Child safeguarding needs major overhaul after failings

A safeguarding review panel has made nine recommendations designed to overhaul child safeguarding practices following an inquiry into abuse across three services.

A child abuse enquiry has made recommendations to overhaul child safeguarding practicesThe Child Safeguarding Practice Review Panel have called for Councils to take on a bigger role in monitoring residential settings in their areas to tackle failings in safeguarding children with disabilities and complex health needs.

The Panel wants services for these children to be jointly commissioned by local authorities and NHS Integrated Care Boards (ICBs). They have also recommended more investment in the workforce, better access to advocacy and joint inspections by Ofsted and the CQC to better protect children in residential care settings.

Child safeguarding ‘roadmap’

Panel's child safeguarding recommendations act as roadmap to better protectionThis “roadmap to more humane treatment” was set out in the panel’s second report into the abuse of children at three residential special schools.

The schools, registered as children’s homes, were operated by the Hesley Group in Doncaster and the report related to abuse which occurred between 2018 and 2021 as a result of failings in care, safeguarding, regulation and oversight.

Rachel de Souza, the Children’s Commissioner for England, said the report’s central message was “the necessity of keeping the voices of children and families at the heart of their support, and of providing safe, suitable care where required.”

The nine recommendations made by the panel are:

  1. Disabled children and those with complex health needs should have access to independently commissioned, non-instructed advocacy from advocates with specialist training in safeguarding and responding to their communication needs.
  2. When a residential placement of 38 weeks or longer per year us being considered, children and their parents should be given access to advice and support, including the allocation of a ‘navigator’, where necessary.
  3. The Department for Education (DfE) and NHS England should require councils and integrated care boards (ICBs) to commission safe, sufficient and appropriate provision for disabled children and those with complex health needs.
  4. The DfE, Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) and NHS England should co-ordinate support for councils and ICB commissioners to improve forecasting, procurement and market shaping.
  5. The government should prioritise action to improve community-based provision for disabled children in pathfinders programmes for its children’s social care and SEND reforms.
  6. The government should commission a workforce strategy for children’s residential services, covering leadership development, workforce standards and training.
  7. National leadership and investment from providers should be used to boost the recruitment, retention and development of the children’s residential workforce.
  8. Host local authorities and ICBs should have a strengthened role in overseeing residential settings in their areas.
  9. The DfE and DHSC should revise and reduce the complexity of current arrangements for monitoring residential settings and take immediate steps to arrange joint inspections by Ofsted and CQC of those for children with disabilities and complex health needs.

Child safeguarding failures must not be repeated

Child safeguarding failures outlined in the report have been identified previouslyChristine Lenehan, lead reviewer of the case and Director of the Council for Disabled Children, has highlighted that the new report echoes findings laid out in previous safeguarding enquiries and warned that, this time, it’s conclusions needed to be listened to and acted on.

She said:

“Earlier reports have catalogued how disabled children with a complex mix of autism and health needs can be locked away behind closed doors, often in placements far from their families, with little concern for their quality of life or futures.

“These recommendations set out a roadmap to more humane treatment of these children. But without the wholehearted commitment to implement these measures fully, these failings will come back to haunt us when the next group of disabled children fall foul of services that cost the taxpayer dearly but rob vulnerable children of their basic humanity.”

An official response from the government is expected within 6 months, but Children’s Minister Claire Coutinho has provided a written statement to Parliament in which she said that reforms made by the DfE to children’s social care and special educational needs and disability have already “[laid] the foundation for improving outcomes for this group of vulnerable children.”

She added:

“There is more that can be done to support and protect these children and we intend to focus our existing reform programme to ensure that they consistently receive the care and support that they need and deserve, enabling them to thrive and fulfil their potential.”

Children must be seen and heard to better protect them from failures in care and safeguardingMeanwhile, the President of the Association of Directors of Children’s Services, John Pearce, said the Panel’s report served as a “stark reminder” that current child safeguarding practices “are not working” for the most complex and vulnerable children in society and that there was a lot of work needed to correct this.

He also warned that many of the Panel’s recommendations needed “a significant multi-agency resource requirement to implement effectively and take time to achieve,” and that services “face longstanding challenges around placement quality, sufficiency and cost.”

Rachel de Souza, Children’s Commissioner, also commented:

“I am particularly pleased that this report recognises that children with disabilities have specific needs and risks which should be set out in statutory guidance.

“However, ultimately, children will only be kept safe if they are consistently seen and heard, through positive contact with their families, face-to-face visits from social workers, independent reviewing officers and health commissioners, and a greater level of professional curiosity from all those responsible for their care.”

Training and development for those working with children

First Response Training (FRT) is a leading national training provider delivering courses in subjects such as health and safety, first aid, fire safety, manual handling, food hygiene, mental health, health and social care, safeguarding and more.

They work with a large number of early years, schools and childcare providers, as well as colleges, youth groups and children’s services.

Their courses include Safeguarding Children, Autism Awareness, Learning Disability Awareness, Understanding Challenging Behaviour, and many more.

