- You may have concerns about a child, and refer those concerns to children's social care or the police. All staff should be aware of the procedures to be followed for reporting concerns about a particular child. This will normally be via the agency’s designated senior member of staff or their nominated deputy or if either are unavailable, another senior member of staff. In emergencies, however, contact the police direct;
- You may be approached by children’s social care and asked to provide information about a child or family or to be involved in an assessment. This may happen regardless of who made the referral to children’s social care;
- You may be asked to provide help or a specific service to the child or a member of their family as part of an agreed plan and contribute to the reviewing of the child’s progress.
If you do become involved in supporting a child or young person, and their family you should keep the following principles in mind:
The Child in Focus
Ofsted’s evaluation of 50 Serious Case Reviews conducted between 1 April 2007 and 31 March 2008 highlighted ‘the failure of all professionals to see the situation from the child’s perspective and experience; to see and speak to the children; to listen to what they said, to observe how they were and to take serious account of their views in supporting their needs as probably the single most consistent failure in safeguarding work with children.’
Since 2005, local authorities have been under a duty under the Children Act 1989 (as amended by section 53 of the Children Act 2004) to ascertain the child’s wishes and feelings and give due regard to their age and understanding when determining what (if any) services to provide under section 17 of the Children Act 1989, and before making decisions about action to be taken to protect individual children under section 47 of the Children Act 1989. These duties complemented existing requirements relating to the wishes and feelings of children who are, or may be, looked after (section 22(4) Children Act 1989), those being provided accommodation (section 20(6) Children Act 1989) and children taken into police protection (section 46(3)(d)).
Effective ongoing action to keep the child in focus includes:
- developing a direct relationship with the child;
- obtaining information from the child about his or her situation and needs;
- eliciting the child’s wishes and feelings – about their situation now as well as plans and hopes for the future;
- providing children with honest and accurate information about the current situation, as seen by professionals, and future possible actions and interventions;
- involving the child in key decision-making;
- providing appropriate information to the child about his or her right to protection and assistance;
- inviting children to make recommendations about the services and assistance they need and/or are available to them;
- ensuring children have access to independent advice and support (for example, through advocates or children’s rights officers) to be able to express their views and influence decision-making; and
- confirming the importance of eliciting and responding to the views and experiences of children as a defining feature of staff recruitment, professional supervision, performance management and the organisation’s broader aims and development.
Working in partnership with the parents/carers
Patterns of family life vary and there is no single, perfect way to bring up children. Good parenting involves caring for children’s basic needs, keeping them safe and protected, being attentive and showing them warmth and love, encouraging them to express their views and consistently taking these views into account, and providing the stimulation needed for their development and to help them achieve their potential, within a stable environment where they experience consistent guidance and boundaries.
Parenting can be challenging. Parents themselves require and deserve support. Asking for help should be seen as a sign of responsibility rather than as a parenting failure.
A wide range of services and professionals provide support to families in bringing up children. Sometimes children will seek out and ask for help and advice themselves. However, in the great majority of cases, it will be the decision of parents when to ask for help and advice on their children’s care and upbringing. As well as being responsive to children’s direct requests for help and advice, professionals also need to engage with parents at the earliest opportunity when doing so may prevent problems or difficulties becoming worse.
Only in exceptional cases should there be compulsory intervention in family life – for example, where this is necessary to safeguard a child from significant harm. Such intervention should – provided this is consistent with the safety and welfare of the child – support families in making their own plans for the welfare and protection of their children.
A Shared responsibility
Professionals working to support children and young people in need of safeguarding, and their families should not be doing so in isolation.
For those children who are suffering, or likely to suffer, significant harm, joint working is essential to safeguard and promote their welfare and, where necessary, to help bring to justice the perpetrators of crimes against children.
All agencies and professionals should:
- be alert to potential indicators of abuse or neglect;
- be alert to the risks of harm that individual abusers, or potential abusers, may pose to children;
- prioritise direct communication and positive and respectful relationships with children, ensuring the child’s wishes and feelings underpin assessments and any safeguarding activities;
- share and help to analyse information so that an assessment can be made of whether the child is suffering or is likely to suffer harm, their needs and circumstances;
- contribute to whatever actions are needed to safeguard and promote the child’s welfare;
- take part in regularly reviewing the outcomes for the child against specific plans; and
- work co-operatively with parents, unless this is inconsistent with ensuring the child’s safety.
