Collaboration is how to keep children safe, so why aren’t we all working together?

Safeguarding leads need to work more closely with other allied agencies, writes an anonymous teacher
5th May 2017, 12:00am
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Collaboration is how to keep children safe, so why aren’t we all working together?

The training session begins, as always, with introductions. Stifling a 1980s flashback of Cilla Black presenting Blind Date, I listen as my colleagues say who they are and where they’ve come from.

The Local Safeguarding Children Board (LSCB) encourage a multi-agency approach and today is the usual mix: two social workers, plus two in training; a pair of foster carers; a children’s home manager; three Children’s Centre family co-ordinators; two health visitors; four Youth and Family Support workers; two ladies from traveller services; and me.

I am the only Designated Safeguarding Lead (DSL) - a lone representative for the education sector - as always. Working Together to Safeguard Children (2015) advocates “a culture of continuous learning and improvement”, a sentiment echoed extensively in Keeping Children Safe in Education (KCSiE, 2016). Yet despite this, the scenario described above has been repeated at almost every training event I have attended.

The only exception has been the twice-yearly DSL update, a useful meeting to keep abreast of strategic changes but with little or no development of grassroots skills. So where are all the DSLs?

The generous side of me tends to present a number of valid arguments: perhaps they have already attended the training during the last two years (a timescale set out in KCSiE), used e-learning to refresh their understanding or are so experienced that they don’t feel further training is a priority.

My cynical side argues that these are simply excuses and that time - or, more specifically, lack of it - has a part to play. The DSL must be “a senior member of staff” (KCSiE) and in many schools (over 70 per cent in my local area) the DSL is also the headteacher, which immediately presents a challenge in terms of accessing CPD, as there are, understandably, other immediate responsibilities that headteachers need to prioritise.

Often, it simply isn’t possible for the headteacher to be absent from school to attend safeguarding training.

One alternative is to access e-learning programmes, such as those developed by the Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre and the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children.

These offer numerous benefits, including the ability to work at one’s own pace, break the learning down into manageable chunks and - significantly - avoid the need for a key member of staff to be out of school.

Sharing helps caring

However, while the content of such courses can be highly informative, face-to-face training offers one valuable advantage that simply cannot be matched by e-learning: the opportunity to talk to other professionals.

Working Together states that “effective sharing of information [...] is essential” and numerous serious case reviews (SCRs) cite lack of information sharing as a key issue in failing to protect children.

This isn’t a new problem: in 1945, Monckton’s inquiry following the death of 12-year-old Dennis O’Neill highlighted “a lamentable failure of communication”. Yet poor information sharing is still a key concern of SCRs published in 2016.

Attending face-to-face training provides DSLs with opportunities to build professional relationships, enabling effective inter-agency working. The Social Care Institute for Excellence notes that “relationships should be based on openness, transparency and empathy” - qualities that are far more readily achieved when meeting for the first time at a training event, rather than a child protection conference.

Other benefits include the opportunity to gain from the experiences of others. Indeed, my understanding of the services provided locally has increased considerably as a result of informal discussions during CPD, leaving me better placed to support our families. The relative time-out offered by attending courses has also provided valuable opportunities to reflect on, and make improvements to, my own practice.

It’s also vital that DSLs take the time to explore the impact that dealing with child protection cases has on their own mental wellbeing; again, training sessions can offer a safe and supportive opportunity to do this, while also respecting the need for confidentiality.

It’s a sad fact that the types of abuse inflicted on children continue to multiply and spread, reflected in the regularity with which safeguarding documentation is updated. Today’s knowledgeable professional may be tomorrow’s unwitting fool and a DSL who rests on their laurels may fail to spot the signs that could make the difference between life and death.

Those in this position have a duty - both professional and moral - to ensure they are as well-informed, well-trained and well-prepared as possible, while managers have a responsibility to give their DSL the “time, funding, training, resources and support” (as cited in KCSiE) to do so.

Then, armed with this knowledge, confidence and passion, we can really make a difference to the lives of our children and young people.

The writer is a safeguarding lead at a primary school in England

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