Experts demand accelerated change in multi-agency safeguarding practice

A report assessing data from local safeguarding incidents in England will assist learning and drive improvement to help families and protect children

The Child Safeguarding Practice Review Panel published its fourth annual report today.

The independent panel of experts reviews local safeguarding incidents when a child dies or suffers serious harm and abuse, or neglect is known or suspected. The panel can also commission a national review where necessary.

Work for the report was undertaken by the National Policing Vulnerability Knowledge and Practice Programme (VKPP), in partnership with the panel. The report looks at data gathered from these reviews across 15 months, January 2022 to March 2023, to assist learning and improvement in multi-agency safeguarding practice.

Within its period of focused analysis – April 2022 to March 2023 – the report observes that the panel received 393 serious incident notifications, of which 146 (37%) were in relation to child deaths and 227 (58%) were related to serious harm.

One of the most important findings is that over half of reviews received by the panel featured a child who had experienced neglect. Another was that a high proportion of school-age children who died or were seriously harmed were either not in school (11%) or reported to be regularly absent (29%).

Analysis also shows that, in over three-quarters of cases reviewed, the family of the child was known to children’s social care, and a third of children were either on, or had previously been on, a child protection plan. In addition, nearly a fifth of children were being ‘looked after’ by the local authority, either at the time of the incident or prior to it, while 21% of children were reported to have a mental health condition.

Panel Chair Annie Hudson said:

"Our annual report provides important data and analysis about the English safeguarding system, highlighting patterns in practice, strengths and areas for improvement.

"The children at the heart of this report endured shocking and almost indescribable violence and maltreatment. We must never become inured or habituated to the abuse, neglect and trauma they have suffered. What happened to these children cannot be undone. but it is vital that we learn from how well safeguarding agencies responded to their needs, acting at a national and local level where necessary.

"That 53% of our reviews concerned children who had suffered neglect prior to the incident, for instance, is striking and warrants attention. Likewise, the fact that 21% of children were reported to have one or more health conditions underlines the vital importance of health, local authorities, police, education and other services working seamlessly together to help keep children safe.

"A range of factors are exerting considerable pressure on agencies: workforce challenges (for example, in social work and health-visiting) and the sufficiency of preventative services and high-quality placements can undermine the ability of agencies to help and protect children. Notwithstanding these system pressures, practitioners and leaders are bringing creativity and resourcefulness to protecting children.

"However, as the report makes clear, too often the work of safeguarding agencies is not as ‘joined up’ as it must be, undermining their ability to know what is happening to a child and take decisive action when this may be needed. As we highlighted in our 2 major national reviews in 2022 and 2023 – Child protection in England, commissioned following the respective deaths of Arthur Labinjo-Hughes and Star Hobson, and Safeguarding children with disabilities and complex health needs in residential settings – such fragmentation must be addressed. We welcome the important safeguarding reforms that have been initiated, but the momentum for change must be accelerated to help families and protect children."

Child Safeguarding Practice Review Panel