Annual Report 2021 Introduction
- An introductory welcome from the WSCP
- A statement about Covid-19
- The WSCP Independent Scrutiny report
Foreword from the Safeguarding Partners
It is our great pleasure to welcome you to the annual report covering the work of the Wirral Safeguarding Children Partnership in 2021. The report provides an overview of multi-agency safeguarding activity during the year, and reflects the hard work and dedication of all our partner agencies as they have safeguarded and promoted the welfare of Wirral’s children and young people.
Safeguarding during 2021 was delivered against the backdrop of the Covid-19 pandemic which has forced us all to live and work differently. The partnership has seen services reconfigure and adopt innovate ways of working, many of which we will strive to keep as we start to move out of the pandemic in 2022.
Despite the impact of Covid-19, 2021 saw a lot of really excellent multi-agency activity take shape and begin to make a difference, exemplified by the 8 different programmes introduced as part of the ‘breaking the cycle’ strategy to improve outcomes for some of our most vulnerable families who face multiple disadvantages. The ‘We Can Talk About Domestic Abuse’ programme has led a number of multi-agency learning events where professionals have been able to join discussions with leading academics as well as survivors of domestic abuse.
This year’s annual report includes a number of case studies which illustrate the transformative impact that effective multi-agency working can have on children and their families. We will continue to publish case studies throughout 2022 and recognise those within our teams who have ‘been the difference’
The report also sets out our priorities for the next two years. These include a review of the multi-agency response to neglect, the introduction of a systemic practice model, and activity to combat violence against women and girls. Big changes will also be made following the establishment of Integrated Care Systems within the NHS. 2022 will be even busier than 2021, and we remain grateful to all of our partners and their dedicated front line staff for their support and steadfast commitment to safeguarding all of our children.
Welcome from the WSCP
Welcome to our annual report for the Wirral Safeguarding Children Partnership (WSCP). The report covers the period of January to December 2021 and it is written to reflect and celebrate the hard work and commitment of all of our partner agencies to safeguard and promote the welfare of children and young people in Wirral.
The WSCP is a statutory body, and is responsible for ensuring robust and effective multi-agency safeguarding arrangements are in place and that all agencies truly do work together to safeguard children. The partnership is responsible for ensuring the effectiveness of our local safeguarding arrangements and the annual report aims to provide a rigorous and transparent assessment of the performance and effectiveness of local services. It also aims to identify areas of weakness; the causes of those weaknesses and actions being taken to ensure improvements. The report also includes an account of progress made in implementing actions from reviews, lessons and the sharing of learning. Finally, the report sets out the four partnership priorities for 2022-24 in our business plan.
2021 was a year of huge local and national challenges, dominated by the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic which has had, and continues to have a huge impact on children’s safeguarding – a more detailed statement about the impact of Covid and the response of partner agencies is below – but suffice to say that the pandemic has put a lot of strain on children, young people and families and had a negative impact on many individual’s mental health and wellbeing, and has, through lockdowns and school closures, removed a lot of vulnerable children from the protective gaze of services. The pandemic has undoubtedly been one of the biggest single challenges to the safeguarding partnership ever encountered. However, it has also shown what professionals can achieve even in times of adversity to keep children safe, and this is illustrated through numerous case studies published throughout the report.
Despite the pandemic, 2021 saw a lot of innovative projects and practice take shape and being to be implemented. Different ways of working have emerged through necessity, but some of those have been successful and will be retained as we move into a ‘new normal,
The ‘Breaking the Cycle’ programme was introduced by Wirral Council and currently includes 8 separate programmes, all aimed at supporting children, young people and families who face multiple disadvantages living in our poorest neighbourhoods in Birkenhead and Wallasey. One of the programmes: We Can Talk About Domestic Abuse, has succeeded in establishing additional provision of subject expertise and advocacy to work alongside Social Workers to improve the experience of families affected by domestic abuse. The WCTADA team have also arranged three multi-agency learning events for professionals including contributions from nationally recognised experts, and their work has developed alongside the Domestic Abuse: No Excuse Strategy. More information about the programme is included later in this report.
The WSCP introduced the multi-agency Safer Adolescence Strategy in April 2021. The strategy aims to promote a more strategic preventative approach to adolescent safety by raising awareness of associated vulnerabilities, and to enhance our collective understanding of what is meant ‘extra-familial harm’, or ‘risk outside the
home’. The strategy is part of the wider work which continues in the area of contextual safeguarding.
