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 everyone’s business, wanting the very best for children requires us to be ready to stand up for them. To be ready to support and advocate for their wellbeing and safety and challenge others in their assessment as required. Different viewpoints and perspectives are key to protecting children. It is inevitable that this will, at times, lead to a difference of opinion on the levels of concerns and risk and the best course of action.
1.2 This protocol gives guidance on the expectations on resolving differences together early to safeguard children. Where there continues to be concerns for children that are unresolved, this guidance describes how disagreements will be managed within Devon Children and Families Partnership (DCFP). In doing so, it seeks to be more than an escalation procedure – essentially it seeks to set out an approach to resolving differences using a restorative approach, ensuring children’s needs remain at the heart of all we do.
1.3 In nearly all these instances, it will be possible to resolve any differences within the practitioner relationship or through line management arrangements of partner agencies. It will be exceptional that any situation will need to be progressed through a more formal procedure but this process should be used if concerns for children remain unresolved.
2. The protocol
2.1 Proactively exploring different perspectives, insights, assessments and disagreements is part of a restorative partnership culture. Sharing information about children is expected and escalating concerns where children remain unsafe is essential. Different perspectives are key to understanding the full picture of a child’s lived experience. This allows everyone to understand the needs of children and to act in a timely way to support children and their families to meet needs.
2.2 Matters of concern will be successfully escalated, and differences successfully resolved to safeguard children if those involved are willing for that to happen. A restorative approach, that brings compassion and curiosity to our safeguarding children and young people. With a balance people and organisations being skilled, expert, trained and confident and also appreciation that no-one knows everything or holds all the answers, that different perspectives add depth and understanding.
2.3 Organisationally, this means:
- Senior leaders in all partner organisations will need to lead this policy by example and demonstrate and model the behaviours needed for it to be successfully embedded into the local culture
- Professional differences 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 and restorative reflective circles 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:
- Maintaining a child focus but within a think family approach. Ensuring that only the best interest of children drives any escalation
- Concerns have been discussed and reflected with safeguarding leads/managers
- Professional difference is raised within principles of Restorative approach: Relational, Responsible, Resilient, Reflective, Respectful balance and clarity
- Clear evidence must be provided including exploration of professional curiosity.
- Opportunity to reflect and explore any action to understand any personal distress, impact, overidentification, trauma and unconscious motivation that might be impacting on practice.
- Actively listening to children. families and other professionals
- Championing children and young people is at the heart of this protocol, with a drive to improve safety and outcomes, meeting needs early and working together effectively to achieve this.
2.5 Professionals working through different perspectives 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 through line management resolution continues 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 all instances of these forms of escalations are reported up to the PDG.
2.7 The DCFP Practice Development Group (PDG) will therefore have as a standing item at every meeting to ensure there is an overview of areas of dispute and challenge. Understanding the pattern of conflicts and conflict resolutions is an important part of monitoring the gaps and areas of development, gauging the health of the system. Of equal if not greater importance, will be the need to understand low numbers of escalations being reported, as that might indicate a lack of appropriate challenge and grit in partnership work.
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 necessarily 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 scenarios that may require specific consideration by the DCFP. In such cases, the form for raising disagreements is available here.
3.2 Firstly, there may be occasions where the professional and carer network is unable to come to a consensus/decision to resolve a concern for children. In these instances, practitioners and sometimes their agencies may have a high level of concern but a lack of clarity and certainty about how to manage the risk, requiring additional support to resolve differences.
3.3 Secondly, themes may be identified that are placing children at risk of significant harm that require a multi-agency response to protect.
3.3.1 The inability to resolve differences of opinion has been evident in some Reviews, both locally and nationally. Staff, and agencies, can get into 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 expectations on others to respond and move away from a shared responsibility.
3.3.2 It is critical that in these instances practitioners and managers 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. A Restorative Supervision or Group case discussion would help to find the best solution for specific circumstances.
3.3.3 In these circumstances, the expectation is that relevant managers will liaise with each other with a view to find the suitable resolution and way forward through mediation and restorative approach.
3.3.4 Where necessary, the DCFP Practice Development Group (PDG) will be able to offer a restorative facilitator to bring the agencies together and identify a way forward. It is important to be clear that no-one from the PDG, including the chair can be a case decision-maker. That is the shared responsibility of those involved.
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.
Arriving at this form of conflict resolution through changing behaviours into a restorative practice approach and culture is the sign of a confident and mature partnership. 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.
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