People are protected and safeguarded from abuse and neglect, and any other types of harm.
Protecting children from sexual exploitation and abuse
Sadly, within Conwy there are still many children who are being exploited. However, after many years of skilling up the workforce across agencies, we are now able to respond even more effectively. We have used the SERAF risk assessment tool for many years now, however, of late its limitations have become apparent and we are piloting our new methodology. The work that we have done has played a major part in preventing and disrupting the sexual exploitation of Conwy’s children.
Due to the complexity of child sexual exploitation (CSE), we have aligned ourselves with the current research and now assess child exploitation without the initial focus on CSE. This assessment may lead us to conclude different and complex forms of contextualised exploitation. As such we are completing a piece of work exploring the most effective assessment tool to use for these types of cases. We continue to use two existing tools and rely heavily on a multi-agency workforce who are now well skilled in this work.
With regard to child sexual abuse (CSA), the Local Authority and other multi-agency partners have invested in a six-month intensive CSA training course where a mix of practitioners and managers have been trained up as Practice Leads in this area of work. The key outcomes are to improve how we prevent CSA and also how we respond to disclosures of CSA in a consistent way across agencies. We continue to respond robustly to disclosures of CSA however the course has highlighted to us all that there are things that we can do better and differently to align ourselves with the most up to date research.
While sexual abuse remains a low frequency report, we have seen a growing number of reports regarding ‘harmful sexual behaviour’ by children and young people. Again, we have a robust multi-agency response to this issue, and we are successful in ensuring that risks are shared with partners and the families receive the support they require.
What were the challenges?
The Covid-19 restrictions bring significant challenges to all aspects of our work. Our highly effective Exploitation Forum has not been able to meet as it once did. We have not yet brought this online but rely on the relationships forged during past forums to ensure that information is shared in an effective way.
While Conwy were pioneers in piloting a new child exploitation (CE) tool, this was briefly put on hold to enable the whole region of six authorities to join in this pilot. This will bring many benefits, but has also slowed down the pace of progress.
Conwy’s award winning ARMOUR group which supports victims of CSE has not been able to meet as they once did. However, the group facilitators continue to offer online support to young people using the topics covered in the group work.
Furthermore, much of the support for young people at risk of CE has now moved from face to face to phone/Skype. It is far more difficult to engage young people like this and as such its impact is reduced.
• We are working on the best way of holding an online Child Exploitation Forum.
• A regional pilot of a new CE assessment tool will run throughout March 2021.
• Conwy are contributing to a Welsh Government plan to respond to CSA. Social Care, (along with all agencies) are planning to review and improve our responses in all areas, from ensuring younger children are taught about healthy relationships, to improving our investigations into abuse, to ensure that adults who disclose historic childhood abuse are better supported.
Youth Justice Service: Tackling exploitation
Our Education Officer and seconded Police Officer have worked together to compile a face to face and virtual programme to support changes to children and in their involvement in crime and exploitation. The hope is to identify themes and provide a more holistic approach to exploitation, in a wider context.
There were three cases identified via our Police referral system, where all three children were under 11 years of age and were involved with low level anti-social behaviour, with aspirations linked to gang affiliation and gang culture. The Education Officer ensured the work was not a duplication of school liaison officers. The interactive sessions are in the process of being piloted in Llandrillo College and Christ Church School in Denbighshire.
Strengthening our ‘front door’ processes
A number of changes have been made to how we respond to reports made to the front door. We have worked hard to ensure that a response is available which is appropriate to every level of support required.
A worker from our Family Intervention Team (FIT) has been embedded within the Assessment and Support Team. They are well placed to answer calls from families and professionals, hold ‘What Matters’ conversations where appropriate and to conduct short, targeted pieces of work to intervene early and prevent escalation of difficulties.
We have a strong working relationship with all Conwy Family Centres and are able to seamlessly access their support if needs are best met through that service.
If there is a clear need for a short intervention from FIT, we are able to quickly ensure that support is available to families. Equally, if this short intervention requires a more specialist approach then our Strengthening Families Team can provide this.
With the help of a Welsh Government grant we have been able to launch an exciting three-month pilot jointly with North Wales Police (NWP) to respond to lower level instances of domestic abuse, providing quick and targeted support/signposting with the aim of preventing the escalation / repetition of incidents. The pilot consists of a small team of one social worker and one NWP Domestic Abuse Officer. So far in the first month they have been able to respond to and support 17 families and 35 children.
What were the challenges?
Covid-19 restrictions have made this work more challenging. In order to keep staff and the public safe we only visit face to face in the more risky of cases where the need is indicated. So, where in the past a visit would have been conducted to hold a What Matters conversation, this will likely to be done by phone now, meaning crucial observable signs, e.g. body language, home conditions or the presence of an abusive partner are likely to be missed.
Staff who would normally have conducted visits have at times had to shield or isolate, thus affecting how we respond to cases.
We have also had a new IT system, WCCIS, during this time. Its rollout has been challenging and has had a significant impact on the flow of information from other agencies to Social Care and throughout the Social Care department itself.
Reports and referrals to the front door remain very high. The challenges brought by Covid-19 and WCCIS have had a significant impact on how effectively we can respond.
- We look forward to the rollout of the Multi-Agency Safeguarding Hub (more on this in the report).
- We have a contingency in place for when WCCIS does not work, involving emails and phone calls, however this is very work-intensive. We will be working on a more robust contingency plan.
- Review and conclude the domestic abuse pilot and take the findings to senior management to consider what happens next.
Update on safeguarding work
Here we provide an update on the regular safeguarding activities and developments being undertaken.
Position of Trust/section 5 Strategy Meetings
There continues to be an increase in numbers of concerns, with 38 reports to consider between April 2020 and January 2021. This resulted in 24 initial discussions with 22 proceeding to an initial professional strategy meeting.
