- A significant increase in Child Protection activity (Section 47 Investigations & Initial Child Protection Conferences) was seen in 2019 and there was a further increase in volume of activity in 2020
- There was a much higher percentage of Initial Child Protection Conferences held within timescale in 2020 compared with previous years
- The rate of children with a Child Protection Plan (per 10,000 population) increased significantly in 2019 and was higher than statistical neighbours and there was a further small increase in 2020
- The percentage of children who became subject of a plan for a second or subsequent time reduced in 2020 and was lower in Wakefield than for statistical neighbours.
A common held ambition is that all children should be able to grow up into confident, healthy and happy adults and whilst the majority of children generally enjoy a positive childhood experience within their own family, some children and young people experience a degree of physical, emotional or sexual abuse and neglect which has a significant impact on their lives. Everyone whether they are relatives, parents, neighbours, friends or members of a community, have a role to play in maintaining the safety and welfare of children and young people, supporting the aims of safeguarding. Those who work with children and young people have more formal responsibilities to safeguard children and young people. Working Together to Safeguard Children (HM Government, March 2018) sets out the statutory framework for this defining the responsibilities of those who work with children along with the responsibilities of agencies and organisations. Working Together states that people working with children are expected to report concerns about a child’s welfare to the relevant agencies.
The maltreatment of children, physically, emotionally, sexually, or through neglect, can have major long-term effects. This can be on all aspects of a child’s health, development and wellbeing. This type of maltreatment is often referred to as adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) and research has shown that the immediate and longer term impact of ACEs can lead to anxiety, depression, substance misuse, eating disorders and self-destructive behaviours, difficulties in maintaining relationships, offending and anti-social behaviour as children move into adulthood. Maltreatment is likely to have a deep impact on a child’s self-image, self-esteem and their future life. The high cost of ACEs, both to individuals and to society, underpins the duty on all agencies to be proactive in safeguarding children.
When Wakefield Council’s Children Social Care Service identifies there is reasonable cause to suspect a child is suffering abuse or neglect or is at risk of suffering significant harm, it will carry out an assessment under section 47 of the Children Act 1989 to determine if it needs to take steps to safeguard and promote the welfare of the child. Initially a Strategy Discussion will be held attended by Police, Health and other key with partner agencies such as Education and voluntary sector services to determine what information is known about the child and their family. If significant concerns are identified a Section 47 Investigation will commence to gather all the relevant information. A Section 47 Investigation may be carried out when an initial concern is raised with the Service or at any another time where the child already has an open case with Children’s Social Care. If concerns are substantiated and the child is judged to be at continuing risk of harm then an Initial Child Protection Conference (ICPC) will be held within 15 working days of the Strategy Discussion. At the ICPC, the information gathered is reviewed and the decision will be made as to whether the child needs to become the subject of a Child Protection Plan. This sets out the action that needs to be taken, by when and by whom to keep the child safe from harm and to promote their welfare. Once implemented, the plan will be reviewed at regular Review Conferences until the child is no longer considered at risk of significant harm and there has been effective and sustainable change. At this point the child or young person may become a child in need to ensure changes are being sustained or they may be referred for support to non statutory services such as the Wakefield Early Help Service delivered through the Children First Hubs. For more information on children in care, please see the children in need page on this website. If there is no change in the behaviour or circumstances of the child, young person, parents or carers or there is an escalation in risk or safety for the child or young person they may be taken into care. For more information on children in need and children in care data within Wakefield, please see the children in need page on this website.
The following summary of data relating to Child Protection in Wakefield provides population level information and considers how this compares to rates in England along with the rates for the statistical neighbours for Wakefield. This data is published annually by the Department of Education based on the financial year to 31st March and is collected through the Child in Need Census which is submitted by all local authorities. Where it has been found that data for Child Protection in Wakefield varies significantly from statistical neighbours or where there is an increasing or decreasing trend over time, then some recommendations are made and commentary is provided on whether this is currently being addressed or if further action is required.
2. The Population
Section 47 Investigations
Latest available published data shows that the rate (per 10,000 population) of Section 47 Investigations starting in the year increased in 2020 with a rate of 286, although the increase was not as large as seen in 2019 as shown below.
