The current position

At present a SCR should take place if abuse or neglect is known, or suspected, where a child has died, or has been seriously harmed and there is cause for concern about how organisations or professionals worked together to safeguard that child. It will also be held if a child dies in custody or has died by suspected suicide.

A definition of "serious harm" for the purposes of SCRs was included in Working Together 2015 and is as follows:

Seriously harmed includes, but is not limited to, cases where the child has sustained, as a result of abuse or neglect, any or all of the following:

  • a potentially life-threatening injury;
  • serious and/or likely long-term impairment of physical or mental health or physical, intellectual, emotional, social or behavioural development.

(Working Together to Safeguard Children (2015) Page 76)

At present in England, SCRs are dealt with by Local Safeguarding Children Boards (LSCBs). Working Together included the above definition in response to concerns raised by the National Panel of Independent Experts on Serious Case Reviews. The main concern was that some LSCBs were not always getting it right when it came to the first question as to when to hold a SCR and there was inconsistencyacross LSCBs as to when a SCR would be held.

The NSPCC and Social Care Institute of Excellence (SCIE) worked on a Department of Education backed project from April 2015 to March 2016 to look at ways to improve the quality and use of SCRs, which resulted in a set of quality markers for SCRs on setting up the review, conducting the review and outcomes.1

The Future - Children and Social Work Bill?

In May 2016 the government published a Children and Social Work bill which includes a proposed new approach to the way in which serious incidents are reviewed. There are a number of other proposals in the bill which include provisions for care leavers, adoption and regulation of social workers.

In respect of SCRs, under the proposed legislation a new independent panel would be established "The Child Safeguarding Practice Review Panel". Local authorities will be obliged to notify the Panel of all cases involving the death of, or serious harm to, a child who is either Looked After or where the harm is suspected to have been caused by abuse or neglect. The Panel would then identify serious child safeguarding cases in England which raise issues that are "complex" or of "national importance", and arrange for those cases to be reviewed. The Chair and the Panel will be appointed by the Secretary of State. The Panel will then appoint a reviewer and oversee the review process.

The aim of the Bill, when it was announced at the Queen's Speech in the House of Lords on 19 May 2016, in relation to these measures is to "promote more effective learning at national level from incidences of serious harm".

It is not clear on what basis the Panel will review and identify which cases meet the criteria of "complex" or "of national importance". Those cases which do not meet this criteria will be the subject of local learning reviews.

It remains to be seen whether the changes will improve learning amongst professionals when things have gone wrong, however it appears that professionals (subject to resources and consultation) will welcome changes to the current SCR system, which is clearly due an overhaul.