There has been a lot to celebrate this year despite the difficulties caused by Covid-19 and the constant pressure to spend less. This year has seen the launch of the Zillo website for young people, which includes local information, advice, resources, and opportunities for young people to become young reporters and help inform and shape service provision. The Its Never Ok website has been overhauled and re-launched and now provides an excellent resource for victims and survivors of domestic abuse, and those who support them. The site includes Wirral’s 16 days of action in November 2021, and information about how the changes brought by the Domestic Abuse Act (2021) have established children who witness domestic abuse as victims in their own right.
2021 saw a very positive inspection for the Youth Justice Service – reward for the excellent work which takes place with young people. 2021 also saw the launch of initiatives including the ICON: Babies Cry, You Can Cope campaign for parents, the 1001 Critical Days for babies, and the publication of a Prevention policy statement by the Local Authority
The WSCP undertook a lengthy piece of work this year about the neglect of children and young people, and the strength of the partnership response. Whilst the work identified a lot of good practice, the overall findings showed that the response is inconsistent, often resulting in episodes of neglect being longer than they needed to be. The WSCP has chosen neglect as a priority area for 2022 and will report on progress in next years report.
The WSCP has also undertaken a 100 Days of Safeguarding campaign; beginning in October 2021 with the aim of sharing one safeguarding message every day. The messages have been a mixture of learning resources, posters, research documents, event flyers, and responses to current issues. Feedback about the campaign has been overwhelmingly positive.
Looking forward into 2022, as well as the neglect work, the WSCP is also focusing on the continuing multi-agency activity to ‘break the cycle’ , and updating our Supporting Families Enhancing Futures practice model.
The WSCP is also working with partners to develop a strategy and work plan to tackle Violence Against Women and Girls. This is a national priority given greater significance by the death of Sarah Everard and others, the revelations from the Everyone’s Invited website and the findings of the Ofsted review of sexual abuse in schools and colleges.
2022 will also see Clinical Commissioning Groups (CCG’s) replaced by new Integrated Care Systems as the NHS statutory partner of safeguarding partnerships. Work is well underway locally to develop the new arrangement and information will be shared with partners and professionals as this progresses.
The WSCP hopes that you find the annual report useful and informative, and that it provides an honest snapshot of multi-agency activity to safeguard children in Wirral over the past year.
Throughout 2021 the WSCP continued to ensure that there was close liaison across the three safeguarding partners in the local authority, Merseyside Police and Wirral Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) about any safeguarding issues arising as a result of the pandemic. The partners met through the WSCP Executive every six weeks to discuss the impact of the pandemic, service change and our coordinated response.
Two of the most innovative, and simple actions taken by the Local Authority in response to Covid was to introduce a helpline number for residents, and a specific well-being number for children and young people to call if they were worried about anything during the pandemic. Both helplines were great successes and supported hundred’s of callers.
The WSCP kept in close touch with our partner relevant agencies and gathered and published any disruption or changes to service provision across the partnership. The WSCP has maintained a regular and open dialogue, shared information about local and national impact upon services, raised challenges about delivery, and sought to work together to meet the increasing and varied needs of children and young people. Focus areas have included RAG rating families to ensure face-to-face visits continue for as many acutely vulnerable children as possible, changes to health visiting, and other services who previously routinely and regularly visited families, services to new mothers, newborns and under 5s, child and adolescent mental health services, and changing missing, offending, and criminal exploitation patterns.
During this period, there was significant disruption to our schools, with children again being asked to stay at home and learn remotely. The local authority and schools worked closely together to ensure that the most vulnerable children were able to continue to access school.
New developments in child protection conferences: During this period Partners have continued to innovate. As the prospect of lockdown measures being reduced arose towards the end of winter, Children’s Services and partners began planning for how we might be able to host child protection conferences safely in person again. This required thoughtful planning around whether families felt safe to attend, and the use of additional technology to facilitate the involvement of the families and other agency partners who could not attend in person. Multi-agency partners have also continued to explore new ways of working with families in the child protection pathways.
From the time of the first lockdown the WSCP has maintained a regular dialogue with partner agencies and has publicised any changes to the way services have been delivered or repsonded to any obstacles agencies have faced. All of the shared information has been published on the WSCP website. The Executive has maintained close oversight of multi-agency activity, and has been assured that service delivery – albeit sometimes reduced, or changed, or closely based on risk, has been maintained throughout the pandemic.
Independent Scrutiny Report by Maggie Atkinson
This is my final contribution to Wirral Safeguarding Children Partnership (WSCP) Annual Report, as I end my contract with Wirral after just over five years’ engagement with the borough’s many services to children and young people, their families and communities.
