Children & Social Work Bill [Lords]

Written E vidence s ubmitted by the Association of Independent LSCB Chairs (CSWB 44)

Children and Social Work Bill [Lords] House of Commons Public Bill Committee

Executive Summary

The Association of Independent LSCB Chairs (AILC) is the national membership organisation for Chairs of the 146 Local Safeguarding Children Boards. Local safeguarding partnerships and Boards are also contributing partners, and the majority are part of the Association. Its vision is to Improve Safeguarding Outcomes for Children, through supporting and strengthening Independent LSCB Chairs and LSCB Partnerships. This submission is endorsed by the AILC Board and reflects views of member Chairs and local partnerships.

The safeguar ding of vulnerable children is the priority of the Association of Independent LSCB Chairs and we are keen to see that the proposals contained in the Children and Social Work Bill [Lords] deliver the sustained improvement in safeguarding that is required. As an Association we are committed to working closely with all partners to ensure that the implementation of the legislative framework is effective and workable .

We would specifically like to see in the Bill .

· An explicit statement of the principles of effective safeguarding set out in the primary legislation – and that this should include as a minimum the elements listed below.

The key propositions already set out and published by the Association would allow a variety of local structures and the flexibility to adapt to new partnership configurations, but provide an underpinning framework. We would welcome continuing debate with interested partners to develop these propositions to provide a comprehensive and coherent basis for future safeguarding arrangements. The Bill makes provision for the form of local arrangements without a clear statement of the full functions that any structure must support. We welcome the opportunity to develop new structures and arrangements to suit local circumstances, but believe that these must be founded on a nationally established set of principles and expectations to ensure equity and to promote collaboration across boundaries and jurisdictions.

· We believe that some current provisions of the Bill are confused, in that responsibilities are separately allocated for different functions between the local authority (for notifying events to the national Panel); the three named partners of the local authority, CCG and chief officer of police (for making local arrangements); other relevant partners; and for independent scrutiny. We do not believe that this will achieve the flexibility, which we welcome, to accommodate different partnerships, new models of provision and different geographic areas, and cross boundary working. We are working in an environment where there is increasing diversity of provision in education, health and social care, and it is critical that safeguarding arrangements are comprehensive, coherent and consistent across this fragmented world.

· We suggest that there are some fundamental elements that must be more clearly enshrined in the Bill as the core components of effective safeguarding practice. These include:

o a prime duty to champion the rights and interests of children and young people;

o a clear statement of the functions and obligations required for safeguarding, whatever structure or form they make take;

o obligations and responsibilities on all partners, including schools and others, to work together on an equal footing;

o independent scrutiny and challenge working with other local leaders and responsible officers, to provide collective leadership;

o adequate authority and resources to fulfil the functions required in any local arrangements.

1. Child Safeguarding Practice Review Panel

1.1 Clause 12 of the Bill allows for the establishment, by the Secretary of State, of a Child Safeguarding Practice Review Panel to "identify serious child safeguarding cases in England which raise issues that are complex or of national importance, and where they consider it appropriate, to arrange for those cases to be reviewed under their supervision". The Panel would "consist of a chair and members appointed by the Secretary of State", but the Bill does not specify who this chair or these members would be. This is of great concern to AILC. It is critical for the authority and credibility of this Panel that it is demonstrably independent from ministerial control, and can pose the difficult questions about policy which may emerge from national reviews that are complex and important. LSCBs currently experience frustration that learning of national importance is not taken up in any systematic way – and therefore the conduct of national reviews is welcomed, but these must be initiated promptly, completed with a view to implementing change, and informed by the local circumstances that have led to notification of cases to the Panel. We are disappointed that the Bill fails to take account of the necessity to specify that this new Panel must include members with frontline safeguarding experience, and to set out how they will ensure that the learning from reviews will be used to inform and improve practice.

