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Serious Case Review (SCR) 2020 for the education sector: Multi-agency working

Cases that demonstrate good multi-agency working place an emphasis on working in a coordinated way, around a purposeful and child-centred plan. Education professionals must play a central role in achieving this.

Clarity around the roles and responsibilities that organisations are expected to play in supporting a child and family should be detailed in the plan and be available and understood by all involved.

Where meetings are held between agencies, such as child protection conferences or strategy discussions, key professionals must be involved and represented, including an education representative, to ensure expert input, relevant updates and the sharing of information.

When raising concerns or making referrals to children’s social care, descriptive language enables a vivid picture of the child’s environment, risks and harm. Where this is diluted with jargonised phrases, actual concerns can become obscured and fail to create a clear understanding of the reality of the child.

This approach should extend to everyday recording systems of concerns from low-level to those meeting the threshold for referral.

To prevent or limit the impact of ‘fractured’ perspectives’, professionals should seek to regularly contribute their activity and concerns to a shared chronology. In one case, this contributed to failings where there was no chronology of the child’s family history on the community nursing records, the GP was unaware of any previous safeguarding concerns having not received her records and the child’s college also had no access to any records about their family history.

Case example: Information sharing practice

In some cases analysed, there was a reluctance in education and childcare settings to share information, either because they were unsure what they could share or because they were concerned about harming their relationship with the child or family:

‘It is of concern that the pre-school manager told this review that they would be reluctant to put anything negative in writing that may be shared with a parent. The inappropriateness of this stance is a lesson for the pre-school but organisations asking for information from settings that may be less familiar with their system should bear in mind how the request may be received. A conversation between Cafcass and the pre-school may have elicited better quality information.’

Focus on: Challenging decisions and escalating concerns

Challenging other professionals requires specific understanding of a case and a degree of self-confidence meaning that in many instances, decisions went unchallenged. However, where decisions are challenged, they can go unheard.

Those working within schools will likely have a sound understanding of the voice of the child, the risks posed to them and the wider familial, social and community context. It is therefore crucial that professionals feel able to challenge social care or other statutory agency decisions.

Whilst it is good practice to challenge decisions, merely questioning something that seems to be a poor decision is not always enough. More challenges that are robust are necessary and need to be escalated as appropriate (following local safeguarding policies) which will only happen as practitioners increase in confidence and become familiar with escalation policies and escalation routes for individual agencies. It is the responsibility of professionals to problem solve whilst remaining focused on safeguarding the child or adolescent.

Key learning for education

  • Good quality recording of concerns, however low-level, helps to build a chronology which can identify patterns of concern over time and prompt timely protective action.
  • Where information is not consistently recorded, or in enough detail, the bigger picture of a child’s wellbeing and experience of abuse and neglect can be missed, resulting in harm
  • Records should be regularly reviewed to ensure that risks to a child are being effectively managed and to ensure that concerns are not going unnoticed.
  • Chronologies should be shared between agencies working to support children and families, and schools should contribute to these to prevent fractured perspectives.
  • Referrals should be made using non-jargonised language, helping to paint a vivid picture of the lived experience of the child.
  • Where an agency or professional does not agree with a decision taken, challenging this in a formal manner, using routes of escalation where needed, is crucial for timely and appropriate protective action.
  • Professionals working in safeguarding require high-quality line-management and supervision to ensure that they have the confidence and support needed to challenge.

Questions for education settings to consider

  • Are your recording systems robust enough to allow for concerns to be added easily, maintained and for records to be reviewed?
  • What logistical supports are needed to ensure that key staff are made available to attend child protection and case meetings?
  • Do you know of the procedures and policies within statutory agencies for escalation of concerns?