National recognition for key safeguarding process
An initiative developed in Northumberland that aims to ensure every child has the best start in life has been flagged up as an example to others both 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. This did not happen in the past.
The idea was developed by Margaret Tench, the designated nurse for safeguarding children at NHS Northumberland Clinical Commissioning Group, following a string of serious case reviews that showed crucial information about the fathers which would have raised alarm bells was not known.
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.
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.
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.
Margaret said: “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.
“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 roll-out, 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’.
Margaret worked very closely with the midwifery team at Northumbria Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust during its development.