This chapter was refreshed in July 2022.
Effective safeguarding systems must be child centred. Problems can arise in safeguarding systems when practitioners in agencies lose sight of the needs and views of the children within them, or place the interests of adults ahead of the needs of children. Everyone working with children and families must seek the voice of the child and reflect and respond to it in all aspects of work. This is rooted in legislation and good practice.
2. The Legislation
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. A child-centred approach is supported by:
- The Children Act 1989 (as amended by Section 53 of the Children Act 2004). This Act requires local authorities to give due regard to a child's wishes when determining what services to provide under Section 17 of the Children Act 1989, and before making decisions about action to be taken to protect individual children under Section 47 of the Children Act 1989. These duties complement requirements relating to the wishes and feelings of children who are, or may be, looked after (Section 22 (4) Children Act 1989), including those who are provided with accommodation under Section 20 of the Children Act 1989 and children taken into police protection (Section 46(3) (d) of that Act);
- The Equality Act 2010 which 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, recognises children's rights to expression and receiving information.
3. Children and Young People's Views
Children have said that they need:
- Vigilance: to have adults notice when things are troubling them;
- Understanding and action: to understand what is happening; to be heard and understood; and to have that understanding acted upon;
- Stability: to be able to develop an on-going stable relationship of trust with those helping them;
- Respect: to be treated with the expectation that they are competent rather than not;
- Information and engagement: to be informed about and involved in procedures, decisions, concerns and plans please note children who are 14 years old onwards who feel particularly that they are old enough to be fully involved;
- Explanation: to be informed of the outcome of assessments and decisions and reasons when their views have not met with a positive response;
- Support: to be provided with support in their own right as well as a member of their family;
- Advocacy: to be provided with advocacy to assist them in putting forward their views.
Effective on going action to keep the child in focus includes:
- 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 the current situation, as seen by practitioners, and future possible actions and interventions;
- Involving the child in key decision-making processes in a way that is meaningful and accessible to them;
- Providing appropriate information to the child about his or her right to protection and assistance;
- Inviting children to make recommendations about the services and assistance they need and/or are available to them;
- 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;
- MOMO (Mind of my own).
Talking with Children and Young People:
Even initial 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 practitioners. 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:
- Explain your own role, to give a variety of ways child can have their voice heard – writing, questionnaire, drawing, making a audio file, doing a collage and so on to listen openly and to seek the views/voice of the child without advising or judging;
- Remember 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;
- Avoid professional jargon and be clear about facts and opinion;
- Allow time for the child to ask questions;
- Be clear about next steps;
- Follow up and feedback in good time – even if nothing has happened, explain why nothing has happened.
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 or staff. 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.
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 the Office for Health Improvement and Disparities (formerly 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. OSCB locally should use this assessment to help them understand the prevalence of abuse and neglect in their area, which in turn will help shape services.