In a report that recognises the recent positive developments in the child protection system in England, the Education Committee calls for changes to ensure that all children are treated as children and that their interests are put first.
Launching the report Education Committee Chair, Graham Stuart MP, said,
"Our report is the culmination of a year-long inquiry. The recent revelations concerning the BBC and other institutions underline how important it is to get child protection right.
We've seen real improvement among professionals and think the direction of travel championed by the Munro Review is the right one. But there is a lot more to do and risks to the progress made.
Care for older children is not good enough. They are let down too often, frequently ignored or not listened to and can be pushed out of care too young and insufficiently prepared and supported. This has to change.
We also have particular concerns over the plight of trafficked and asylum-seeking children. In all cases, these children must be treated as children first, and not just as either criminals or immigration cases. To ensure this happens, we want the Department for Education to take responsibility for the welfare of all children. We also want the Government to review the impact of immigration policy upon child protection. As the report says, it would be outrageous if destitution were to be used as a weapon against children because of their immigration status."
The Committee's report examines three key themes: neglect, older children and thresholds for intervention, taking children into care and adoption.
On neglect, the Committee found evidence that children are left too long in harmful situation. To encourage earlier intervention, it calls for better training for all front-line professionals in child development and the long-term consequences of neglect.
On older children, an urgent review is needed of the support offered to this group in order that services can be re-shaped to meet their needs. Ofsted should monitor and report on the provision made for this group by local authorities, taking into account the views of the children themselves. Practitioners must demonstrate greater willingness to look beyond behavioural problems and recognise signs of neglect and abuse in teenagers.
More needs to be done by central and local agencies to raise awareness amongst children of the nature of abuse and how it might affect them, and to encourage self-referrals.
There are many specialised forms of abuse which many practitioners may rarely come across. The College of Social Work should co-ordinate and promote awareness of CPD training in these forms of abuse. Local authorities should nominate a specialised child abuse practitioner to lead in their area.
On thresholds, the Committee makes a number of recommendations to ensure that the referrals process makes better use of intelligence from teachers and doctors and to improve co-ordination between agencies, including multi-agency training and greater clarity in guidance over data-sharing. The report strongly encourages moves towards multi-agency co-location and more integrated services where all children receive help regardless of thresholds.
The report finds that the balance of evidence is heavily in favour of care being considered as a viable, positive option at an earlier stage for many children. Ministers should encourage public awareness of this fact. While welcoming the Government’s proposed reforms to the adoption process, the Committee recognises that permanence and stability can be achieved by other means and that these options should also be encouraged.
The Committee recognises the strenuous efforts made by local authorities to protect child protection services from cuts but considers that this position is going to be difficult to maintain in the future. It calls on the Government to monitor the impact of the economic situation and cuts in services on child-safeguarding. It also calls for clarity on where and how safeguarding and child protection accountabilities will work under the new health structures.
Graham Stuart said,
"Whatever your view on the cuts it is essential that the children in our society most vulnerable to abuse and exploitation are not the ones to pay the price. These children must be first and foremost in the minds of councillors and ministers so that the welcome improvements we have seen over recent years are maintained and built upon."