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IICSA: Effective Leadership of Child Protection


protecting children

Having heard evidence of institutional failing and poor leadership across its 14 other investigations [1], the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse (the Inquiry) considered it necessary to conduct a thematic investigation into effective leadership of the institutions which fall within its Terms of Reference [2].

In October 2019, the Inquiry announced a new and final investigation into Effective Leadership of Child Protection [3]. This has focussed on practical experiences of leadership and management, and examined how effective leadership can better protect children from sexual abuse.

Given its thematic nature, the investigation has not focussed on any individual case studies or institutions but has instead examined the effective leadership of the aforementioned institutions, with evidence covering wider themes across education, local government, criminal justice, and voluntary organisations.

The Inquiry has sought to build on its findings in its interim and investigation reports – such as the quality of leadership and practice within institutions being critical to protecting children, and preventing and responding to child sexual abuse – and to generate evidence to make general observations about institutional leadership in its final report.


During this investigation, the Inquiry has considered the following themes [4]:

  • Embedding ethics and values so they align with policy and practice. What ethics and values are important for ensuring child protection and how can these (or ethics and values in general) be embedded into an organisation? How do leaders promote a positive culture for tackling child abuse

  • Ensuring organisations are safe, and effective at being safe. So, what does organisational safety look like? How can this be achieved, and what systems need to be put in place to monitor and record safely? What is the role of governance frameworks and how do leaders ensure that these support their strategy for tackling child sexual abuse? How do leaders ensure that they have clear policies and processes in place to deliver these strategies?

  • Achieving openness, transparency and good communication. What does an organisation that is open and transparent about child protection look like, and how can an organisation manage the tension between the need to protect the identity of victims of child sexual abuse, whilst at the same time ensuring that it is open and transparent about any potential risks that it identifies? To what extent do leaders engage with children when tackling child abuse?

  • Ensuring good communication, escalation of issues and concerns with clear lines of accountability, and good leadership in scenarios where there is no direct line management structure.

  • Embedding and ensuring a culture of continuous learning. What does such a culture look like and how can it be embedded into an organisation?

  • Using management and audit information to understand the institution, its systems and its performance, so that systemic warning signs can be identified early. Evidence has been examined from a range of different organisations about their management of information and data, including outside the child protection context.

  • Responding appropriately to internal and external pressures, for example, from politicians, community leaders, parents, funders and other key stakeholders, so that child welfare and protection is prioritised. The Inquiry has considered what the sources of external and internal pressures within organisations are, and how they can be managed and harnessed most effectively, and how leaders work in partnership with other agencies and bodies to tackle child sexual abuse.

  • Responding to the evidence of "whistleblowers" and recommendations from inspectorates, Serious Case Reviews and similar reports. How can organisations create an environment in which “whistleblowers” feel free and able to raise concerns internally? How can organisations ensure that the evidence of “whistleblowers” and recommendations from inspectorates, Serious Case Reviews and similar reports are implemented, and implemented by staff at all levels, not just by senior management?

  • Learning from past institutional failures, including from adverse events, including embedding a “learning” and not a “blaming” culture. How can past failures be harnessed to produce positive future outcomes? How does leadership contribute to this?

  • Exercising good judgment with respect to strategic priorities and risks. What are the strategic priorities and risks for organisations involved in child protection? How can leaders and organisations ensure that they exercise good judgement in relation to them?

  • The relevance of leadership style and how leaders act as positive role models. How much difference does leadership style make to the culture and practice of organisations? Which styles have positive impacts, and which have negative impacts? How influential can leaders be as role models? How can this drive child protection? How do leaders motivate and develop their staff?

  • Effective leadership, change and improvement. How can leaders most effectively manage and ensure continuous improvement and innovation, and how is this change implemented?

