1.2 Underlying Policy, Principles and Values

1. Safeguarding and Promoting Children’s Welfare

Throughout this Manual, safeguarding and promoting the welfare of children is defined as:

  • Protecting children from maltreatment;
  • Preventing impairment of children’s health or development;
  • Ensuring that children are growing up in circumstances consistent with the provision of safe and effective care; and
  • Undertaking that role so as to enable those children to have optimum life chances and to enter adulthood successfully.

Protecting children from maltreatment is important in preventing the impairment of health or development. Protecting children from maltreatment and preventing impairment of children’s health or development are necessary, but not sufficient to ensure that children are growing up in circumstances consistent with the provision of safe and effective care. These aspects of safeguarding and promoting welfare are cumulative and all contribute to the outcomes that are key to children and young peoples wellbeing, namely:

  • Stay safe;
  • Be healthy;
  • Enjoy and achieve;
  • Make a positive contribution;
  • Achieve economic wellbeing.

2. Child Protection

Child protection is part of safeguarding and promoting welfare. This refers to the activity that is undertaken to protect specific children who are suffering or likely to suffer Significant Harm.

Effective child protection is essential as part of wider work to safeguard and promote the welfare of children. However, all agencies and individuals should aim pro actively to safeguard and promote the welfare of children so that the need for action to protect children from harm is reduced.

3. Principles Underpinning all Work to Safeguard and Promote the Welfare of Children

Norfolk Safeguarding Children Partnership and all managers, employees, professionals, volunteers, carers, independent contractors and service providers must ensure that their practice reflects an approach which is:

i) Child-centred

The child should be seen (alone when appropriate) by the Lead Social Worker in addition to all other professionals who have a responsibility for the child’s welfare. His or her welfare should be kept sharply in focus in all work with the child and family. The significance of seeing and observing the child cannot be overstated. The child should be spoken and listened to, and their wishes and feelings ascertained, taken into account (having regard to their age and understanding) and recorded when making decisions about the provision of services. Some of the worst failures of the system have occurred when professionals have lost sight of the child and concentrated instead on their relationship with the adults.

ii) Rooted in child development

Those working with children should have a detailed understanding of child development and how the quality of the care they are receiving can have an impact on their health and development. They should recognise that as children grow, they continue to develop their skills and abilities. Each stage, from infancy through middle years to adolescence, lays the foundation for more complex development. Plans and interventions to safeguard and promote the child’s welfare should be based on a clear assessment of the child’s developmental progress and the difficulties the child may be experiencing. Planned action should also be timely and appropriate for the child’s age and stage of development.

iii) Focused on outcomes for children

When working directly with a child, any plan developed for the child and their family or care giver should be based on an assessment of the child’s developmental needs and the parents/caregivers’ capacity to respond to these needs within their family and environmental context. This plan should set out the planned outcomes for each child, progress against these should be regularly reviewed and the actual outcomes should be recorded.

The purpose of all interventions should be to achieve the best possible outcomes for each child recognising each is unique. These outcomes should contribute to the key outcomes set out for all children set out in the Children Act 2004:

  • Stay safe;
  • Be healthy;
  • Enjoy and achieve;
  • Make a positive contribution;
  • Achieve economic wellbeing.

iv) Holistic in approach

Having an holistic approach means having an understanding of a child within the context of the child’s family (parents or care givers and the wider family) and of the educational setting, community and culture in which he or she is growing up. The interaction between the developmental needs of children, the capacities of parents or care givers to respond appropriately to those needs and the impact of wider family and environmental factors on children and on parenting capacity requires careful exploration during an assessment.

The ultimate aim is to understand the child’s developmental needs and the capacity of the parents or caregivers to meet them and to provide appropriate services to the child and to the family which respond to those needs. The analysis of the child’s situation will inform planning and action in order to secure the best outcomes for the child, and will inform the subsequent review of the effectiveness of actions taken and services provided. The child’s context will be even more complex when they are living away from home and looked after by adults who do not have parental responsibility for them.

v) Ensuring equality of opportunity

Equality of opportunity means that all children have the opportunity to achieve the best possible developmental outcomes, regardless of their gender, ability, race, ethnicity, circumstances or age. Some vulnerable children may have been particularly disadvantaged in their access to important opportunities, and their health and educational needs will require particular attention in order to optimise their current welfare as well as their long-term outcomes into adulthood.

