Case of Northumberland baby who suffered 'life-changing injuries’ sparks pioneering new project focusing on prospective fathers

A prospective fathers project, a national first, has been embedded in Northumberland after a baby ‘suffered significant and life-changing injuries’.

By Ben O'Connell
Friday, 4th December 2020, 2:10 pm
Updated Friday, 4th December 2020, 2:11 pm
Northumberland's County Hall in Morpeth.
Northumberland's County Hall in Morpeth.

The first annual report of the Northumberland Strategic Safeguarding Partnership (NSSP), although it actually covers the 18 months from April 2019 to September 2019, was presented to the county council’s family and children’s services committee on Thursday, December 4.

It covers the period when the NSSP was launched to replace the previous Northumberland Safeguarding Children Board, and the new ‘streamlined partnership’ had five priorities in 2019-20 – early help; neglect; working with fathers; voice of the child; domestic violence – with progress being made on all five.

For example, figures show that there were 4,584 referrals made to the four early help hubs in 2019-20, up from 2,689 the year before.

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In relation to working with fathers, the report highlights the Sharing Information Regarding Safeguarding (SIRS) pilot, which was launched following a serious care review after a baby in Northumberland ‘suffered significant and life-changing injuries which were felt to be non-accidental in nature’.

This review had found that services were ‘unaware of key relevant background information regarding the baby’s father and that this information could have been instrumental in safeguarding her.’

The report added: ‘The aim of the SIRS pilot was to gather information for prospective fathers which may impact on their parenting ability to identify safeguarding concerns, implement correct pathways of care, and provide additional support or escalation proportionate to the concern in order to safeguard the unborn.

‘This is the first project of this nature in the UK; other areas rely solely on maternal and paternal self-report (which this pilot has evidenced is not always honest).

‘The pilot demonstrated that professionals must maintain a healthy scepticism and respectful uncertainty to see beyond what may be being presented by parents.

‘Professional curiosity, good information sharing with a ‘think family’ approach has resulted in the right information being available to provide robust assessment of risk and inform appropriate levels of intervention to prevent harm.’

Paula Mead, the NSSP’s independent chair, told the meeting: “We have made sufficient progress (on the five priorities) to look at some new priorities going forward.

“However, we still have a way to go with neglect, because that is still the major cause of children requiring child protection plans. We need to get under the skin of that really, so I’ve asked the IROs (independent reviewing officers) to do an audit to find out what it is about neglect that we really need to focus on, because it’s a big heading.”

In 2019-20, neglect was responsible for almost half (46%) of the children in Northumberland being placed on child protection plans. These are put in place when a child is regarded to be suffering, or likely to suffer, significant harm.

Ms Mead said: “Domestic violence was one of the things we were watching very closely over the last year, which you’ll all be aware is something of potential concern."

“The police have been really helpful in terms of feeding back on that. It is a big issue and a hidden issue, however, the police feel that the numbers haven’t gone up, but – and this is anecdotal – there is some indication that the seriousness of the domestic abuse has increased over the lockdown periods.”

She added: “That’s something we are going to continue to keep an eye on in so far as it affects children and the family. That will remain a priority, as will neglect, over the next year.”

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