The role of district councils in safeguarding children


This briefing describes the requirements placed on district councils to work in partnership with their Children's Services Authority (CSA). This is to contribute to the safeguarding and promote the welfare of children and young people in their area.

This page:

  • briefly summarises the background and current legislation concerning safeguarding children
  • describes what district councils are already doing to deliver positive outcomes for children and young people
  • offers some suggestions on how district councils and their CSAs can evaluate progress
  • gives some examples of activities already taking place which may be relevant to district councils.


The government has defined ‘safeguarding children' as:

"The process of protecting children from abuse or neglect, preventing impairment of their health and development, and ensuring they are growing up in circumstances consistent with the provision of safe and effective care that enables children to have optimum life chances and enter adulthood successfully."

Lord Laming in the Victoria Climbie' Inquiry Report said:

"The support and protection of children cannot be achieved by a single agency… every service has to play its part. All staff must have placed upon them the clear expectation that they primary responsibility is to the child and his or her family."

CSAs face a complex challenge in developing their partnership arrangements. District councils may have limited resources with which to engage in the process.

This briefing therefore focuses on the areas where they have the most to gain from joint working.

Children Act 2004

  • Section 11 places a statutory duty on key people and bodies, including district councils, to make arrangements to ensure that in discharging their functions they have regard to the need to safeguard and promote the welfare of children.
  • Section 10 outlines the duty to promote inter-agency cooperation between named agencies - including district councils.
  • There is a reciprocal duty on those agencies, including district councils, to cooperate with the CSA in budget pooling - a key provision that underpins children's trust arrangements.
  • Section 13 gives district councils representation on, and participation in, local safeguarding children's boards (LSCBs).
  • Section 17 entitles district councils to be consulted on the CSA's children and young people's plans (CYPPs).

‘Every Child Matters'

‘Every Child Matters' - the government's vision for children's services - set out five key outcomes. They are to:

  • be healthy
  • stay safe
  • enjoy and achieve
  • make a positive contribution
  • achieve economic wellbeing.

District councils contribute to these outcomes in several ways:

  • housing - preventing homelessness, providing supported accommodation for young parents and care leavers
  • planning - providing appropriate play facilities in new housing developments, making road safety schemes child friendly
  • culture, leisure and learning opportunities - for example: provision of local leisure centres, art, crèche and playgroup facilities, museums and theatres
  • environmental health services - for example: promoting the health of children, particularly in relation to food hygiene and nutrition.

There are a number of other ways that district councils contribute to improving outcomes for children and young people including:

  • work on community safety and as a licensing authority
  • roll-out of children's centres
  • delivering benefits
  • local employment.


At a policy level district councils should be able to demonstrate:

  • senior management commitment to the importance of safeguarding and promoting children's welfare
  • a clear statement of the council's responsibilities towards children, available for all staff
  • a clear line of accountability within the organisation for work on safeguarding and promoting the welfare of children
  • service development that takes account of the need to safeguard and promote welfare - and is informed by the views of children and families
  • safe recruitment procedures
  • training on safeguarding and promoting the welfare of children for all staff working with, or in contact with, children and families, including work on case studies - for example, housing professionals being the first to make contact with Victoria Climbie
  • effective inter-agency working to safeguard and promote the welfare of children
  • effective information sharing.

As important as is the role of frontline district council staff, volunteers and contractors may also come into contact with children and young people in a variety of ways. In addition to having had Criminal Records Bureau (CRB) checks, they will need appropriate training on:

  • issues of safe working practices and on creating safe environments for children
  • indications that a child may require safeguarding from harm
  • contact details for advice about referral
  • sharing information
  • managing and reducing risk.

Although the CSA convenes the LSCB, district councils in the local government area are key partners and are expected to fulfil their duties under the Children Act 2004 referred to above.

Expectations for district councils

District councils undertaking a ‘stock take' of their safeguarding arrangements might want to consider the following questions.

  1. Do you have a senior manager with responsibility for championing, safeguarding and promoting the welfare of children?
  2. What are lines of accountability for ensuring the safeguarding of children and young people?
  3. Do elected members and managers know what responsibility the council has in relation to safeguarding?
  4. Are all staff well informed about their responsibilities for ensuring the safeguarding of children and do they know what to do?
  5. How do you know that you have safe recruitment practices?
  6. Have you collaborated with the other districts in your area to ensure effective representation and feedback within the children's trust arrangement at CSA level?
  7. Have you identified individual and joint district planning priorities as part of the consultation on the children and young people's plan?
  8. Does your district take an effective part in the LSCB - how do you know?
  9. Is the LSCB helping you achieve your objectives - for instance, by supporting sharing of expertise?
  10. Is service development taking account of the need to safeguard and promote welfare?
  11. Is service planning and monitoring informed by the views of children and families?
  12. Have you reviewed your policies, procedures and practices for safeguarding and promoting the welfare of children as part of delivering your services?

