Tim Loughton speaks to the LSCB Chairs’ Network conference

This speech was published under the 2010 to 2015 Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition government

Children and Families' Minister Tim Loughton speaks to Local Safeguarding Children Board representatives.

It’s a great pleasure to join you all, especially when LSCBs have such a vital role in delivering our reforms to the child protection system, so thank you again for the invitation today.

This Government is absolutely determined to improve outcomes for vulnerable children and young people in care. From the Prime Minister, right across Government, down into local authorities and out to frontline workers, we all need to focus 100% on tackling barriers in the system and achieving better results.

You are hugely important in helping us to achieve this goal.

Thanks to your expertise and leadership, local organisations are working better together and putting the safeguarding of hundreds and thousands of children first.

We will be depending on you to help us deliver real improvements for those children, and for many more.

Because of your unique position, you have the crucial ability to get all local partners around one table, deciding priorities and agreeing action for your areas.

And because your work falls across and within sectors, working with local authorities, health, police, justice and education, you are best placed to focus on much-needed joint training between agencies.

I know that LSCB networks are doing excellent work. Ofsted’s LSCB good practice report, published earlier this year, contains many glowing references to particular LSCBs. To pick out just a few examples, the report says:

The Coventry SCB … provides effective professional leadership for safeguarding across the city.

The Liverpool SCB is responsive to the needs of children, young people and families in the city and provides good leadership on a wide range of safeguarding matters.

The operation of the Brighton & Hove SCB is well managed and the business operation is closely aligned to the legal framework and tackling priorities.

In Enfield, “findings from SCRs have been disseminated to staff and there are good examples of changes to practice as a result of learning from serious incidents

Gold stars to those LSCBs, and to all the others achieving great results all over the country.

But none of us can afford to be complacent. As I’m sure all of you will agree, no matter how well an LSCB has performed in the past, there is always room and reason for improvement.

Thankfully, the overwhelming majority of children in this country enjoy a happy, safe childhood.

But too many of them still do not. Names like Victoria Climbie, Peter Connelly and Khyra Ishaq remind us only too starkly of the horrible consequences when the child protection system fails.

In the past, individual tragedies like these have triggered urgent reviews and inquiries.

Every one of those reviews has resulted in more legislation being passed; more rulebooks being expanded; more procedures and processes being introduced, more structures being restructured. More demands on already overstretched professionals; more changes which didn’t work as well as they were supposed to.

Because we place a huge priority on this area, we launched the Munro Review of Child Protection less than a month after this Government was formed.

We wanted this review to be different. Unlike other reviews of child protection, it was not commissioned as a knee-jerk response to a crisis. And we gave Professor Munro all the time she needed to conduct a considered review, consulting the frontline and children and young people.

The resulting report was a tour de force, and I’d like to thank Eileen again for all her hard work. She rightly addressed every single aspect of the system; focusing on the child and on the child’s journey from needing help to receiving it.

In response to Professor Munro’s review, the Government’s approach to child protection reform is driven by three key principles:

  • trusting skilled frontline professionals to use their own judgement;
  • reducing bureaucracy and prescription;
  • and, most important of all, making the system child-centred.

Implementing the Munro recommendations now requires a change in mindset. This isn’t a one off set of rules imposed on the sector, but a joint venture between central Government, local agencies, local authorities and professionals.

Changes to statutory guidance are just one part of the solution. While we cut back on red tape, the challenge of improving practice will be best led by the sector, not dictated from the centre. Local areas will be able to use their expertise to develop new, better ways of working.

A multi-disciplinary group is advising us on revisions of Working Together To Safeguard Children, and Ofsted have already consulted on a new inspection framework for children’s services. We are currently consulting on new guidance for DCSs and Lead Members and last week we also published a co-produced work programme looking at safeguarding children in the reformed NHS.

And, of course, we will continue to depend on LSCBs and their Chairs.

I know that the Independent LSCB Chairs Network has been extremely supportive throughout the Munro Review, and I thank you all for that support.

As the Review made clear, under the reformed system LSCBs will still hold a unique position within local accountability structures.

You will retain discretion over how you carry out your functions, so that you can decide your own priorities in light of local circumstances. You will be best placed to monitor how professionals and services are working together, and to identify any problems as they emerge. And you can help the front line to learn from practice, respond to shortcomings and improve services.

There are two recommendations in Munro which will specifically affect all of you.

The first will require each LSCB’s annual report to be submitted to the most senior local leaders - the Chief Executive and Leader of the Council. Subject to the passage of legislation, it will also be submitted to the local Police and Crime Commissioner and the Chair of the health and wellbeing board.

This change will strengthen the role and impact of LSCBs. We hope that this amendment will highlight that accountability for the safety and welfare of children is one of the highest priorities for senior local leaders, and receiving an annual report from the LCSB about the effectiveness of local early help and protective services will be an important part of that accountability.

The second change is for Working Together to be amended so that we strengthen LSCBs’ unique ability to challenge the effectiveness of local services, building on their central position in local multi-agency arrangements.

The Munro review recommended that, when monitoring and evaluating local arrangements, LSCBs should include an assessment of the effectiveness of the help provided to children and families, and the effectiveness of multi-agency training to safeguard and promote the welfare of children and young people.

This includes a stronger focus on the effectiveness of early help, and we are currently working closely with the sector on this area - talking to national LSCB chairs, ADCS and partner organisations - to consider how this can be implemented and resourced.

It’s important we get early help right and so rather than amending LSCBs’ role in Working Together by December, this will form part of the wider consultation on Working Together in the New Year.

