Safeguarding process developed in Northumberland flagged as national example
Tuesday 16 November 2021
An initiative developed in Northumberland which aims to ensure every child has the best start in life has been flagged up as an example to others regionally and nationally.
The Sharing Information Regarding Safeguarding process, known as SIRS, means that information about the father of unborn children is requested from their GPs, even when they are registered separately to the mothers – which didn’t happen in the past.
The idea was developed by Margaret Tench, the designated nurse for safeguarding children at NHS Northumberland Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG), following a string of serious case reviews which showed that crucial information about the fathers which would have raised alarm bells was not known.
Margaret is keen to stress that this is not about targeting men, but simply making sure that potentially life-saving information about both parents is considered. One of the Northumberland serious case reviews, which followed a baby suffering serious head injuries, demonstrated that the father’s GP held a range of details which would have resulted in a referral to children’s services.
The process, which is now fully embedded in the county, sees both prospective parents made aware from the start that information will be sought on both of them, with the aim of providing additional support where necessary.
To protect patient confidentiality, the request to the father’s GP reveals no information about the mother, only that their patient is a prospective father, and only information relevant to safeguarding has to be shared.
So far, it has resulted in a number of cases where early support was provided alongside a number of other interventions, including child protection orders and one case in which a child was taken into care at birth.
“We can’t categorically say that this new process has prevented death or serious injury, but we certainly have identified vulnerable babies and parents who may not have received additional support otherwise,” Margaret said.
“Across the system, fathers are not considered in the same way as mothers, both in terms of the issues addressed by SIRS, but also for those men who are keen be good fathers but need some guidance and support.
“We provide plenty of this for expectant mothers, but I believe there needs to be a major culture change across a range of agencies and organisations to ensure that this applies to fathers as well.”
Since its rollout, SIRS has been highlighted at a regional level to safeguarding partners and also as part of the national Child Safeguarding Review Panel, which described it as a ‘an area of different and emerging good practice’, which ‘had helped, for example, to identify perpetrators of domestic abuse and situations where mental health issues impacted on someone’s parenting ability’.
Margaret added: “There has been interest in this scheme from elsewhere in the country and my dream would be for it to be rolled out nationally, as it really will make a difference in ensuring more children are kept safe.”
During the development of SIRS, Margaret worked very closely with the midwifery team at Northumbria Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust and Jill Wood, the named midwife for safeguarding, undertook extensive training with community midwives and developed appropriate templates to use to request the information from GPs.
Research showed that while the father and mother being registered with different GPs was not very common in rural areas of Northumberland, it was far more likely in the county’s urban areas where residents have greater access to different practices.