Let’s begin with understanding what safeguarding actually is? It means to support the identification of children and young people who are suffering or likely to suffer significant harm and take appropriate action with the aim of making sure they are kept safe.
Councils have a very large responsibility toward the children. This is especially important as children can spend much of their time in council premises – schools for example – or using council facilities like swimming pools and libraries. Hence, ‘safeguarding’ the safety and well-being of the children becomes paramount.
With great power…
There is a wide range of legislation and government guidance on the subject. These include Welsh guidance documents for professionals as well as legislation such as the Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS), which checks on anyone who works or volunteers with children and young people. Under Safeguarding Children: Working Together Under the Children Act 2004, councils have a statutory duty to have in place safeguarding arrangements for children, which include strategic planning, directly delivering services, and providing support and guidance to providers of commissioned services.
Our review audited the effectiveness of safeguarding ‘assurance’ arrangements within councils, not how councils individually safeguard children and young people. These assurance arrangements are very important.
Done well they can provide a council with confidence that they are doing all they can to ensure safeguarding systems are set up and working effectively. Staff who need training are trained, DBS checks are carried out promptly, responsibilities are clear and performance is well managed and scrutinised. Done badly then councils cannot be sure that they are doing all they can to avoid a dreadful failure like Baby P or Victoria Climbie.
…comes great responsibility
What we found was that all councils take safeguarding seriously and recognise how important the issue is. However, the systems needed to underpin frontline work in some areas and in some councils are not always robust and effective and there are opportunities to up their game.
The report provides a list of recommendations to strengthen current assurance arrangements covering, for example, leadership, training, managing risks and overseeing performance.
These have also been turned into a ‘checklist’ that sets out the key features of effective corporate arrangements for safeguarding. The checklist allows councils to self-evaluate themselves and identify how well their current corporate arrangements work. Done honestly, the checklist will provide senior managers with a snapshot of how well their council is doing and where improvements are needed.
Ultimately, that is what we are all after. To know that councils are doing all they can to safeguard children and young people.
Nick Selwyn is a Local Government Manager at the Wales Audit Office, with responsibilities for our programme of all-Wales studies. He has worked for the WAO for eight years in a variety of roles and is a Fellow of the Chartered Institute of Housing.