It has been a privilege to work with and contribute to the development and improvement of services in Wirral since I arrived in January 2017, six months after Children’s Social Care Services and their leadership, management and delivery had been severely criticised by Ofsted. I chaired the Local Safeguarding Children Board in the first two years of my work, and was part of a determined Improvement Board which added challenge, pace, focus and drive to the much needed changes that then continued in services that had been heavily criticised by inspectors.
As changes brought by the 2017 Children and Social Work Act 2017 and the rewrite of Working Together to Safeguard Children statutory guidance in 2018 took shape, I was part of work that moved the LSCB into a new Wirral Safeguarding Children Partnership (WSCP) form from mid 2019. I became the Partnership’s Independent Scrutineer, a more arm’s length position in which my role is to have oversight of and put forward assurances on what the WSCP’s Executive and themed Committees do, and equally importantly, how all concerned can prove the impact of what is done for children and young people.
Starting with opening discussions in 20217-18, the WSCP was established through collaboration and co-construction by all partners, and the structures of its subcommittees and the business they would cover and deliver for the Partnership were decided as part of that joint working. The new model, now two and a half years old and already being adjusted to suit what Wirral needs, has remained co-owned and led.
The statutory, social and moral weight of what a Safeguarding Children Partnership carries, and the holding to account of all agencies that it is charged to undertake, are considerable Like most localities Wirral no longer has a Children’s Trust. If it had such a body, the closest thing in Wirral being the Wirral Partnership for Children, it would have no statutory powers or duties. The WSCP is the only statutory Wirral partnership with childhood and children at its heart, which can and does hold all others to account for how well the borough’s young population fares. Under Working Together 2018 statutory guidance, WSCP must hold to account any and all agencies with any connection with, or which deliver services to, children and young people..
Since WSCP’s launch in mid 2019, the three WSCP lead Partners have led safeguarding developments, delivery, and professional expectations on safeguarding, through constant consultation with and information exchanges between the three statutory partners (the LA< the CCG and the Police service) and the far wider group of relevant agencies and stakeholders. The business undertaken by the former LSCB is now driven by the Partnership’s themed Committees, which account directly to the Executive. That the Executive’s members must also hold themselves and each other to account is ever present in the minds, and the working practices, of the senior leaders who sit on it. The Executive, likely to be expanded in 2022 to include representation of more partner agencies than the statutory three and in particular to make Education the 4th Partner body, has matured well since 2019. There is a solid pattern of senior representatives’ attendance at and leadership of meetings, which feature probing questions about the direction of travel and the rightness of what is being done. There is appropriate ownership and follow-through on actions. The Partners are clear about pathways for escalation should issues need to be addressed that have eluded professionals’ problem solving. Executive members and Committee chairs all hold a sound and shared view of what purposeful, impactful multi-agency working look and feel like.
Executive members are conscious that they need constantly to be aware of a need to press for proof of impact and outcome rather than only accounts of activity from those they call into meetings to discuss important projects and developments. They are not wary of having difficult discussions about matters for improvement in practice both across the Partnership and in their particular fields. A culture of self-evaluation, both within the WSCP Executive and Committees, has become ever more evident in the ways WSCP works as members work out how to prove impact rather than always discussing processes or outputs.
Throughout the difficult period for all services and agencies since March 2020, WSCP has done far more than simply to keep the website running and meetings taking place that strive to keep safeguarding front and centre in every agency’s agenda, including in the teeth of the worst points in the pandemic.
Training and development have continued, and serious cases have been duly and appropriately reviewed and lessons to be learned have been disseminated. Developments and reconfiguration of services have continued in Early Help, and in the challenges and support offered in equal and proportionate measure to schools and other educational settings. The borough has launched its new Domestic Abuse and Violence Strategy and is doing good work through it, including in the recognition that children and young people who witness DA/DV are deemed victims following the passage into law of the DA Act 2021. Dedicated work has also continued on ensuring that through sound earlier interventions, children-in-care numbers have fallen, so that Wirral is no longer an outlier and children’s difficulties are picked up in ways that mean they can remain with their families. The DCS confirmed in post in 2021, who knew the borough well and has spent part of her career as an Ofsted inspector, is clear about direction of travel and the need to innovate.
