, albeit that we continue to largely ignore the search for a broader, systemic solution by electing not to invest differently for future generations of
    children.

  2. Sue Lock January 9, 2018 at 9:39 am #

    I think that any steps taken to try and share records more effectively is worthwhile.