Brent's Multi-Agency Safeguarding Arrangements for Children
To present the Brent Safeguarding Children Partnership annual report, covering the period from 1 October 2021 to 30 September 2022.
Carolyn Downs (Chief Executive, Brent Council) introduced the report, which focused on the multi-agency safeguarding arrangements for children in Brent and partner activity over the past year. She explained that, following a review by Sir Alan Wood, all local authority areas were now required to have statutory partners responsible for safeguarding children. In Brent, an Executive Group brought together those statutory partners – Barry Loader as the NWL BCU Borough Commander for the Metropolitan Police, Jennifer Roye as the Chief Nurse for North West London Integrated Care System (ICS), and Carolyn Downs as the Chief Executive of the Local Authority. In attendance at those Exec meetings was also Nigel Chapman as the Director for Children’s Services, Councillor Gwen Grahl as the Cabinet Member for Children, Young People and Schools, Mike Howard as the Independent Convener for the Safeguarding Children Forum, Councillor Muhammed Butt as the Leader of the Council, and Wendy Marchese as the Partnership Lead for Safeguarding Children. She advised the Committee that the Executive Group was well supported by Mike Howard and Wendy Marchese and had been in place for some time. The report showed that the group had focused on a large number of rapid reviews throughout the year which had put a large amount of resource pressure on colleagues, but that colleagues had responded well to the challenge.
Mike Howard (Independent Convener, Brent Safeguarding Children Forum) added to the introduction, explaining that the annual report presented to the Committee aimed to illustrate the breadth and complexities of the work the safeguarding partners and forum members undertake. Section 3 of the report was a new section added to show the areas of focus for the Executive Group, Safeguarding Children Forum, and the Case Review Group over the year. He highlighted that there had been a number of extraordinary Forum meetings in the reporting year, focussed on the high profile child deaths of Arthur Labinjo-Hughes and Star Hobson, in order for Forum members to assure themselves of their own safeguarding practices in response to cases of neglect. This had included reviewing the National Panel review of the cases and the Joint Targeted Area Inspection (JTAI) in Solihull. He explained the need for the Forum to be flexible and aware that a safeguarding issue could arise on a national scale that may need to be responded to. In relation to the executive partnership, Mike Howard felt fortunate that, in Brent, there was very stable membership of the partnership, with each partner understanding each other’s roles and approaching cases with the right attitude and without defensiveness or judgement. He felt confident that policies and procedures had been put in place following rapid reviews to ensure partners learned lessons, and reassured that the partners worked hard to reduce the likelihood of child death or injury in Brent.
The Chair thanked officers for the introduction and invited comments and questions from those present, with the following issues raised:
The Committee highlighted the recent media coverage of a child in Rochdale who had died as a result of damp and mould, and queried where a case like that would fall within safeguarding criteria as Brent understood it, and what the response across partners would be if this were to happen in Brent. Nigel Chapman (Corporate Director Children and Young People, Brent Council) advised the Committee that if this case was reported to the Brent Family Front Door (BFFD), it would rely on either a Housing Officer or Health Visitor in the community recognising it as a safeguarding issue first. He would expect that if this was referred to early help, there would be an early help assessment conducted with any serious issues within the housing environment escalated to the relevant housing provider by the early help officer. At the present time, the details of the Rochdale case were not known. Mike Howard added, that because there were questions over what happened in Rochdale, Brent would want to assure themselves that their response would be what the partners would expect should anything similar happen. Due to the age of the child, health visitors may have been involved and so he would expect questions to be directed to the health visitor service around how they were ensuring a safe environment. Sue Sheldon (Assistant Director for Safeguarding Adults and Children, NHS NWL) added that health professionals did enter people’s homes and wrote housing letters where necessary.
In response to the Rochdale death, the Regulator for Social Housing had written to all registered social housing landlords in order to seek assurances about damp and mould and whether appropriate action was being taken. Carolyn Downs had asked colleagues in housing to bring a report to informal Cabinet and Scrutiny on the issue of damp and mould and how housing dealt with those issues, in order to get a full and in-depth look at the issue. She had questioned why the case in Rochdale had not been treated as a safeguarding issue and the child taken out of the home, but there was not a full response from Rochdale yet on the further details.
The Committee asked whether, as a consequence of the Rochdale case, there was a need for any additional partners. They were advised that the government had stipulated who the three statutory partners should be via the Care Act which was enshrined in law, but were assured that colleagues with particular knowledge and expertise would be involved in rapid reviews in Brent, such as people from the voluntary sector, British Transport Police, Home Office workers, and specialist health providers. Mike Howard highlighted that this was a particular strength of the process as it helped to go in depth in the case with people who were specialist. Since the case in Rochdale occurred, Mike Howard had spoken with Carolyn Downs about having housing colleagues at the Forum, which would be looked at going forward to ensure the right housing colleagues were attending those meetings.
