The Department for Education is currently seeking views on significant revisions to Working Together to Safeguard Children, the statutory guidance on what’s expected of organisations to safeguard and promote the welfare of children. The revisions reflect the legislative changes introduced through the Children and Social Work Act 2017 and new ‘child death review’ guidance. We attended a recent consultation with the Department for Education on the main changes proposed by the draft guidance.
In summary, the main changes the Department for Education are seeking views on are:
- the replacement of Local Children Safeguarding Boards with new flexible local safeguarding partners
- •he establishment of a new national Child Safeguarding Practice Review Panel
- the transfer of responsibility for child death reviews from Local Safeguarding Children Boards to new Child Death Review Partners
These changes raised many queries and concerns from relevant agencies (such as schools) during the recent consultation; in particular, as to how the proposed changes will be implemented in practice to ensure that safeguarding and promoting the welfare of children will be effective.
The main concerns for schools, as noted below, were in response to the changes proposed in Chapter 3. These cover the new system of local multi-agency safeguarding arrangements which place a duty on the three safeguarding partners (local authorities, police and health) to work together to safeguard and promote the welfare of children in their area.
- At present, the draft guidance allows for a great deal of flexibility for safeguarding partners to decide how best to safeguard and promote the welfare of children in their area with very little prescription and/or guidance as to how this may be best achieved.
Concerns have been raised that, whilst greater flexibility is welcome, this could lead to inconsistencies in practice across local areas in England, which in turn provides uncertainty for relevant agencies such as schools whose pupils may sit across more than one local area. Feedback focused on the need to ensure the guidance provides for a consistent approach across local areas.
- The draft guidance states that safeguarding partners should agree the level of funding secured from each partner and relevant agency, to support the new safeguarding arrangements. This led to widespread discussion as to what level of funding may required; who will determine what is ‘equitable and proportionate’; whether the level of contribution from partners will reflect who has greater ‘sway’ on the partnership; and whether schools will be expected to contribute (as anticipated by the current draft) and whether there will be a cap on the level of contribution required.
If schools are expected to contribute, some relevant agencies have stated that schools should have a voice in the local safeguarding arrangements with a stronger need for the safeguarding partners to engage with schools when drawing up their local arrangements.
- Relevant agencies which have functions in relation to children, and are listed in the Local Safeguarding Partner (Relevant Agencies) (England) Regulations, will have a duty to co-operate with the safeguarding partners arrangements. Some education providers are not currently listed in the Regulations, such as language schools and Multi Academy Trusts. Consultation views were that it will be important to ensure all educational institutions have a duty to co-operate so no child or young person falls ‘through the gap’, particularly when transitioning between different providers.
- The draft guidance allows local areas to decide what their multi-agency safeguarding arrangements will look like and how they will work in their area. Feedback on the consultation was that it will be important to ensure clarity on how arrangements will be managed for pupils who fall into more than one geographical area (to prevent an overlap of arrangements) and clear guidance on information sharing amongst the partners as well as between the partners and relevant agencies.
Views expressed were that it was important that the local safeguarding partners worked closely with schools in terms of developing safeguarding arrangements, including the training requirements for staff, to ensure consistency of approach in all local areas.