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IICSA published its final Report in October 2022. This website was last updated in January 2023.

IICSA Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse

The Report of the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse

Final report

C.2: The current system for safeguarding and child protection

6. At the outset, it is important to distinguish child protection from safeguarding children. The latter covers a much broader range of activity and extends beyond protection of the individual child to the wider responsibilities across society to ensure that children are safe. Both are important and sometimes overlap.

6.1. Safeguarding is used to describe measures to protect the health, well-being and rights of people to live free from abuse, harm and neglect, particularly children, young people and vulnerable adults. In social work practice it generally refers to all of the actions, support and services that promote the welfare of children and protect them from harm. At its broadest, it means enabling all children and young people to have the best possible outcomes, for example in terms of their mental and physical health, education and family lives.[1]

6.2. Child protection is part of the safeguarding process. It focusses on protecting individual children identified as suffering, or at risk of, significant harm. Child protection procedures set out how to respond to concerns about a child and should follow government guidance. Child protection policy and practice guidance anticipate the abuse and harm that individual children might experience.[2]

7. Although the statutory agencies have well-rehearsed responsibilities, other institutions do not. During its work, the Inquiry examined the statutory and regulatory frameworks that apply in respect of religious organisations and settings, educational settings, custodial institutions, children in the care of local authorities, political parties and institutions, and current proposals for regulation of the internet.[3] The Inquiry also considered analyses of similar issues conducted by others, including Clive Sheldon KC’s 2021 review of the Football Association and Dame Janet Smith’s 2016 review of historic practices at the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC).[4]

8. In England, individuals working with children are expected to comply with the key statutory guidance for child protection, Working Together to Safeguard Children.[5] This guidance – updated most recently in 2018 – provides that every individual who works with children has a responsibility for keeping them safe, and every individual who comes into contact with children and families has a role to play in sharing information and identifying concerns. It emphasises the importance of early help to promote the welfare of children. Local agencies must identify, assess and provide help for children and families who would benefit from interventions.

9. In Wales, the key guidance is Working Together to Safeguard People and is based on the requirements set out in the Social Services and Well-being (Wales) Act 2014, supported by the Wales Safeguarding Procedures.[6] It is primarily for practitioners working with children, including those working in early years, social care, education, health, the police, youth offending and youth, community and family support services (including the third sector) and foster care and residential care. Taken together, this framework sets out detailed practice guidance and sets expectations about how individuals and organisations should work together to safeguard children.

10. The legal and policy requirements for child protection and safeguarding are often complex. This complexity can lead to assumptions that every aspect of child protection and safeguarding is covered by existing frameworks. That is not the case.

Scrutiny and inspection

11. Scrutiny and inspection arrangements in respect of child protection and safeguarding are important features of the current system. Whether, how and by whom an institution is inspected depends on its activities. A number of organisations play an important role in the oversight of child protection and regulation.

11.1. In England, education, children’s social care and early years are broadly overseen by the Department for Education, which also sponsors the Office for Standards in Education, Children’s Services and Skills (Ofsted) in England as well as the Independent Schools Inspectorate. In Wales, Estyn inspects education and training.

11.2. The Charity Commission is responsible for registering charities in England and Wales, including many religious and voluntary organisations and settings. Each charity is responsible for ensuring that “the charity has proper systems in place to mitigate the risk of child sexual abuse and deal with it properly if a report is made to them of such abuse”.[7] Although serious child protection issues are matters of concern to the Charity Commission, it is not able to act as a routine inspector of child protection systems in respect of the many thousands of registered charities in England and Wales.

11.3. In the criminal justice system, child protection and safeguarding practice within the police, youth custody and probation are respectively inspected by His Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire & Rescue Services (HMICFRS), His Majesty’s Inspectorate of Prisons and His Majesty’s Inspectorate of Probation.

11.4. The Care Quality Commission (CQC) and the Healthcare Inspectorate regulate children’s (and adult) health services in England and in Wales, respectively. Both organisations have wide-ranging responsibilities and powers of inspection. In England, the CQC participates in joint inspections of child protection arrangements with Ofsted, HMICFRS, HM Inspectorate of Probation and, where relevant, HM Inspectorate of Prisons. In Wales, the Healthcare Inspectorate works with Estyn, Care Inspectorate Wales and Audit Wales.