For more information on the training that FRT can provide, please call them today on freephone 0800 310 2300 or send an e-mail to info@firstresponsetraining.com

Survey reveals impact of coronavirus on UK children

A new survey capturing the experiences of children and young people during the pandemic has revealed many have faced mental health challenges over the past year.

Conducted by Survation for Newsround, the survey asked over 2,000 6–16-year-olds from all across the UK about their experiences during 2020-21, questioning them about a range of issues, from remote learning to what is most important to them and who their role models are.

Newsround found that almost half of children surveyed felt “worse than usual” during lockdown.

When asked how they have felt over the last 12 months, 24% of children said they felt better, while 25% said they felt the same as usual. But for 49% the experience was less positive.

This rose to more than half when focusing on girls (51%) or older children (53%) specifically.

Almost 6 in 10 (57%) of the young people surveyed also said they felt they had done less exercise than normal during the pandemic and resulting local and national lockdowns in the UK.

Newsround says these findings reflect the concerns of many parents, charities and politicians who have said that missing school and not being able to see their friends has taken a significant toll on the mental health and wellbeing of young people.

Family comes first

The vast majority (98%) of young people said that seeing family and friends was important to them, with 7 in 10 girls classing it as “very important”.

More than 9 in 10 (93%) also said that health was important to them, while two thirds said that money was important with three-quarters of 13–16-year-olds confirming this.

When asked to rank the top three issues that were of most importance to them, the answers most likely to feature in childrens’ top three were:

  • Family health (64%)
  • Coronavirus (59%)
  • Exams / school work (57%)
  • Having enough money (45%)

Family also topped the list of figures that young people most looked up to.

Newsround revealed that nearly 3 in 5 respondents (57%) named their own family members as their number one role model. And, when presented with a list of potential role models to choose from, children were most likely to select the following in their top 3:

  • Family members (85%)
  • Doctors (50%)
  • Celebrities (37%)
  • Nurses (31%)

Missed time with loved ones

When it came to identifying what they had found hardest during the pandemic, more than 9 in 10 young people said they had struggled with missing out on time with friends and extended family members.

Around 1 in 4 children did say they had seen their friends more or the same amount as usual, but 82% said they’d seen their friends less than usual as a result of lockdowns, travel restrictions and a lack of school and activity clubs.

While children were unable to get out and see others, they often also found that home was a more strained place to be. Just under half (46%) said their family had been more stressed than usual during the past year.

Remote learning struggles

Around 13% of children said they had spent some time in school but the vast majority (87%) had been learning remotely during lockdown.

Almost 1 in 4 children (23%) were happy about this, and almost a third (30%) didn’t mind either way, but 45% admitted that they were not happy about being away from school.

The survey also showed that children had very different experiences of remote learning. A third said it had been better than usual, while 16% judged it to be about the same. But half said that home schooling was worse than being in school, with girls (52%) and younger children (53%) most likely to be disappointed by their learning experience this year.

There were variances across the country, too, with 38% of London school pupils saying that remote learning was better than being in school in person, compared to 27% of pupils in Scotland.

Some children struggled due to a lack of technical equipment. More than a quarter of children responding to the survey (28%) said they did not have a device to themselves. Some children did not have a device at all (1%) while others had to share it with one or more people (27%).

Despite government schemes in all four nations of the UK to bridge the ‘digital divide’ and provide laptops and tablets to families who needed them, the survey results show that some people still struggled.

In fact, the Learning Foundation education charity has estimated that one million children and young people did not have sufficient access to devices or internet at home.

Catching up on lost time

This may have left some children trailing behind. While more than half (51%) said they felt they were where they should be in their studies, around a quarter (28%) of children said they felt they were behind.

The government are exploring options to help pupils catch up on their school work.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson said he wants to provide children with the “opportunities they deserve to learn and fulfil their potential,” though exact plans are still unclear.

He has also pledged £79 million to improve mental health support for children and young people, both in schools and within the community.

In Scotland, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has promised money for additional teachers and school staff and says she wants to ensure that “the impact of lockdown on our young peopled doesn’t turn into a long-term impact they are saddled with for the rest of their lives.”

Her devolved government has announced an extra £139 million to support mental health in both children and adults following the pandemic.

Extra funding has been announced for schools in Northern Ireland, including for activities this summer, while in Wales the government has pledged that its recovery plans will aim to “meet the needs of learners who have been most affected by this period.”

Children need our support

Many school leaders have warned that there is a long way to go to ensure that the most disadvantaged children receive the support they need, while experts also caution that it is important not to overwhelm students.

The Children’s Commissioner for England, Dame Rachel de Souza, commented:

“It’s really important that we now listen to what children have to say about their experiences over the last year.”

She pledged to make sure the government is “doing everything it can to help children feel happier and positive about the future.”

First Response Training (FRT) is a leading national training provider delivering courses in subjects such as health and safety, first aid, fire safety, manual handling, food hygiene, mental health, health and social care, safeguarding and more.

