Terms of Reference published for joint pilot inspection of child protection arrangements

CJI working in partnership with Inspectors from the Education and Training Inspectorate (ETI) and the Regulation and Quality Improvement Authority (RQIA) have today published terms of reference for a pilot joint inspection of child protection arrangements in Northern Ireland.
The thematic inspection will look across the fields of justice, health, social care and education with a focus on the multi-agency response applied to child protection.

"This is the first pilot joint inspection looking at child protection involving our three Inspectorates to be undertaken in Northern Ireland," said Jacqui Durkin, Chief Inspector of Criminal Justice in Northern Ireland.

"We welcome the commitment and involvement of our Inspection partners from the RQIA and ETI as we commence this work.  We look forward to working closely with them with a view to increasing understanding of how effectively children are being protected in practice," said the Chief Inspector.

The pilot will be undertaken in one Health and Social Care Trust area with a focus on practice in relation to children aged 12 to 17 years.

Terms of reference have been provided to each of the organisations involved in the inspection pilot and are available below.  If you would like to find out more, please contact CJI by email at [email protected].

Joint Inspection of Child Protection Arrangements:
A Pilot
Terms of Reference
With a focus on the child’s journey, joint inspection of child protection arrangements aims to increase a shared understanding of the opportunities and areas for development in safeguarding and protecting children at risk of harm.  The child’s interaction with the various safeguarding and child protection responses is considered, rather than the performance of any one sector or agency.  The approach is in keeping with the aim of the Children’s Service Co-operation Act (Northern Ireland) 2015 to improve co-operation among Departments and authorities in advancing the welfare of children, and the overarching Department of Health policy framework Co-operating to Safeguard Children in Northern Ireland 2017. 
The Criminal Justice Inspection Northern Ireland (CJI), the Education and Training Inspectorate (ETI) and the Regulation and Quality Improvement Authority (RQIA), (the Inspection team), consider that working together in the area of child protection is important to enhance understanding of the opportunities and areas for development in safeguarding and protecting children at risk of harm.  
CJI’s 2020 report on the criminal justice system response to child sexual exploitation in Northern Ireland (NI) included a call for a joint child protection inspection framework in NI.[i]  The Child Protection Senior Officials Group (CPSOG), which includes the Department of Health (DoH), the Department of Justice (DoJ) and the Department of Education (DE), is taking forward development of such a framework.   At the same time, the Inspection team has been scoping opportunities to undertake an initial pilot of a joint child protection inspection, including with expertise from Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire & Rescue Services (HMICFRS).  The inspection team will liaise with the CPSOG so that the development of a broader framework for joint inspection of child protection arrangements in Northern Ireland is informed by learning from the pilot
Inspection of multi-agency arrangements for child protection exist elsewhere in the United Kingdom.  In England, the Office for Standards in Education, Children’s Services and Skills (OFSTED), the Care Quality Commission, (CQC), HMICFRS, and Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Probation, (HMI Probation), conduct joint inspections of the arrangements and services for children in need of protection.[ii] Joint inspection of child protection arrangements has also just recently been piloted in Wales with a focus on child exploitation.[iii]
The purpose of a pilot is to increase the Inspectorates’, policy makers’ and inspected organisations’ understanding of how effectively children are being protected in practice.  Central to this is to learn how the Inspection team can work together to good effect, using their respective functions as they apply in the context of child protection, to inform the development of a broader Northern Ireland (NI) framework for joint inspection of child protection arrangements. 
It is proposed that criteria for the pilot in NI will be adapted from the frameworks for joint inspection of child protection that have been used in England, and informed by the ways in which this approach has been piloted in Wales.[iv]  This method will focus on what is termed the ‘front door’, that is, the referral point for child safeguarding issues or concerns.  In Northern Ireland, this will include but is not limited to Social Services Gateway or the PSNI Central Referral Unit. 
Aims of the Pilot
The broad aims of the pilot joint inspection are to:
  • Learn how the Inspectorates can work together in to examine the response to children in need of safeguarding and protection in NI by:
    • Examining the multi-agency arrangements for assessing need and risk of harm to children at the point of referral (including through a deep investigation into the experiences of a small number of these children);
    • Evaluating the leadership and management of this multi-agency work;
    • Evaluating the effectiveness of safeguarding arrangements in relation to this multi-agency work;
    • Focusing on the child’s journey and outcomes for the child;
    • Understanding how multi-agency arrangements support frontline staff to undertake this work.
  • To learn lessons about how effectively the Inspectorates can work together in order to inform a broader framework for joint inspection of child protection arrangements in NI.
Any other matters arising during the pilot if considered appropriate by the Inspectorates may be included.  As the inspection progresses, Inspectors may also determine it necessary to focus on a specific aspect of the terms of reference while always adopting a risk-based approach, including the implications of public health advice for conducting fieldwork, in making this decision.
Adapting the approach to the legislative, policy and practice for child safeguarding in NI, the pilot will develop and test out elements of the joint inspection methodology adopted for Joint Targeted Area Inspection in England, and the approach to joint inspection of child protection arrangements piloted in Wales.   Inspectorates will focus on the ‘front door’ criteria relating to the multi-agency identification of initial need and risk, which will be tailored for use within NI.[v]
The Inspectorates’ approach will be informed by international standards, local policy in relation to child safeguarding, and applicable strategy and advice.  These include the DoH Co-operating to Safeguard Children and Young People 2017, and the NI Executive Children and Young Person’s Strategy 2020-2030. Inspectorates will also be cognisant of ongoing reviews relating to children’s social care and to the context of the Covid-19 pandemic.      
In order to maximise the learning from working in partnership it is proposed to test the approach just within one Health and Social Care Trust area for this pilot.
The main organisations included as part of the pilot include:
  • The Police Service of Northern Ireland
  • Social Services and appropriate health services within the relevant Health and Social Care Trust
  • Relevant educational establishments (attended by the children whose journeys are being considered).
The Youth Justice Agency and the Probation Board for Northern Ireland may also be considered.
Design and Planning
The Inspection team recognises that the Covid-19 pandemic has impacted on the operational delivery of inspected agencies and will take this into account when planning for and conducting fieldwork for the inspection.
Preliminary research has been undertaken including a review of relevant documentation, such as previous inspection reports and other reports publicly available, NI children’s services statistics, relevant international and domestic standards and policy, and other applicable documentation including  related to joint inspection of child protection methodologies in England and Wales.
The Inspection team members, with input from HMICFRS, have also worked together in scoping and training for undertaking the pilot.  Engagement with the CPSOG and associated subgroup has also taken place.

