Progress Report on Safeguarding

Letter to Lord Laming in response to his request for a written contribution to his report of progress in implementing effective arrangements for safeguarding children.

 November 2008

Lord Herbert Laming
Sanctuary Buildings
Great Smith Street
London SW1P 3BT

Dear Lord Laming

Report on Safeguarding

Thank you for your letter of 20 November inviting our written contribution to your report of progress in implementing effective arrangements for safeguarding children as requested by the Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families.

We are obviously aware of the tragic death of Baby P.  Voice is concerned that a review following such a heart wrenching case does not merely touch the surface and concentrate only on the areas most likely to be headline-catching.  Yes of course the practices of those at the top: Directors of Children’s Services; Social Workers; Paediatricians, Key Workers etc. need to be critically looked at but, we believe there is a much wider picture.  

All those working with children and young people should be under review.  We must ensure that the whole workforce is adequately trained not only in safeguarding children but in communicating with and alongside all other professionals.  We believe there is still a long way to go before we have a fully integrated workforce.  Professionals are still not communicating with each other in a way that gives them the confidence to be critical of each other’s practice and definitely not when the practice in question is at a more senior level. 

The Children’s Workforce Development Council plans to review its entire social work programme and we read that GreatOrmondStreetHospital for Children NHS Trust has already boosted training for senior doctors in light of the case in Haringey, but what about everyone else?  We must make sure that safeguarding children is completely embedded in all that we do and that ALL those working with children have their training reviewed and updated.  Whistle blowing must be highlighted as everyone’s duty rather than something done only by the brave or sadly, as it’s seen by many, the stupid.  

Voice believes we must now embark on a comprehensive programme of professional development for all practitioners working with children from those in key roles to those on the periphery.  The training has to be far reaching and tackle some controversial issues.  There must be a requirement to look critically at all that we do, the practices of our colleagues, including that of our seniors.  There must also be a requirement on us to report bad practice or even the suspicion that something is not right.   It is our view that it is better to have a complaint investigated and found to be of no consequence than to withhold information for fear of personal reprisals – the stakes are too high. 

Unfortunately since the case of baby P hit the headlines, childcarers, friends and neighbours of the family have been on our TV screens suggesting that they knew something wasn’t right or that they had told a particular officer involved in the case that they feared something was wrong.  Sadly it would seem that many of the conversations alleged to have taken place failed to move higher up the chain of command so that action could be taken.  This must be addressed.   Rigorous training on safeguarding is required for all but so too is training on managing complaints.  Even the slightest concern should be investigated and become the responsibility of two if not more people so that it cannot get lost on someone’s desk or is reliant on the actions of just one person.  A complaint is serious in all cases and should not be dismissed unless and until it has been fully investigated and considered closed by more than one senior officer.  This would also safeguard individuals making sure that decisions reached are not theirs alone.   

Voice calls on the government to undertake a comprehensive review of training across the board encompassing all those working with children and young people with a requirement of emphasis on safeguarding, working alongside fellow professionals and how to question practice when concerned.

Safeguarding our children should never be second to safeguarding our own positions.  Thankfully the vast majority of those working in the sector are highly professional but even they fail at times when the systems in place fail them. 

We trust the above comments address the three questions outlined in your letter and look forward to receiving details of your review in due course. 

Yours sincerely 

Tricia Pritchard
Senior Professional Officer (Childcare)
Voice: the union for education professionals

Further information

Lord Laming letter to Ed Balls (pdf)

Statement by Children’s Secretary Ed Balls on safeguarding of children, 1 December 2008 (via The Guardian)

Ofsted Joint Area Review of Haringey (pdf)