The child protection system in England has been subject
to much scrutiny in recent years. The Munro report is a major
step forward, and there have been significant and very positive
developments and changes in the child protection system in the
last few years. In our inquiry and this report we seek to draw
attention to some areas where improvement is still needed.
Evidence was gathered before the recent revelations
and allegations concerning the BBC and other institutions but
the developments of the last few weeks underline how timely our
report is. Much of the media coverage of recent cases has concentrated
on the perpetrators and not the victims. Our inquiry and report
has been informed by our strong conviction that the focus should
be on the children and on child protectionputting children
We have concentrated on three key themes: neglect,
older children and the thresholds for intervention, for taking
children into care and for adoption.
Neglect is the most common form of child abuse in
England. Having looked at both the criminal and civil definitions
of neglect, we recommend that the Government investigate thoroughly
whether the narrow scope of the criminal definition contained
in the Children and Young Persons Act 1933 is causing problems
in bringing criminal cases of neglect, but we have seen no convincing
evidence that the civil definition is insufficient.
To get a better picture of the scale of neglect,
we recommend that the Government commission research to investigate
whether similar situations and behaviours are being classified
as neglect in different local authorities.
There is evidence that children have been left too
long in neglectful situations. To tackle this, child protection
guidance for all front-line professionals should include an understanding
of the long-term developmental consequences of neglect and the
urgency of early intervention. Securing positive outcomes and
meeting the needs of the child should come before all other considerations,
and there needs to be a continued shift in culture so that there
is earlier protection and safeguarding of the long-term needs
of children. The Government must be prepared to act if there are
signs that improvement in the responsiveness of local authorities
to neglect is not being sustained.
In cases of domestic violence, the focus should be
on supporting the abused parent and helping them to protect their
children, but the interests of the children must come first.
Local authorities have a statutory duty to "safeguard
and promote the welfare of children in need" at all ages
up to 18 years old. We heard many concerns that the child protection
system is not meeting the needs of older children (aged 14-18).
Our inquiry has revealed a worrying picture with regard to the
protection and support of this group. This is characterised by
a lack of services for adolescents, a failure to look beyond behavioural
problems, a lack of recognition of the signs of neglect and abuse
in teenagers, and a lack of understanding about the long-term
impact on them. It is clear that the system as a whole is still
failing this particular group in key ways. We recommend that the
Government urgently review the support offered by the child protection
system to older children and consult on proposals for re-shaping
services to meet the needs of this very vulnerable group.
To tackle issues with perception, social work training
should ensure that teaching delivers an understanding of the effect
of maltreatment on older children, their ability to cope with
it and the long-term implications for their future well-being.
Practitioners of all disciplines must demonstrate greater awareness
of the fact that older children may also be vulnerable and be
a "child in need".
Ofsted should monitor and report as a standard part
of all inspections on the quality and suitability of the provision
made by local authorities for older children, taking into account
the views of the children themselves. We are particularly concerned
about the position of care-leavers and the accommodation and range
of support provided for them. The impact of this upon their life
chances is highly significant and this area needs further detailed
Specialised forms of abuse
We examined a number of specialised forms of abuse
in relation to older children. We concluded:
- Trafficked children found in criminal settings
must always be treated as victims and children first and not just
- In the context of claims that there is tension
between child protection and immigration policies, we believe
that it would be outrageous if destitution were to be used as
a weapon against children because of their immigration status.
The Government should review the impact of immigration policy
upon child protection and children's rights to ensure that this
is the case.
- The Department for Education should be given
explicit overall responsibility for the welfare of all children,
including those who have been trafficked or who are seeking asylum.
- Abuse between teenagers is an overlooked issue
in the child protection system which needs to be recognised. We
welcome the Government's plans to extend the definition of domestic
abuse to under 18s and to include "coercive control".
Social workers, schools and youth workers need specific training
on these issues and those in authority must have a greater willingness
- More broadly, the College of Social Work should
take a leading role in co-ordinating and promoting awareness of
CPD training in specialised forms of abuse. Local authorities
should nominate a specialised child abuse practitioner to lead
on such matters. Where an authority has a low incidence of a particular
form of child abuse, they should be able to draw on the expertise
of nominated practitioners in other authorities.