1.2 The previous Independent Panel for Serious Case Reviews focused on the production and publication of a SCR report, rather than the extent to which learning from reviews was embedded in local practice and made a difference to the way cases were managed and how partners worked together. The latter is the prime concern of LSCBs, and the clause continues to perpetuate the myth that a ‘perfect’ report will somehow deliver the improvement in practice and professional performance that is needed. Ofsted reviews of LSCBs regularly comment on the extent and effectiveness of Boards in implementing learning and note that this learning often applies to across the whole children’s system and not just to the three safeguarding partners named in the Bill.

1.3 Clause 13 (2) states that the purpose of reviews is to identify improvements to be made by safeguarding partners, who are defined as the local authority, clinical commissioning groups and the chief officer for police. As we comment on subsequent clauses, AILC believes that this narrow definition of partners could mean that other agencies, whose contribution to safeguarding is critical, avoid or minimise their responsibilities. Learning from reviews often requires action across a wider range of partners, and the focus on only three partners risks reducing the effectiveness of protection for children.

1.4 The functions of the Panel are not set out in sufficient detail – and it is not clear what is the connection between the power to identify and conduct reviews and the more general duty to notify the Panel of all events when a child dies or is seriously harmed as set out in clause 14.

What happens to those events notified, but which the Panel does not consider to raise issues that are complex or of national importance? Do these pass back for local consideration and review? We believe that this process is potentially cumbersome, and likely to delay investigations and reduce the value of learning for practitioners and agencies. Rigorous local scrutiny by all partners is much more likely to produce timely and focused learning that has an impact of the quality of services for children and young people.

2. Events to be Notified to the Panel

2.1 Clause 14 places the sole responsibility on the local authority for notifying events that may lead to a review to the Child Safeguarding Practice Review Panel. This is a major change from the current process that allows any partner to refer an incident to the LSCB. It is also unclear how this fits with the duty on local authorities to inform Ofsted and the Department for Education of significant incidents. LSCBs currently manage a process that ensures that concerns and notifications from any partner are reviewed, assessed and that a recommendation on behalf of all partners then informs the decision of the independent chair as to whether a review is justified. This process of scrutiny and independent assessment is vital to ensure that no one agency can minimise the scrutiny applied to cases and events of concern.

2.2 Partners will have different knowledge about a case, and it is the combination of this information that ensures that a robust assessment is made, not only on whether a review should be conducted, but also to scope the terms of reference and learning sought from the review. There is a belief that LSCBs are reluctant to commission Serious Case Reviews – not a view that is supported by evidence – but the provisions of this clause, leaving the responsibility solely with the local authority, are unlikely to encourage robust and challenging scrutiny between partners. Authorities who are poorly performing, or where the practice of social care may be challenged by partners, are less likely to take the view that abuse is suspected or that a case should be reviewed. The provisions of this clause for local authorities to follow guidance from the Secretary of State in conjunction with these functions does not provide the multi-agency scrutiny that we know is the bedrock of effective safeguarding.

3. Local Arrangements for Safeguarding and Promoting Welfare of Children

3.1 AILC does not believe that effective safeguarding arrangements can be vested only in the three prime partners identified in the Bill. While we welcome the acknowledgement that police and health are often as significant partners as children’s social care, we strongly oppose the separation between these three partners and other relevant agencies, when all research and evidence tells us that a shared common purpose is essential for effective multi-agency safeguarding. Schools, housing agencies, criminal justice agencies (particularly probation and CRCs), the community and voluntary sector and others are as fundamental to effective safeguarding practice and the protection of children as the three prime agencies named in the Bill.

We are particularly concerned with the lack of explicit provision for safeguarding obligations for schools, especially given the increasingly complex and diverse nature of school provision and governance. Schools are our best safeguarders of children – of all agencies they see by far the most of children, and know them and their families well.

3.2 It is not clear in regard to health agencies how clinical commissioning groups will ensure the co-operation of other commissioning parts of the NHS, or how the involvement of provider organisations will be secured. The NHS is a complex set of organisations with commissioning and safeguarding responsibilities located with a range of bodies and individual professionals.

