Reflections from Superintendent Dickon Turner on a career in safeguarding.
Please note: this article references child abuse.
Sadly, I am saying goodbye to the Somerset Safeguarding Children’s Partnership in late October as I approach my 30 years in policing milestone.
I first encountered the formal idea of safeguarding children in 2002, when I asked if I could spend 2 weeks on the Child Protection Team in Bristol out of curiosity. He reluctantly agreed and those 2 weeks turned into a year’s secondment as I loved it and seemed to suit the work. I became a detective and stayed another 2½ years. There, I investigated all types of child abuse. Many stick in my mind: the boy who had to fetch the belt from his dad’s room in order to be beaten with it, the father who was acquitted (wrongly in my view) of shaking his baby and causing massive brain, eye and bone injuries, the toddler who was repeatedly burnt with a lighter by her mum’s boyfriend high on amphetamine and my first cot death investigation.
After a short spell in uniform, I became a Detective Sergeant in charge of Child Abuse Investigation Team in South Gloucestershire. Here, I investigated 13 more child deaths – including suicide, road traffic collisions and 2 homicides. I also took on adult safeguarding for that County with no training and just one detective doing the work. In 2011, I was Deputy Senior Investigating Officer for the Winterbourne View Hospital case (as featured on Panorama).
This was one of my most stressful times at work, with the Prime Minister’s officer regularly calling me for a case update, media scrutiny, senior officers’ intrusion and numerous victims and offenders to prioritise. At the end of it, I was also investigated for gross misconduct in respect of my dealings with the hospital and some allegations before we knew the BBC had been in there. Genuinely fearful of being scapegoated and losing my job, I managed to stay at work to oversee a high volume of child abuse and adult safeguarding cases. I was completely exonerated.
My next role was quite different – Counter Terrorism (Prevent). Now covering Avon and Somerset and Wiltshire policing areas, I helped 7 local authorities to embed the Prevent duty, introduce training and develop their Boards. Most referrals turned out not to be concerning, but a handful needed robust intervention and de-radicalisation. I remember having to persuade a Social Work Service Manager to take the threat of extremism seriously for a family recently returned from Syria, with significant intelligence linking them to ISIS.
In my next role, I was largely managing risk – the flip side of the safeguarding coin. My Offender Management Teams worked with Probation, prisons, housing, Social Care and others to manage the risks from sexual, violent, and other dangerous offenders in our community. We piloted a small cohort of domestic abusers but quickly realised that we could wield the ‘stick’ but the ‘carrot’ was missing – no 1:1 behaviour change programmes existed. So, I got some colleagues and Domestic Abuse leads from local Councils in my car and drove us all to Cardiff to learn about the Drive project. Eventually, when lottery money became available, I was able to persuade the Police and Crime Commissioner to invest.
Following this, I led the project to implement Drive in South Gloucestershire which has been a great success, engaging with numerous perpetrators, preventing hundreds of domestic incidents and reducing the seriousness and frequency of abuse in many families. This is now expanding into Bristol and North Somerset.
As Somerset Commander, I became a member and then Chair of the SSCP Executive. I have tried to bring my experiences to bear in improving the experiences of children in the county, working with knowledgeable and dedicated partners. I believe Somerset is a good place to live, work and visit but while there will always be children at risk or in care, partners in Somerset have good working relationships and a determination to improve practice, learn from mistakes and keep children as safe as possible.
Finally, on leaving the Police I will become the Safeguarding and Welfare Manager for England Netball, and I probably have to take the blame for my daughter being a Child Protection Social Worker in London – now in her second year. She’s doing a great job!
Thank you to Jasmine Wark and the SSCP Business Unit for their hard work, and another thank you for all the work you ALL do to assess, investigate and intervene to keep our children and young people safe. Please keep talking to each other, sharing concerns and information, be curious, ask that awkward question, check out your nagging doubt and trust your instincts. There is a phrase from Counter Terrorism that works in safeguarding – Notice, Check, Share. And another one from forensic investigation – Every Contact Leaves a Trace – by which, I don’t mean fingerprints or DNA but your contact with a victim, family or perpetrator leaves a trace. They may not remember what you said, but they will remember how you made them feel.