Everyone, including children, adults and practitioners should feel able to challenge decision making and to see this as their right and responsibility to promote children’s safety
1.1 Effective safeguarding of children is predicated on everyone wanting the very best for children and being ready to champion and stand up in their best interests, even if this brings them into disagreement with other people, practitioners, organisations or with their own managers and employing bodies – there are individual organisational and partnership whistle blowing policies that cover these latter areas.
1.2 This document sets out how challenge and resolution can become part of everyday practice.
1.3 In nearly all these instances, it will be possible to resolve any differences within the line management arrangements of partner agencies. It will be exceptional that cases need to be progressed through a more formal procedure within the multi-agency safeguarding arrangements of the Devon Children and Families Partnership.
2. The protocol
2.1 Proactively resolving case disagreements is about behaviour and partnership culture. Working in a restorative manor where raising a concern is expected. Safeguarding children is not a science, there are no absolutes and no automatic right answers. A willingness to be open to challenge and to be wrong essential to safeguarding. Discussions and debates about the best way forward for children are of all safeguarding work.
2.2 Matters will only be successfully resolved if those involved are willing for that to happen. The desired culture can be best described as one characterised by a ‘confident humility’ – that balance, on the one hand, between people and organisations being skilled, expert, trained and confident and, on the other, the appreciation that no-one knows everything or holds all the answers, that different perspectives add depth and understanding and that sometimes everyone can get it wrong.
2.3 Organisationally, this means:
- Senior leaders in all partner organisations will lead this policy by example and demonstrate and model the behaviours to be successfully embedded into the culture
- Case disagreements are to be welcomed and their resolutions are considered likely to improve outcomes for children
- There is an expectation that there is a collective responsibility for problem solving regardless of where the specific issue lies
- That external mediation can be useful when needed and can be provided either by the independent chair or another partner organisation best suited to the issue.
2.4 At an individual level, it means:
- Ensuring that only the best interest of children drives the escalation
- Concerns and decisions have been thought through with safeguarding leads
- They are raised with respectfulness, balance and clarity
- That clear evidence is provided or if it is a gut feeling, say it is and own it as such
- Understanding any personal motivation that might be driving the escalation
- Understand where there might be an over identification with one family member at the expense of another. For example, adult not child focus
- Tenacity is not the same as stubbornness or inflexibility.
2.5 Professionals raising issues with each other can almost always result in an agreed way forward. When they do not, there is an expectation that resolution will be sought manager to manager and that that resolution continues up the hierarchies until a resolution is reached. If necessary, this should be up to and include the senior managers and leaders in partner organisations.
2.6 All the key agencies are represented, either directly or indirectly, on the Partnership’s Practice Development Group (PDG). This protocol requires that unresolved escalations are reported up to the PDG.
2.7 The DCFP PDG will therefore have as a standing item at every meeting a report on case disagreements, escalations, policy challenges to ensure there is an overview of barriers. The lack of escalations being reported could indicate a lack of appropriate challenge in the system.
2.8 The PDG will also expect the Independent Reviewing Unit to report on any examples of inter-agency difference that becomes apparent in the conduct of child protection conferences and/or children in care reviews. Conference chairs are independent of operational service delivery and it is right that their independence should be used to identify and, where appropriate and possible, resolve inter-agency disagreement.
3. Specific cases
3.1 There are two types of cases that warrant specific consideration.
3.2 Firstly, there will be some scenarios which raise matters of such potentially serious concern that they should be automatically logged with the chair of the DCFP PDG. They will make a decision about whether the issues require a broader deep dive and investigation, beyond the detail of the specific case involved, to fully understand them and resolve.
3.3 Secondly, there are cases where the professional network can get ‘stuck’. The levels of risk may be severe, the way forward not clear and this, combined with levels of disguised compliance can often leave staff and sometimes their agencies with a high level of concern but a lack of clarity and certainty about how to manage the risk.
3.3.1 This ‘stuckness’ has been evident in reviews both locally and nationally. Staff, and agencies, can get stuck in a position characterised by ‘there is nothing I/we can do –somebody else should do something – something must be done’. This in turn can lead to inappropriate finger pointing and what appears to be escalation of concerns against a partner agency.
3.3.2 It is critical that in these instances staff, and especially their managers/supervisors, are able to recognise what is happening and that the real issues might be high levels of risk combined with a lack of clarity about ways forward and professional dispute and a frozen or stuck intervention. Supervision is, as in most safeguarding work, the single most important process in helping staff think through the complexities and challenges that are associated with this area of work. Any review of individual escalations will necessarily involve a review of the supervision and guidance available to those involved.
3.3.3 In these circumstances, the expectation is that relevant managers will liaise with each other with a view to finding a mediated resolution and way forward.
3.3.4 The PDG should be informed and will offer a relevant mediator to bring the agencies together and identify a way forward as necessary. It is important to be clear that no-one from the PDG, including the chair can be a case decision-maker. That responsibility sits with the agencies concerned and those who hold the statutory role – it is neither desirable or possible for that to be overturned by anyone outside of a legal process. The mediation is as described – to bring together all concerned, air the issues and seek to arrive at the best way forward (which often, in reality, can be the least worse way forward –if there was an easy and clear solution, agencies would have arrived at it without and mediation).
3.4 The form for raising disagreements is available here. This form should be used when efforts to resolve issues directly between practitioners, their line manager/service has not achieved the child-centred outcome desired or in a timely way. Evidence of efforts to resolve issues and reasons for a formal escalation to be provided to assist PDG in their efforts to support problem resolution.
Stages of resolution
If a professional is unhappy with a decision or a response from any agency following a referral or assessment outcome.
At all stages actions/decisions must be recorded in writing and shared with relevant personnel.
Professional discusses with their manager/named lead for child protection in his or her own agency to clarify their thinking.
Initial attempts should be made to resolve the matter, this would usually be through discussion between the two professionals involved.
If the problem is not resolved at Stage 2 the concerned worker should contact their manager within their own agency, who will contact the equivalent manager in the other agency to discuss and seek to resolve.
If the matter is not resolved at Stage 3, the manager reports to their respective operations manager or named designated safeguarding representative (for MASH, the Area Manager). These two managers must attempt to resolve the issue through discussion.
If the differences cannot be resolved at Stage 4, the designated or named lead from the concerned agency will inform the DCFP by submitting a Case Resolution form in order that the decision can be reviewed, including the possibility of a review panel
Designated lead for Child Protection feeds back to professionals with original concerns.
Arriving at this form of conflict resolution through changing behaviours and culture is the sign of a confident and mature partnership. It is not something we in DCFP can expect to get to immediately or painlessly. The protocol will be reviewed annually and a report on the development of the culture and the detail of conflicts raised and resolved will be tabled with the Partnership Executive Group.
Resolution should be sought within the shortest timescale possible to ensure the child is protected. Disagreements should be resolved at the lowest possible stage, however if a child is thought to be at risk of immediate harm discretion should be used as to which stage is initiated
Please note the stages of resolution also described as escalation of concern outlined in our joint agency procedures.