Help-seeking by older children
There is considerable work to be done by central
and local agencies in raising awareness amongst children of the
nature of abuse and how it might affect them. Local Safeguarding
Children Boards should work together to establish best practice
in raising awareness and ensuring a better response to child abuse
amongst older children through the coordination of the efforts
of all agencies in their local area.
Local authorities should encourage schools and other
universal settings to provide more peer-led support. Local authorities
should also include on their websites information aimed at older
children on how to make a self-referral.
ChildLine has seen an increase in contacts from older
children. We recommend that ChildLine be assisted and enabled
by the Government to market its existence and services more widely,
especially to older children.
Thresholds for intervention
Our inquiry examined thresholds for intervention
by local authorities. There is great variation in how they are
operated. We recommend that the Government commission research
to understand the impact of varying thresholds in different areas,
and whether thresholds for section 17 and section 47 interventions
are too high and/or rising in some areas. Ofsted should also monitor
and report on the variation between local authorities' provision
and changes over time.
Individual local authorities have made strenuous
efforts to minimise the impact of cuts on their child protection
services but this position might prove difficult, if not impossible,
to maintain in future years. The Government should commission
work to monitor the impact of the current economic situation and
cuts in local authority services on child-safeguarding.
We heard concern from front-line professionals that
the intelligence they provided to social services was not always
used effectively. The referrals process needs to be able to account
for "soft" intelligence and get better at trusting the
judgement of front-line professionals. Where possible, those making
the referral should be involved in decision-making about what
action to take. Children's services should be required to feed
back simply and quickly to the person making a referral on whether
and what action is taken in response. Ofsted should consider whether
local authorities are giving adequate feedback to referrers as
part of its investigations under the new inspection framework
and should also monitor re-referral rates in local authorities.
To encourage co-operation and mutual understanding
between agencies, there should be greater use of multi-agency
training. An important component of this would be information-sharing
where there are particular problems. We also recommend that the
Government ensure that guidance for professionals in all the relevant
agencies is absolutely clear about their statutory duties on data
protection and data-sharing with regard to protecting children,
and that LSCBs take a leading role in ensuring that this guidance
is understood and acted upon in their areas.
We came across local authorities which were moving
away from the use of thresholds in favour of a more integrated
model in which all children receive appropriate help. This is
assisted by a multi-agency co-location model, and we strongly
encourage all local authorities to consider the merits of moving
The Munro report proposed a new duty on local authorities
and statutory partners to secure local early help services for
children, young people and families. We recommend that the Government
reconsider its rejection of this proposal.
During the course of our inquiry, fears were expressed
from different quarters about how child protection structures
will operate under NHS reforms. More needs to be done by the Government
to provide clarity and shore up confidence. The Department of
Health urgently needs to clarify where and how safeguarding and
child protection accountabilities will work under the new structures.
It should also confirm its continuing commitment to the role of
named and designated doctors and nurses for child protection.
To ensure that priority is given to child protection
in the new structures and to provide a point of contact with the
LSCBs, one of the chairs of the Health and Wellbeing Boards should
be nominated as a national lead on safeguarding children.
Removing a child to care and adoption
The balance of evidence is heavily in favour of care
being considered as a viable, positive option at an earlier stage
for many children. It is essential to promote a more positive
picture of care to young people and to the public in general.
Ministers should encourage public awareness of the fact that being
taken into care can be of great benefit to children.
We endorse the Government's current policy emphasis
on increasing the number of children adopted, speeding up the
process and facilitating foster-to-adopt arrangements. However,
the same goal of permanence and stability can be achieved by other
means and it is vital that the Government and those in local authorities
continue to concentrate effort and resources on prioritising stability
in placements for all children. We would welcome greater debate
on policies which might bring this about and greater encouragement
from the Government for alternative solutions. In particular,
there should be increased emphasis in central guidance aimed at
limiting the disruption and damage caused to vulnerable children
by frequent changes.
We look forward to examining the Minister's proposals
on an appeals mechanism against forced adoption.
We recognise that that the scale and nature of child
abuse in the 21st century presents a huge challenge to the child
protection system. There are also concerns about the pressures
experienced by the system as a result of the simultaneous increase
in demand for services and restrictions on resources because of
the economic situation. These are serious issues which have to
be addressed head-on, as do the areas of improvements we identify
in our report. Recent events and our own findings show how far
there is still to go, but there is a real opportunity to transform
the child protection system. It is vital that the momentum for
change is not lost.