Children today face numerous safety risks. In recent years, the issue of safeguarding children has received more and more media attention. Multiple high-profile cases have shed a greater light on protecting society’s children. This has contributed to a large increase in demand on already-strained resources. Threats to children’s safety include social care, domestic abuse, social and mainstream media, radicalisation, funding cuts for children’s services, trafficking and concerns for migrant and refugee children. The answers to many of these issues emphasise the importance of early intervention. Solutions need the kind of complex thinking required to tackle often very complex problems to ensure better protection of children. Open Forum Events invites you to their Safeguarding Children: Finding Solutions for Better Protection conference to analyse and discuss these pressing issues.
In the last year, there have been initiatives to safeguard children in different ways. Ofsted launched the Social Care Common Inspection Framework which came into full effect in April 2017. The policy introduces a new inspection for all organisations involved in the protection of children, focusing on children’s experiences and progress. The Children and Social Care Act was also passed in May 2017 which gave more clarity on the role of councils as ‘corporate parents’ including better mental health services and compulsory sex and relationships education in schools. It also set up Social Work England (SWE) to replace the work done by the Health & Care Profession Councils (HCPC). The Digital Economy Act also passed last Spring further protected children from online pornography. At a lower level the pioneering Operation Encompass, founded by two ordinary people in Plymouth, is designed to improve communication between police and schools to provide better support to children affected by domestic abuse.
Comprehensive reports published throughout 2017 have scrutinized government policy towards services affecting children’s safety and well-being. These include the NSPCC’s ‘How safe are our children’, Respublica’s ‘Making Young Minds Matter’ and Ofsted’s annual report, which all contribute to the discussion around child safety. To make more long-term improvements to services affecting children’s well-being, there needs to be a more pro-active effort at every level. All bodies who come into contact with children need policies to ensure the safeguarding of children.
In August 2017, the Local Government Association (LGA) reported that 75% of councils in England overspent on their children’s services budgets in 2015/16 by more than half a billion pounds. Council leaders have argued they are being pushed to breaking point. The LGA also found that the Early Intervention Grant had been cut by £500m despite a 140% rise in children subject to child protection enquiries over ten years since 2005/06. It is evident from these figures that huge improvements are no longer simply wanted, they are needed.
A further fundamental issue is the breakdown of communication and efficiency between the many bodies who play a role in safeguarding children. The Wood Report 2016, a review of local safeguarding children’s boards (LSCBs), aimed to address this. It found that there was a failure of said bodies to share information between each other in sufficient time. Recommendations sought to improve multi-agency coordination, reduce bureaucracy and increase accountability. The government’s response to these recommendations included improving links between local authorities, police and health services. This conference will consider this whilst also broadening the agenda and focus on the many issues affecting children’s safety.
Much of the recent issues around safeguarding children have also been caused by a change in technology. “[Children] have all sorts of rights that we’ve signed up to in the physical world, it’s now time to extend those to the digital world,” said Ann Longfield, the Children’s Commissioner for England. Issues of online safety often arise due to a lack of clarity. Legislation like the Digital Economy Act and campaigns like the NSPCC-led Flaw in the Law have helped clear up murky waters surrounding children’s online protection but there is still much to be done.
Other problems affecting children’s safety are often too stigmatized for individuals and groups to talk about honestly and openly. Child grooming, abuse and trafficking are all too common for a society in the 21st century. Children in care can be particularly vulnerable to this as there is too often no one looking out for them. In October 2017, it was reported that there are over 72,000 children in care, up by 3% on the previous year and the highest rate in seven years. Moreover, 90 children a day are taken into care, with social workers “firefighting” the most serious cases well into the night. Care leavers also do not receive sufficient care once they reach adulthood. Refugee children who enter the country unaccompanied by an adult come under the responsibility of local councils who are struggling to cope with the amount of people whilst on tight budgets. Finally, as the political landscape becomes increasingly polarised, certain children are more at risk of being radicalised and posing a threat to others.
(Note: Children refers to anyone aged under 18)