Safeguarding - children and young people

This section of the Joint Strategic Needs Assessment (JSNA) considers the needs of Children in Need (CiN) and those subject to a Child Protection Plan. Children in Need are defined in law as children who are aged under 18 (or older if they have a disability or have left care) and:

  • need local authority services to achieve or maintain a reasonable standard of health or development; and / or
  • need local authority services to prevent significant or further harm to health or development; and / or
  • are disabled.

The local authority must keep a register of children with disabilities in its area but does not have to keep a register of all children in need.

Children and young people subject to Child Protection Plans are considered by Social Care Services and key partner agencies to have suffered, or be likely to be suffering, significant harm. There is no steadfast definition of significant harm but the child or young person’s health or development would be adversely affected, compared to what could reasonably be expected of their peers.

The 1989 Children’s Act and successive legislation has placed a duty on the council, NHS bodies and other partners to work together to safeguard all children and young people in the area from harm.

What do we know?

Every local authority must protect and promote the welfare of children in need in its area. To do this it must work with the family to provide support services that will enable children to be brought up within their own families.

The local authority can give financial help in a wide range of circumstances, when a child is in need. The help may be in the form of a loan, a cash payment, or payment in kind, such as vouchers for a particular shop, an item of food, clothing or furniture.

The local authority can provide a range of services for children in need. These can include day care facilities for children under 5 and not yet at school, after-school and holiday care or activities for school age children, guidance and counselling, occupational / social / cultural or recreational activities, home helps and laundry facilities, assistance with travelling to and from home in order to use any services provided by the local authority, family centres, financial assistance usually in the form of a loan and respite care.

In addition to the above services, the local authority has a duty to provide services it considers appropriate for the following children:

  • disabled children
  • children who might otherwise be made subject to care proceedings
  • children who are likely to be involved in crime.

For children found to be suffering actual harm or abuse, or whose circumstances place at them at risk of suffering such harm and abuse, an individual Child Protection Plan is created. This sets out the actions needed to be taken and the timescales in which these must be addressed to reduce the risks of such harm and abuse to a reasonably safe level.

The interventions that must be taken or can be taken to protect children are prescribed and supported in law. Children and young people subject to Child Protection Plans are closely monitored and reviewed. The plans are multi-agency in nature and the local authority and its partners have a duty under legislation and statutory guidance to work together to reduce the level of harm.

Children and young people that become subject to Child Protection Plans do so because they were considered by a multi-agency child protection conference to be, or likely to be, suffering significant harm. Any child or young person under the age of 18 can be subject to a child protection plan in order to safeguard them from significant harm.

The legislation states that:

“Where the question of whether harm suffered by a child is significant turns on the child’s health and development, his health or development shall be compared with that which could be reasonably expected of a similar child."

There is no steadfast definition of what constitutes significant harm, and this needs to be assessed on an individual basis, considering the impacts on child health and development, and a range of other factors in which harm is occurring.

A range of parenting issues lead to a child suffering harm, which include:

Emotional abuse

Persistent emotional maltreatment of a child which is likely to adversely affect their emotional development.

Physical abuse

Any treatment of a child or young person which causes physical harm to them. It may also be caused when a parent fabricates the symptoms of, or deliberately induces illness in, a child.

Sexual abuse

Involves forcing or enticing a child or young person to take part in sexual activities, not necessarily involving a high level of violence, whether or not the child is aware of what is happening.

Neglect

Persistent failure to meet a child's basic physical and / or psychological needs.

It should be noted that all forms of abuse are considered to include an element of emotional abuse.

Children and young people become subject to a Child Protection Plan because of compromised parenting. There are some key factors that affect a parent’s or carer’s ability to care for their child. These include:

Social exclusion

Many families face unemployment, financial hardship, social isolation, and other problems associated with living in disadvantaged areas. Children and young people from deprived backgrounds are at greater risk of experiencing poorer health, development and educational outcomes than their peers.

Parental mental health problems

Poor mental health may affect parents’ ability to look after both themselves and their children. The poor mental health of a parent or carer alone is no reason to assume the child is suffering harm; a considerable proportion of adults will suffer from poor mental health at any time, and will still be capable of caring for their child effectively. However where parents with more acute mental health disorders, or where parents’ mental health has temporarily and significantly deteriorated, this may impact on their parenting skills. 

Parenting experiences

Some adults have negative childhood experiences which may impact on their parenting skills.

Parental substance abuse

Drug or alcohol abuse may impact on the capacity of parents to meet their children’s basic needs. In addition, substance abuse in pregnant mothers can have adverse effects on the unborn child. Parent or carer substance abuse alone does not automatically mean that the child is suffering harm; the nature of drug or alcohol abuse and wider circumstances (such as mental health disorders, wider family support, etc.) will affect the parent’s ability to care for their children. 

Parental learning disability

Parents with learning disabilities may impact on their ability to care for their child, depending on their cognitive ability. This could manifest itself in poor decision making and lack of awareness around issues such as child safety, diet, hygiene and learning. 

Domestic abuse

Children exposed to domestic abuse may suffer significant emotional and physical harm. It should be noted that domestic abuse rarely occurs in isolation; other issues such as poor mental health or substance abuse, exist within the family, which will further impact on parenting skills.