In practice the named professionals in provider organisations actually ensure much of the day to day adherence to safeguarding practice, and the commissioning link to CCGs is an unwieldy and remote mechanism for co-ordinating health input to multi-agency safeguarding. The Association would welcome a more clearly defined role for designated and named health professionals as key clinical champions for safeguarding practice within both health settings and in multi-agency partnerships

3.3 The Bill makes no reference to the significant responsibilities for protecting the vulnerable that Police and Crime Commissioners exercise.

4. Local Child Safeguarding Practice Reviews

4.1 The Association welcomes the arrangements for local reviews and that these move from an incident-triggered process to one that identifies cases which raise ‘issues of importance’. However, we are not convinced that this definition is sufficiently robust and would welcome further guidance on the range of learning to be derived from reviews.

4.2 The provisions in the Bill focus on the production and publication of a review report. The evidence of the current National Panel shows that the vast majority of cases are already published, and that the panel agrees with decisions to conduct SCRs for 83% of the cases referred for review. We would welcome as much emphasis on the implementation of learning from reviews and an explicit requirement that all partners act on the findings on any review. Section 6 should include that the Secretary of State may make regulations that provide for the effective implementation and embedding of learning from reviews, and how this is integrated into a comprehensive local framework for learning and improvement. The current statutory remit for LSCBs requires that each must have a Leaning and Improvement Framework that sets out how this is done, whereas the new provisions appear to remove this requirement.

4.3 The recent revisions to Working Together in 2013 and 2015 have enabled a welcome level of discretion in the format for reviews, in the methodologies appropriate to effective learning, in the involvement of families and practitioners direct in the review, and in the resources and agency contributions required to deliver learning. It is important that the regulations and guidance maintain this ability to match the format and conduct of reviews to the circumstances of the case and the likely learning to be derived. LSCB Chairs currently exercise this as a critical part of their independent role and are able to arbitrate between the competing priorities and views of local partners. We are not convinced that the arrangements for three safeguarding partners will provide the same level of independence or ability to negotiate between competing pressures in the interests of children and young people.

5. Further Provision about Arrangements

5.1 Strong, effective multi-agency safeguarding arrangements do not just happen: they demand an active commitment to collaboration and common purpose. This can be in tension with other organisational and policy objectives - agencies have different authorising environments, but must share a common purpose for their joint safeguarding work. Each of the named partners in the Bill has wide and extensive responsibilities and duties beyond safeguarding, and there should be no assumption that they can or will agree on the safeguarding interests of children and young people.

Effective protection of children and the promotion of their well-being can only be secured through working together. Therefore, safeguarding arrangements for children and young people have to be built, sustained, tested and continuously improved.

5.2 We are not convinced that that provision in 16G (3) for scrutiny by an independent person is sufficiently robust. This provision could be met by an annual, or even less frequent, ‘health check’ on arrangements, with no real teeth to secure compliance or to resolve differences of views between agencies. We believe that a continuing, active involvement by an independent person is required to as a champion for safeguarding in the interest of children and young people, and to ensure the co-operation and attention to safeguarding priorities from all officers, agencies and leaders who share these responsibilities. The effectiveness of leadership within and between agencies is enhanced by a strong, well-informed and influential independent voice. Ofsted reviews of LSCBs have commented on how the absence of this independent and authoritative voice weakens local arrangements.

5.3 The Bill makes no provision for the involvement of lay members, as currently required for LSCBs. We believe that well-supported, active lay members can be a valuable asset to local arrangements, bringing community perspectives and knowledge, and challenging the assumptions of statutory agencies. We would argue for the retention and strengthening of these elements rather than their removal. Other arrangements for public protection and safeguarding (such as the management of sexual and dangerous offenders through MAPPA) make legislative provision for lay involvement and we believe this is a consistent principle that should be applied.

5.4 The Bill makes no provision for the inclusion of the voices of children and young people in local safeguarding arrangements. There are many examples across the country where LSCBs have proactively, creatively and effectively worked with young people to challenge and make services more responsive and inclusive. We would recommend that this should also be included in the Bill.

