Professional challenge and resolution of professional disagreement

National and Serious Case Reviews consistently highlight professionals' failure to challenge inter-agency colleagues and decisions. This section explains what to do when there is disagreement amongst professionals over the handling of concerns in relation to a child.


Introduction

Many serious case reviews identify an apparent reluctance to challenge interagency decision making. The serious case reviews have often identified professionals who are concerned with a decision made by another agency; however their concerns have not been followed up with robust professional challenge which may have altered the professional response. This procedure outlines expectations in relation to professional challenge and defines the process for resolving disputes; including how to escalate matters of concern.

Professional Challenge

Professional challenge is a fundamental professional responsibility. All agencies and services should promote a culture which encourages constructive challenge within and between organisations; acknowledging the important role that challenge can play in safeguarding children. Effective ‘working together’ depends on a culture of open and honest relationships between agencies; where different professional perspectives are welcomed and given serious consideration by professionals who want the best outcomes for children and young people.

Disagreement and Dispute Resolution

Disagreement arising from professional challenge is healthy professional practice and is based on a passion to improve outcomes for children. It can arise in a number of areas, but is likely to arise in the following:

  • Response to a referral / levels of need (Threshold document).

  • Roles and responsibilities

  • The need for action

  • The need for inaction

  • Progressing plans and clear communication

  • Provision of services

  • Decision as to whether to make a child subject of a Child Protection Plan

  • Decisions about an agency closing a case

  • Decision to convene a conference

Resolution of disagreement is an integral part of professional co-operation and joint working to safeguard children. All agencies must adopt a proactive approach towards problem solving which enables professional disagreements to be resolved as quickly as possible and in most cases by the practitioners directly involved.

Many professional challenges will be resolved on an informal basis by contact between the professional raising the challenge (or their manager) and agency receiving the challenge and will end there. However, in some cases a resolution cannot be reached and the dispute would need to be escalated.
 
Escalation

Escalation of concerns should be carried out in the spirit of achieving better outcomes for children. Where possible, all efforts should be made to address disagreements as they happen rather than after the matter has been dealt with. Unresolved disputes can be escalated through the following routes:

 Stage 1: Direct Professional to Professional Discussion.

Any professional who is unhappy about the decision, action or inaction of another professional/agency should contact the person/agency who made the decision/took the action to:

  • express their views and concerns,

  • attempt to achieve a shared understanding of the issues raised and

  • agree a plan of action to be implemented.

Professionals who disagree should work with an open and honest approach to resolve the problem. This discussion must take place as soon as possible and is best face to face or, if that is not practical, by telephone. The discussion should outline the reasons why the practice is unsafe for children, specifically what they would like to change for the child and how it is having an impact on them. It is good practice to make a record of what was discussed / agreed and / or follow up telephone correspondence with an email to summarise the key points.

When on the receiving end of a challenge, professionals should remember that it may have taken courage for the other practitioner to raise this. A natural response is to feel defensive; however, professionals should keep the best interest of the child at the forefront and give respectful consideration to alternative perspectives.

Stage Two: Escalate to Line Manager / Safeguarding Lead Professional

If Step 1 does not produce a mutually agreed resolution, the involved parties should immediately alert their respective line managers to the issues of dispute. The line manager for the professional raising the challenge should review the concerns and; if the concerns are deemed justified; should liaise with the line manager for the professional receiving the challenge. The discussion between managers should include the reasons why the practice is unsafe for children, specifically what they would like to change for the child and how it is impacting upon them. They should attempt to reach a resolution and agree a plan of action. The dispute resolution should be pursued with the manager until they are satisfied the problem has been resolved or they understand the reasons why an alternative decision has been reached.

Note: If the subject child is on a Child Protection Plan or is a Looked After Child the Independent Reviewing Officer must be notified.

Stage Three: Escalate to Senior Managers

If Step 2 fails to achieve a resolution, the manager for the professional raising the challenge should consult with his/her senior line manager. The senior manager should then consult immediately with his/her counterpart within the agency receiving the challenge and attempt to reach a resolution and agreed plan of action.

If there remains to be disagreement, the expectation is that escalation continues through all the appropriate tiers of management in each organisation until the matter is resolved. The senior managers involved could also consider whether it would be helpful to convene a professional meeting to obtain the views of other agencies as relevant.

Stage Four: Escalation to the local Safeguarding Children Partnership

It will be unusual for unresolved disputes to reach this stage and for this reason the relevant local Safeguarding Children Partnerships should consider whether there are wider lessons to be learned; including any possible inconsistencies in procedures, guidance, protocols, or policies. Therefore, if not resolved, senior managers should advise their local Safeguarding Children Partnership of the issues in relation to the dispute. The Safeguarding Children Partnership, under their function to co-ordinate services and disseminate learning, will consider the issues, identify any learning and make recommendations, where appropriate. Where the review of multi-agency procedures and guidance is recommended, the Safeguarding Children Partnership will liaise with the Tees Procedures Group. For alignment of single-agency policies, individual agency representatives will liaise with their respective organisations to action recommendations.

Should specific learning not be identified and the dispute remains unresolved, the Safeguarding Children Partnership may wish to convene a resolution meeting. Representatives from the two disputing agencies will be invited to attend alongside selected Safeguarding Children Partnership representatives; with an independent chair selected from an agency not involved in the disagreement. The agencies will discuss the dispute in a chaired and minuted meeting, with a resolution being agreed and recommendations made to the agencies involved.

NB. The outcome of the challenge should be shared with the referrer at each stage of the process so that they can be assured that their concerns have been escalated.

Recording

At all stages of the process, the agencies raising and receiving the challenge and/or who are involved in the dispute discussions are responsible for recording any discussions, actions and decisions. This should be done in line with their respective record keeping and information governance policies. Where professional challenge takes place during a professional meeting, such as core group or conference, it should be recorded within the minutes of the meeting.

Click here for Escalation FLOWCHART

Professionals may also refer to their individual organisations policies on: