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The process was felt to diminish analysis and risk assessment. There were particular concerns about risk because it was unclear where the information would be located.
serious reservations about the design and use of ICS in its present form and the authors believe that the ICS has yet to demonstrate the degree to which and how it is fit for purpose.
Once again, however, the full report was never published by the Government. If one is able to find the executive summary, one can see that its conclusions have been confirmed by concerns expressed to our commission on social workers. Social workers have said the template is too detailed and requires so much standard information that workers have to focus on completing the document rather than the assessment.
The forms as they stand are extremely long and their format cannot be considered to be accessible or friendly to parents and children, for whom the child protection process is stressful. Using these forms as a social work report to a Child Protection conference will alienate parents further and will, we fear, prevent their participation in what is often their only chance to meet together with all of the professionals involved with their children.
ICS forms were supposed to help partners of social work, but the direct opposite is the case. The chairman went on to say that some boroughs had estimated that the increased demands of the system had added 12 to 20 per cent. to the amount of time spent on the issue by social workers. David Wastell, professor in information systems at the university of Nottingham, warned that the ICS was unfit for purpose because it was developed by central Government with little input from front-line social practitioners.
I am...a Social Worker in Bury...and as a team we are collectively struggling with the new ICS System along with managing a substantial case load. 1) It is very time consuming turning us into paper pushers rather than hands on Social Workers! 2) Very confusing for Service Usersif as professionals we struggle with the forms how are families expected to understand the concept behind them. 3) Very prescriptive in the information they required not giving the opportunity for exploring risk, analysis or indeed the Childs views!
as a practitioner with over 16 years experience, I feel they are the biggest downfall in terms of direct work with children and families, which of course we cannot do anymore because were all sitting behind desks...Is anyone listening to the experiences of front line social workers using these forms? Where was the consultation prior to their implementation? We find them impossibly time consuming, families dont understand them so are fearful and made to feel inadequate and stupid.
Tim Loughton: I ask the hon. Lady to bear with me. The commission on social workers strongly recommends that the highly prescriptive ICS template be abolished in favour of a much more streamlined, user-friendly system that allows social workers more empathetic face-time with their clients. Some authorities, such as Kensington and Chelsea, have been developing their own systems at their own expense, which are much more user-friendly. Others should surely be allowed to follow suit without the threat of money from the Department for Children, Schools and Families being held back, as it is if they do not follow the Departments highly prescriptive route.
The Governments obsession with bureaucracy and databases is, of course, set to escalate with ContactPoint, which started to go live just last week. It has cost £244 million so far, and the estimated ongoing running cost is at least £41 million per annum. It is a system of unproven value, and there are no guarantees about security of access. It could turn out to be another measure that is counter-productive to genuine child protection, as resources will be spread thinly over 11 million children, rather than being focused on genuinely vulnerable children, which is what we have advocated all along.
It is also clear that the database is to be used for many more purposes than the child protection criteria originally cited, including police investigations, and that many more people will have access to it. The House of Commons Library has estimated that the money spent on ContactPoint so far could have been used to employ 7,575 additional social workersequivalent to 50 in every local authority. The money to be spent on the system between now and 2012 could pay for an additional social worker every four hours.
The Secretary of State will know that at a briefing that he gave to directors of childrens services shortly after the baby P case hit the headlines, a suggestion from one director that ContactPoint should be scrapped and the money instead used to reduce the case load of social workers was greeted with widespread cheering,
yet the Government are ploughing ahead with this latest data disaster waiting to happen. ContactPoint is handled by the same firm that managed to lose the details of the entire prison population, and the Government refused to publish in full the security review carried out by Deloitte a year ago, which warned that
there will always be a risk of data security incidents occurring.
If that was not bad enough, the special security arrangements that apparently involve the children of hon. Members being subject to shielding safeguards last week resulted in headlines that referred to a Them and us child register.
