CareKnowledge kennedyeditor Jim Kennedy highlights the importance of the DfE's new safeguarding document:

The key news for this week – and any week, really – is the publication of the final revised version of Working Together.

In the reactions I’ve seen to the new guidance, I’m surprised by only one thing, and that is the lack of comment on how close its release comes to its implementation date (15th April 2013).

Whilst I accept that the final version of the guidance is largely based on the draft material that was circulated last year (Consultation on Revised Safeguarding Statutory Guidance), it seems pretty short notice for material of this importance.

After all, as the introductory information on the new guidance notes, it is intended to clarify the core legal requirements on individuals and organisations to keep children safe, as well as setting out the obligations that fall on all relevant services. It also emphasises that safeguarding is the responsibility of every professional who works with children.

All pretty central to on-going practice. Having a little longer to digest its nuances and prepare for its local implications might have seemed a worthwhile objective – but perhaps that just me.

And, of course, the whole tenet of the new document is that it is a shortened, simplified version of what went before, designed to free up social workers and other professionals by giving them clarity about core requirements whilst reducing bureaucracy and enabling them to take control of their own practice. That being the case, the argument may be that the new guidance requires a lot less planned implementation.

But I remain concerned that, at least for social work, the new guidance leaves open a series of questions about the need for supportive material to aid the professional discretion for which it aims.

Perhaps localities have been using the time since the publication of the consultation version of the guidance to consider this potential gap; and if they have concluded that more supportive material would be helpful – have been working on that, in the interim.

One important qualification to this line of argument, of course, is that the guidance does provide in its annexe C, a very full list of supplementary guidance on what it calls particular safeguarding issues. This is a valuable and extensive reference list, but one which reminds us that following Working Together, is not the only thing that professionals and agencies will have to focus on.

And, arguably, the guidance covered by the list is also at one remove from detailed and supportive practice material, designed to aid staff in their everyday work.

A good example of the kind of thing I have in mind – produced as an aid to professional practice, not as a set of requirements – is the recent National Risk Framework to Support the Assessment of Children and Young People, published in Scotland. I wonder if this is the kind of material needed to support, rather than threaten professional competence.

Whilst I’m on this part of the safeguarding agenda, I have to say that my concerns about potential gaps in supporting front-line safeguarding practice are heightened by the previous dismantling of some of the national structures that were in place to underpin and promote such practice. Those structures may or may not have had a positive impact, but their absence arguably leaves a significant gap in leadership in this crucial area.

All that said, I think the key features in the new guidance, are fairly well highlighted in DFE’s descriptive piece:

• The guidance replaces Working Together to Safeguard Children (2010); The Framework for the Assessment of Children in Need and their Families (2000); and statutory guidance on making arrangements to safeguard and promote the welfare of children under section 11 of the Children Act 2004 (2007)
• It dramatically reduces the length of previous overall material on safeguarding, from something like 700 pages, to 97
• Instead of 3 separate documents (in the consultation) the revised guidance brings together the general material on working together, the specific requirements for the framework for assessment, and the approach to learning from serious case reviews
• The guidance removes the requirement to have a separate ‘initial’ and ‘core’ assessment of children in need
• And does away with the related 10 working-day timescale for completion of the initial assessment
• However, the guidance retains the 45 working days for an assessment to conclude and reach a decision on next steps
• The Government is also establishing a new national panel of independent experts in order to ensure that lessons are learned from serious case reviews
• The panel will provide advice to local safeguarding children boards (LSCBs) about the application of SCR criteria and the requirement to publish reports. The Working Together guidance makes clear that LSCBs should have regard to the panel’s advice when making decision about SCRs.

So, an important day for the future of safeguarding practice, but with much still remaining to be seen about how that practice will develop, particularly as it is progressively affected by of the overall social work improvement agenda…