Mutuality of ownership of what works and what needs to improve is now a clear development intention. Proof of impact and outcomes will be the next challenge for all concerned within WSCP, given how busy people are and the temptation in professional lives to be “busy being busy” rather than being able to prove what positive differences have been made ih children and young people’s lives. There have been some difficult challenges to this, in terms of how leadership decisions translate into and become embedded in frontline practice. These have been seen particularly in the following areas:
- Culminating in its formal launch in late 2017, Wirral’s agencies working with children and families, particularly where there are safeguarding concerns, co-designed and adopted a Practice Model, Supporting Familied Enhancing Future (SFEF.) This had the a sound theoretical, well-researched basis. It had the backing of the council and partner agencies. SFEF was therefore agreed as what the then-Director of Children’s Services, “The only show in town” for work with families who needed it, once it was launched. It is supported by a wealth of materials, case studies, professional development, supervision, management and leadership training. Child Protection Conferences were the settings in which it was first tested, but it was then fed out into far greater numbers of teams and services, and the expectation was that it would be used, that its use would be consistent, and that front line practice would be led by it. It has been agreed as a better than sound, relational, systemic model of practice, adaptable within but also far beyond social care. It has been reviewed, and advice on its still further improvement and development has been given, by a successful social care and safeguarding team from another local authority area. Sadly, starting in 2019-2020 and confirmed by formal reports to the Executive in 2021, it has become ever clearer that SFEF’s adoption and use have been uneven. Whilst most professionals expected to use it have been enthusiastic about its potential and use not least because what lies at its heart is family-centred, child-voice-informed ways of working, there are pockets of teams and services continuing to resist using it. I have been clear with the Executive, and with senior leaders and managers in the services and teams where uptake is either uneven or simply not in place, that the time has come to be directive, and to ensure its use, including in any improved model following the second LA’s advice, is secure. Other widely used models were examined before SFEF was developed and introduced and SFEF uses many of the same foundations, but takes things further and is modelled and tailored for the borough. An agreed standardised trained-for and well-resourced model of practice is necessary for the continued improvement and assurance of services, and more than four years on from the launch of SFEF, there should be a clear insistence on its use.
- A similarly agreed, borough-wide assessment tool for looking at the many forms of neglect and working alongside a family to address the issue, has also been agreed and adopted. It is the NSPCC-overseen Graded Care Profile (2) or GCP2. The then-LSCB agreed its use, which was brought across into the new WSCP at the point of change from board to Partnership. The GCP2 is a first-class tool, flexible for use with different families, can be tailored for circumstances. It encompasses all forms of neglect: physical and visible, psychological or emotional, developmental or educational. It is a model for use in working with, not doing to, families. It sits well alongside SFEF as a model of practice and the two strengthen each other. Neglect is, in Wirral as in many other localities, a serial issue. The borough has families, including where there are large sibling groups and a long history, where neglect is ingrained as part of children’s lives. It is acknowledged in reputable research as being a likelier feature in poorer children’s lives than in those from families where making ends meet is not an issue. However, GCP2 also surfaces neglect found in the lives of children who may have every material possession but who live with complete disinterest from adults meant to be caring for them and interested in their wellbeing. The tool also enables exploration of things such as developmental neglect. The Executive has received reports of the take-up of GCP2, on which a great deal of money has been spent on buying in the model and IT portal access, and on training over a thousand professionals in its use, with the expectation that such use would follow. As with my comments on the need to become directive on the use of SFEF above, the time has now come to be equally directive, and to follow through in professional supervision, the setting of clear expectations that GCP2 will be used. I would recommend that the same drive is applied to the “gate keeping” that Partners promised would be put in place: that GCP2 must be completed in order to receive action or intervention from a tier of services above the one making the referral.
Wirral’s safeguarding activity is in a stronger position in 2022 than it was in early 2017, of that there is no doubt. The borough’s partners are doing a great deal to ensure Wirral’s children and young people are safe. Broadly speaking, I can give my assurance as Scrutineer that safeguarding has maintained its pace, and that the partnership is determined to ensure children and young people are as safe as possible. In extraordinary times since Spring 2020, the Partnership has continued to mature so that challenging questions can be responded to professionally, with a focus on working together. The two exemplars quoted above arose from the self-evaluative, professionally self-critical ways of working that characterise the way WSCP works, not from a lack of will to get things right.
CV19’s continuing issues, and looking to the future
Wirral’s schools stayed open throughout the early stages of the pandemic, when their expertise in safeguarding came to the fore. Restrictions on their being open during some subsequent lockdowns meant that like schools everywhere, and like FE settings where large number of 16-18-year-old young people and young adults access education, adaptations at speed and with safety as a key feature became daily challenges and habits in equal measure.
