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:

  • background
  • data collection and processing
  • data quality 
  • key users
  • rounding and suppression
  • data files
  • experimental statistics
  • revisions

Background

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.

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 may have improved since 29 June 2018 following the statutory duty on local authorities to notify the Child Safeguarding Practice Review Panel of serious incidents coming into effect. Prior to this, notifications were made to Ofsted. 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. 

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. 

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

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

Rounding and suppression

Rounding and 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. 

Regional numbers have been rounded to the nearest 10. National and Local authority numbers are unrounded.

Percentages are rounded to one decimal place.

As a result of rounding components may not sum to totals and percentages may not sum to 100.

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

Data files

Data guidance, including on the symbols used, is available for the data files. To download any of these files, please visit our data catalogue.

For the 2021-22 release, additional breakdowns were added on:

  • Nature of notification by age 
  • Nature of notification by gender
  • Nature of notification by ethnicity
  • Ethnicity by age 
  • Ethnicity by gender
  • Age by gender
  • Financial year quarters (including by nature of notification)

Local authority and regional level data were added to the 2020-21 publication in March 2022 (the release was originally published in July 2021). Following on from this, equivalent data for the latest year has been included in the 2021-22 publication. 

Experimental statistics

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.

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.