Related Sector: Health & Social Care

A government consultation was launched on 21 June 2023, seeking views on the revised statutory guidance, Working Together to Safeguard Children 2023.

Working Together sets out expectations for the system that provides help, support and protection for children and their families. It gives practitioners clarity with regards to their role and details the necessity of working in partnership with each other to deliver effective services.

This revised statutory guidance was born out of the government’s ambitious plan to transform children’s social care – committing to support every child to grow up in a safe, stable, and loving home.

Updating Working Together is central to delivering on the first phase of this journey, by:

  • Implementing strengthened multi-agency working across the whole system of help, support and protection for children and their families.
  • Re-balancing the system towards help at an early point and ensuring strong, effective and consistent child protection practice.

The consultation will close at 11.59pm on 6 September 2023 and the results of the consultation and the department’s response with be published in Autumn 2023.

What are the key aims in the draft Working Together to Safeguard Children 2023?

In summary:

  • To promote and encourage early identification and early intervention.
  • To identify the right people with the right knowledge, skills, and relationships to provide families with the right support at the right time keeping children’s wellbeing and safety at the centre.
  • To introduce national multi agency child protection standards to ensure and promote continuity and consistency in how practitioner’s respond to and work with child protection concerns.
  • To encourage respect amongst professionals regarding each other’s knowledge, input, and opinion around children, as well as encouraging curiosity and challenge amongst professionals, where appropriate.
  • To include much greater integration, co-operation, dialogue and sharing of information between professionals.
  • To keep the child informed around discussions and planning and listen to the child’s wishes.
  • To increase the role of family networks in supporting children to stay with parents via family led forums and family group conferences, to help them design and arrive at their own plans and to promote this from early help.

What are the key changes proposed in the draft Working Together to Safeguard Children 2023?

In summary:

  • Encourage the family and parents to play a more active role in the discussions, inquiries, and plans.
  • Reference to ‘lead practitioner’ rather than ‘social worker’ as the case holder across early help, child in need and child protection.
  • Identify and extend the groups of children who may have a potential need for early help. For example, children missing from school, children forming inappropriate relationships online, children at risk of exclusion from school.
  • Early help assessments to include the needs of all family members and how those needs impact on one another.
  • Early help assessments providing the basis for any further assessments under s.17 or s.47. If complex, the social worker could be the lead practitioner in early help cases.
  • Removal of the requirement for social workers to hold CIN cases. They could be held by a family support worker, domestic abuse worker or a drug and alcohol worker overseen by a social work manager.
  • Social workers still required to hold child protection cases.
  • A set of national multi agency child protection standards to provide practitioners from different agencies and backgrounds with a common framework in which to operate.

What might be the concerns regarding these proposed changes in the draft Working Together to Safeguard Children 2023?

Whilst in principle the draft presents as progress, how might the changes look in practice?

A few examples:

  • If a lead practitioner does not hold the same qualification, experience, or knowledge regarding child protection as that of a social worker, will they effectively identify and respond to the risks appropriately? They may be overzealous in their response or fail to protect. Equally they might feel less able to challenge parents and other professionals either through lack of confidence, knowledge, or statutory powers, or just an unwillingness to ‘harm’ relationships.
  • How might families respond to these proposed changes? They might be opposed to a higher level of intervention at an earlier stage and/or question the experience and role of the lead practitioner.
  • If parents are difficult to engage with, do not agree to early interventions proposed or if there is disguised compliance, what can actually be achieved on behalf of the child? Unfortunately, I would suggest very little. 

This article was first published on 26 July 2023

Author: Francesca Burfield 

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