The Norfolk LSCP is bound by the provision and spirit of the relevant legislation and all its work is informed by a commitment to the promotion of diversity. All constituent agencies are required to ensure that their services are equally underpinned by such commitment.

The Norfolk LSCP believes that the welfare of children is of paramount concern, and that their individual needs and rights should be respected. Those working with children and young people should be sensitive to the diversity of children’s circumstances and backgrounds (e.g. in respect of their age, gender, physical and mental ability, ethnicity, culture and religion, language, sexual orientation and socio-economic status).

These principles underpin all LSCP policies, procedures, protocols and training.

The LSCP will use its influence to promote these principles and will seek wherever possible, both in its own work and that of its partner agencies, to eliminate discrimination, harassment and attacks on any group or individual.

We will monitor the effectiveness of our work, and that of partner agencies, in these areas, and continuously seek to improve our performance.

vi) Involving of children and families

In the process of finding out what is happening to a child it is important to listen to the child, develop a therapeutic relationship with the child and through this gain an understanding of his or her wishes and feelings. The importance of developing a co-operative working relationship is emphasised, so that parents or care givers feel respected and informed, they believe agency staff are being open and honest with them, and in turn they are confident about providing vital information about their child, themselves and their circumstances. The consent of children, young people and their parents or care givers, where appropriate, should be obtained when sharing information unless to do so would place the child at risk of suffering or likely to suffer Significant Harm. Similarly, decisions should also be made with their agreement, whenever possible, unless to do so would place the child at risk of suffering or likely to suffer Significant Harm. See also Information Sharing and Confidentiality Procedure.

vii) Building on strengths as well as identifying difficulties

Identifying both strengths (including resilience and protective factors) and difficulties (including vulnerabilities and risk factors) within the child, his or her family and the context in which they are living is important, as is considering how these factors are having an impact on the child’s health and development. Too often it has been found that a deficit model of working with families predominates in practice, and ignores crucial areas of success and effectiveness within the family on which to base interventions.

Working with a child or family’s strengths becomes an important part of a plan to resolve difficulties.

viii) Integrated in approach

From birth, there will be a variety of different agencies and services in the community involved with children and their development, particularly in relation to their health and education. Multi and inter-agency work to safeguard and promote children’s welfare starts as soon as it has been identified that the child or the family members have additional needs requiring support/services beyond universal services, not just when there are questions about possible harm.

ix) A continuing process not an event

Understanding what is happening to a vulnerable child within the context of his or her family and the local community, and taking appropriate action are continuing and interactive processes and not single events. Assessment should continue throughout a period of intervention, and intervention may start at the beginning of an assessment.

x) Providing and reviewing services

Action and services should be provided according to the identified needs of the child and family in parallel with assessment where necessary. It is not necessary to await completion of the assessment process. Immediate and practical needs should be addressed alongside more complex and longer term ones. The impact of service provision on a child’s developmental progress should be reviewed at regular intervals.

xi) Informed by evidence

Effective practice with children and families requires sound professional judgments which are underpinned by a rigorous evidence base, and draw on the practitioners knowledge and experience. Decisions based on these judgments should be kept under review, and take full account of any new information obtained during the course of work with the child and family.

4. Working in Partnership with Children and Families: Signs of Safety

Work in partnership with families must be based on the following principles:

  • Treat all family members with dignity and respect and offer a caring and courteous service;
  • Enable all family members to participate in the assessment process, regardless of race, culture, religion, gender, sexual orientation or ability;
  • Ensure family members know the child’s safety and welfare has priority;
  • Minimise infringement of privacy consistent with protecting the child;
  • Be clear about powers and purpose of any intervention;
  • Be aware of the impact on the family of professional actions;
  • Respect confidentiality and pass on information and/or observations about the family only with permission or to protect the child;
  • Listen to and try to understand the concerns, wishes and feelings of the child and family before formulating explanations and plans;
  • Learn about the child’s religious, cultural, community and familial context;
  • Consider strengths, potential and limitations of family members;
  • Ensure all family members know their responsibilities and rights with respect to receipt or refusal of services and its consequences;
  • Use simple jargon-free language appropriate to age and culture of each individual;
  • Be open and honest about concerns and professionals’ responsibilities, plans and limitations;
  • Allow individuals time to absorb professional concerns and processes;
  • Distinguish between personal feelings, values, prejudices and beliefs, and professional roles and responsibilities and seek and use supervision to check achievement of this;
  • Always acknowledge errors, failures or oversights and the distress caused to families;
  • Give explicit consideration to the potential conflict between family members and the possible need for children or adults to speak without other family members present;
  • Children and young people should be consulted and kept informed about what is to happen to them;
  • Children’s welfare must be safeguarded by prompt, positive and pro-active attention.

