Inspectors praise strong partnership response to safeguarding children

The strength of Gloucestershire’s strategic partnership between the police, county council and NHS in recognising and responding to children ‘at risk’ has been praised by inspectors.

Aug 4, 2023
By Paul Jacques

They found that most children living in the county who are identified to be in need of help and protection receive a “swift and appropriate” multi-agency response.

In particular, the report highlighted the “strong partnership” between schools and Gloucestershire Constabulary.

The report follows a week-long, in-depth, assessment of the Gloucestershire Safeguarding Children’s Partnership in June by inspectors from His Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire and Rescue Services, Ofsted and the Care Quality Commission.

It considered the county’s response to the identification of initial need and risk, often referred to as the ‘front door’.

Inspectors said the multi-agency response to safeguarding children in Gloucestershire was “testament to the collective commitment of all partners to keeping children and young people in the county safe”.

The report, published on Thursday (August 3) notes that this “mature relationship” is supported by effective governance in the Gloucestershire Safeguarding Children’s Partnership.

They highlighted a daily multi-agency vulnerability meeting held in the multi-agency safeguarding hub (MASH), or ‘front door,’ as a key strength. It promotes effective partnership working where information on the current impact of risks to children is shared and next steps are identified and considered, including who is best to work with children and their families.

The report found that when children’s needs warrant further children’s social care intervention, assessments are detailed and thorough with children seen promptly, including the same day if required.

Children are visited at home and when appropriate, in school. Inspectors said children’s plans lead to children receiving the right help and intervention.

Senior leaders were found to have appropriate oversight and knowledge of the effectiveness of multi-agency safeguarding arrangements and inspectors noted their commitment to a continuous learning environment, which they said results in proactive intervention to improve services for children.

The strong partnership between schools and the police was praised in the report. Gloucestershire Constabulary provides training and attend assemblies to talk to children about keeping safe in areas such as online safety and knife crime.

Inspectors found this is “valued highly by schools”, which say it is effective in de-escalating issues that may otherwise increase risks to children.

When risks to children increase, referrals are appropriately escalated for MASH checks. MASH checks are requested from relevant agencies and information is generally received back within the agreed time frame. Social workers report strong partner relationships and good communication. If they need additional clarification or information, they can approach their MASH partners, and co-location enables this to happen quickly.

The report also highlights a multi-agency child exploitation meeting which allows partners to effectively share intelligence and information about local hot spots, perpetrators, and persons of concern enabling professionals to identify emerging themes and develop targeted disruption activity.

Dedicated teams in the police and the youth support service focus on missing children and the inspection found professionals know these children well.

The safeguarding partnership said steps are being taken to make progress in the areas that inspectors found needed improvement including the efficiency of partner recording systems, the consistent use of police vulnerability screening tools (VISTs) and making sure children’s voices are used to inform decisions across all partner agencies.

Inspectors noted that the front door response arrangements rely on four different operating systems. This means that information about children’s needs is not easily transferable, so it can sometimes be problematic to locate. The hospital trust has several different digital systems that do not link to each other.

In addition, when police submit a VIST to the front door, this information remains in the MASH inbox until read by MASH police staff. Not all VISTs submitted on the digital mobile app used by frontline officers are being uploaded to the main Gloucestershire Constabulary information management system. This means that when a police officer interacts with children in the future, the officer will have to access a number of different systems to understand all the available information. This has the potential to affect decision-making if any of these systems are overlooked.

The child exploitation, missing and mental health team, based at police headquarters, is co-located with the multi-agency child sexual exploitation team.

“This helps to ensure that there is a coordinated multi-agency response when children are identified to be at risk of or experiencing harm from exploitation, including children who are reported to be missing from home or care,” said inspectors. “Partners have a close working relationship, and this supports effective information-sharing to better understand exploitation risks to children.”

Gloucestershire Constabulary Chief Constable Rod Hansen said: “This report is welcome affirmation that close partnership working is key to safeguarding children in our county.

“We have strong operational and strategic connections with our counterparts in the County Council and health services and share a determination to not only meet the standards expected in order to keep children safe but to exceed them where at all possible.

“We embrace the identified areas where we can improve, are working on them already and will continue to work together to address them.”

He added: “On behalf of the police and crime commissioner (PCC) and I, thank you to so many colleagues, specialists and support agencies who work so hard and so skilfully in an often traumatic area of our work – they deserve suitable recognition and thanks.”

Gloucestershire’s PCC Chris Nelson added: “I welcome this report which confirms the very real improvements made following the last full Ofsted inspection in 2022.

“The report found that when children’s needs warrant further social care intervention, assessments are detailed and thorough and it is very reassuring that children may be seen on the same day if it’s thought necessary.

“The strong partnership between schools and the police was praised, and in particular, officers attending assemblies to talk to children about issues like knife crime and keeping safe online. Inspectors found this is highly valued by schools who say it is effective in de-escalating issues that may otherwise increase risks to children.

“Steps are being taken to make progress in the areas that inspectors found needed improvement. That too is reassuring as we can never become complacent. But overall, this is a very positive result.”

Councillor Stephen Davies, Cabinet member for children’s social care and early years at Gloucestershire County Council, said he was pleased that inspectors have recognised the strength of the partnership and the “swift response to keeping children safe”.

“Working together with partners in the Gloucestershire Safeguarding Children’s Partnership and the Wellbeing Coalition, we will do everything we can to continually improve the way we support children and young people and address the areas that the report has highlighted,” he said.

Ann James, executive director of Children’s Services at Gloucestershire County Council said: “I am pleased with the outcome of this inspection for the partnership and our workforce but primarily for children and families in Gloucestershire.

“It validates the improvement work we have implemented following the last full Ofsted inspection in 2022 and provides a great basis from which we can continue to drive improvement for children, families and our communities.”

Dr Marion Andrews-Evans, ICB Executive Chief Nurse and chair of the county children’s safeguarding partnership executive, said the Joint Targeted Area Inspection confirms the “hard work being carried out to keep children living in Gloucestershire safe and well”.

“The report recognises that our strategic partnership is strong and we know that working together alongside partners from the County Council and the police is already making a huge difference,” she said.

“We know there is always more work to do and will continue to work with our partners at Gloucestershire County Council and Gloucestershire Constabulary to ensure children growing up in our county are kept safe and protected from harm.”

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