Tuesday, 28 August 2012

I have spent much of the last week helping draft the church's response to the government's consultation on a new version of the Working Together guidance. Working Together to Safeguard Children is the main government guidance document in this field - it is, if you like, the Bible of children's safeguarding. Procedure manuals for individual organizations such as our Safeguarding Handbook are based on it. It is usually revised every few years with the reigning version dating from 2010. However, that was under the last government and the coalition wanted to look at it again. They had two main priorities: one was to incorporate the recommendations of Eileen Munro's review of social work child practice in child protection titled A Child-centred System which came out in 2011, and the other was to reduce the size of the document. The 2010 version runs to 400 pages and there are several ancillary documents.

What is really surprising about the draft revision is not what it says but what it doesn't say. The new versions are only a fraction of the length of the previous ones. The firm statement that 'Safeguarding children is everyone's responsibility' is no longer there. Then the  definitions of child abuse: physical, sexual emotional and neglect have been omitted. These are fundamental to the whole system, are basic in training and have equivalents in other countries. Another omission is the role of the local authority in advising employers when there have been allegations of misconduct by those working with children. These situations can be complicated, as there may be an individual child to protect, a possible criminal investigation and a possible disciplinary investigation by the employer. We have really valued the coordinating role of the Local Authority Designated Officers (LADOs as they are known) when we have had allegations of this kind and I can't believe that no one thinks this important any more. For one thing it brings some consistency into allegations management so that, for example, not every allegation leads automatically to a suspension.

In relation to managing individual cases it suggests removing the national timescales for assessment. This would be welcomed by hard-pressed local authorities. But it would make it harder for children and families in need to services, or organizations referring them for help, to argue their case when assessments were delayed or unsatisfactory. Those who advocate for disabled children, for example, have really valued these provisions.

These are just examples: there are many others. It is of course up to the government to decide what notice, if any, they take of our response and that of others.  No doubt we would all like the guidance to be shorter, just as we would like the world to be simpler. It is always tempting to argue for removing requirements which may seem - and indeed sometimes are - merely bureaucratic. But in the complicated and difficult field of safeguarding children I for one would prefer more guidance rather than less.

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