Table 1 – Rate of Section 47 Investigations Starting in the Year
Figure 1 – Rate of Section 47 Investigations Starting in the Year
The 2020 rate of 286 is higher than the statistical neighbour rate of 262.22 and shows that there were more investigations carried out in Wakefield than in other Local Authority areas with similar populations, demographics and levels of deprivation. This increase seen in 2019 followed an Ofsted inspection of Wakefield Children’s Social Care Services in 2018 which identified that there were weaknesses and inconsistencies in identifying risk and subsequently there was an increased focus on improving practice in 2018/19 in this area along with a drive to improve recording of this activity on the electronic case management system. There is a now a higher level of confidence within Children’s Social Care that where children and young people are at significant risk, they are effectively and appropriately identified and an investigation is completed and recorded.
Initial Child Protection Conferences
To ensure plans are put in place in a timely way when there is significant risk for children and young people, an Initial Child Projection Conference should be held within 15 days from a Strategy Discussion (if deemed appropriate from the Section 47 Investigation). The Conference will be attended by key partner agencies such as Health, Education, Police as well as Children’s Social Care and at the Conference a decision will be made on whether a Child Protection plan is required. In 2020, there was a significant improvement in performance in this area with 89.10% of Initial Child Protection Conferences (ICPCs) held within the statutory timescale of 15 days, much higher than in 2019 when only 62.5% were held on time. The rate is also higher than the statistical neighbour rate of 79.4% and national rate for England of 77.60% as shown below.
Table 2 – Percentage of Initial Child Protection Conferences Held Within 15 Days
Figure 2 – Percentage of Initial Child Protection Conferences Held Within 15 Days
With a significantly increased rate of Section 47 Investigations seen in 2019 and 2020 this resulted in an increased number of ICPCs being convened compared with the previous years. In 2018/19 it was recognised that improvements were required to ensure more conferences were held within the timescale of 15 days. The number of Conference Chairs was increased in 2019 along with creating additional facilities to hold Conferences which has led to improved timeliness for ICPCs as seen in the 2020 data with 89.1% of ICPCs held on time along with improvements in recording of this activity. This has ensured decisions are made for children and young people within an appropriate timescale. It is clear there needs to be a continued focus on this area.
In terms of the volume of ICPCs carried out in 2020, the rate (per 10,000 population) of ICPCs was 109.7 which was a slight increase from the rate of 104.4 in 2019 as shown below. The 2020 rate was higher than the England rate of 64.4 but only slightly higher than the statistical neighbour rate of 106.22, showing that the level of ICPC activity in Wakefield was fairly consistent with other similar Local Authority areas.
Table 3 – Rate of Initial Child Protection Conferences
Figure 3 – Rate of Initial Child Protection Conferences
Child Protection Plans
There was a small increase in the rate of Child Protection Plans starting in the year in 2020 with the rate increasing from 97.1 in 2019 to 100.5 in 2020. There had been a significant increase in the rate from 2018 to 2019. In 2020, the rate was higher than the statistical neighbour rate of 92.46 and national rate of 55.20 and although higher there was not such a large difference as in 2019 and shows that level of activity in Wakefield was not inconsistent to other similar LAs.
Table 4 – Rate of Child Protection Plans Starting in Year
The increase in Child Protection activity already described led to an increase in the rate of children subject to a Child Protection Plan at the end of March 2020. Again there had been a steep rise between 2018 and 2019 with a 90% increase in the rate from 36.6 in 2018 to 69.6 in 2019. Between 2019 and 2020 there was only a small increase to 73.3 and whilst the rate was higher than the statistical neighbour rate of 68.10, it was much closer than in 62.11 evidencing the further embedding of improved practices in identification of risk and more consistent application and recording of child protection processes. Since 2020 there has been a levelling off of new plans starting and the number of children subject to a Child Protection Plans has been falling and it is anticipated this will be seen when the data is published later this year.
Table 5 – Rate of Children Subject to Child Protection Plan
Figure 4 – Rate of Children Subject to Child Protection Plan
Figure 5 – Child Protection Plans During the Year – Gender & Age
Figure 6 – Child Protection Plans By Area
In 2020 the cluster areas where the most children with a Child Protection Plan lived were South East, Pontefract & Knottingley and Castleford & Airedale, the same as in 2019. Just over 64% of children which lived in the top 2 most deprived areas of Wakefield, which is perhaps not surprising and evidences the impact of inequalities on outcomes for children and young people.
Figure 7 – Initial Category of Abuse Identified – Child Protection plans
In both 2019 and 2020, the most commonly identified category of abuse identified for children subject to a Child Protection Plan was neglect as can be seen below. The Wakefield Children’s Safeguarding Partnership have implemented a neglect toolkit to improve identification of neglect at an earlier stage which is available for all professionals who work with children.