From January 2015, Norfolk has been working under the Signs of Safety Framework. This programme picks up the 2011 Munro Report recommendations to encourage much more direct work with families and is important, exciting and relevant to Norfolk and to Norfolk children and families as part of our ongoing improvement journey. This will enable us to move towards a strength based, solution focused model that empowers families and enables them to make the changes that they need to make to safeguard their children and support them to achieve their full potential.

5. What is the Signs of Safety Approach?

The development of Signs of Safety began in the 1990’s drawing on solution focused therapy and the direct experience of effective practice by child protection workers and the experiences of families. It is now a comprehensive and mature approach being implemented in over 100 jurisdictions in 12 countries around the world. At the heart of this approach is working with families in an honest, straightforward and respectful way.

The approach has three important objectives:

  • Practitioners to engage with families so that the family understands why social workers are there and what they are worried about;
  • Family strengths and protective factors are included in the risk analysis and;
  • Children are safer, with professionals and family members being clear about:
    • What worries them;
    • What needs to be done; and
    • Who will be involved with everyday safety of the child, guiding what happens next.

The safety needs of the child are kept to the fore, clearly described and a robust safety plan is built that is clear on what needs to happen, who will do what, and what will need to be seen to show the child is becoming safer. Conversely, it can equally show that the situation is not getting safer.

Signs of Safety builds relationships with families and also between professionals. The emphasis of the assessment is on collecting evidence about the potential for change, while working to strengthen families and their communities by bringing people from the family’s network into any plans developed.

In summary the signs of safety approach offers a robust and rigorous framework that analyses risk and takes into account family strengths and resources. The clarity of purpose alongside an open and balanced approach enables us to engage with families and work with uncertainty and different perceptions in a more constructive way.

For further information please see the Signs of Safety website.

6. What does Signs of Safety mean for Partner Agencies?

The bottom line: Signs of Safety will be the approach used by social care staff to assess and plan in Child Protection cases as well as Child in Need and Family Support Plans. This gives us the opportunity of developing a single consistent method and “vocabulary” by which to discuss our work with children and their families across Norfolk.

Signs of Safety works best as a joint approach with partner agencies and the family. At a minimum partner agency staff who attend these meetings should understand and adopt the Signs of Safety approach to enable them to take part in meetings effectively and to enable all involved to reach agreement about what needs to be done.

7. Time Scales

Where the welfare of the child requires it, shorter time-scales must be achieved.

Any extension to the time-scales must be authorised by the relevant manager following consultation with relevant managers from the other agencies.

Timeliness is key to ensure agencies are working together to meet the needs of children who require safeguarding.

8. Case Recording

The following is intended to ensure the security of children’s case records and the integrity of the information that they contain.

Good quality case recording is essential in ensuring:

  • Continuity of service to children and families when staff are unavailable or change, or when a service resumes after a period of time;
  • Effective risk management practices to safeguard the well-being of children, especially in emergency situations;
  • Effective partnerships between staff, children, their families, their carers, other agencies and service providers;
  • Clarity of information for everyone involved in the planning and delivery of services, and in the event of investigations, inquiries, or audits;
  • Adequate information for staff and managers to ensure the best possible utilisation of available resources;
  • As a means by which to ensure accountability and adherence to procedures and statutory responsibilities.

8.1 Records Must Be Kept On All Individual Children and Family Members

Records may be in the form of paper files and/or computer records; audio or video recordings may also be kept. Separate case/file records must be made for each child.

All case records must be organised in order to safeguard the contents, protect the confidentiality of the individuals concerned, and make them as easy as possible to use.

Information held in electronic records must accurately reflect the corresponding information recorded within paper files.

Records held on paper may extend to more than one volume. Where more than one volume exists, the dates covered by each volume must be clearly recorded on the front cover.

Where information is held on a paper file, the electronic record must be used to identify the source and location of the paper record.

8.2 Forms must be completed in accordance with instructions

Forms must be completed in all fields as indicated by the agencies instructions and signed and dated.

8.3 Individuals have a right to be informed about their records

Individuals have a right to be informed about their records, the reasons why they are kept, their rights to confidentiality and how to access their records.

Information should be provided in a form that individuals will understand.  An interpreter should be provided if needed.