Hilary Armstrong: I really am shocked to hear what the hon. Gentleman says. He clearly has not investigated the database effectively. He and the right hon. Member for Chingford and Woodford Green (Mr. Duncan Smith) have strongly argued that there needs to be a level of knowledge across the Departments and agencies working with children, so that they can intervene early with the most vulnerable. Without a database such as ContactPoint, it will be impossible to do that. He cannot make both arguments and expect us to think that he is being logical. If he is to be logical, he has to be much more
What will protect children in this country is properly resourced and motivated professionals working at the sharp end, and talking to other well-resourced and motivated professionals to deal together with a problem. They need time to spend at the sharp end, not time shackled to a computer system, constantly inputting data; we do not know whether that will work. I trust professionals; the right hon. Member for North-West Durham (Hilary Armstrong) trusts spending a lot of money on unproven computer systems. That is what divides us in this case.
That is why, having opposed the original provisions in the Children Bill 2004, the Conservative party last year announced that we would scrap ContactPoint and focus instead on a streamlined signposting central database, which would include genuinely vulnerable childrena view wholeheartedly endorsed by the commission on social workers. [Interruption.] We are talking about a database of genuinely vulnerable children, not all the 11 million children in this country. That is the difference. Ours would concentrate on vulnerable children. [Interruption.]
Tim Loughton: That shows that Labour Members yet again think that setting up, and ploughing money into, a computer system is the universal panacea and will solve the problem. That is not what will solve the problem.
Tim Loughton: I will make some progress so that I can finish. I am grateful for the hard work and dedication of the commission on social workers, whose members were so willing to reconvene to update our original report and to make further recommendations in light of the deteriorating climate, as highlighted by the baby P case and other high-profile cases. Today we are making further recommendations, and I would very much like the Secretary of State to respond to them.
First, and foremost among all the points made to us by our witnesses, an end is required to widespread disruptive structural changes. As I have said, we need to scrap the child databases that take away so much of the time that social workers can spend dealing with vulnerable families, face to face. We also need a national recruitment campaign that will bring in new, properly trained and properly motivated social workers. It should be a high-impact advertising campaign. As my hon. Friend the Member for Totnes (Mr. Steen) said, we need to make sure that experienced social workers stay in place and do not move into early retirement because they are so disillusioned by what is going on.
We need a care first programme, modelled on the teach first programme, in which highly trained social workers would go into particularly challenging circumstances. We need social workers to have a mixed case load, in which they have supportive and therapeutic work, alongside more serious cases. We need practice training for new social workers, and we need on-the-job training for directors of childrens services departments; too often, they are cosseted away in offices and do not go out in the field with social workers.
We need to overhaul the whole process of inspections. We need to make sure that we have a system that is fit for purpose, and that ensures that we are inspecting the right things. It is absurd that there is not a senior social worker on the board of Ofsted. It is absurd that when Ofsted inspections happen in childrens services departments, the inspectors do not go out with social workers on a case; an Ofsted inspector carrying out a school inspection would sit at the back of a class. We need to ensure much better interagency communication, which should include the Ofsted inspection. The Ofsted inspection should inspect how well the different agencies work together, and should note which do not.
I have concentrated on the crucial role of social workersreal, human social workers, practitioners out in the field with experience, of whom we need many more. To my mind, they are better value than the expensive, unproven computer system by which Labour Members seem to set so much store, despite the fact that the Governments track record on IT systems over the past 12 years has not exactly been covered in glory. There are many other aspects of child protection that other hon. Members will wish to flag up, not least concerning health professionals. A new study by my hon. Friend the Member for South Cambridgeshire (Mr. Lansley), the shadow Secretary of State for Health, will show how many of the original Laming recommendations are still not being carried out in practice. Interagency working with the police still leaves a lot to be desired, too.
My hon. Friend the Member for Basingstoke (Mrs. Miller) will, when she winds up, make reference to proposals that we have already announced to expand the health visitor system. Health visitors will intensively visit new parents in those crucial first few weeks, in a system based on the Dutch Kraamzorg model. She will also mention the benefits of other early intervention practices. I want to leave it to others to talk about the importance of extended family members, and particularly about the role of grandparents in helping to counter child abuse. I have not had time to return to the Governments continued refusal to take decisive action on private fostering, which has direct links with the added risk of child abuse.
