Chair's Update - by David Ashcroft
There have been a number of recent stories that have reinforced how critical it is that local partnerships continue to address issues of safeguarding and well-being in an inclusive way and seek to hold all agencies working with children and families to account. Never has it seemed more important that we keep placing effective safeguarding in the partnership arena, rather than retreat to the monitoring of access to social care or the performance of our child protection systems. The stories remind us much health, schools and other services matter to the well-being of children – particularly adolescent young people. The rest of this newsletter will highlight our own survey about ‘Charting the Changes’, we are circulating the repeated advice from the Department about fulfilling current and future obligations through the period of transition, and we have further changes to Working Together and Keeping Children Safe in Education.
Understanding and improving the way that partners co-ordinate their responses to children and families across all their needs remains the core purpose and justification for effective safeguarding. I have been talking to a range of colleagues across health, police and local authorities and I believe there is a growing realisation that we all need to keep this in the forefront of our discussions about new structures and partnership arrangements.
The issues that I wanted to mention are exclusions from School; access to mental health services and self-harm. I question how well these sorts of issues will be addressed in new arrangements unless there is a real engagement with all schools and unless the co-operation between statutory partners is transparent and goes beyond child protection and thresholds for social care.
The growing levels of exclusions, as well as the lack of effective safeguarding arrangements for many children educated at home or in unregulated institutions, has been something on which AILC has campaigned for a number of years. Slowly ministers, the DfE, Ofsted and others have also raised concerns. Individual chairs have raised this directly well before the Association picked up the issue and it has been a feature of several significant Serious Case Reviews. I am not seeking to amalgamate several strands into a single issue – but it does seem that there is a constellation of issues that includes rising exclusions and ‘prompts’ for parents to consider home schooling for children who might otherwise be excluded, which are a worrying and increasing trend. Does your Board receive information on rates of exclusion and are the risks understood within your local safeguarding system? Does your Board ask for a regular picture of the numbers of children who are home educated? Ofsted’s report in June identified more than 19,000 Y10 pupils who disappeared from Y11 rolls between 2016/17. The DfE Review into School exclusions led by Edward Timpson is expected to report by the end of the year – I suggest that LSCBs should schedule a debate about their local picture for the new year.
NHS England figures as reported in The Guardian point out the significant numbers of highly troubled young people with serious mental health problems who often receive care in non-local beds. 1,039 children and young people were admitted to non-local beds in 2017/18 – many with complex mental health needs and presenting significant risks to themselves and others. 119 out of 195 CCGs reported at least one under-18 patient sent out of area. 66 CCGs used a placement more than 100 miles from home.
Access to beds for these patients has been an issue that many chairs and Boards monitor closely and the difficulty of selecting and sustaining placements appropriate to the young person’s needs is well known – but this situation is long standing and we should be demanding faster improvement. It also highlights how effective safeguarding at local and national level needs to raise issues with departments other than DfE, and how we collectively need to influence commissioning and investment decisions that directly affect our local populations.
The Children’s Society report on self-harm published last week suggested that as many as 100,000 children aged 14 may be self-harming and clearly linked this to austerity, the pressures of exams, and gender expectations. Certainly, in my own Board we have tracked increasing numbers of self-harm and A&E presentations over recent years - often for children who do not otherwise trigger thresholds for children’s services intervention. This identified very different service responses and data collection practices between different health providers – again reinforcing the need to keep all key local players involved and participating in local arrangements.
There was considerable support for the findings from teachers, mental health professionals and campaigners. Luciana Berger the Labour MP was quoted: “These shocking statistics on self-harming among children show the extent of the mental health crisis in our country. Children in Britain urgently need more mental health support, earlier on, but the children and young people’s mental health green paper lacks the ambition needed. The government’s continued disregard for early intervention and prevention is failing a generation.” I believe this is a key issue for local partnerships to tackle – to identify where local investment is being made, whether it matches needs, and to take the debate out to agencies, schools and communities who can help make a difference. Are LSCBs using Section 11 scrutiny to identify where there are shortfalls? And are we ensuring that the promised investment of £300 million in mental health plans for schools is used urgently and equitably across the country?
Boards and Business Mangers will have received details of our next survey of local changes: Charting the Changes. The press release we issued on this is available on our website here. Thank you for the very prompt responses we have already had. This weekend is the last opportunity for participation.
The DfE has contacted us to reinforce the information it has issued about arrangements for Practice Reviews and transitional arrangements. We include this in this Newsletter and will also be sending this to non-member boards and chairs. However, we are concerned that despite several requests, and individually helpful responses from the new Panel, we have not yet been able to establish a regular dialogue on emerging and relevant issues. We know that there are a lot of unanswered queries and the Association is keen to help identify and resolve these. We have received confirmation from Edward Timpson that he and possibly some further colleagues from the Panel will come to the conference in November for what we hope will be a productive and valuable session.
Don’t forget that the Association offers peer support and a confidential sounding board to Chairs and Business Managers for decisions on SCRs and Practice Reviews, as well as providing details on our list of reviewers. We are also happy to provide advice where partners seem reluctant or overcautious to consider conducting reviews. Current criteria and obligations on Chairs and LSCB in respect of SCRs remain in force until new local plans are formally agreed and in place.
Important Changes within the Association
In previous Newsletters we have reported that the AILC Board has considered new arrangements for using our resources efficiently, reflecting the changing pattern of our activity, and the current and likely future funding position for the Association. As a result, we are restructuring our staffing by creating an 0.8 FTE post of Association Co-ordinator to replace the separate part-time roles of Policy Adviser and Business Manager. We believe this will be more effective in meeting members’ needs, in responding to current and future plans and help us by better co-ordinating and streamlining our internal arrangements within our budget. It will mean changes to our staffing team and in the work expected of Board members and the officer team of Chair, Vice Chair and Treasurer. We are also reviewing the overall governance of the Association to ensure that we can live within our means and are equipped to respond to the probability of a new structure in 2019. The staff affected have been consulted and involved in this process as they are at risk of redundancy, and we will be able to make a formal announcement of these changes and handover arrangements within a few days. Please await our formal announcement of the changes and how and when we will implement them in detail.
Next month’s Newsletter will contain feedback from our regular meetings with the joint inspectorates and provide news of imminent inspection activity and thematic reports which may be useful for local partnerships.