Due to the increase in referrals, and their level of sensitivity, careful consideration is given at the initial stages to ensure that the concern isn’t one of professional practice, which needs to be dealt with under another process.
Regular vulnerable pupils meetings are being held which are attended by Independent Safeguarding Reviewing Officers to discuss the need for school placements for vulnerable pupils or those children where there may be a risk of placement breakdown. This includes children and young people who are looked after, have a care and support plan or are in receipt of support from the Family Centres.
Children’s Safeguarding Forum
These are held on a bi-monthly basis, facilitated/chaired by the ISROs and attended by all managers in Children’s Services including prevention and fieldwork teams. This forum is to promote and share messages from practice including research, Child Practice reviews and updates on the Wales Safeguarding Procedures 2019.
Joint Agency Safeguarding Meeting
These meetings are held in conjunction with North Wales Police and Health safeguarding managers where we discuss any practice issues and review any situations that require amendments. These could include young people who have been hospitalised due to self-harm.
We have held a multi-agency training day, Connected Persons safeguarding training, and Porth Agoriad, undertaking level 3 social work assessment. 24 professionals attended the multi-agency event, which was delivered online. This presented some challenges and technical difficulties when trying to facilitate smaller group discussions, however the feedback from professionals was extremely positive. Another session is scheduled for later on in the year; we hope to be able to deliver this face to face to enable effective networking throughout the day.
Safeguarding on a corporate level
The focus of the Corporate Safeguarding Board is to promote good practice, delivered in a way that ensures children, young people, and adults at risk are safe from harm and are allowed to fulfil their potential, and live the lives they want to live. This is best achieved by ensuring all parts of the Council understand how to put effective safeguards in place. The Board’s aim is to support the Council to develop a positive, preventative, and proactive approach to safeguarding across the whole Council.
The Corporate Safeguarding Policy was updated in June 2020 to comply with the requirements of Social Services and Wellbeing (Wales) Act 2014 and Wales Safeguarding Procedures 2019.
Both the Corporate Safeguarding Board and the Designated Safeguarding Managers (DSM) meeting, have an operational management group that sits beneath it. The DSM are the responsible operational management leads for safeguarding issues within each department of the Council and successfully deliver on this corporate priority. DSM meetings continue to take place bi-monthly, during the pandemic as well, with a number of agenda items being discussed which include:
- Local, regional, national issues and developments (a consistent theme has been the progress on the Wales Safeguarding Procedures)
- Safeguarding Action Plan
- Departmental updates
Safeguarding Week: November 2020
This year Safeguarding Week took the form of virtual events, focusing on developments such as the Wales Safeguarding Procedures, remaining alert to safeguarding issues during lockdown, and the seven-minute briefings hosted on the North Wales Safeguarding Board website.
The Multi Agency Safeguarding Hub (MASH) Pilot
An exciting opportunity to pilot a children and adults Multi-Agency Safeguarding Hub (MASH) in collaboration with North Wales Police was approved by the Senior Leadership Team and Elected Members. The Hub, which will be co-located in Coed Pella, will combine officers from Children, Family and Safeguarding Service, Integrated Adult and Community Services, Adult Mental Health and North Wales Police to provide a single point for screening and processing for all safeguarding reports across Conwy. The MASH Manager’s role will be jointly funded by NWP and CCBC, an excellent indicator of the commitment to progress with the pilot. We successfully recruited an Adult Safeguarding Social Worker in August 2020, who has subsequently been working in the Adult Safeguarding Team in readiness for the launch of the Hub.
The Hub will support a swift multi-agency response to safeguarding and early intervention by removing delays from the safeguarding pathway. It will provide a secure and confidential environment for professionals to share information. The objective is to improve the standards of safeguarding practices, ultimately leading to safer children and adults in Conwy.
What were the challenges?
The MASH pilot was approved shortly before the Covid-19 pandemic and subsequent lockdown. We have had difficulties recruiting the required staff to the team, and faced a delay in recruiting the Adult Safeguarding Social Worker. We have been unable to recruit the Section Manager to head the Hub, this is despite advertising four times, opening up the role to NWP applicants and offering it as a secondment opportunity. The pilot is for a 12 month period, with fixed-term posts, which may also be a potential issue for some candidates.
We are yet to begin the pilot at this time, and recruitment is ongoing. We look forward to launching the pilot in the coming months.
Childrens’ Residential Assessment Resource: Assembling the Therapeutic team
Since March 2020 we have continued with the recruitment process, and as of October 2020 we have a full team in place, comprising a psychologist, team manager, administrative support, two social workers and two family therapeutic workers.
The team members have all completed their induction and they have had several development meetings to ensure they have the skills needed to deliver the model of care. Staff have completed Outcome Stars, Raid and DBT training; this will enable them to deliver therapeutic support to young people with challenging behaviour and will help the team evidence improved outcomes for families.
They have delivered intensive services for five complex young people; three have remained home and the other two will be returning home when the therapeutic interventions have been completed. They have also started to hold therapeutic consultations with case-holding social workers, upskilling and supporting their work with complex families.
What were the challenges?
The challenge has been creating team culture as this has all been done through Skype meetings.
Delivering intensive support with families in their homes has also been a considerable challenge, however this has been overcome through robust risk assessments.
The model of care was developed with the intention of being delivered within an assessment centre. The team have found that the delivery of therapeutic interventions has been challenging in the home environment during family crisis. On two occasions the team have had to provide support within two unregulated placements.
The team delivers support in Conwy and Denbighshire; the referral process from Denbighshire needs improvement as the team are receiving the referrals too late in the process. The Team Manager will be visiting the Denbighshire teams to describe the model of care and the referral pathway.