There will be a multi-method approach to the pilot outlined within guidance for the inspection.  This will include:
  • Terms of Reference will be prepared and shared with the multi-agency partners forming part of the pilot inspection.
  • If practicable, a Single Point of Contact (SPOC) will be sought for the multi-agency partners; liaison officers for each individual agency should be nominated for the purposes of the inspection.
  • Management information, data and other relevant documentation held by the multi-agency partners will be requested and examined. 
  • Interviews and focus groups will be conducted with stakeholders, multi-agency partners and staff working to safeguard children, to give an insight into the issues affecting child protection work.
  • An examination of the multi-agency response at the point of referral.
  • An examination of the safeguarding response for five to seven children where there has been referral for an assessment of initial need or risk.
  • The multi-agency partners and Inspected agencies will be given the opportunity to complete a self-assessment of their safeguarding approach, including for the five to seven children’s experiences.
  • Observation of multi-agency meetings to safeguard these children.
  • Fieldwork requiring face-to-face contact, case reviews and observations will be planned and risk assessed in consultation with relevant organisations or individuals and public health advice such as social distancing will be followed. 
Following completion of the fieldwork, analysis of data, and initial feedback on emerging findings to the multi-agency partners, a draft report will be completed jointly by CJI, the ETI and the RQIA.  The draft will be shared with multi-agency partners for factual accuracy check.  The multi-agency partners and the inspected agencies as appropriate will also be invited to complete an action plan to address any areas for improvement or development.  The inspection report will be shared, under embargo, in advance of the publication date with the multi-agency partners
Publication and Closure

It is planned for focus groups with stakeholders to take place before and during summer 2022 and onsite fieldwork with the inspected agencies to take place in autumn 2022.  A draft report will be finalised by each of the Inspectorates and issued for approval by the Ministers of Justice, Education, and Health.  Publication is intended for April 2023. 
Following publication, the Inspection team will review lessons learned from the pilot, including the views of inspected organisations, to develop further the approach for the future.
[i] CJI, Child Sexual Exploitation in Northern Ireland: An inspection of the criminal justice system’s response, June 2020.  Available online at: http://cjini.org/TheInspections/Inspection-Reports/2020/April-June/Child-Sexual-Exploitation-in-Northern-Ireland.
[ii] Joint inspections of arrangements and services for children in need of protection in England has included an established methodology, as well as a more recent frameworks published in March 2022 (available online at: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/joint-inspections-of-arrangements-and-services-for-children-in-need-of-help-and-protection).
[iv] As above.