New safeguarding partnerships show promise but hampered by funding issues and lack of government support

Report on replacement of local safeguarding children boards finds progress but warns of impact of NHS reorganisation and insufficiently senior police representation

Image of Sir Alan Wood, chair of the children's social care What Works Centre
Sir Alan Wood

Funding  issues, a lack of government support and insufficiently senior police representation are hampering the impact of the multi-agency partnerships that replaced local safeguarding children boards (LSCBs) in 2018-9, despite signs of progress.

That was the message from a review of multi-agency safeguarding arrangements by Sir Alan Wood, the government adviser whose 2016 report led to the scrapping of LSCBs on the grounds they were insufficiently effective and struggling to manage their wide remit.

In a follow-up report published last week, Wood said there were “grounds for optimism and belief that change is happening, improvement in practice is beginning to embed, and is impacting on outcomes for children”.

A survey, answered by organisations in 117 of the 132 partnership areas, found that 90% felt the changes were having a positive impact on multi-agency strategic decision making and 61% said there was evidence of a greater focus on multi-agency safeguarding practice.

Wood also said that respondents highlighted the positive way agencies worked together in response to the pandemic – a point highlighted in research published last July – enabling a more rapid response to children at risk.

How multi-agency safeguarding oversight has changed

  • The Children and Social Work Act 2017 replaced local safeguarding children boards (LSCBs) with multi-agency safeguarding arrangements, which fully came into force in September 2019.
  • This was on the back of a 2016 report for the Department for Education by Wood, which found that LSCBs were too bureaucratic and costly and insufficiently effective, with a lack of co-ordination across agencies.
  • LSCBs required the participation of multiple agencies, including Cafcass, probation, youth offending services, NHS trusts and prisons, as well as the relevant local authority, clinical commissioning group (CCG) and chief officer of police. Boards also had to appoint representatives for schools.
  • The multi-agency safeguarding arrangements only specifically require the involvement of the relevant local authority, clinical commissioning group and chief officer of police, who must then secure the participation of relevant agencies they consider appropriate.
  • Local authorities were required to set up LSCBs and they and the remaining agencies were bound together by a duty to co-operate; however, Wood found this a weak mechanism to secure multi-agency working.
  • Now, the council, CCG and chief police officer are jointly responsible for setting up the multi-agency arrangements. Working Together to Safeguard Children states that all three partners “have equal and joint responsibility for local safeguarding arrangements”.

Unilateral funding decisions

However, Wood found some concerns about the way arrangements were working, including  “weaknesses in the role of safeguarding partners”.

While Working Together to Safeguard Children states that councils, clinical commissioning groups and chief police officers should “agree the level of funding secured from each partner, which should be equitable and proportionate”, Wood found this was not the case in some areas.

For example, Wood said that in the capital, the Mayor of London’s office for policing and crime allocates £5,000 to multi-agency arrangements in each of the 32 boroughs, despite their differing size and populations.

Wood said this went against Working Together, as making a unilateral decision about your agency’s funding level “damages the concept of joint working and partnership”. He said in some areas, CCGs operated in the same way.

Problems of police representation

Wood also identified issues with the lack of seniority of police representatives in some areas. Working Together states that the chief officer of police (typically, the chief constable of the area police force), council chief executive and accountable officer for the CCG were accountable for actions and decisions taken on behalf of their organisation, though they could delegate their leadership role to others.

However, Wood found that, in a number of areas, police leadership had been delegated to superintendents, who sit five ranks below chief constable.

“It is unlikely that an officer at that level can take decisions which commit the polices service to an action,” he said.

He added: “Where a statutory safeguarding partner delegates their responsibility to a deputy there is often not a sufficiently clear process for how their deputy is held to account or how the partner ensures they are in a position to support or challenge the deputy. There is room to question whether delegation is taking place and monitored in a way that is reflective of statutory guidance.”

Lack of central government support

Wood also directed criticism at central government, who he said “can and must do more to ensure the next phase of implementing the reforms quickens the pace and widens the depth and breadth of
improvement and change at local level”.

He said that Whitehall departments did not currently have a “joined-up culture in supporting the reforms”.

Safeguarding partners surveyed pointed to a lack of guidance in carrying out their responsibilities, and Wood said no advice had been published by the Home Office, which oversees the police, or the Ministery of Housing Communities and Local Government, and only limited guidance issued by NHS England.

Wood said the forthcoming replacement of CCGs with much larger integrated care services (ICS) would impact directly on multi-agency safeguarding arrangements and raised concerns about the impact it would have on the role and seniority of health representatives.

“ICS will directly commission a wide range of local primary care services that affect children which will present key challenges for local safeguarding partners,” he said. “It will be essential for clear guidance to be given to ICS about the role of the safeguarding partner and the ICS role in local safeguarding partnerships.”

Recommendations

Wood’s recommendations included:

  • For central government to issue new and additional guidance for safeguarding partners on their leadership role, covering accountability, particularly where leadership has been delegated, dispute resolution and arrangements for scrutinising safeguarding partners’ work.
  • For government to also issue guidance to relevant Whitehall officials to ensure multi-agency safeguarding arrangements are considered in reorganisations of the NHS, police or local government.
  • Amending the section on funding arrangements in Working Together to be clear on what functions the funding should cover and clarify arrangements where health or police cover several multi-agency arrangements. Also, advice should be given to CCGs, police commissioners and councils to ensure they allocate an appropriate sum of money for each partnership.
  • Ofsted, the Care Quality Commission and the criminal justice inspectorates should consider the development of an inspection model for judging the impact of safeguarding partners’ decision-making on practice and outcomes for children.

Police superintendents ‘very senior and experienced’

In response to the report, the National Police Chiefs’ Council, which represents chief police officers, welcomed the findings but defended the practice of having superintendents represent the police in arrangements.

Lead for child protection Simon Bailey said: “Recent legislative changes enhanced the responsibilities of senior police leaders to coordinate their local safeguarding children’s services. Across England, chief constables have delegated this responsibility to assistant chief constables who work with operational leads. At a local level, this is typically superintendents and police staff of equivalent rank.

“Superintendents and police staff equivalents are very senior and experienced individuals who have good links to senior leaders and officers on the ground. They often lead on complex areas of command within forces and, within a multi-agency safeguarding setting, they play a vital role in representing their local service.”

Sara Tough, chair of the Association of Directors of Children’s Services’ families, communities and young people policy committee, said the report gave grounds for optimism about multi-agency safeguarding arrangements, particularly as it was largely carried out during the pandemic.

She highlighted that the bulk of Wood’s recommendations were targeted at central government and said “greater clarity on funding this joint work would be most welcome”.

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