Social care staff have, throughout all phases of the pandemic since March 2020, maintained a high level of contact with children, much of it face to face, albeit some via video conferencing. Staff have inevitably missed the necessary team-based working entailed in being in the same office when not out with clients, given the team-based ways in which much social care work is done. A base has been made available to help support this, but it is not large enough to accommodate all staff or activity. Leaders and managers are in continuous dialogue about how best to handle staff’s needs to work alongside each other, with the constantly shifting patterns and rising and falling risks of infection that create stresses on a workforce depleted by absence as the pandemic has progressed.
Police reported in earlier stages of the pandemic that though Domestic Violence and Abuse had shown a national rise this was not so in the Wirral. Crime also initially fell, so responses to them also improved. Whenever restrictions have been lifted, patters of crime have bene far closer to normal, and in the usual categories found in most communities: acquisitive crime, violence including but not restricted to domestic violence and abuse, anti-social behaviour, vehicle crimes and so on. The sense that the pandemic is not over and that at times the restrictions place don people’s pre-pandemic normal lives have created false readings of crime and disorder levels is clear. Throughout the pandemic, the pace of change in the uses of technology to keep society moving has meant an ever greater and more skilled use of online tools, by the public as well as police services, and by those intent on causing or committing anti-social behaviour, disorder and crime including in that online environment. There has been a continuation of County Lines activity where vulnerable children and young people are victims-made-perpetrators by organised criminals, and rises in online crimes focused on indecent images of children and young people, online grooming and abuse. There are additional dedicated police/schools officers deployed in Wirral’s schools and this is appreciated borough-wide.
In Wirral, as in many localities, flexibility and goodwill have been shown throughout the pandemic since March 2020 by services, including staff and teams being reassigned or having their roles amended or changed so as to ensure continuity of contact with children and families, and wherever possible an equal continuity of service provision. Wirral mobilised support for its poorest families, its small business and self employed workers, and has continued to do this throughout, though we are now almost two years into the pandemic and what society needs to do to confront its effects.
It is clear that innovations in health services such as the ICON programme supporting first time parents coping with first-timers’ “unknowns” and natural concerns around babies crying or being difficult to comfort and settle. ICON has been a real success in Wirral, and health leaders are delighted to see this is so, given there has also at the same time been a national rise in non-accidental injuries (NAIs) in under-2 year old and immobile babies Health services have also led, and worked and continue to work alongside others to institute multi-professional and multi-agency teams whose work has been localised to focus around, and concentrate on the needs of, each Wirral school and its community. This is matched by the police and schools liaison work mentioned above, and the assigning of named social workers to schools, so that issues focused on safeguarding concerns can be picked up quickly and dealt with early. Schools appreciate this change in focus from key services, which aids the safeguarding efforts underway in difficult times.
Teams and services have become accustomed to working together to make it possible for all concerned to focus on serving the borough and its people as their prime concern, rather than staying within individual service boundaries.
The pandemic, now a very firmly embedded feature in everybody’s thinking and practice, has accentuated Wirral’s determination to be child-not-service-focused. Staff wellbeing across all services is now an issue. Many staff have themselves been ill with Covid 19 including some who now have “long Covid”, or may have seen illness in their families, and possibly experienced loss. Relentless meeting-to-meeting days online, too little contact face to face with colleagues, too little time to follow up on meetings before going into the next series, a sense of disconnection from the work – all have been mentioned in meetings with me. That many services have simply gone on with “business as usual” placing themselves at greater risk of becoming infected or carrying immense emotional and mental burdens brought to them by what they do, needs to be taken into account. Staff wellbeing is hard to ensure at the best of times when public servants often tend to be self-denying and over-conscientious. That the pandemic is not over, and that staff need to find energy from somewhere and are now busier than most can remember ever being in long careers, must be noted by me as Scrutineer. I am not by any means indicating people are at breaking point. But the pandemic continues, and the pressures are unrelenting
There is a shared will to ensure safeguarding work, from universal, preventive and early help services through to critical and sometimes emergency settings remains of the highest possible quality, involving good communication, shared leadership and delivery. Leaders co-own this determination. They are equally keenly aware that not only is Covid 19 not over and not only are people likely to take time to recover even when it is, but their journey towards being outstanding is also nowhere near over. Partners reminding each other why they work as they do, challenging when they or others fall short of true partnership working, information sharing, focusing on outcomes and looking wherever possible beyond the current times to any “new normal,” are all central to developments going forward from here. It has been my duty, and my immense pleasure, to help that endeavour since 2017.
Quick Links to Chapters:
Journey of the Child
Progress Against Priorities