Financial Year 2021-22

Serious incident notifications

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Introduction

These figures are experimental statistics on serious incidents involving children that local authorities have notified the Child Safeguarding Practice Review Panel about. 

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 data relates to the 2021-22 financial year with time-series comparisons made from 2018-19 onwards i.e. when the Department for Education first became responsible for producing and publishing these statistics.


Headline facts and figures - 2021-22

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

In 2021-22, there were 442 notifications, down 94 from the series peak of 536 a year earlier. This follows a rise of 87 notifications between 2019-20 and 2020-21. Whilst the latest figure is similar to the 2019-20 level (449), it is down by 56 compared with 2018-19. 

It is not possible to ascertain from the figures whether the increase in 2020-21 and the subsequent decrease in 2021-22 was linked to the COVID-19 pandemic. However, the Child Safeguarding Practice Review Panel noted in their 2020 Annual report (page 9) ‘Evidence from our analysis of Serious Incident Notifications and rapid reviews is that the COVID-19 outbreak continues to present a situational risk for vulnerable children and families, with the potential to exacerbate pre-existing safeguarding risks and bring about new ones.’

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About these statistics

The Children Act 2004 (as amended by the Children and Social Work Act 2017) 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 (the Panel) if:

(a) the child dies or is seriously harmed in the local authority’s area, or 

(b) 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 and Ofsted where a looked after child has died, whether or not abuse or neglect is known or suspected

The statutory duty to notify the Panel came into effect from 29 June 2018. Prior to this, notifications were made to Ofsted. 

Serious harm includes (but is not limited to) serious and/or long-term impairment of a child’s mental health or intellectual, emotional, social or behavioural development. It also covers impairment of physical health.

The data shows the number of incidents reported in the period, rather than the number of incidents that occurred in the period. All data in this release is based on single notifiable incidents. Where child death is the reason for notification, each notification relates to one child. Where serious harm is the reason, in some instances, a notification can relate to more than one child.

The local authority should notify the panel within 5 working days of becoming aware that the incident has occurred. However, we know that in some cases, there is a delay in the panel being notified. In addition, whilst reporting has improved in recent years, the Department cannot be certain that all incidents that meet the definition for a serious incident are notified.

These statistics are experimental statistics. Experimental statistics are official statistics that are in the testing phase and not yet fully developed. For more information, see the ONS website.

Total number and Nature of incidents

Figures on serious incident notifications between 2014-15 and 2017-18 are based on Ofsted published data and for 2018-19 onwards are based on Department for Education data. 

Total number of serious incident notifications

In 2021-22, there were 442 notifications, down 94 from the series peak of 536 a year earlier. This follows a rise of 87 notifications between 2019-20 and 2020-21. Whilst the latest figure is similar to the 2019-20 level (449), it is down by 56 compared with 2018-19. 

It is not possible to ascertain from the figures whether the increase in 2020-21 and the subsequent decrease in 2021-22 is linked to the COVID-19 pandemic. 

However, the Panel noted in their 2020 Annual report (page 9) ‘Evidence from our analysis of Serious Incident Notifications and rapid reviews is that the COVID-19 outbreak continues to present a situational risk for vulnerable children and families, with the potential to exacerbate pre-existing safeguarding risks and bring about new ones.’

As can be seen from the chart below, the Department’s figures from 2018/19 onwards are consistently higher than the Ofsted figures prior. This may be attributable, at least in part, to the statutory duty to notify the Panel coming into effect from 29 June 2018 and a subsequent improvement in reporting and data quality from that point on.

Nature of serious incident notifications

In 2021-22:

- notifications relating to child deaths fell by 32 compared to a year earlier. Whilst the latest figure (191) is similar to the 2019-20 figure (188), it is down by 36 on 2018-19.

- notifications relating to serious harm fell by 57 compared to a year earlier, and by 9 compared to 2018-19. The latest figure (227) is the lowest in the Department for Education series.

- serious harm remained the most common nature of incident.

Child characteristics

All data in this release is based on single notifiable incidents. Where child death is the reason for notification, each notification relates to one child. Where serious harm is the reason, in some instances, a notification can relate to more than one child; when this happens, 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). Therefore, in some instances, the characteristics information doesn’t always relate to all children involved in the serious incident and this should be considered when interpreting the figures. The characteristic information is identified as at the point of notification. 

Comparisons between characteristics data over time and between different characteristics in any given year should be made with a degree of caution due to the small sizes of some breakdowns. 

Serious incident notifications by age

In 2021-22, across all age groups, notifications have decreased compared with a year earlier. This pattern mostly holds true when comparing the latest figures with 2018-19, the exception being notifications for those aged 16 and over have remained stable and those for under 1s have increased slightly (up 9).

As a result, the proportion of notifications accounted for by under 1s has risen from 33% in 2018-19 to 39% in 2021-22, with under 1s remaining the most common age group.

In comparison, looking at the latest children in need figures (1), under 1s accounted for a much smaller proportion at 4%. 10 to 15 year-olds were the most common age group for the children in need population at 31%.

  1. those assessed as needing help or protection from children’s social care services given risks to their development or health.

Serious incident notifications by gender

In 2021-22:

  • notifications relating to males and females have continued to follow similar patterns, with both decreasing compared with a year earlier and 2018-19.
  • males continued to be the most common gender, accounting for 58% of all notifications (up from 55% in 2018-19). 
  • males are also over-represented (but to a lesser extent) in the Children in Need population.
  • notifications relating to child deaths continued to be more common amongst males than females (117 compared with 67).
  • there were 4 notifications relating to transgender children.

Serious incident notifications by ethnicity 

There were a higher number of notifications where ethnicity was not known in 2021-22. Taking this into account, in 2021-22, across all ethnic groups, notifications have decreased compared with a year earlier. This pattern mostly holds true when comparing the latest figures with 2018-19, the exception being notifications for the mixed ethnic group have increased (up 17). 

Based on incidents recorded with a known ethnicity, in 2021-22, 31% related to ethnic minorities (excluding white minorities), which is similar to the most recent children in need figure. 

Serious incident notifications by disability

Based on where disability was known, approximately 1 in 8 notifications related to a child with a disability in 2021-22.

Placement at time of incident

In 2021-22, the majority of notifications continued to relate to children living at home, accounting for around 7 in 10. 

Children on a child protection plan or known to any agencies

Children on a child protection plan

In 2021-22, around 1 in 10 notifications related to those on a child protection plan, down from around 1 in 6 in 2018-19.

Children known to any agency

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.

In 2021-22, over 4 in 5 notifications were reported as involving children who were known to any agency and this proportion has remained fairly stable.

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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

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If you have a media enquiry:

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020 7783 8300

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

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