Expectations for Children's Services Authorities

CSAs might find the following check list helpful.

  • Do you have informal and formal networks and events where you meet regularly with district councils to discuss issues of safeguarding and promoting the well being of children and young people in your area?
  • Do the officers and members who have responsibility for safeguarding meet individually and/or collectively?
  • Are districts engaged meaningfully within you children's trust arrangements?
  • Are your children's trust arrangements supported by effective networking arrangements of district contacts at senior and operational level?
  • What mechanisms do you have to ensure that districts who attend the children's trust arrangements have opportunities to focus on issues of relevance to them?
  • Have you sought to identify district priorities for joint working?
  • How have you engaged districts in the development of the children and young people's plan and do you know if districts have found it meaningful?
  • Is you LSCB effective - how do you know?
  • Do the districts in your area see clear benefits from participating in the LSCB?

Some examples

Developing a policy

The lead district's officer for the LSCB, in consultation with the responsible officers for children safeguarding in all other districts in the area, developed a Safeguarding Children Policy which all of the districts adopted. She was supported in this work by an officer from the CSA and the policy was adopted by the LSCB.

The policy included:

  • a generic statement on what children, young people and their parents and carers can expect from the council
  • responsibilities and principles
  • recognition of poor practice, abuse and bullying
  • prevention of abuse including codes of behaviour, safe recruitment, training and disclosure checks for employees and members
  • referral procedures.

A Safeguarding Implementation Group was formed by the council. This ensures that the action plan associated with the policy is being delivered.

Agreeing procedures

A district council described in detail the actions that should be taken where there were concerns about the welfare of children and young people. This was thought to be helpful for themselves and their partners.

Together with the other districts in their area, partner organisations and the LSCB, they developed safeguarding children arrangements and child protection procedures. These arrangements were intended to provide a comprehensive framework for individual services, the council as a whole and its partner organisations. It helped ensure that their work was in line with local and national standards.

The arrangements described the role for designated officers who have responsibility within the procedures.

The procedures also outlined guidance including:

  • legislation and statutory guidance
  • priorities, senior management commitment and accountability
  • human resources (HR) staff and volunteer issues, including roles and responsibilities
  • child death and serious case reviews
  • child protection, definitions of abuse
  • what to do about concerns for a child or allegations against staff
  • code of conduct and best practice.

Providing training and support

To identify where appropriate training and support might be required, an audit of service areas was carried out.

Council staff have access to children, young people and their families in a number of diverse settings, either directly or indirectly. Levels of training needed to reflect the level and type of contact. Seven types of contact were identified through an audit of activity.

  1. Direct contact by working with children and young people - community and sports development, leisure centre staff, countryside rangers, health improvement, planning, street scene
  2. Contact as part of working with families - benefits and council tax staff, environmental health staff
  3. Contact as part of working in public places - grounds maintenance, cleaning and maintenance staff
  4. Contact as part of property visits - refuse collectors, planning officers
  5. Contact as part of community event - staff running or supporting community events
  6. Contact as part of an information service - customer centre staff
  7. Indirect contact as part of policy or enforcement - licensing officers, HR staff responsible for CRBs

In addition, elected members may have considerable access to children, young people and their families as part of their role, both formally and informally.

A training plan was devised which related to the level of responsibility in the safeguarding process, as established through the audit. It included:

  • tier one training - a basic one-day course - was designed for all staff
  • tier two training - a two-day course - was designed for staff who were designated within their service as contacts for safeguarding concerns. In addition to the tier two training, they also received enhanced training from the LSCB
  • tier three training - up to sixteen days - was for key service managers with responsibility for collating safeguarding concerns and reports from staff.

The training is reviewed quarterly and amended and updated in conjunction with the LSCB and other district councils in the area.


Isabel Fowler
telephone: 020 7296 6567

Useful links: where to find out more

Children Act 2004 - on the Office of Public Service Information (OPSI) website

‘Every Child Matters' - on the ‘Every Child Matters' website

Victoria Climbie Inquiry

Published February 2009

2 July 2012

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