Most children in Slough who are subject to child protection plans live in households where domestic abuse and/or parental alcohol or substance misuse are significant issues.

In addition to parental factors there are some other groups of children who are particularly vulnerable to being at risk of harm. These groups include:

  • Unaccompanied Asylum Seeking Children and Trafficked children - many of these children will have suffered physical abuse on their way to the United Kingdom. Others will have been duped into believing they are coming to the United Kingdom for a better life and not be aware of the exploitation that awaits them. In other cases, the children may have escaped exploitation but be in need of protection to make sure they do not fall back into the hands of traffickers. The process of identifying these children and keeping them safe presents difficult challenges, especially as many of them will have complex needs.
  • Children who are sexually exploited
  • Disabled children
  • Children who have been privately fostered.

As a result of abuse and neglect, children and young people are at risk of a number of poor outcomes. The Government’s Working Together to Safeguard Children guidance includes a summary of the known impacts of abuse on children’s health and development. These include:

  • poor mental health including disorders such as anxiety, depression, and eating disorders
  • participation in risk-taking behaviours such as substance abuse, youth offending and anti-social behaviour
  • impaired growth, poor emotional and intellectual development and poor social functioning
  • physical injury leading to neurological damage, disability or in extreme cases death.

Children’s Social Care Services and partner agencies work together with families in order to address the risks children face and meet their needs. However in exceptional circumstances professionals may consider that it is unsafe for the child to remain within their family, in which case they may consider applying for a care order through court.

If the court decides the child’s current circumstances are unsafe then they will issue a care order and the child will become ‘looked after’. The needs of this particular cohort are covered in more detail within the Looked After Children section.

Female Genital Mutilation and Child Sexual Exploitation (CSE)

Female genital mutilation (FGM) is a practice that is extremely painful and has serious health consequences both at the time when the mutilation is carried out and in later life.Under the Female Genital Mutilation Act 2003 it is an offence for any person in the UK to perform FGM, or to assist a girl to carry out FGM on herself. It is also an offence to assist a non-UK national or resident to carry out FGM outside the UK on a UK national or resident.

Radicalisation

The Counter-Terrorism and Security Act 2015 contains a duty on specified authorities to have due regard to the need to prevent people from being drawn into terrorism. The government’s CONTEST Strategy (and as part of that the Prevent Strategy) is actioned locally through a local strategic partnership, which brings together Thames Valley Police and SBC as well as other partners.

The LSCB needs to agree with the local authority and it’s partners for services for children who have been or may be sexually exploited, children who have undergone or may undergo female genital mutilation and children who have been or may be radicalised.

Facts, Figures, Trends

All local authorities are required to report information about Children in Need and those on Child Protection Plans to the Department for Education on an annual basis. The latest national data was released by the Department for Education between October 2014 and February 2015, which included details about the 2013/14 year. This information is used to provide a summary below.

Children in Need

In 2014/15, Slough Borough Council worked with 3,829 children in need, which are 529 more than in 2013/14. This was a rate of 980 children in need per 10,000 locally resident children, which is a higher rate than the national average of 534.5 per 10,000 children.

In 2014/15 a total of 2,284 children began an episode of need with Slough Borough Council – a rate of 584.7 per 10,000 children (346.6 per 10,000 was the last established England average).

On 31 March 2015 Slough Borough Council was working with 1,456 Children in Need. By June 2015, this had increased to 1,492 children.

There is a large range of ages from newborn infants to adolescents and indeed young adults, with the highest numbers falling in the under five (approximately 33%) age groups. There are more boys that are children in need than girls in Slough but the difference is of only a few percent. In Slough, the largest ethnic group amongst children in need is generally White or White British (approximately 44%) followed by Asian or Asian British (approximately 30%), of mixed heritage (approximately 12%), then Black or Black British (approximately 10%).

The most common primary reasons children in need are referred to Slough Borough Council are because they are suffering suspected or actual abuse or neglect (approximately 56%), because of family in acute stress (approximately 15%) or because of family dysfunction (12%). These prevalence’s are in line with national findings.

A referral is defined as ‘a request for services to be provided by local authority children’s social care’ and is made either in respect of a child not previously known to the local authority, or where a case has been previously open but is now closed. Slough Borough Council received 2,257referrals in the year to April 2015, a rate of 578.5 per 10,000 local children. This is slightly higher than the England average of 534.5 per 10,000.

All children where there are indications that a child is a Child in Need have a social care assessment undertaken, which seeks to establish their individual circumstances, needs and the risks to which they are exposed. The purpose of the assessment is to conduct a comprehensive evaluation of the child's needs and the extent to which services and further assessments are required to meet them.

Analysis is carried out of any initial information gathered on a child; her/his parent or care givers' ability to respond to her/his needs; and the role of the wider family and community is carried out. Each assessment is led by a qualified Social Worker.

In the year to March 2015, Slough Borough Council completed 3,393 Single Assessments.; these equate to rates of 613.37 per 10,000 children. Nationally the rates for completed Single Assessments were 152.7 per 10,000 children. This volume of Single Assessments completed per 10,000 local children appears to be significantly higher in Slough than the volume seen in many other areas although no firm conclusions can currently be drawn due to the lack of whole year data for all councils.