On top of the improvements to the safeguarding system recommended by Professor Munro, we have to do everything in our power to keep young people safe.

One thing which is critically important is embedding a culture of effective learning - learning not only from poor practice, when things go wrong, but also from good practice, when things work well.

In order for the system to learn effectively, we need transparency.

Our policy on publishing SCR overview reports is driven by the need to restore public confidence and improve transparency in the child protection system, ensuring that the context in which events occurred is properly understood and relevant lessons are learnt and applied as widely as possible.

I want to be really clear. I expect, and the amended statutory guidance requires, all LSCBs to publish SCR overview reports (suitably redacted and anonymised) unless there are compelling reasons, relating to the welfare of any children directly concerned in the case, for this not to happen.

The amended statutory guidance I issued in June last year made this very clear - and I commend Bristol, Havering, Northamptonshire, Bournemouth & Poole and Torbay. They have already published full SCR review reports, in accordance with the guidance, without experiencing any problems or disasters - and the onus is now on all other LSCBs to do the same…

Looking to the future, the support of LSCB Chairs will be vital as we move towards implementing changes to the SCR process. Some LSCBs have proactively explored innovative ways of learning lessons from serious incidents, and we are looking to all of you to use your experience in helping to ensure that we find the best possible way to learn lessons from terrible tragedies.

We need to take the time to test and get right any new methodology for SCRs before changing the current guidance.

We will be working with partners including local Government, other Government Departments, agencies and LSCBs, to examine the systems review methodologies available for use in SCRs and consider how they might be applied in practice.

And we’re exploring how the Social Care Institute for Excellence’s Learning Together model can be developed further for use in SCRs. We have agreed that Coventry LSCB will pilot the model for a full SCR, and we’re considering running a small number of additional pilots.

While the pilots are in progress to test the SCIE model, my officials are also exploring other possible models for improving SCRs and learning.

We’re thinking about how to harness the expertise already in the system in learning lessons from serious cases - and as embodiments of that expertise, please do send us your ideas.

Different methodologies currently used outside the child protection system may also be helpful in helping us to find the best process. We know, for example, that there is currently widespread use of systems approaches in the health sector, which could provide a helpful model for SCR procedures.

Similarly, by recording all activity in a plane’s cockpit, airplane black boxes provide detailed data so that investigators can find out what went wrong when there’s a plane crash. Whether the cause is human error, system failure or an unexpected, unforeseen “event”, black boxes are a valuable learning tool when disaster strikes.

Atul Gawande’s The Checklist Manifesto describes how meticulous and detailed systems can achieve stunning results in helping professionals like surgeons, engineers and pilots to deal with increasingly complex procedures and responsibilities.

As the author writes, in words which I’m sure will ring a bell with everyone here,

every day there is more and more to manage and get right and learn. And defeat under conditions of great complexity occurs far more often despite [1] great effort rather than from a lack of it.

As well as SCRs, I also want to mention the vitally important role of LSCBs in relation to one of the most serious threats to young people - going on in every city and town, in urban and rural communities, often beneath the radar. I’m talking about child sexual exploitation.

We need to do more to stamp out this horrifying form of child abuse whenever and wherever it occurs. LSCBs have a key role in helping us to tackle this issue, and we will be depending on you over the coming months and years.

Building on existing guidance and our developing understanding of this dreadful crime, we have been working with departments, agencies, a number of LSCB chairs and DCSs, to draw up a national action plan for tackling child sexual exploitation

The plan will look at different aspects of sexual exploitation from the perspective of the young person, analysing what can go wrong and what should happen at every stage of the process.

The plan is nearly finished now and we hope to publish it very soon. In the meantime, I can tell you that the action plan will make clear that LSCBs hold a key responsibility for ensuring that the relevant organisations in each local area co-operate effectively to safeguard children, including tackling child sexual exploitation.

Recent research from the University of Bedfordshire shows that not enough LSCBs are identifying this area as a priority. Often they’re not even aware of how big the problem is.

According to the University of Bedfordshire research, only a quarter of LSCBs in England are implementing the 2009 statutory guidance. When conducting their ‘thematic assessment’ of child sexual exploitation earlier this year, CEOP reported a number of practitioners who told them “If you lift the stone, you’ll find it”. A young victim quoted in the Bedfordshire research said, heartbreakingly, “it’s not hidden - you just aren’t looking”.

Personally, I am in no doubt whatsoever that LSCBs should always be on the lookout for signs of child sexual exploitation, should undertake risk assessments of the extent of the problem in their area, and should not hesitate to take action on the basis of what they find.

Once the action plan has been published, it will be vital to help LSCBs tackle child sexual exploitation and to reinforce the actions they need to take to respond to it.

Over the last eighteen months, I have visited all kinds of conferences and meetings, made more speeches than I can remember and heard some stories that I will never be able to forget.

You know as well as I do that there is no room for any of us to be complacent. Thousands of children across the country need help urgently, and it is our responsibility to deliver that help.

Yet every time I speak to child protection professionals, I feel inspired.

Inspired by the hard work and dedication that they show, helping and protecting vulnerable children every single day - and quite a few nights, too.

Inspired by the outstanding results that are already being achieved for so many children, whose lives have been changed for the better, forever.

And inspired by this opportunity to reform the system so that we can all achieve better outcomes for even more children.

If we are to convert the recommendations of the Munro review into real-life improvements, all the different professionals and organisations in the system will need to work well together.

That is your area of expertise. With your help, and with an unwavering focus on the child’s journey from needing help to receiving it, this is our opportunity to achieve real results.

[1] The Checklist Manifesto, Page 12 (US edition), my emphasis