Financial Year 2020-21

Serious incident notifications

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  1. Country code for England updated in LA file.

  2. New underlying data providing LA and regional figures added.

  3. Experimental Statistics labelling added.

These figures are experimental statistics on serious incidents involving children that local authorities have notified the Child Safeguarding Practice Review Panel about. This includes the number of notifiable serious incidents by:

  • age group;
  • gender;
  • ethnicity;
  • disability;
  • notification nature;
  • placement type; and
  • whether the child is known to other agencies or has a Child Protection Plan (CPP).

Notifiable serious incidents are those that involve death or serious harm to a child where abuse or neglect is known or suspected, and any death of a looked after child.

The most recent published data relates to the second half of the 2020-21 financial year with commentary provided on the full financial year 2020-21. This data therefore relates to the COVID-19 pandemic period.


Headline facts and figures - 2020-21

  • In 2020-21, there were 536 serious incident notifications, up 87 on 2019-20. The largest increase in the total number of serious incident notifications occurred during the first half of the year (60 compared with 27 in the second half of the year).
  • Compared with a year earlier, notifications relating to child deaths increased by 35 to 223 in 2020-21 and notifications relating to serious harm increased by 31 to 284 in 2020-21.
  • The highest proportion of serious incident notifications continues to be for children under 1.

The data shows the number of incidents reported in the period, rather than the number of incidents that occurred in the period. 

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About these statistics

The statutory guidance ‘Working Together to Safeguard Children’ (updated July 2018) states that where a local authority in England knows or suspects that a child has been abused or neglected, the local authority must notify the Child Safeguarding Practice Review Panel if:

  • the child dies or is seriously harmed in the local authority’s area; or
  • while normally resident in the local authority’s area, the child dies or is seriously harmed outside England.

The local authority must also notify the Secretary of State for Education and Ofsted where a looked after child has died, whether or not abuse or neglect is known or suspected.

Prior to 2018, local authorities were required to make notifications to Ofsted who published data in their Experimental Statistics release 'Serious incident notification from local authority children's services'. 

In this release, the number of serious incident notifications for 2014-15 to 2018-19 is from the Ofsted published data and for 2018-19 onwards is produced by the Department for Education.

These statistics are experimental statistics. Experimental statistics are defined in the Code of Practice for Statistics as “A subset of newly developed or innovative official statistics undergoing evaluation. Experimental statistics are developed under the guidance of the Head of Profession for Statistics and are published in order to involve users and stakeholders in the assessment of their suitability and quality at an early stage.” For more information on experimental statistics, please visit the ONS website.

All data in this release is based on single notifiable incidents, which can relate to one or more children. When incidents involve multiple children, the characteristic information is based on one child only (either the first child listed on the notification or the child whom the harm relates to). The characteristic information is identified as at the point of notification. 

The data shows the number of incidents reported in the period, rather than the number of incidents that occurred in the period. We know that in some cases, there is a delay in the Child Safeguarding Practice Review Panel being notified. 

Nature of incidents

The  Children and Social Work Act 2017 placed a duty on local authorities to notify the Child Safeguarding Practice Review Panel of serious incidents. The duty came into effect when the Panel was established in June 2018 . 

This replaced the previous arrangement whereby local authorities used to send serious incident notifications to Ofsted. The notifications to Ofsted had not been a legal requirement but guidance on them had been included in ‘Working together to safeguard children’ since March 2015.

In this release, figures from 2018-19 onwards have been produced by the Department for Education, with figures prior to then being produced by Ofsted. 

The Ofsted and the Department’s figures are broadly comparable when looking at the total number of serious incident notifications although the reporting of incidents and data quality has improved since reporting became mandatory in 2018. However, comparisons between Ofsted’s and the Department’s figures of further breakdowns, e.g. by type of notification, should be interpreted with caution.

The total number of serious incident notifications during 2020-21 increased by almost a fifth on the previous year, or 87 notifications, with the largest increase occurring in the first half of the year (60 compared with 27 in the second half of the year).  

The rise in 2020-21 follows a fall of 49 notifications between 2018-19 and 2019-20 (from 498 to 448 notifications). 

The longer term trend shows that notifications have fluctuated between 2014-15 and 2020-21 but overall there has been an increase of 151 notifications between those time-periods.

The number of serious incident notifications relating to child death, serious harm and other all increased in 2020-21, by 35, 31 and 21 notifications respectively.

Serious harm remains the most common nature of incident in 2020-21. 

Child characteristics

Serious incident notifications by age

Over a third (36%) of serious incident notifications relate to children under 1. This is an increase compared to 2018-19.

In 2020-21, the next highest proportion of notifications related to children aged 16 years old and over and this has increased each year since 2018-19.

Serious incident notifications by gender

The majority of serious incident notifications relate to boys and this has been increasing since 2018-19.

Serious incident notifications by ethnicity 

In 2020-21, 28% of serious incident notifications related to ethnic minorities, whereas figures from the 2011 Census show that 21% of those aged 0 to 17 were from an ethnic minority background. Amongst ethnic minorities, the most common ethnicity was mixed in 2020-21.

Serious incident notifications by disability 

Approximately 1 in 8 serious incident notifications related to a child with a disability in 2020-21; this has remained stable since 2018-19.

Placement at time of incident

The majority of serious incident notifications continued to relate to children living at home in 2020-21.

The proportion of notifications relating to children living at home increased from 66% in the first half of 2020-21 to 75% in the second half. 

Children on a child protection plan or known to any agencies

The proportion of incidents reported as relating to children with child protection plans increased slightly in 2020-21 but remained lower than in 2018-19.

The proportion of incidents relating to children with child protection plans increased in the latter part of 2020-21, rising from 8% in April to September to 13% in October to March.

Figures on children known to any agency need to be treated with caution because:

  • whether a child was known to any agency is interpreted differently across local authorities. Some local authorities only include children known to Children's Social Care but in other cases can include agencies such as the police, GP services, health visitors, early help, midwifery, etc.
  • they can include children involved with agencies previously, and not just at the time of incident
  • information is recorded at the time of reporting. Local authorities may not yet know whether the child was known to any agency

Over 4 in 5 notifications were reported as relating to children who were known to other agencies.

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Methodology

Find out how and why we collect, process and publish these statistics

Experimental statistics

These statistics are experimental statistics undergoing evaluation. They have been developed under the guidance of the Head of Profession for Statistics and published to involve users and stakeholders at an early stage in assessing their suitability and quality.

Experimental official statistics have been produced as far as possible in line with the Code of Practice for Statistics.

This can be broadly interpreted to mean that these statistics are:

  • managed impartially and objectively in the public interest
  • meet identified user needs
  • produced according to sound methods
  • well explained and readily accessible

Find out more about the standards we follow to produce these statistics through our Standards for official statistics published by DfE guidance.

Contact us

Ask questions and provide feedback

If you have a specific enquiry about Serious incident notifications statistics and data:

Children’s Services Statistics Team

Email
SIN.STATS@education.gov.uk

Telephone: Nick Zhylov
0370 000 2288

Press office

If you have a media enquiry:

Telephone
020 7783 8300

Public enquiries

If you have a general enquiry about the Department for Education (DfE) or education:

Telephone
037 0000 2288