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Theresa Leavy

NCASC guest blogpost: Theresa Leavy, Dorset Council

Guest blogpost written by Theresa Leavy, Executive Director for Children at Dorset Council  

Reflections on session titled: Safeguarding infants, children and young people

Speakers: Dez Holmes – Director Research in Practice; Debbie Jones – national lead LA multi-agency safeguarding coordinator; Sarah Elliott – member of the National Panel

I (virtually) attended the ‘Safeguarding infants, children and young people’ webinar at the virtual NCAS Conference – and what a fabulously rich session it was. It addressed the issues we all grapple with in the complex system of safeguarding children and young people: from the plethora of complex multi-agency governance arrangements, to the fragility of our very youngest – and the additional shadow of vulnerability cast by Covid onto our young people at risk of extra-familial harm.

Sarah Elliot recounted the weekly occurrence of serious harm and indeed sudden unexpected death in infants, which requires the loudest messaging possible – do not co-sleep with your baby. Young and vulnerable male carers often pose an increased risk to the babies in their care, yet many services continue to be ineffectual in engaging with young men; either in their developmental years as boys, or when they reach parenthood. With social isolation at an all-time high, this is now more important than ever – the absence of face-to-face contact with extended family, health or other professionals puts extreme pressure on young care givers and increases their risk of self-harm and harm to others.

The analogy of new parents struggling with a sense of being overwhelmed, unfamiliarity of experience and of feeling out of control resonated with the experience of young people in a different and yet connected context of exploitation.

One thing is needed across these complex areas: confident conversations rooted in a relationship-based approach to fully understanding the context of risk. When we understand the correlation between co-sleeping deaths and domestic, drug or alcohol abuse, establishing where a baby is sleeping becomes a critical question to ask.

Dez Holmes reminded us that to be truly effective as systems leaders who create safe places for our young people, we must adapt and not just react. As leaders, we have needed to both react and adapt at pace since March 2020, in part by creating complex arrangements of virtual interventions alongside a continued face-to-face delivery. Debbie Jones insisted that virtual visiting is not enough; empathy is the foundation of relationship-based practice, but empathic connection is diminished in the digital word. Whilst I agree with these nuances, it is evident that it has been working well for some young people and families – and in its own way is supporting newer practitioners in developing confidence to have the requisite courageous conversations they need to have on a daily basis.

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