11.5. The Children’s Commissioners for England and in Wales were both established by statute. The aim of the Welsh Children’s Commissioner is to “safeguard and promote the rights” of children in Wales.[8] In England, the Children’s Commissioner’s “primary function is promoting and protecting the rights of children in England”.[9] Both Commissioners have wide responsibilities and powers, including ensuring that children’s views and interests are taken into account by public bodies.

11.6. There are additional workforce regulators, such as Social Care England, the General Medical Council and the Teaching Regulation Agency. These organisations are responsible for regulating the practice of individual practitioners. In the most serious circumstances, the regulator has a disciplinary function which may prevent a member of a particular profession from practising if their conduct merits such a sanction.

12. Inspectorates may join together to conduct joint inspections of various sectors.[10] In England, joint targeted area inspections bring together several inspectorates, led by Ofsted, to conduct thematic inspections of multi-agency child protection arrangements.[11] In Wales, a similar role is undertaken by the Joint Inspectorate Review of Child Protection Arrangements.[12]

13. Statutory inspection activity does not always identify poor practice, particularly when conducting inspections that necessarily cover a wide range of topics. Some institutions such as supplementary schools or out of school settings receive little, if any, independent assessment of their child protection practices. There is no power to compel them to have child protection policies and no power for existing inspectorates to inspect the quality of the services provided.[13] For example, the Inquiry’s Child Protection in Religious Organisations and Settings Investigation Report noted Ofsted’s “serious concerns” about its inability to inspect and evaluate out-of-school settings and unregistered schools.[14] Greater powers for Ofsted, including to take action in relation to unregistered schools, were proposed in new legislation announced by the UK government in May 2022.[15]

14. There is also a duty to conduct serious case reviews, where appropriate, and identify learning. In England, safeguarding partnerships report to the Child Safeguarding Practice Review Panel, which is responsible for identifying and overseeing serious child safeguarding cases that, in its view, raise issues which are complex or of national importance.[16] In Wales, regional safeguarding boards perform a similar function with support and advice from the National Independent Safeguarding Board, which also reports on the adequacy of safeguarding arrangements and makes representations to Welsh ministers about improvements.[17] Safeguarding partnerships have an important role to play in bringing the statutory agencies together to work on all aspects of safeguarding strategy in local areas.

15. Inspections, serious case reviews and other regulatory activities are not a substitute for an institution’s responsibility for its own quality assurance of its safeguarding and child protection. This could include internal and external audits and reviews of child protection practice.

Multi-agency working

16. As children and families often access a range of services, statutory agencies (particularly local authorities, the police and the healthcare sector) must work together to understand fully a child’s circumstances and to coordinate their interventions and support. This multi-agency work is coordinated and overseen by safeguarding partnerships in England and safeguarding boards in Wales. Specified statutory agencies must be represented in these arrangements; in Wales this also includes probation services. Other organisations, such as schools and youth services, must be involved in safeguarding arrangements if required by the statutory agencies.[18]

17. When child protection concerns arise, the relevant local authority has a statutory duty to make enquiries and decide whether to take any action to safeguard or promote the child’s welfare.[19] If a child is in immediate danger, the local authority may seek emergency protective orders from the family courts, and the police have the power to remove the child to a place of safety for a limited period of time. Where there is no risk of immediate harm to a child, there is likely to be an assessment of the child’s needs and protective steps may be taken. The local authority is required to work with the child’s family and professionals to ascertain what steps are in the child’s best interests. Early intervention and protection in children’s social care must be undertaken in tandem with improved child protection practice so that, if a threshold of significant harm is crossed, the local authority may invite a court to make a care order or a supervision order.

18. The police are responsible for investigating allegations amounting to criminal offences of child sexual abuse, although joint investigations with local children’s services are encouraged, in order to bring a multidisciplinary approach to the investigation process. If there is sufficient evidence and it is in the public interest to proceed, the Crown Prosecution Service will authorise a prosecution.

19. The effectiveness of multi-agency working is the critical element of child protection and safeguarding practice. This is the cornerstone of the system and, although there have been changes to organisational structures over the years, the basic concept of good multi-agency working has remained a consistent feature. Despite successive policy initiatives to work better together, the statutory agencies have not always collaborated efficiently or effectively.[20] On occasions, this has been marked by an absence of collective leadership by statutory agencies.


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