In relation to staff support, the Committee asked how partners ensured the mental health and wellbeing of staff was looked after. Carolyn Downs advised the Committee that appropriate welfare support was in place. For example, there were mental health champions within each directorate in the Council workforce and an Employee Assistance Programme. She acknowledged that housing officers were dealing with cuckooing cases and finding it stressful and resource intensive, so she highlighted the importance of managers being aware and alert to the fact colleagues could be finding those cases very difficult on a personal level. In response, the Committee asked whether services were being stretched too far for staff to be able to perform their duties fully. Carolyn Downs highlighted that if there was a children’s safeguarding issue, every member of staff knew there was a need to refer and escalate that issue and it would be dealt with, including money spent, to resolve. If there was a need to overspend this would be done through reserves to ensure a child was no longer at risk.
The Committee asked how the outcomes of rapid reviews informed future practice to ensure any incident did not happen again. Nigel Chapman advised that, from a local authority perspective, the learning from rapid reviews was fed into children and young people services, with a quality assurance programme of learning and training. The annual report then demonstrated that learning and how it had been put into practice. For example, as a result of learning from rapid reviews, it was now common practice that, wherever possible, health or education colleagues attended strategy meetings which were convened for urgent cases. This helped give a much stronger picture of each case.
Regarding how partners held each other to account, Mike Howard confirmed this was done on a regular basis. For example, during a recent rapid review, the police had expressed concerns about the way a particular case had been dealt with, which was escalated and satisfactorily resolved in a mature way where officers accepted where things could have been done differently. As a result, he felt this was one of the best rapid reviews Brent had conducted. He highlighted the close working of partners, and drew the Committee’s attention to page 20 of the report which detailed the learning of partners from multi-agency case reviews, rapid reviews and audits.
The Committee queried how the performance of partners working together was measured. Nigel Chapman explained that each partner agency had its own regulatory and inspection frameworks for performance measuring, and needed to meet certain criteria as part of those inspection processes. In relation to measuring the partnership as a whole, he explained that there were actions attached to the outcomes of rapid reviews, which each partner agency signed up to, and the progress of those actions was measured at the Case Review Group. The partnership was only able to measure activity and output, but hoped that by working together they could reduce the likelihood and risk of Brent children being adversely affected. An example that showed the partnership worked was a recent rapid review where a child had been harmed by mother and stepfather. The case went to prosecution and the child taken into care, however, mother was pregnant with another child, therefore the partnership wrote to the Crown Prosecution Service to outline concerns that they were not taking enough action against the parents of a future child. Police colleagues had helped to apply pressure to the court and eventually those parents were remanded and put in jail, and the new child was taken into care when born. It was felt this demonstrated the difference working as partners could make.
The Committee asked what strategies were in place to avoid children falling through the net, for example as a result of cultural beliefs, religion or home life. It was highlighted that some people may not report domestic abuse to the police which could impact a child living in the same environment. In response, Nigel Chapman highlighted that safeguarding was everyone’s responsibility, and it was important that everyone who worked for children and young people in every single agency should have training to ensure they recognised the signs of abuse and neglect and referral mechanisms for that. He was confident that Brent was recognising abuse and neglect due to the large number of cases referred to the Brent Family Front Door (BFFD) in the past year.
Regarding responsibility for a child when they moved between boroughs, Nigel Chapman advised that there were London Child Protection Procedures covering all London Boroughs. If a child was known to services and receiving services in one borough and the parents moved to another borough, there were clear processes in place to make sure that case transferred to the new authority.
In relation to how the voice of children and young people shaped the direction of priorities and improvements within the partnership, the Committee’s attention was drawn to the notes underneath rapid review 1 in the report, which shpwed there was good evidence the child’s views were documented, heard and responded to within interventions. The partnership was keen to ensure the child was heard, and Mike Howard also highlighted the phenomenon of ‘invisible fathers’. Brent tried to ensure that wherever possible the father was considered in cases, and some of the rapid reviews recently conducted looked at the father’s involvement in the process and how that could be increased.
The Committee queried how the partnership heard the voice of faith communities, highlighting that one delegate from a faith setting had attended multi-agency training. Mike Howard advised that one of the lay members of the forum, who attended as a local resident, was a member of a faith community with strong connections with a local church. He was confident that with the breadth of representation on the Forum there was engagement as far as possible with various communities, and acknowledged there was always room for improvement.
The Chair thanked those present for their contributions and brought the discussion to an end. The Committee RESOLVED:
i) To recommend that more information on the partnerships key achievements is included within future Brent Safeguarding Children Partnership Annual Reports.
ii) To recommend that more information and details on how learnings from rapid reviews are incorporated into future working of the partnership.
- 7. Brent Multi-Agency Safeguarding Arrangements for Children Annual Report, item 7. PDF 140 KB
- 7a. Appendix 1 - Brent Safeguarding Children Partnership Annual Report 2021-2022, item 7. PDF 908 KB