Slough Borough Council is therefore called on to assess significantly higher proportions of our local children than is the norm nationally, indicating greater levels of need for parenting support and family interventions to ensure normal childhood experiences and the securing of positive long-term life chances.

Children and young people subject to Child Protection Plans

In 2014/15, 354 children became subject to new Child Protection Plans in Slough. This is a rate of 90.7 children per 10,000 local child population, considerably higher than the national average rate of 52. However, the last 2 months have seen a decrease in the volume of children commencing plans, with the result that in the year to May 2015 this decreased to 313 children becoming subject to a plan (a rate of 80.2 per 10,000).

At the end of March 2015, Slough Borough Council was responsible for 235 children with Child Protection Plans (a rate of 60.2 per 10,000 local children, significantly higher than the national average for England of 42); this decreased to 205 children by April 2015 (52.5 per 10,000).

The majority of Child Protection Plans commenced in Slough are due to concerns that the child is suffering / will suffer from neglect (56.2%) or emotional abuse (33.9%), with lower volumes due to physical abuse (6.8%) or sexual abuse (3.4%). These proportions are approximately the same as is found nationally, although we report higher levels of neglect locally. The chart in Figure 1 illustrates this.

Figure 1: Child Protection Plans commencing in 2014/15 by category

Figure 1: Child Protection Plans commencing in 2012/13 by category

Children tend to become subject to child protection plans during their early childhood with the number of those becoming subject to a plan tailing off with age. Approximately 35% of children who are currently on a CP Plan are aged under 5 (of pre-school age), a total of 42% are aged between 5 and 11 (of primary school age), a total of 22% are aged between 12 and 16 (of secondary school age) and a total of 1% are aged 17 and above. High numbers of unborn and newborn children were placed on plans.

Pre-school children are considered to be those most vulnerable to serious risks of harm or death. This has implications for the nature of the support that the council and partners should provide, especially in the areas of early help and support to parents and families to prevent risks escalating in the first place.

For many children, the serious concerns for their safety are reduced through implementing the protection plan to the point that a Child Protection Plan can be ended relatively quickly.

For example, in the year to April 2015, of all the Child Protection Plans ended, approximately one-third (32%) ceased in less than 6 months, nearly a half (48%) ceased before one year, and just less than one-fifth (19%) ceased before two years had passed. For a very small proportion of children (1%), their Child Protection Plans ceased after being in place for more than two years.

It is important to note that, of the top five parental factors for all child protection cases in Slough, domestic abuse has the highest numbers. Almost 40% of child protection cases involve domestic abuse as a parental factor, with a parent either being a victim (25%) or perpetrator (15%) of the domestic abuse.

(Source: Slough Red Book data December 2014)

National and local strategies (current best practices)

What is this telling us?

There are rising numbers of children in need and children in need of protection being identified in Slough and entering the children’s social care ‘system’. Significant numbers of children in Slough are subject to a range of need and risk factors which require agencies to work together to reduce risk and promote wellbeing. 

What are the key inequalities?

Children in need of help and protection are amongst the most vulnerable groups in society. These are children who have or are suspected to have suffered abuse, neglect or some form of significant family stress. Sometimes interventions can stabilise a family’s situation and enable effective resolution of problems in a very short time period; in other cases, the children may need to be protected via a Child Protection Plan, or be taken into public care.

Children in need generally have significantly higher levels of health needs than other children and young people from comparable socio-economic backgrounds. Their life opportunities and outcomes can often prove much poorer and poor health is a factor in this. Past experiences, poor start in life, poor health or compromised parenting abilities mean that these children are often at risk of having inequitable access to health and education services, both universal and specialist.

The need for support and assistance required by Children in Need can often be identified very early on, and effective Early Help services can and should prevent the escalation of small issues into greater problems. If all public services and communities would provide help and support to parents and other carers from an early stage, the numbers requiring more targeted interventions would reduce dramatically, with children and families less adversely affected as a result.

Children subject to Child Protection Plans will have faced even greater degrees of poor outcomes than other Children in Need. The level of harm they suffer may require removal from their families and placement into public care.

What are the unmet needs/service gaps?

Rising numbers of children identified as requiring help and protection may mean that additional resources (from a range of agencies) will be required. In particular, we need a better availability of qualified and experienced social workers and increased numbers of health visitors working with vulnerable children.

Consistent approach to early help assessment and intervention to ensure that children’s needs are assessed and met at a point before they require statutory CIN or child protection services.

Recommendations for consideration by other key organisations:

  • improved information sharing through the development of integrated arrangements
  • all relevant services and agencies to support the plans for Early help in Slough; investment in early help services so children with additional needs are identified as early as possible
  • resources to ensure a sufficient supply of social workers
  • a sufficiency of support services working with parents who misuse drugs or alcohol
  • enhanced provision of domestic abuse services, working in a more integrated way to assess and meet the needs of both adult and child victims and perpetrators
  • better joint working between adults and children’s services.

Related Pages

  • Looked after children