On 12 March 2009, Lord Laming published The Protection of Children in England: A Progress Report. The Government accepted the recommendations contained in the report and stated that they would publish a plan of action at a later date.
This action plan has now been released and outlines the Government's responses to the recommendations, including how central government will work with local government and front line services. These, in turn, include teachers, teaching assistants, school governors, staff in Children's Centres and early years settings, child care workers and other partners working with children.
In his introduction to the plan, the Minister for Children, Schools and Families recognises that, whilst there is broad support for the Every Child Matters agenda from professionals across all services for children and young people, and that a great deal of progress has been made in developing a professional framework to protect children and promote their welfare, there is a need for a step change in the arrangements to protect children from harm. This requires the translation of policy into everyday practice.
The Government will revise the core statutory guidance, Working Together to Safeguard Children, to take account of Lord Laming's recommendations to strengthen policy and practice, and to place a stronger focus on the perspective of the child, by the end of 2009. This will involve a revision of policy and practice in relation to Serious Case Reviews, which forms Chapter 8 of the above document, and has the central role of enabling local services to learn from past practice. Ofsted will also revise its evaluation criteria for these reviews in order to strengthen their focus on learning and any consequent changes in practice.
Sir Roger Singleton has been appointed to the new role of Chief Adviser on the Safety of Children. The role is to advise Government on strategic priorities and the effective implementation of policy and to report annually to Parliament on safeguarding progress, including the delivery of the recommendations from Lord Laming's report. The Chief Advisor will advise Government on the establishment of a cross-Government National Safeguarding Delivery Unit (NSDU).
The NSDU's core functions will be to identify, promote and co-ordinate good practice, undertake a gap analysis to indentify where more support is needed and commission any required tools or products that may be identified. A small number of ‘definitive practice' reports will be produced on the way that thresholds operate within front line services across the country, alongside a comparision of variations in local performance using a range of indicators for improving outcomes and services. It will also source information on progress from other Government departments and partners. Secondments and close working relationships with front line practitioners will be employed to readily access the impact of initiatives. It will also support the Chief Advisor in producing an annual report.
The Unit will be hosted in the DCSF and will aim to lead national developments in conjunction with regional government office staff in order to:
- monitor the implementation of recommendations arising from Serious Case Reviews (SCRs)
- Disseminate of learning from SCRs
- Challenge the quality of local needs analysis in relation to Children and Young People's Plan priorities and the consequent commissioning to support all children including those ‘in need' and those ‘in need of protection'
- Negotiation of appropriate targets for safeguarding children within a new national statutory framework
- Ensure an adequate and high quality supply of Serious Case Review Chairs and authors
- Work with local and regional partners such as regional improvement and Efficiency Partnerships in the development of stronger local advice
Ofsted will work with other inspection bodies for the different professions in order to produce a new framework for a rolling programme of inspections of safeguarding and looked-after children in all areas and covering the role of all partners, on a three year cycle.
The roles of The Children's Trust and the Local Safeguarding Children Board (LSCB) will be made more distinct so that they cannot share the same chair.
The Children's Trust is accountable for ensuring that services deliver better outcomes, with the Children's Trust Board being specifically accountable for overseeing the delivery of the Children and Young People's Plan. The LSCB should be responsible for challenging the Children's Trust, through the Children's Trust Board, on their success in ensuring that children and young people are kept safe:
"All services that have contact with children or with members of their families need to be alert to signs that a child has additional needs, whether as a result of the child's disability or special educational need, or because adults in the family face problems that affect their capacity to parent effectively, or because of a combination of these factors." p19
It is noted that disabled children can be especially vulnerable and so due account of this should be taken by professionals who need to communicate with them. The forthcoming 21st Century Schools White Paper will specify a national framework for early intervention to meet children's additional needs, which will set out the roles and responsibilities of schools and other services.
The Centre for Excellence and Outcomes (C4EO) was established in July 2008 to identify and disseminate effective practice in children's services. C4EO has been asked to undertake an additional strand of their programme on Protecting children living in families where they are at high risk of abuse, harm or neglect. They will conduct rapid research reviews to look at the following three issues:
- how to support the difficult decisions that frontline staff need to make;
- how best to intervene where there are concerns that a child may be being harmed or neglected and where there is evidence that a child has or is likely to suffer significant harm; and
- how best to maintain oversight and review of cases in the light of changing circumstances and/or new information
Significant developments in practice are outlined in this action plan that courses in education will need to be aware of and that opportunities for professional experience need to consider.