Effective information sharing underpins integrated working and is a vital element of both early intervention and safeguarding. A key factor in many serious case reviews has been a failure to record information, to share it, to understand the significance of the information shared, and to take appropriate action in relation to known or suspected abuse or neglect.
All professionals working with children, young people and their families should use the following key points when considering sharing information.
- You should explain to children, young people and families at the outset, openly and honestly, what and how information will, or could be shared and why, and seek their agreement. The exception to this is where to do so would put that child, young person or others at increased risk of significant harm or an adult at risk of serious harm, or if it would undermine the prevention, detection or prosecution of a serious crime including where seeking consent might lead to interference with any potential investigation.
- You must always consider the safety and welfare of a child or young person when making decisions on whether to share information about them. Where there is concern that the child may be suffering or is at risk of suffering significant harm, the child’s safety and welfare must be the overriding consideration.
- You should, where possible, respect the wishes of children, young people or families who do not consent to share confidential information. You may still share information, if in your judgment on the facts of the case, there is sufficient need in the public interest to override that lack of consent.
- You should seek advice where you are in doubt, especially where your doubt relates to a concern about possible significant harm to a child or serious harm to others.
- You should ensure that the information you share is accurate and up-to-date, necessary for the purpose for which you are sharing it, shared only with those people who need to see it, and shared securely.
- You should always record the reasons for your decision – whether it is to share information or not.
- More guidance on Information Sharing and confidentiality can be located in section 3.3 Sharing Information.
All practitioners working with children and families should…
- Be familiar with and follow your organisation’s procedures and protocols for promoting and safeguarding the welfare of children in your area, and know who to contact in your organisation to express concerns about a child’s welfare.
- Remember that an allegation of child abuse or neglect may lead to a criminal investigation, so don’t do anything that may jeopardise a police investigation, such as asking a child leading questions or attempting to investigate the allegations of abuse.
- If you are responsible for making referrals, know who to contact in police, health, education, school and children’s social care to express concerns about a child’s welfare.
- Refer any concerns about child abuse or neglect to children’s social care or the police.
- Have an understanding of the Framework for the Assessment of Children in Need and their Families (see section 2.1.3 Using the Common Assessment Framework), which underpins the processes of assessing needs, planning services and reviewing the effectiveness of service provision at all stages of work with children in need and families.
- When referring a child to children’s social care you should consider and include any information you have on the child’s developmental needs and their parents’/carers’ ability to respond to these needs within the context of their wider family and environment. This information may have been obtained during the completion of a Common Assessment (2006b). Similarly, when contributing to an assessment or providing services you should consider what contribution you are able to make in respect of each of these three domains.
- Specialist assessments, in particular, are likely to provide information relevant to a specific dimension, such as health, education or family functioning.
- See the child and ascertain his or her wishes and feelings as part of considering what action to take in relation to concerns about the child’s welfare.
- Communicate with the child in a way that is appropriate to their age, understanding and preference. This is especially important for disabled children and for children whose preferred language is not English. The nature of this communication will also depend on the substance and seriousness of the concerns and you may require advice from children’s social care or the police to ensure that neither the safety of the child nor any subsequent investigation is jeopardised. Where concerns arise as a result of information given by a child it is important to reassure the child but not to promise confidentiality.
- Record full information about the child at first point of contact, including name(s), address(es), gender, date of birth, name(s) of person(s) with parental responsibility (for consent purposes) and primary carer(s), if different, and keep this information up to date. In schools, this information will be part of the pupil’s record.
- Record in writing all concerns, discussions about the child, decisions made, and the reasons for those decisions. The child’s records should include an up-to-date chronology, and details of the lead worker in the relevant agency – for example, a social worker, GP, health visitor or teacher.
- Talk to your manager and other professionals: always share your concerns, and discuss any differences of opinion. Follow up your concerns. Always follow up oral communications to other professionals in writing and ensure your message is clear.