Risk role crucial to children’s services

Wayne Rigby, board director of risk management association Alarm, discusses the unique value of local authority risk practitioners in supporting and managing children’s services risk, complaints and claims

Children’s safeguarding is a weighty responsibility for local authorities and the resulting risks understandably may keep senior officers, chief executives and elected members awake at night. Alongside today’s duty to promote the welfare of children and safeguard from harm, local authorities are receiving a growing number of enquiries and claims for compensation into historical sexual abuse. Many of these come through formal investigations and can be complex, complicated by the fact that some date back as far as the 1950s.

The public revelations in 2011/12 of Jimmy Saville’s criminal behaviour were a watershed moment for our society. Outcomes from the resulting Operation Yewtree investigation have prompted survivors of child sexual abuse to seek recourse in the knowledge they will be believed. Adult survivors of past sexual abuse are now accessing local authority support in dealing with their experiences. Importantly, they are having their experiences heard and acted upon.

The number of complaints made to the local authority of historical sexual abuse and resulting claims for compensation has burgeoned in recent years and looks set to increase further. Local authorities that have only experienced a few cases will inevitably see more, with some already having full-time specialist teams to support survivors and process cases.

Those working in local authorities and other organisations with the professional responsibility to manage, co-ordinate and investigate survivors’ experiences and enquiries, are breaking new ground. They are learning, improving and sharing newly acquired knowledge.

The risk manager role
Alarm is the risk management association for professionals who manage risk and insurance in organisations serving public services and communities. Alarm’s research into managing risk in children’s services has shown that pivotal to good quality handling of claims, investigations and management of resulting risks, is having the risk manager at the heart of all processes.

Local authority risk advisors are in a unique position to bridge knowledge gaps and provide expertise and support. Risk teams add value to every part of the process, working at a cross-departmental level with all stakeholders. In their professional capacity their remit includes: legal and insurance expertise; claims management; operational and strategic risk management; business continuity; as well as providing that independent challenge to decision making.

Jane O’Leary, vice chairman and Alarm’s lead on children’s services risk, says: “Risk managers must be integral to the process. They are in a unique position as a skilled facilitator, to provide cross-department co-ordination, advice and consultancy. They are the link between internal departments; they broker strategic relationships and provide that essential overview of the risk as a whole, understanding the interdependencies and consequential impacts. Alarm has found that having risk managers connecting with children’s services departments and with stakeholders involved in the care of children is paramount.”

Historical abuse
Historical abuse is defined as allegations made by an adult relating to events that happened as a child. The abuse covers a wide range of occurrences including institutional abuse, as well as abuse by employees, family members, foster cares and members of the community.

Historical abuse is a complicated investigative process. Responses and strategies vary and may depend on the number and complexity of historical abuse complaints received by a local authority. These can include individual complaints where there is no common perpetrator; a number of complaints relating to one institution or abuser; or a complex series of complaints involving hundreds of complainants over many years, with numerous abusers spanning different authorities.

The Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse (IICSA) is an independent Inquiry commissioned by the government. It has been set up to look at institutions that have failed in their duty of care to protect children from abuse and to identify the action needed to address failings, as well as steps to take to better protect children in the future. The breath of scope of these investigations means any organisation that has worked with children and families in the past may be brought into the Inquiry. There are currently 13 ongoing investigations into institutional abuse in the first phase.

Regardless of how many complaints are received, the primary principle is that all complaints and complainants are listened to and allegations are taken seriously. All allegations should be investigated irrespective of when abuse occurred, the seriousness of the abuse or the amount of abuse detail.

Alarm supports its members on the IICSA and the risk manager has a vital role to play in supporting the collation and disclosure of information required by the Inquiry; in supporting the investigation process and in identifying and mitigating corresponding risks.

The overarching lesson that has resonated through Operation Yewtree; Operation Hydrant (the police coordination of individual forces’ investigations into historical sexual abuse concerning those in public prominence and/or within institutions); the localised cases of institutional historical abuse; child sexual exploitation (CSE); and the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse (IICSA) has been that cross agency, cross party, cross regional, cross professional and cross sector collaboration and communication is the only way to properly and effectively manage the challenges and risks these present.

This issue is so high on the local authority and risk manager’s agenda that this Autumn Alarm is launching a handbook for managing children’s services risks. The aim is to support risk professionals working within the public sector and the wider community to manage children services risk. Unusually, the guide provides thoughtful and practical guidance to support children’s services professionals’ in understanding the associated interdependencies and impacts, as well as those advising on risks in local authorities. This dual approach has been requested by Alarm members and has been met with support from children’s services professionals.

Alarm has drawn on knowledge and learnings from local authorities’ risk practitioners who have experienced large numbers of complaints and claims. Practitioners and professionals from risk, insurance, the law and children’s services have pooled expert knowledge and first hand experience to share best practice. The resulting guide is a comprehensive collection of professional tips and information on risks arising from safeguarding, child sexual exploitation and historical abuse.

Jane O’Leary, who also supports her children’s services risk response as insurance and risk manager at Nottingham City Council, reiterates this point: “The guidance provides a reference that for the first time, pulls together the duties, risks and strategies for mitigation and response into one comprehensive document.“

Importantly in this guide, Alarm emphasises the need to listen to, support and protect those who have survived abuse and who have suffered harm. Working together as one unit and breaking down the typical silo model of local authority structures is essential to ensure survivors have the best possible support and care; lessons learnt are acted on; and historical events are not repeated.

Long-term commitment
The IICSA is a long-term, broad spanning operation that will require attention and resource for many years to come. The recent resignation of Justice Goddard as head of the investigation may delay completion further. In May 2016 the rate of referrals to the police from the IICSA was about 100 a month and predicted to increase.

In addition to a significant increase in the number of complaints relating to historical abuse there are also an increasing number of referrals of current safeguarding concerns. Allocating sufficient resources and expertise to properly manage both, without adversely impacting on either, is a big challenge faced by local authorities, particularly in light of ever decreasing public funds.

Provision of children’s services is one of the most vital of all public services and presents challenging risk exposures. Alarm believes that risk professional involvement has to become an everyday part of working practises: now. The valuable role of risk managers mustn’t be overlooked in this significant area of risk.

Jane reiterates this assertion: “Risk managers must be resourced to fulfil a key role in co-ordinating children’s services risks. They must be part of the gang.”

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