We can sometimes overcomplicate our approaches to safeguarding and child protection.
We might worry that we don’t have enough knowledge about the subject, or we may be underconfident in engaging in appropriate practices and interventions. I recognise this when working with many early years practitioners, and particularly when delivering training.
Safeguarding and child protection can invite uncertainty over whether we’re following best practice guidelines, or if we’re making things needlessly complex. So in this four-part series, I’d like to present how we can make this practice simpler, and easier to follow in your own setting.
In its simplest form, you can provide effective safeguarding and child protection by considering the following five elements.
Out of all four categories of safeguarding (emotional, physical, sexual abuse and neglect), neglect is most often identified in social care assessments undertaken for children.
Statistically, there has been a year-on-year increase of children experiencing neglect in one form or another. Neglect can stand alone, but it often co-exists alongside factors that involve other categories of abuse.
The Child Safeguarding Practice Review Panel, which evaluates rapid reviews and serious case reviews in England, stated in May 2021 that “neglect was the primary form of serious harm to children”. Its annual report drew upon data from January through December 2020, while recognising the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic in its findings.
In 2018, the DfE defined neglect as follows:
Neglect is the persistent failure to meet a child’s basic physical and/or psychological needs, likely to result in the serious impairment of the child’s health or development. Neglect may occur during pregnancy as a result of maternal substance abuse. Once a child is born, neglect may involve a parent or carer failing to:
Neglect can take many forms. You might identify it by some of the following signs:
There may be lots of reasons as to why a child experiences neglect. And for some children who may be showing initial signs of neglect, it’s critical we identify it early and apply the right interventions.
Understanding the child’s circumstances, seeing the bigger picture, and taking time to talk to parents and carers to ascertain the reason for a concern as it emerges is better than waiting for the problem to escalate.
Early signs of neglect, or triggers of neglect, can present themselves among young children in a number of ways:
Individual practitioners can offer support to children who may be experiencing these early signs of neglect. They may be able to help a parent with children's’ sleep routines, or offer them nutritional advice. They could also sign post a parent to services who specialise in offering tailored support to them and their child.
These early interventions work best when multiple groups or individuals get involved. This includes getting an assessment of children’s needs from more than one expert who knows the child and their family. Once we’ve got this assessment in place, it’s easier to create structures and milestones that help us ensure we’re helping children meet their needs.
Managing safeguarding and child protection concerns for a child experiencing neglect can involve lots of different factors.
The role of ‘lead professional’, when working with early help processes, will require a practitioner to coordinate responses from other agencies alongside of their own. They may present evidence of how the child is being cared for, and how their basic needs are (or are not) met by the child’s parents.
Designated safeguarding leads may be required to take decisive action and make referrals to social care in respect to their concerns about a child. They will also have responsibilities to report and make decisions about the extent to which a child is experiencing neglect, and if it’s necessary to pursue a child protection plan.
Monitoring a child’s wellbeing on an ongoing basis often includes considering their condition when they come into your setting. This helps us determine whether children are cared for and protected at home, and we’re meeting the objectives within our early help or child protection plan.
This may include whether the child is provided with the following:
Neglect isn’t always easy to recognise. Sometimes it can take time to see a clear picture of what is happening. It’s important to understand the impact of neglect on young children, and to consider it from the child’s perspective. This child-centred approach to safeguarding acknowledges the child’s ‘lived experience’.
Neglect is most damaging when it results in a child experiencing significant harm. Harm can occur because of one stand-alone incident that endangers a child, or it can also take shape as a pattern of events that accumulate over time.
Of course, recording and reporting concerns about children is an important safeguarding procedure. Neglect is often best understood as a pattern of concerns that happens over time, so it’s important to record our concerns in chronological order. This gives practitioners a sharper picture of when and how they should respond.
Any member of staff who has knowledge of, or information about a child who is being neglected should always share this with their designated safeguarding lead.
If a child is at risk of significant harm, we should contact statutory services. If you and your team believe a child is in immediate danger, you should contact the police.
When considering child neglect, you should always take time to think through what’s happening in the life of a child. Do not make assumptions — rather, find opportunities to gather as much information as possible about a child’s situation. Refer to the definitions provided by Government guidance to influence your response and subsequent decision making when taking action.
Please note: here at Famly we love sharing creative activities for you to try with the children at your setting, but you know them best. Take the time to consider adaptions you might need to make so these activities are accessible and developmentally appropriate for the children you work with. Just as you ordinarily would, conduct risk assessments for your children and your setting before undertaking new activities, and ensure you and your staff are following your own health and safety guidelines.