To be effective, safeguarding systems must be child centred. Problems can arise in safeguarding systems when practitioners do not focus on the needs and views of each individual child or place the interests of adults ahead of the needs of their children. Everyone working with children and families must seek to ascertain the views, wishes and feelings of each child and reflect and respond to them in all aspects of their work. This is rooted in both legislation and good practice.
Research tells us that children want to be respected, to have their views heard, to have stable relationships with practitioners built on trust and to have consistent support provided for their individual needs. This should guide the behaviour of practitioners. Anyone working with children should see and speak to the child; listen to what they say; take their views seriously; and work with them collaboratively when deciding how to support their needs.
2. The Legislation
A child-centred approach is supported by:
- The Children Act 1989 (as amended by Section 53 of the Children Act 2004). The 1989 Act emphasises that the needs of the individual child are the paramount consideration and requires local authorities to give due regard to a child’s wishes when determining what services to provide under Section 17 and before making decisions about action to be taken to protect individual children under Section 47. These duties complement requirements relating to the wishes and feelings of children who are, or may become, looked after (Section 22 (4)), including those who are provided with accommodation under Section 20 and children taken into police protection (Section 46(3) (d));
- The Equality Act 2010. This puts a responsibility on public authorities to have due regard to the need to eliminate discrimination and promote equality of opportunity. This applies to the process of identification of need and risk faced by the individual child and the process of assessment. No child or group of children must be treated any less favourably than others in being able to access effective services which meet their particular needs; and
- The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC). This is an international agreement that protects the rights of children and provides a child-centred framework for the development of services to children. The UK Government ratified the UNCRC in 1991 and, by doing so, recognised children’s rights to expression and receiving information.
3. Children and Young People’s Views
Children have said that they need:
- To have adults notice when things are troubling them;
- To understand what is happening; to be heard and understood; and to have that understanding acted upon;
- To be able to develop an on-going stable relationship of trust with those helping them;
- To be treated with the expectation that they are competent rather than not;
- To be informed about and involved in procedures, decisions, concerns and plans;
- To be informed of the outcome of assessments and decisions and reasons when their views have not met with a positive response;
- To be provided with support in their own right as well as a member of their family;
- To be provided with advocacy to assist them in putting forward their views;
- To have confidence that professionals will be supportive, listen and act.
Effective ongoing action to keep the child in focus includes:
- Talking to children, alone where appropriate, to the context of work, to understand their views, wishes and feelings;
- Listening to the child’s wishes and feelings – about their situation now as well as plans and hopes for the future;
- Providing children with honest and accurate information about their current situation, as seen by practitioners, and future possible actions and interventions;
- Involving the child in key decision-making processes;
- Providing appropriate information to the child about his or her right to protection and assistance, including recourse to the law where appropriate;
- Inviting children to make recommendations about the services and assistance they need and/or are available to them; (Not sure if this is about service design, in which case it should perhaps refer to engagement or co-design rather than ‘inviting to make recommendations’;
- Ensuring children have access to independent advice and support (for example, through advocates or children’s rights officers) to be able to express their views and influence decision-making;
- Considering with them issues arising in relation to identity, diversity, culture, faith, sexual orientation, language, disability, low confidence and trust and helping them.
Talking with Children and Young People:
All discussions with children should be conducted in a way that minimises any distress to them and maximises the likelihood that they will feel enabled and supported in sharing their own information with the practitioner. It may have taken a lot for the child to open up, particularly for the first time, and it is important that things are taken at their own pace. Children may need time and more than one opportunity in order to develop sufficient trust to communicate any concerns they may have, especially if they have a communication impairment, learning disabilities, are very young or are experiencing mental health problems.
Practitioners are encouraged to:
- Consider explaining to parents and carers in advance and seek consent where necessary;
- Consult with other practitioners working with the child to ensure that confusing messages are avoided and the child is not asked to repeat their information unnecessarily;
- Explain your own role, to listen openly and to seek the views/voice of the child without advising or judging;
- Avoid professional jargon and be clear differentiating facts and opinion;
- Allow time for the child to ask questions;
- Be clear about next steps, ensuring the child has a clear understanding / expectation of what will happen next.
There are some guides and leaflets to give to parents and young people to assist with explanations and participation. It can be helpful to provide written material to take away and consider and then offer another opportunity to talk again later.
The professional requirement to keep records should be explained and the child should be supported to make comments too. This should be embedded in practice and in records and they should be updated regularly, particularly when circumstances change for the child or there is a change of plan. All records should be clear, separating fact, opinion and professional judgement so that when a child becomes an adult and requests access to their records they should be able to understand how decisions were made about the services provided to them and they should be able to see any recording of their own contributions in whatever format.
The voice of the child should be recorded within documents and exemplars in the electronic records. They can also be attached or scanned into records where the child has written their own views or tools have been used which are handwritten or completed by the child.
It is important to be clear that the child can be supported now, as well as in the future, to access their own file and review their content. This can be helpful in helping children understand how certain decisions were made but also in showing that their contribution has been included in the record.
In addition to individual practitioners shaping support around the needs of individual children, local agencies need to have a clear understanding of the collective needs of children locally when commissioning effective services. As part of that process, the Director of Public Health England should ensure that the needs of vulnerable children are a key part of the Joint Strategic Needs Assessment that is developed by the Health and Well-being board. The LSCB should use this assessment to help them understand the prevalence of abuse and neglect in their area, which in turn will help shape services.
More broadly that this, there should be an expectation that children, young people and families contribute to the design and development of services.
That affect them. It is important to be clear from the outset the level of influences (from consultation through to co-production) that participants are being offered.