Table 6 below shows that in 2020 19.5% of children starting on a Child Protection Plan were subject to a repeat plan, which was lower than in 2019 and lower than the statistical neighbour rate of 21.68%.
Table 6 – Percentage of Children Who Became Subject of Plan for Second or Subsequent Time
As a high rate of repeat plans had been picked up through performance monitoring, in 2019 a review of all cases where there had been a repeat plan was undertaken. This review found that in the main children who had started on a second or subsequent plan was for different reasons to the previous plan however for a small number of children with repeat plans, this was for the same or similar reasons. Learning has informed practice and audits are now carried out for children with repeat Child Protection Plans regularly. As there has been a reduction in the rate, this may suggest that practice has improved and plans are ended more consistently when there has been a significant improvement in the situation for the child or young person and that this can be sustained and overall a reduction in the level of risk.
Key Findings Recommendations
The 2020 data is much more consistent with statistical neighbour data and the significant increase in activity in processes and children starting on Child Protection Plans seen in 2019 has levelled off. Having considered the key messages from the data the following recommendations have been identified:
- Continue to ensure that children who are at potential of risk are identified and the appropriate statutory processes are undertaken which is evidenced by sustaining the rate of Section 47 Investigations and Initial Child Protection Conferences
- Ensure the significant improvement in the rate of Initial Child Protection Conferences completed within 15 days improves further and is sustained
- Consider if improvements in practice and across the Children’s Social Care Service is required to prevent the needs of children and young people escalating so that a Child Protection Plan is required through more effective early intervention.
4. How are Children with Child Protection Plans Supported?
Children’s Social Care
In Wakefield, services for children, young people and their families are described within the Continuum of Need. This has been developed through the Wakefield Safeguarding Children’s Partnership in conjunction with other agencies such as Health, Police and voluntary organisations and is consistent with Working Together to Safeguard Children (2018). It describes the level of support available for children and young people depending on their level of need from services which are available universally and for all such as dentists, GPs and schools through to services for children and young people with significant and complex needs. The aim is that children and young people will receive support at the earliest possible stage when required to prevent issues from becoming more serious. Support may be provided through a range of services such as Health Visitors, Community Based Groups, in Children Centres and through the Early Help Service in the Children First Hubs.
For children and young people who have been assessed as having serious complex needs they will receive support at level 4 of the continuum of need and will receive support from a Social Worker. In some situations a child or young person may have received support at an earlier stage eg level 2 or 3 but this may not have been successful in resolving issues or reducing risks.
Support for children and young people in need is provided through Social Work teams, although it is likely that children and young people may also receive other types of support eg attending a group work programme through the Children First Hubs, accessing emotional health support or having respite care. Some of this support may be delivered by partner agencies such as Health and Schools. For children with a Child Protection Plan, the initial plan will be developed through the ICPC which will detail what interventions are required to improve outcomes for children. The child or young person will be visited on a very regular basis by their Social Worker (every 10 days) who will work with the child and their family to make positive changes to address issues and reduce risks of harm. Progress on the Child Protection Plan will be reviewed at multi agency meetings called Core Groups and also at Review Child Protection Conferences and if there is evidence of improved outcomes then the child or young person will be de-registered from their plan. They will receive support at a lower level with a Child in Need Plan for a short period to ensure improvements are sustained. If there is no improvement for the child or young person, The Child Protection Conference Chair may decide that the case needs to be escalated and legal proceedings may commence with the child or young person coming into care.
Within the Children’s Social Care Service there is also a specific Children Vulnerable to Exploitation Team which works to reduce risks for children who go missing as well as those at risk of exploitation such as sexual exploitation and criminal exploitation.
Wakefield Safeguarding Partnership
Wakefield Safeguarding Partnership is led by Wakefield Children & Young People Services, Wakefield Clinical Commissioning Group and West Yorkshire Police who along with other partners co-ordinate and ensure the effectiveness of work to protect and promote the welfare of children recognising that maintaining and promoting the safety and welfare of children and young people requires a multi agency approach.
Wakefield Families Together
Wakefield Families Together is an approach which was launched in 2020 to establish community based teams drawn from professionals from different agencies, ie Children First Hubs, Children’s Social Care, Health, Police and the third sector and community services to ensure children, young people and families are supported at the earliest possible stage. The teams are co-located to work alongside each other across the 6 cluster areas in Wakefield. The work is focused community need. Schools are central as part of the local community helping to drive and support families. Schools have linked workers and regular meetings to offer consultations where it is felt families may require additional support. The aim is work collaboratively and to ensure resources are in place to meet need at the earliest stage. More information is found here.