Serious Case Review (SCR) analysis 2020 for the education sector: Introduction

This is the latest in a series of national biennial and triennial analyses of Serious Case Reviews (SCRs), and follows Pathways to harm, pathways to protection: a triennial analysis of Serious Case Reviews 2011 to 2014 (DfE, 2016), with a view to:

What is a Serious Case Review (SCR)?

Serious Case Reviews (SCRs) were established under the Children Act HM Government, 2004 to review cases where a child has died and abuse or neglect is known or suspected. SCRs could additionally be carried out where a child has not died, but has come to serious harm as a result of abuse or neglect. They aim to establish learning for agencies and professionals to improve the way that they work together to safeguard children. A Local Safeguarding Children Board (LSCB) could commission a review for any case where it suspects anything can be learned to improve local practice.

Under Working together to safeguard children (Department for Education, 2018), new arrangements were introduced to replace SCRs with Child Safeguarding Practice Reviews (LSPRs). See Learning from Serious Case Reviews for education (SCIE, 2019).

The evidence base

This analysis reviewed 368 SCRs, involving a total of 404 children, from the period between April 2014 and March 2017 (Figure 1). Of these SCRs, 278 had final reports that were available for this analysis to consider. The review used both quantitative data from final reports, of which 278 were completed and available for this review to consider. This was combined with a national survey of LSCBs and two practitioner workshops.

Figure 1: Serious Case Reviews by year and outcome

Through this period, and compared to the previous triennial period, the number of deaths as a result of maltreatment of a child remained relatively steady at around 28 per year. However, there was a significant increase in cases of serious harm not resulting in death, rising from an average of 32 per year between 2009 and 2014 to 54 per year between 2014 and 2017.

Emerging themes and patterns

The underlying theme to the report is that of complexity and challenge; the complexity of the lives of children and families involved in reviews, and the challenges therefore faced by practitioners seeking to support them. This is particularly notable in the context of rising child protection activity, high practitioner caseloads, increased staff turnover and limited resources.

Additional emerging patterns include:

  • Neglect Open

    Neflect found to be a factor in nearly three-quarters of the SCRs reviewed in this analysis (74.8 per cent).

  • Age of the child Open

    Consistent with previous analyses, there is a larger proportion of cases relating to younger children. In this analysis, 42 per cent of SCRs pertained to a child under 12 months of age; 21 per cent between one and five years; 5 per cent between six and ten years; 17 per cent between 11 and 15 years and 14 per cent over the age of 16 years.

  • Gender of the child Open

    In a change from the 2011–2014 analysis, but consistent with earlier review findings, the larger proportion of SCRs relate to boys (54 per cent) as opposed to girls (46 per cent) and particularly true in younger age groups There is a reversal to more girls in the categories of 11 years and over.

  • Ethnicity of the family Open

    Ethnicity breakdown in cases reviewed was broadly consistent with previous analyses, and predominantly involving white families (75 per cent) in line with the proportion in the child population.

  • Where children were living Open

    The majority of children were living at home or with relatives (85 per cent). In 4 per cent of cases, children were living with foster carers. In the remaining cases, children were in some form of supervised setting (including hospital, children’s home or youth offenders’ institution).

  • Social care involvement Open

    The majority of children in the cases reviewed were known to children’s social care (55 per cent). In 22 per cent of cases, the child had been known to social care but the case had been closed. In 16 per cent of the cases, the child had never been known to social care. Forty-five children were currently, or had previously been, looked-after by the local authority. This majority of cases with social care involvement is in contrast to the previous 2011-2014 review.

Family characteristics

The 278 reviews with final reports were analysed for the family factors and characteristics of children involved (Figure 2). Of note, 35 per cent of reviews included deprivation or poverty as a factor in the case. Overall, 86 per cent included at least one of the following factors:

Figure 2: Family characteristics
Parental separation 150 (54%)
Domestic abuse 164 (59%)
Social isolation 51 (18%)
Transient lifestyle 81 (29%)
Multiple partners 67 (24%)
Poverty 97 (35%)

Parental charactersitics

The characteristics of parents was similarly captured, where it was noted in reports (Figure 3). In 81 per cent of case reviews, at least one of these characteristics were cited as being present and, in the case of alcohol and drug misuse, more significantly prevalent than in the general population.

Figure 3: Parental characteristics
Alcohol misuse 99 (36%)
Drug misuse 99 (36%)
Mental health problems 153 (55%)
Adverse childhood experiences 102 (37%)
Intellectual disability 36 (13%)
Criminal record 83 (30%)

Child charactersitics and adverse experiences

Nearly half of SCRs involving children over the age of 6 included mental health problems for the child. In almost three out of every 10 cases, bullying was found to be a factor as an adverse experience of the child.

Figure 4: Child characteristics and adverse experiences
Disability 40 (14%)
Behavioural problems* 62 (38%)
Alcohol misuse* 26 (24%)
Drug misuse* 31 (29%)
Mental health problems* 50 (47%)
Bullying* 30 (28%)
CSE* 26 (24%)

* For behavioural problems, children under the age of 1 year were excluded. For alcohol or drug misuse, mental health problems, bullying or child sexual abuse (CSE), children under the age of 6 were excluded.

Analysis of Serious Case Reviews
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