Introducing Penny Thompson CBE, our Independent Chair
Hello! It seems funny introducing myself when I’m into my eighth year in the role, but since this is our first Partnership Newsletter I don’t want to assume that you know who I am or what I do!
My name is Penny Thompson CBE. I first began my career as a social worker in London and went on to become the Director of Social Services. Later, I held the position of Chief Executive in two local authorities and also worked as the Social Work Regulator (not all at once!) before becoming ‘differently occupied’ 8 years ago.
I was appointed as BSCP’s Independent Chair in 2016 and my role is to convene, support and challenge the Partnership and its lead accountable partners for safeguarding in the city: West Midlands Police, NHS Birmingham and Solihull Integrated Care Board, and Birmingham City Council, working in close collaboration with Birmingham Children’s Trust.
As Independent Chair I preside over the Executive Board meetings; the twice-yearly Safeguarding Leaders Assembly; the quarterly Practitioners’ Forum and the annual Practitioners’ Conference. Throughout the year I attend at least one meeting of each of the Partnership’s sub-groups: Learning and Development, Quality, Impact and Outcomes, and Serious Cases, as well as the Safeguarding Health and Safeguarding in Education Fora. The purpose of this is to keep abreast of their important work; to assure myself that they are purposeful and effective; and to be visible, accessible, and appreciative. Each year I have published an Accountability Report giving testimony to my activity, and making some evaluation of the progress of the partnership in its ambitions for safeguarding Children and Young People in Birmingham.
In recent years I have been a founder member of the Children’s Partnership and its representative on the City Partnership Board. The purpose here is to make real the wider agenda of supporting families, investing in childhoods, and thus preventing harm to the safety, health and wellbeing of children and young people. It really does “take a village to raise a child” and we intend for Birmingham to be a Child Friendly City where all children have the support and opportunities to flourish, and where “safeguarding is everybody’s business”.
The work of the BSCP is explained in our Governance Arrangements and reinforced in Working Together to Safeguard Children, whose 2023 guidance is currently out for consultation. Our Governance Arrangements set expectations for leadership accountability to be shared across public authorities (Health, Local Authority, Police) and for partnership arrangements to include those whose roles impact the wellbeing and safety of children and young people, in particular, schools and early years settings. There should be procedures and protocols for sharing information, assessing and investigating concerns, supporting and making plans to keep children and young people safe. Equally, there are expectations for the training and development of staff and arrangements for multi-disciplinary working together. Importantly, quality assurance and scrutiny of practice, and arrangements for learning from serious incidents are codified in the guidance. We now have ‘Rapid Reviews’ of serious incidents and where it will add value, ‘Local Safeguarding Practice Reviews’ whose purpose is to learn and make any necessary improvements to arrangements or practice. The current guidance emphasises the importance of Independent Scrutiny as part of the arrangements, rather than Independent Chairing.
The Partnership is supported by a committed Business Team led by Simon Cross, whose role extends to co-chairing the West Midlands MASA network, a group which aims to enhance the region’s effectiveness by exchanging knowledge and supporting each other. Additionally, individual Programme Managers and Administrators support the Partnership sub groups and the delivery of the Business Improvement Plan.
The four priorities in our Business Improvement Plan for 2023-2025 are:
- Ensuring effective implementation of ‘Working together to Build Strong Family Foundations’ (Childhood Neglect Strategy 2022-2026)
- Assuring a coordinated and coherent inter-agency response to children impacted by domestic abuse and violence in families
- Developing a joint approach to understanding and responding to children who are, and who become, invisible to services
- Enhancing anti-discriminatory practice, by improving partnership focus on the work we do, in the context of equity, equality, diversity and inclusion
As the second city, our Partnership covers a large and young population. It’s a source of real satisfaction, but not complacency, that Ofsted now rates Children’s Services as ‘Good’ across the board, following a wide-ranging inspection earlier this year. Our ambition is to improve further, and our learning from serious individual cases gives us a source of material for improvement. Indeed, our priorities derive directly from our learning from cases and from audit and partner feedback.
Here I should also mention the role of the National Safeguarding Panel whose oversight of local reviews and commissioning of themed reviews leads to an Annual Report that shares learning across regions. Alongside our active participation in the West Midlands MASA forum, this gives us access to a wealth of valuable material for practice and leadership learning.
As a partnership, our focus is on collaboration, support, and learning, and we strive to positively influence the wider determinants of safety and wellbeing. By doing so, we aim to prevent significant harm to children and contribute to their safe and happy childhoods. However, it is crucial that we recognize and provide support for practitioners and managers working in this demanding field. That’s why our newsletter, website, Practitioners’ Forum and Conference, learning and development opportunities, and the overall efforts of our Partnership are so important. We are always open to receiving feedback and requests, and eagerly anticipate hearing from you – we hope you enjoy the newsletter!