6. Information

6.1 We welcome the provisions to provide for enforcing the sharing of information and compliance with such requests.

7. Funding

7.1. Current funding arrangements for LSCBs are highly variable between localities, are often inadequate for the functions to be undertaken, and fall disproportionately on some partners (usually on the local authority). We therefore welcome that provision for funding is included in the Bill.

It is critical that the provision of staff, goods, services, accommodation, and other resources as well as funding is matched accurately to the functions to be performed, and that this includes the capacity to conduct audits, to review local safeguarding practice, to raise awareness of safeguarding practice, to educate and inform the public, and to ensure the co-ordination of local policies and procedures and multi-agency training. All these functions are in addition to the power to conduct local reviews, which can be significant costs on LSCB resources. All are vitally important functions carried out by LSCBs, and have been highlighted in Ofsted reports where they underpin strong local arrangements to protect children.

7.2 We believe that the independence and fairness of local arrangements would be strengthened if the obligations to support with funding and other resources were clearly laid on all, including relevant partners, and not restricted to the three safeguarding partners.

8. Child Death Reviews

8.1 The Association welcomes the inclusion in the Bill of arrangements for child death reviews. The perinatal mortality rate of children in the UK is among the worst in the developed world and significant improvements must be made in our understanding of why children die young and how to make improvements. The Child Death Overview Panel process has not made the contribution to improved child mortality rates that it should have done. The introduction of new thinking and new legislation is welcomed. However, the proposals in the Bill are little more than a reworking of the previous arrangements. The Association wants to see the arrangements subject to inspection and scrutiny so as to improve their effectiveness. The arrangements need to be properly resourced to make them effective. The permissive funding arrangements allowed for in the Bill are unlikely to lead to the improvement in resourcing and capability that this important function needs.

8.2 There needs to be an explicit requirement in the Bill for the Government Department that oversees this process (probably Department of Health) to produce an annual report on the effectiveness of local and national CDR arrangements and particularly how the work of the CDR process has improved on child mortality rates. It is important that learning from the CDR process feed back to local safeguarding arrangements to ensure that local professional and clinical practice can be monitored and improved.

9 . Evidence

9.1 The Association has compiled a significant body of evidence to demonstrate good practice and effective safeguarding arrangements. Much of this was included in our original submission to the Wood Review, and/or has been published through our websi te. Relevant links are given below. We have analysed on a regular basis the results of Ofsted reviews of LSCBs, and identified where the effectiveness of local arrangements has been noted, and where the contribution of strong independent leadership has been important to local impact. We do not believe that the current system is broken or fails to protect children, but we are determined to pursue improvement and strengthen those arrangements that we know work well.

9.2 We recognise that not all LSCBs operate as well as they should – but we conten d that this is sometimes owing to weaknesses in collective leadership, a lack of commitment from partners, inadequate funding and il l- defined responsibilities .

We do not believe that a Board structure is the only way to arrange local partnerships , and welcome the opportunity to adapt to new models of provision, to lea d innovation and to streamline the structures and time commitments expected of member partners, especially where these cross multiple boundaries. However, in encouraging this flexibility and local variation we believe that the Bill creates the potential for a confusing free- for - all, which could serve the interests of agencies rather than children, and which would result in a complex and fragmented jigsaw of arrangements across regions and the country which will not promote efficient collaboration and protect children well.

9.3 We are committed to working with all partners at national and local level to make whatever new arrangements are put in place effective. We are determined to ensure that the Bill does not weaken the fundamentals of effective multi- agency working and commend this submission to you for that purpose .

9.4 We repeat the core elements that we believe must be reflected in the Bill and subsequent regulation and guidance.

There must be:

· a prime duty to champion the interests of children and young people;

· a clear statement of the functions and obligations required for safeguarding whatever structure or form they make take ;

· o bligations and responsibilities on all partners, including schools and others, to work together on an equal footing ;

· i ndependent scrutiny and challenge working with other local leaders and responsible officers, to provide collective leadership ;

· a dequate authority and resource to fulfil the functions required in any local arrangement s .

10. Links to Documentation

AILC Submission to Wood Review

4th and 5th Ofsted Inspection Report

January 2017

 

Prepared 5th January 2017