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Pressure and political interference threaten safeguarding boards

A combination of “unrealistic expectations and “political interference” are changing the nature of Local Safeguarding Children Boards (LSCBs), a new report has warned.

The Local Government Association (LGA) commissioned a study, taking in the views of board chairs and partner agencies, which found that the original purpose of the boards to coordinate local safeguarding work and ensure the effectiveness of local activity to keep children safe, has become confused by increasing expectations that are not matched by greater power or resources.

Some respondents believed that LSCBs were changing from an ‘enabling organisation’ that challenged all agencies to work together and gain an understanding of the local issues, to an auditing and ‘quasi-inspectorial body’; they feared this would lead to being distrusted rather than trusted.

“There were also fears that unrealistic expectations, alongside ‘political interference’, were changing the nature of both LSCBs and the role of the chair,” the report said.

The report also highlighted the pressure on LSCB resources. It said that uncertainty in terms of funding, partner contributions and staffing capacity was “seen to be having an impact on effectiveness”.

It found that funding was not always shared equitably by all partners, and a disproportionate burden was often placed on councils as a result.

It said: “In just under a third of boards (32%) funding arrangements were not working well…the study suggests this usually resulted in the local authority meeting the shortfall.”

The majority of those interviewed said they would be in favour of a “broader safeguarding response”, but that they did not believe it would be possible without significantly more resources.

The study was also critical of Ofsted, referring to it as a “dysfunctional regime”. The report suggests that inspections had the unintended consequence of distracting from core functions, and that they are “changing the nature of LSCBs and making the task of boards extremely difficult”.

These comments are despite the survey findings, in which 40% of chairs ‘agreed’ or ‘strongly agreed’ with the statement: “The current Ofsted inspection framework of LSCBs is helpful in driving up performance and increasing the profile of LSCB activity.”

Serious case reviews were also criticised for being too bureaucratic, increasingly expensive and requiring disproportionate resources compared to their usefulness in improving practice. The report calls for a new approach.

Dr David N Jones, chair of the Association of Independent LSCB Chairs, said: "A clear and focused mandate and sufficient resources to do the job are essential if local safeguarding children boards are to continue making a valuable contribution to ensuring the safety of children and young people across England.

"This extensive review provides a helpful overview of the current position of LSCBs and the challenges in safeguarding children arrangements across England. We recognise the picture revealed in the survey and call on all with responsibility for safeguarding children and young people to receive and respond to the key messages.

"Independent chairs recognise that, in times of reduced budgets across the public sector, the priority must be to protect frontline services. It is easy to overlook the importance of 'back office' functions like LSCBs. However, if LSCBs are to continue to support improvements in the delivery of child protection and safeguarding practice, they must be resourced to do the job and to build and sustain the confidence of local people in the reliability of safeguarding children services."

In a joint statement, the LGA, the Association of Directors of Children's Services (ADCS) and the Society of Local Authority Chief Executives and Senior Managers (Solace) added that LSCBs are under pressure to take a greater workload but that clarity is needed around the expectations on them and their accountability.

It continued: "With councils often paying the vast majority of LSCB costs despite clear government guidance that partners should contribute fairly, it is clear that society and the government's expectations of LSCBs will remain hard to fulfil."

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