They work with a large number of early years and childcare providers, as well as schools, colleges, and children’s services. Their courses include Safeguarding Children, Understanding Mental Health and Anxiety Awareness.

They can also provide accredited trainers to deliver Youth Mental Health First Aid training, certificated by Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) England.

A trainer from FRT says: “There are many hidden victims of the pandemic, and it is saddening that measures introduced to keep the nation safe and healthy may have contributed to children experiencing a more difficult time.

“It’s so important that children receive the help and support they need.

“Anyone who works with children and young people should complete appropriate mental health training so that they can spot the early warning signs of depression, anxiety and other mental health problems as we begin to find our way out of this pandemic and out of lockdowns.”

For more information on the training that FRT can provide, please call them today on freephone 0800 310 2300 or send an e-mail to info@firstresponsetraining.com.

Vulnerable children must be put ‘centre stage’ post-Covid

The Children’s Commissioner for England has called on the government to put vulnerable children “centre stage” in forthcoming plans to “build back better” after the Covid-19 pandemic.

In her final speech after six years in the role, Anne Longfield said that plans to “level up” the nation must start with its most vulnerable children and young people.

She said it was a “terrible thing” that the lives of the most vulnerable children would have only gotten worse during the Covid-19 pandemic in the UK.

Her words follow warnings that children may be “losing all hope for their future” and as recent surveys suggest that the mental health of young people across the nation is declining.

A government spokesperson said that protecting vulnerable children was central to their response, explaining: “That’s why we have enabled the most vulnerable children to continue attending school in person, while providing laptops, devices and data packages to those learning at home and ensuring the most disadvantaged children are fed and warm.”

In her departing address, Ms. Longfield welcomed Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s commitment to putting schools at the heart of reopening society when the latest lockdown eases.

Speaking to BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, she said:

“There have been points during the year where I was dismayed when schools stayed shut and shops and pubs opened but the prime minister’s come behind what we were pushing for which was for the schools to be the last to close and the first to open.”

However, she estimated that around £10 billion would be needed for children’s mental health support and help for school pupils to catch up on learning.

She also questioned whether there were sufficient “structures in government around him” to enable the Prime Minister to “build back better” for children.

Responding to Ms. Longfield’s speech on Twitter, one Tory MP said the Covid-19 pandemic had “laid bare the damning truth about our educational divide.”

Robert Halfon, the Chairman of the Education Select Committee, urged ministers to focus on the “complex challenges that exist in some children’s lives,” adding that enforced school closures during the pandemic could reverse any progress that has been achieved since 2011.

Warning that an entire generation of young people risks being defined by the coronavirus crisis and that some children may “never catch up,” Ms. Longfield said she was laying down a “challenge to government and all political parties.”

She said the pandemic did present “an opportunity to reflect and rebuild.”

A research group has estimated that children may be facing up to £350 billion in lost earnings as a result of school closures, but the Treasury has so far committed just £1.5 billion to a pupil catch-up fund for England.

Ms. Longfield pointed to this as a sign of the “institutional bias against children.”

She said promises to “level up” the country would remain “just a slogan” unless children are placed at the heart of the effort and called for a new “Covid Covenant” of education and wellbeing support in every community. She also said that school holidays should be used to catch children up with lost lessons.

Ms. Longfield also spoke of how a fifth of children in England leave school or college without basic qualifications, branding it a “national scandal”, and touched upon children who are exploited by gangs and failed by adults who “simply don’t see them.”

A spokesperson for the government said they had long-term catch-up plans that would combine with an investment of more than £1 billion to “ensure we make up for lost time in education over the course of this Parliament.”

They added:

“Anne Longfield has been a tireless advocate for children, and we’re grateful for her dedication and her challenge on areas where we can continue raising the bar for the most vulnerable.”

Ms. Longfield will be succeeded in as Children’s Commissioner in March by Dame Rachel de Souza, a former Chief Executive of a multi-academy trust.

First Response Training (FRT) is a leading national training provider delivering courses in subjects such as health and safety, first aid, fire safety, manual handling, food hygiene, mental health, health and social care, safeguarding and more.

They work with a large number of early years and childcare providers, as well as schools, colleges, and children’s services. Their courses include Safeguarding Children, Understanding Mental Health and Anxiety Awareness.

They can also provide accredited trainers to deliver Youth Mental Health First Aid training, certificated by Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) England.

A trainer from FRT says: “There are many indirect victims of the pandemic, and it is saddening that measures introduced to keep the nation safe and healthy may have contributed to vulnerable children experiencing a decline in mental health, as well as increasing levels of deprivation and other dangers and challenges.

“It’s so important that this issue is being discussed and that all children receive the help and support they need when this is all over to catch up on lost learning and return to a state of wellbeing.

“Anyone who works with children and young people should complete appropriate mental health training so that they can spot the early warning signs of depression, anxiety and other mental health problems.”

For more information on the training that FRT can provide, please call them today on freephone 0800 310 2300 or send an e-mail to info@firstresponsetraining.com.