After substantial amendments, the Children and Social Work Act 2017 received royal assent on 27 April 2017. While the majority of the act is not yet in force, the changes contained within it will have important implications for safeguarding of children and investigations into the death of a child once in force.
Although many of the safeguarding provisions contained in the act do not apply to schools, schools should be aware of the changes and what they mean for them.
What will change?
The act provides for a restructuring of child safeguarding oversight in England and will amend the existing safeguarding provisions in the Children Act 2004.
One of the key changes is that the act abolishes Local Safeguarding Children Boards (LCSB), and replaces them with ‘local arrangements’. These arrangements will involve the safeguarding partners for a local authority area – namely the local authority, the local clinical commissioning group, and the police for the area – and any other relevant agencies considered appropriate to work together to identify and respond to the needs of children in their area.
The act will also establish new Child Safeguarding Practice Review Panels. The role of the panels will be to identify “serious child safeguarding cases” in England (i.e. child abuse, neglect or where a child has died or been seriously harmed) which raise issues that are complex or of national importance. Where considered appropriate, the panel will arrange for such cases to be reviewed by the safeguarding partners to identify any improvements that should be made to safeguard and promote the welfare of children.
What does this mean for schools?
Whilst there is no requirement on schools to make arrangements for working together in a local area, there will be an expectation that schools involved in safeguarding and child protection will co-operate with safeguarding partners, such as the local authority and police. Schools who do not cooperate are likely to risk falling foul of their safeguarding duties and responsibilities and could, by virtue of powers contained in the act, ultimately be faced with an injunction (a court order) compelling them to comply.
It is anticipated that there will be the need for better and more proactive information sharing between schools and local safeguarding partners, with the corresponding need for key staff in schools with responsibility for safeguarding to receive training on the new local arrangements in their area.
Why is the change required?
The changes stem from a review of the role of LSCBs which was undertaken for the government by the former Association of Children’s Services President Alan Wood in May 2015. The review concluded that LSCBs were “not sufficiently effective” and did not have the capacity or resources to coordinate safeguarding and child protection services and ensure their effectiveness. It is hoped that the reform will advocate a more efficient and effective method of safeguarding and promoting the welfare of children.
When will the changes be introduced?
It is not currently known when the above provisions regarding safeguarding will take effect.
However, secondary regulations and further statutory guidance are expected in due course, which should provide further clarification on the role that all agencies involved in safeguarding will play as part of these reforms.