Public Hearing

A Public Hearing on the investigation was held from 7 to 11 December 2020 [5], in which evidence was heard on the above themes from a range of sectors [6], including:

  • Ofsted – which provided an opening statement [7];

  • excerpts of evidence from victims and survivors of child sexual abuse who had given evidence to some of the Inquiry’s other investigations [8];

  • academics and professionals – to help set the context for the investigation by addressing some theoretical elements of leadership and identifying broad areas where leaders have gone wrong in the past and opportunities for future improvement;

  • education sector – including (i) two headteachers on their practical experience of providing leadership within schools [9], (ii) Karen Manners [10], and Barbara Firth [11], on the mechanisms in place for reviewing and learning lessons from serious child protection failures, and also any leadership themes and trends which these reviews have identified, and (iii) officials from the DfE and the Welsh Government about the role of central government in providing and facilitating effective leadership of child protection;

  • local government and the care sector – including Dame Stella Manzie and Lord Michael Bichard, groups representing social workers and children in care, a local politician, and director of a group which provides children’s care services;

  • representatives from the third/voluntary sector – NSPCC, The Children’s Society, The Football Association and The Scout Association;

  • criminal justice system – including two senior police officers, one retired senior police officer and a Chief Crown Prosecutor – and health sector, such as Sir Robert Francis QC, and Sir David Behan CBE [12].


The Public Hearing finished with a video of evidence from various complainants, victims and survivors from the Inquiry’s different investigation Hearings. The Chair of the Inquiry, Professor Alexis Jay OBE, stated that their voices provided a “fitting end to the Public Hearings,” and pledged that “[a]s a panel, we will do all in our power through our remaining work and in the Inquiry’s final report to do justice to the victim and survivor testimony…and to do justice to their manifest pain, and of course to achieve better protection of children from sexual abuse in the future.”

This Public Hearing marks the conclusion of the Inquiry’s programme of Public Hearings after four years and 323 days of Hearings, across 15 separate investigations. Findings made in this investigation will feed into the Inquiry’s Final Report, due to be published in 2022.

In the meantime, we would like to take the opportunity to remind our clients and contacts about the various relevant pieces of guidance produced by members of our Safeguarding Unit, such as the Child Sexual Abuse in Schools: lessons from history, guidance for the future, and Peer-on-Peer Abuse Toolkit (which is in the process of being revised, with an updated version due to be published in early 2021).

If you require further information about anything covered in this briefing, please contact Adele Eastman, Xinlan Rose, or your usual contact at the firm on +44 (0)20 3375 7000.

This publication is a general summary of the law. It should not replace legal advice tailored to your specific circumstances.

© Farrer & Co LLP, December 2020


[1] For example, often policies and practices aimed at protecting children from sexual abuse had not been implemented well, if at all.

[2] Ie all those working in state and non-state institutions that have a role to play in preventing and responding to child sexual abuse – including those in government, education, healthcare, religious institutions, charities and voluntary sector organisations.

[3] Leadership is distinguished from day-to-day management activity and the detail of particular processes within institutions.

[4] These themes were set out in the Inquiry’s Definition of Scope and further elucidated in the Inquiry’s 30 June 2020 update note.

[5] A copy of the transcript of each day of the Public Hearing can be found here.

[6] Some of which were selected because they had not been the subject of any detailed consideration by the Inquiry before.

[7] Ofsted was a core participant in this investigation; others included the National Crime Agency, the National Police Chiefs’ Council, the College of Policing, the Secretary of State for Education, and the Independent Schools Inspectorate.

[8] Ie Residential Schools, Lambeth Council, Child Sexual Exploitation by Organised Networks, and Nottinghamshire Councils.

[9] One serving headteacher and one retired headteacher.

[10] Interim Chair of the Child Safeguarding Practice Review Panel.

[11] With an extensive background in social work.

[12] Former chief executive of the CQC.

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About the authors

Adele Eastman lawyer photo

Adele Eastman

Senior Counsel

Adele is a senior counsel in Farrer & Co’s Safeguarding Unit, which advises organisations in this country and around the world working with children and/or adults with care and support needs. Within the Unit, Adele is responsible for the charity sector, and co-leads on the sports sector.

Adele is a senior counsel in Farrer & Co’s Safeguarding Unit, which advises organisations in this country and around the world working with children and/or adults with care and support needs. Within the Unit, Adele is responsible for the charity sector, and co-leads on the sports sector.

Email Adele +44 (0)20 3375 7581
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