Methodology

Serious incident notifications

Published

Summary

This page is a guide to the serious incident notifications experimental statistics release published by the Department for Education (DfE). It sets out information on:

  • definition of a serious incident notification
  • data collection and processing
  • data quality 
  • key users
  • confidentiality and rounding
  • experimental statistics
  • revisions

Definition of a serious incident notification

The statutory guidance ‘Working Together to Safeguard Children’ 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.

Working Together to Safeguard Children, including the above notification criteria, was updated in July 2018. Prior to this, under statutory guidance Working Together 2015, local authorities were required to make notifications to Ofsted. The data in this release continues the series previously published by Ofsted in their Experimental Statistics release ‘Serious incident notification from local authority children's services’.  

In this publication, the number of serious incident notifications for 2014-15 to 2018-19 is from the Ofsted statistics release. The data in this release that relates to serious incident notifications from 2018-19 onwards is produced by the Department for Education.

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 characteristics 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 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. In some cases, there is a delay in the Child Safeguarding Practice Review Panel being notified. 

Data collection and processing

Local authorities notify the Child Safeguarding Practice Review Panel of serious incidents via the Child Safeguarding Incident Notification System. This replaced the previous online form which notified Ofsted. The local authority should notify the panel within 5 working days of becoming aware that the incident has occurred. The online system stores the information submitted by the local authority and this can be accessed by the Panel, the Department for Education and Ofsted.

The Child Safeguarding Incident Notification System automatically notifies the Department of an incident, and officials manually classify the incident based on the information contained in the notification. The details of each notification are stored by the Department.

If a notification form has missing or inaccurate data entries, the Department will request clarification from the local authority. Any subsequent changes to the data are logged by the Department.

Some local authorities may class the nature of incident as ‘other’ if a child had committed suicide and the Department would change this to death.

The data is aggregated by characteristics such as age group, ethnicity, and incident type, for the purpose of internal reporting. This allows officials to alert ministers to emerging concerns about the effectiveness of the child protection system. 

Data quality

The data is quality assured by the Department at both the categorisation and the aggregation stage. Where information is missing, or in cases where there is clearly an error, the Department contacts the local authority for clarification. 

The reporting of notifications and data quality has improved since 2018-19 as reporting became mandatory in June 2018, following the Children and Social Work Act 2017 which placed a duty on local authorities to notify the Child Safeguarding Practice Review Panel of serious incidents. The Department in recent years has also been working more closely with local authorities and increasing awareness and familiarisation with the reporting system. The process of notifying serious incidents has now been running for over a decade, and LAs are generally familiar with the requirements and content of the notification system. 

Users should read all footnotes and caveats presented in this release to fully understand the practical applications and limitations of the data. Comparisons with figures from earlier years should be done with caution as changes from year to year may not reflect actual changes in figures but may simply indicate improvements in reporting practices and data quality.

When using the data consider:

  1. Data may not reflect the final conclusions of the case. There is no expectation that local authorities will inform the Department of any updates to an incident, for example, results of a post-mortem or police investigation.
  2. Data is as at time of notification. The local authority should notify the panel within 5 working days of becoming aware that the incident has occurred.  If the notification stated that the nature of the incident was serious harm but the child subsequently died they would still be classed as serious harm in these statistics.
  3. If a notification form has missing or inaccurate data entries, the Department will request clarification from the local authority, but are not always successful in resolving the issue. Any subsequent changes to the data are logged by the Department.
  4. The Department cannot be certain that all incidents that meet the definition for a serious incident notification are notified.
  5. In rare cases, there is a significant delay in local authorities notifying the panel of an incident. Officials are working with local authorities to minimise this lag, but users of the data should note that the number of incidents reported in a given time period does not necessarily correspond to the number of incidents that occurred in the same time period.
  6. Some serious incidents could be retrospective. If a local authority was not sure if it was a serious incident at the time, it would be reported late.

Key users

The main users of serious incident notification data are:

  • Child Safeguarding Incident Response Team (CSIRT) in DfE
  • Child Safeguarding Practice Review Panel  
  • Ofsted

Other known users of the data are:

  • The Home Office
  • Department of Health and Social Care
  • National Child Mortality Database
  • Office of the Children's Commissioner

Confidentiality and rounding

Suppression is applied to the data. The Code of Practice for Statistics requires that reasonable steps should be taken to ensure that all published or disseminated statistics protect confidentiality. The publication follows the DfE policy statement on confidentiality.

Where any number is shown as zero, the original figure submitted was zero.  

In line with GSS standards, a ‘c’ is used to protect confidentiality. Secondary suppression has been applied where necessary to further protect confidentiality.

Percentages are rounded to 1 decimal place. They may not sum to 100% due to rounding.

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.

Revisions

The serious incident notifications publication is produced using a final version of the dataset. We do not plan to make any revisions to the publication. If we later discover that a revision is necessary, this will be made in accordance with the DfE statistical policy statement on revisions.