Safeguarding Part 4: Why partnership working is key to effective safeguarding

Rachel Buckler
Tuesday, June 27, 2023

In the final part of this series, safeguarding specialist Rachel Buckler provides guidance on working with others to achieve the right outcomes for children.

Working in partnership with other people such as parents, carers or other professionals, is an essential part of the job in the early years. In fact, it is a legal requirement that we do so.

Positive outcomes for children rely upon enabling partnerships that give us insight into a child's life. Effective partnerships also broker leverage for children as they influence change or introduce necessary actions in respect to a child's welfare or safety.

As we know, early years professionals have countless opportunities to advocate on a child's behalf when others may not always do so. This makes collaborative working all the more important and one that requires engagement in successful strategies in order to achieve positive results that centre on the needs of children.

Partnerships with parents

Relationships between parents and early years providers are extraordinary. The nature of the relationship which involves shared care and responsibilities for their child is unique. Meaningful engagement which brokers effective partnership working is built upon many things:


The ability to understand things from another's perspective. Circumstances, external influences, or personal adverse experiences may impact upon a parent's ability to provide their children with the things that keep them safe and well.

Protective factors may be compromised or limited intentionally or unintentionally. Taking time to think through a situation and seeing it from a parent's perspective requires empathy, and it's part of a wider strategy. This, of course, does not mean that we concede on the ultimate focus, which is always the child and what is in their best interests.


The genuine motivation that drives a desire to act in respect of support for a child. This often includes advocating on behalf of parents and helping them to achieve outcomes for their children.

The supportive elements of parent partnerships are plentiful. Helping navigate unfamiliar systems and processes or offering guidance and advice when other sources of support are unavailable or invisible elsewhere is underpinned by a sincere goal to change a situation for the better.


Working with parents can be extremely difficult and challenging. Regardless of the struggles we may face, our position as professionals should rely on a genuineness and sincerity to exude compassion while at the same time being able to make judgements about a situation.

A parent's lack of collaboration or a reluctance to engage with us must be acknowledged and our responses towards them when this happens should be recognised and reflected upon.

Parents may be afraid, angry, resistant or may manipulate a situation in defence of their position when child abuse or neglect is evident. They may demonstrate indifference, avoidance or ‘say the right things’ or engage ‘just enough’ to satisfy practitioners’ (NSPCC 2019). It is possible to apply compassion while making professional judgements when we work with parents.

Working in partnership with other professionals

It can be the most rewarding experience when professionals come together, drawing upon their expertise and strengths in support of children. Multi-agency practice at its best helps us to achieve a whole range of things:

  • Gather and share information.
  • Aid and inform decision-making, both independently and collaboratively.
  • Fulfil legal duties to engage with or involve statutory services.
  • Effectively monitor emerging or evolving need.
  • Take shared responsibility for helping to achieve agreed outcomes.
  • Measure or evaluate progress made against a set plan or goal.

Multi-agency practice has always been challenging. Those who have recognised a changing landscape in respect to increased challenge will be in good company. This includes working with children's services, social care and other workforce professionals. It is fair to say that much of the pressures upon services, particularly public sector services, lay at the heart of the problem.

The publication of an independent review of children's social care in 2022 recognised the extent to which social care systems and practices struggle not only to meet demand for services but also to effectively address the need for social care professionals to be provided with the ‘time and resources to build strong, respectful relationships with children and families’.

The problem is complex and involves many factors that need to be addressed so that reforms can take place.

Josh Mac Alistair, the author of the review, has made ambitious recommendations to address a range of issues to increase the potential for an improved social care workforce going forward. This includes the need to ‘reduce the use of agency social work’ which is expensive and reduces the prospects of providing ‘stable professional relationships for children and families.’

Until this and other recommendations are implemented, those working in the early years will remain a critical agency consistently supporting vulnerable young children.

Good news for children attending early years provision

Having children in sight is one of the most significant benefits and strategies for children attending early years settings. For some children it can be a lifesaving experience, and the response from competent and tenacious practitioners should not be understated.

A recently published Local Child Safeguarding Practice Review tells the account of how actions taken by a nursery in respect of a 23-month-old child not only saved the child's life, but how when faced with poor practice and advice from other agencies working with them, they stood their ground to maintain high standards in child protection.

Out of five key lines of enquiry noted in the review, the fifth was headed ‘Exceptional practice by George's nursery’. It is inspirational most importantly because the child was saved but also in that the nursery leadership challenged statutory services and refused to comply with their unsafe requests. What is remarkable is the refusal to comply, once recognised as erroneous, led to a change in policy for the agency concerned across its wider service.

Escalation and the process to challenge

It can be hard working with other agencies especially when we are faced with professional disagreements or differing points of views.

Case review learning draws upon the need for the workforce to use and apply escalation processes or procedures if and when the need for professional challenge arises.

Learning for improved practice gathered by the NSPCC (2022) and taken from early years sector case reviews recommends that ‘safeguarding and child protection procedures should include information about how and when to follow up on actions with other agencies, following local escalation processes’. The need to escalate will apply when there is, for example:

  • no recognition of the signs of harm
  • discrepancies in relation to accepting referrals
  • inappropriate application of the thresholds of need
  • no sharing of information
  • lack of co-operation in delivering planned interventions.

Local authority escalation procedures can usually be found on Local Safeguarding Partner websites.

CASE STUDY: Stacey Kenyon, senior manager, Mulberry Bush Nursery Group, Bury

‘A number of our parents have learning difficulties, which bring additional challenges. We have identified recently that many children who need support in regard to safeguarding are those with special educational needs and disabilities.

The complex needs and vulnerabilities of these children are further heightened as many are non-verbal and are unable to tell us what might be happening at home. We spend a lot of time building trusting relationships with parents in order for us to best protect their child and understand the challenges that they are facing in keeping them safe.

‘We spend inordinate amounts of time chasing other professionals, particularly social workers.

‘We have a number of children on child protection plans at the moment where we have been maintaining regular fluid contact with other professionals, and it has really encouraged reciprocal communication from the social workers – this hasn’t traditionally always been the case. We are not afraid to speak up in meetings.

‘The child protection meetings are helpful, but their effectiveness is really hampered by the constant changing of social workers.

We see families being constantly allocated new social workers (often agency) who promise consistency, only to move on/resign weeks later. It's disheartening for everyone involved, but we keep picking ourselves and the families up and we are committed to telling the family's story again and again to get the families – and most importantly the children – the help and support they need.’


  • ‘Disguised compliance: learning from case reviews’. NSPCC, 2019
  • ‘Early years sector: learning from case reviews briefing’. NSPCC, 2021
  • Independent review of children's social care. Gov.UK, 2022
  • Local Child Safeguarding Practice Review. “George”. Wigan Safeguarding Children's Partnership, 2022 (
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