Jane Powell, Head of Safeguarding with a major NHS Trust, reflects on her experience from years of experience in safeguarding practice in public health. All views are her own.


I'm a professional meeting attender. I go to safeguarding children's performance, safeguarding adults scrutiny, safeguarding committee, learning lessons meetings in numerous guises and talk about the same lessons, meetings about how we should change our review process so we can better learn the lessons. I go to these meetings and others locally, regionally and nationally, and have the same conversations. But are all the safeguarding conversations at all the meetings making a difference. In current NHS speak.... 'so what'.

As a safeguarding manager I need to be assured and to provide assurance that we are getting it right, that we are equipping colleagues with the skills to ensure safeguarding is core to their practice, providing them with advice and support when they need it, and opportunity for supervision and reflection if required. And all of that, collectively, should mean we ensure children and vulnerable adults are safe in our care and when discharged home.

All the meetings I attend should intrinsically link to the priorities above. I should be able to sit in each meeting and hear something new to share with colleagues, a new idea to shape or change practice and feedback from collective reviews that highlight the need for national or local change. And I should be providing assurance that's meaningful, not limited to a tick box. And my reports should be part of a joined up approach from the breadth of agencies involved in safeguarding children so we can better understand the broader experience of vulnerable children, collectively informing joint commissioning for children and vulnerable adults that move through our separate systems.

I'm not sure this is true for the many meetings I attend. There is still evidence of silo working, repeated conversations in separate meetings, repeated conversations over many years and reframing of the same issues.

We're currently all talking about contextual safeguarding, creating contextual safeguarding hubs, contextual safeguarding experts, writing contextual safeguarding papers and reports. But is it new? Are any of the conversations describing something we didn't already know? Or are we creating another 'safeguarding concept' that will create an industry of multi-agency activity, generate new screening tools, performance measures, and costs. And will it change practice in a meaningful, timely way that impacts on children's lives.

Children's public health leads have been talking about contextual safeguarding for years, they just didn't call it that. But we have always known that children live in families, go to schools, engaging with a wider community, impacted by a breadth of contextual factors. The public health approach to child well-being and safeguarding is based on this wider perspective.

And frontline staff know who the vulnerable children are. Midwives know them antenatally, health visitors know them at 10 days old, social workers recognise them from first assessment, hospital staff spot them in the Emergency department. Do all these front line exerts need another toolkit and more training sessions, developed over a couple of years of senior, multi-agency management meetings. Or do they need the resources to provide the right help at the right time, based on their knowledge of children, families, communities and risk. My commitment is to ask myself 'so what' at the end of every meeting, did it make a difference? And if it didn't, what am I going to do about it.