First joint inspection of Child Protection Arrangements

Publication: 26/06/23
First joint inspection of Child Protection Arrangements
First joint inspection of Child Protection Arrangements

The inspection published today (26 June 2023), which is the first of its kind to take place in Northern Ireland, considered how police officers, health and social care professionals as well as teachers and education staff were supported in their work.
“This is the first time Criminal Justice Inspection Northern Ireland (CJI), the Regulation and Quality Improvement Authority (RQIA) and the Education and Training Inspectorate (ETI) have worked together on an inspection of this type,” said Jacqui Durkin, Chief Inspector of Criminal Justice in Northern Ireland.
“Each Inspectorate has different legislative powers and working practices, and we were conscious of the pressures on front line services, but we were committed to completing this pilot inspection together.  We took time to carefully plan how we would work together to gather and assess evidence to inform our findings and this joint report,” she explained.
The joint pilot inspection looked at the point of referral response or ‘front door’ when children aged 12 to 17 years were identified as being at risk of harm or in need of protection within the Southern Trust area.
During fieldwork Inspectors visited policing teams, social work and health care teams, including a hospital Emergency Department, and schools and looked at the response provided under the three strands of Promote, Prevent and Protect.
Inspectors also spoke to staff working in each organisation and setting and looked at information and data to identify strengths in the current multi-agency arrangements and opportunities for development that could enhance partnership working and improve outcomes for children.
“The joint inspection team identified that when the threat of harm was acute, there was evidence that risk was identified in a timely way,” said Ms Briege Donaghy, Chief Executive of the RQIA.
“We also found there was a strong culture of promoting the child’s right to be safe among the professionals we talked to,” said Mrs Faustina Graham, Chief Inspector with the ETI.
Evidence of innovative practice was found when schools, social workers and police officers worked collaboratively.  They identified opportunities to support and engage with children and develop a more holistic understanding of concerns about children.
Inspectors were also encouraged by how police and schools worked together under Operation Encompass to support children where there had been reported domestic abuse at home, with one school providing evidence of a well co-ordinated multi-agency response, which ensured children arriving in school received the right help at the right time, before the start of the school day.
“While there is much to be encouraged by, as a result of this joint pilot inspection, especially around the commitment and contribution made by dedicated individual staff in the context of significant resource pressures, the Inspection Team have identified a number of areas for development,” said Mrs Graham.
More opportunities are needed for police officers, health and social care staff and teaching and other education staff working in child protection roles to undertake multi-disciplinary training to enable them to learn and develop skills together.
“This would enhance understanding and clarity about each other’s roles and develop clearer expectations and knowledge of the systems and processes in place so justice, health and social care and education can effectively work together to progress referrals, safeguarding and protection issues,” said Ms Donaghy.
“We would also encourage the inspected organisations and professionals working in this area to consider how they could work better together to improve the response to children and better evidence the voice of the child in the assessment and planning undertaken on what should happen to each child,” said Ms Durkin.
In conclusion, the heads of the three Inspection bodies said they encouraged other health and social care trust areas, police districts and education settings to consider and use the findings of and recommendations from the pilot inspection, to improve how children are protected elsewhere in Northern Ireland.
“We have asked the Police Service of Northern Ireland, Education Authority and the Southern Trust to develop a multi-agency action plan for implementation to enhance their partnership approach to protecting children.
“We also hope the findings and learning from this joint pilot inspection of child protection arrangements will help the Departments of Health, Justice and Education develop a framework for child protection inspection in Northern Ireland,” concluded Ms Durkin, Ms Donaghy and Mrs. Graham.