The Conservative party has called the debate in the interests of continuing to highlight the serious problems and inadequacies in the way that we protect our most vulnerable children and families, and of making further substantial and constructive proposals to find the solutions that I am sure all of us in all parts of the House urgently want to see. I hope that when he has cleared up the muddle about his earlier references to the Information Commissioner, the Secretary of State will engage positively with some of the constructive proposals that we have made.
agrees that safeguarding children is everyones responsibility; recognises that keeping children safe is a top priority for this Government, commends action taken by the Government following the tragic death of Baby P, to keep children safe in Haringey; welcomes the requirement that all local safeguarding childrens boards responsible for serious case reviews judged inadequate by Ofsted convene an independently chaired panel to reconsider the review and report to the Secretary of State; agrees with the Deputy Childrens Commissioner and the NSPCC that while comprehensive executive summaries should be published full serious case reviews should remain confidential; affirms its conviction that the Every Child Matters reforms are soundly based and essential in driving change for children; welcomes evidence in the joint chief inspectors third report on safeguarding children of improvements since 2005 in childrens services and outcomes for children and young people; commends the development by the inspectorates of new local area assessment and inspection arrangements; welcomes the commissioning of Lord Laming to report on progress being made across the country in implementing effective arrangements for safeguarding children; agrees with his recommendation that serious case review panels should be chaired by people independent of the reporting agencies; commends the creation of a Social Work Taskforce to review frontline social work, including the role and development of the Integrated Childrens System in support of its work; and further commends the recent announcement of the first stage of delivery of ContactPoint, which experts agree is vital to keep children safe.
It is the first duty of Governmentindeed, it is our shared dutyto do everything we can to keep our children and young people safe and protected from harm. There is no greater responsibility on us as Ministers and Members of the House, so it is right that we ask ourselves tonight whether there is more that we can all
do to keep children safe from harm. That is why I welcome the debate on this most important issue.
Although I was disappointed that the shadow Secretary of State chose not to open the debate, I start, notwithstanding the speech that we have just heard and the fact that we disagree on some points, by noting that the hon. Member for East Worthing and Shoreham (Tim Loughton) has made some important contributions on these issues in recent years.
The number of child deaths has fallen in recent years, and sharply so for the youngest children, but any abuse or non-accidental death is wrong. I know that many hon. Members will have reacted to the tragic case of baby P, as I did, with incomprehension. How could adults perpetrate such terrible acts of evil against a little boy? When professionals became aware of the risks to the child, why did they not act sooner to protect him from harm? Such a tragic and appalling case must rightly raise wider questions of public concern about the safety of vulnerable children around the country. Also, as the hon. Gentleman said, when some local authorities are judged inadequate in their safeguarding of children, it is rightly a matter of grave public concern.
It is my judgment that following the death of Victoria Climbié and the Laming inquiry, we have put in place a strong framework for tackling child abuse. It is our expectation that social workers, GPs, nurses and police officers see the world from the childs perspective and put the childs safety first. But we also know, as we have seen in recent weeks and months, that there is still a long way to go until we have the best possible child protection arrangements in every part of the country.
That is why, as we have heard in the debate, we have taken a number of actions in recent months to improve further child protection, which include asking Lord Laming to provide a further report on progress in implementing the reforms that were introduced after the Climbié inquiry, with proposals for further improvement to accelerate improvement across the country. We have demanded that local authorities take action in response to any serious case review that has been judged to be inadequate. We have set up a new social work taskforce, to be chaired by the chief executive of Camden council, Moira Gibb, to reform social work training and practice, and we have begun, as we heard, the roll-out of ContactPoint with the widespread support of professionals and practitioners alike. All these reforms are vital to keep children safe and, despite the comments that we have heard, it is still my genuine and fervent hope that we can build a cross-party consensus on the matter in the House and in the country. That is the best way to keep children safe.
John Hemming: The Secretary of State stated that the number of deaths from child abuse and neglect had fallen sharply in recent years. On what basis does he justify that statement, and how would he justify it in the light of the Departments continued refusal to provide figures in an auditable form as on serious case reviews following the death of a child?
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