8.4 The practitioner primarily involved should complete the record

The practitioner primarily involved, i.e. the person who directly observes or witnesses the event that is being recorded or who has participated in the meeting/conversation, should complete the record.

Where this is not possible and records are completed or updated by other people, it must be clear from the record which person provided the information being recorded. Preferably the person with first hand knowledge should read and sign the record as well as stating their post title. There must be clear differentiation between opinion and fact.

Records of decisions must show who has made the decision and the reasons for which it has been made.

8.5 All relevant information must be recorded

Every case file or electronic record must be completed with information about the individuals full name, address, date of birth, ethnicity, religion, any reference or identification number, any risk assessment, a transfer/closing summary (where appropriate) and, in the case of paper files, volume number.

8.6 Children and families should be involved in the recording process

Children (depending on their age and understanding) and their families must be routinely involved in the process of gathering and recording information about them. They should feel they are part of the recording process.

They should be asked to provide information, express their own views and wishes, and contribute to assessments, reports and to the formulation of plans in respect of services they may receive.

Generally, they must also be asked to give their agreement to the sharing of their information with others, except where there are concerns about Significant Harm. For further guidance about when information can be shared without consent being sought, see Information Sharing and Confidentiality Procedure. Where there is uncertainty about information sharing where there are concerns about Significant Harm, staff should consult with supervisors / managers.

8.7 Records must be legible, signed and dated

Those completing computerised records must show their name, post title and the time and date when the recording was completed. The sequence of the recording must also be noted.

Paper records should be typed or handwritten and all records must be signed, dated and the persons post title stated.

Any handwritten records must be legible.

It must be possible to distinguish the name and post title or status of the person completing the record. If there is any doubt of the identity of the writer from a signature, the name should be printed.

8.8 Time scales for recording

Records should be completed contemporaneously or as soon as practicable after the event occurs and should be updated as information becomes available or as decisions or actions are taken.

Where records are made or updated late or after the event, the fact must be stated in the record, and the date and time of the entry should be included.

All agencies must adhere to their own agency recording policy and procedures.

8.9 Records must be written in plain English and prejudice must be avoided

Records must be written concisely, in plain English, avoiding statements that are judgmental or speculative, and focusing instead on facts about the needs, strengths, and objectives of individuals.

Entries to case records should be written in a way which is sensitive to differences of diverse ethnic and religious backgrounds and lifestyles.

Use of technical or professional terms and abbreviations must be kept to a minimum; and if there is likely to be any doubt of their meaning, they must be defined or explained.

8.10 Records must be accurate and adequate

Care must be taken to ensure that information contained in records is relevant and accurate and is sufficient to meet legislative responsibilities and the requirements of these procedures.

Every effort must be made to ensure records are factually correct.

Records must distinguish clearly between facts, opinions, assessments, judgments and decisions.

Records must also distinguish between first hand information and information obtained from third parties.

8.11 Managers must oversee and monitor all records

The overall responsibility for ensuring all records are maintained appropriately rests with managers with day-to-day responsibility, delegated to other staff as appropriate.

The manager should routinely audit records to ensure they are up to date and maintained as required and, if not, that deficiencies are rectified as soon as practicable.

All management recommendations, decisions and actions must also be recorded and regularly reviewed.

8.12 Records should be kept securely

All records must be kept securely, including electronic records and transfer of information across agencies.

Paper records will be kept in folders with all documents firmly affixed to prevent their loss.

Files in paper form should be stored in a locked cabinet, or a similar manner, usually in an office which only staff/carers have access to. Records should not be left unattended when not in their normal location.

8.13 Removal of records

If it is necessary to remove a record from its normal location, a manager should approve this and should stipulate or agree how long it is necessary to remove the record. The manager must also be satisfied that adequate measures are in place to ensure the security of the record(s) whilst they are removed. For example, records must never be left in unattended vehicles.

Care must be taken so that records on laptops, discs, memory sticks or other information storage devices are removed only in accordance with each agencies procedures.

The authorisation for any record to be removed must be recorded and those who may need to see the records should be informed of their removal. The manager must then ensure the record is returned as required/agreed.

8.14 Record retention after closure

Files should be retained for the period set out in each agencies own record retention policy.

In all agencies the relevant policies relating to retention and destruction apply and any member of staff responsible for a child’s records when services end and the case is closed, is responsible for ensuring that the records to be retained are in good order and that unnecessary items have been removed, for example, compliment slips, duplicate copies etc.