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CORRECTED TRANSCRIPT OF ORAL EVIDENCE To be published as HC 137-i
HOUSE OF COMMONS
TAKEN BEFORE THE
THE CHILD PROTECTION SYSTEM IN ENGLAND
WEDNESDAY 16 MAY 2012
DR SHADE ALU and DAME MOIRA GIBB
Evidence heard in Public
Questions 604 - 700
USE OF THE TRANSCRIPT
1. This is a corrected transcript of evidence taken in public and reported to the House. The transcript has been placed on the internet on the authority of the Committee, and copies have been made available by the Vote Office for the use of Members and others.
2. The transcript is an approved formal record of these proceedings. It will be printed in due course.
Taken before the Education Committee
on Wednesday 16 May 2012
Mr Graham Stuart (Chair)
Examination of Witness
Witness: Peter Davies, Chief Executive, Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre, gave evidence.
Q604 Chair: Good morning, Mr Davies, and welcome to this hearing of the Education Committee on the child protection system in England. It is a pleasure to have you with us. Following on from last week’s case in Rochdale and a similar situation in Carlisle, I would like to ask you whether these cases demonstrate that the police simply do not respond appropriately when they hear about young people falling victim to abuse and exploitation.
Peter Davies: May I just mention to other members of the Committee-I am sure it is clear to you-that I sit here wearing two hats, one as the chief executive officer of the Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre and the other as the lead for the Association of Chief Police Officers for England, Wales and Northern Ireland on child protection and child abuse investigation? If it becomes necessary, I may occasionally tell you which hat I am wearing during an answer. I am going to have to wear both to answer your question.
I think the cases are indicative of a number of different things. I have read the press reports, and both of them contain references to victims having given earlier indications of what was going on that allegedly were not picked up by forces early enough. On that score, I will be honest with you: I am not terribly surprised, although I do not know whether those allegations are true. Clearly, they need to be properly investigated and validated.
There is a major issue nationally, not restricted to the police service, about picking up the risk indicators and signs of children being victims of this kind of sexual exploitation. I think it is fair to say that, during the kind of period that both these allegations of not acting fast enough appear to refer to, the police service, in line with the rest of the nation, was less well informed and less aware of the prevalence of this kind of offending than it is now. In my professional judgment, in 2008-09, for example, the likelihood that a local police officer or member of police staff would pick up the symptoms-spot them-and feed them into a system that was capable of understanding them and responding appropriately was far less than it is now, but I do not think that is restricted to the police service. There is a far wider issue about how well all the agencies that come into face-to-face contact with particularly vulnerable children and young people deal with the information they get from them.
Q605 Chair: I am particularly interested in the police. Our experience sitting here is that often our witnesses come and tell us that yes, things were pretty bad five years ago or three years ago, but they are better now. I have been serving on Committees for seven years-I have not been in Parliament very long-and I am for ever hearing that. People are always telling me that things are better now than they were. I am still trying to understand, regardless of awareness, which fades, as we know, after there have been some high-profile cases-a few years pass and institutional memory lapses-how it is that a 12-year-old girl could complain to the police three times in 2008 and be turned away with no action on each occasion. I am looking system-wide, rather than asking you to answer on the specifics, which I know you cannot be judge and jury on. I am trying to understand what it is about the system that makes that possible in order for us to understand how to improve it.
Peter Davies: Let me be clear: if that is what happened in those cases, it is unacceptable and not the way the police service should respond. A lot of work has gone in, partly from my centre and partly from police forces across the country, to improve the service. And of course I point out that the Rochdale case, the Cumbria case and the other cases that have had a very high profile in the last year do actually demonstrate that these are now being picked up by police forces and that people would not be being brought to justice in the volume that they are around the country without police forces dealing effectively with these allegations. There is a lot of action that I can talk you through if you would like to firm up the awareness, the training and the processes well beyond expecting people to read the newspapers and watch the news. So my optimism that things are better now has some evidence to support it, quite apart from my knowledge of the level of awareness at every level of the police service about the need to get this particular thing right.
But I will go back to the point: how was it possible for that to happen? Police forces are huge warehouses of information. You are relying on the front-line person to spot the risk factors that someone is subject to this kind of abuse and sexual exploitation, which is not straightforward. Information that sits within police forces sometimes goes astray and sometimes does not end up at the right address-that is a common issue, not just in police forces, but is part of what goes on. I will reiterate what I said. Of course we know about this case because the police did eventually pick this up and do the right thing.
The other thing that I would say is that my centre-CEOP-published a thematic assessment on this issue in July last year. It was called "Out of Mind, Out of Sight" and I expect that members of the Committee are well aware of it. We came to some quite stark conclusions, which I would like to point out, if I may, because I think they are relevant to your question.
Chair: Please do.
Peter Davies: One is that it is very clear that unless local agencies working together actively to look for signs of child sexual exploitation, not only will they not spot it but they might delude themselves into thinking that it does not exist in their area. Our view, and it is a view that I know is shared by the Children’s Commissioner for England, who will report very shortly, is that it is far more prevalent than people realise. It is a largely hidden type of crime and victimisation, and one of the things that local services must do is to proactively look for it. Quite often, the report that leads to action is made not to the police or any of the other agencies but to an NGO, a charity or a group doing front-line work with children. One of the things that must be done, is increasingly being done and has certainly proved to be done in some of these cases, is that the police service, like others, needs to listen more attentively to the information that it is getting through those sources. I think it is an improving picture, and a lot of work is being done through ACPO and the centre to develop that picture further. These cases are evidence of police responding-perhaps not as quickly as they should-but let me be perfectly clear that not responding to a report of this nature, if that is what happened, does not feel acceptable to me as someone charged with trying to lead the police service in tackling child protection issues.
Q606 Craig Whittaker: I just want to turn your thought processes to your predecessor Jim Gamble, who resigned over the role of CEOP being integrated into what will eventually be the National Crime Agency-the Serious Organised Crime Agency as it is now. One of things that he said was about the inability to be able to recruit specialists in the area in a bigger organisation. Do you agree with him?
Peter Davies: I have a lot of respect for Jim; I do not think that the centre would be the fantastic place that it is without him having shown the level of leadership and drive that he did in its early years. I do not agree with him on that point. I have found it possible for us to recruit very experienced specialised people. Many of the people we recruit more directly from the Serious Organised Crime Agency or other parts of the civil service are excellent high-quality people as well. My issue with recruitment is not the lack of availability of specialists, it is that actually, at the moment, with the recruitment restraints placed on us as well as on other public agencies, it is more difficult to get the talented people into the centre.
One of the ways in which we, with the absolute support of Government, tried to secure the unique nature of CEOP and to make sure it was capable of operating just as effectively, if not more, in the National Crime Agency was to outline six organisational principles that help make us work. One of those is the ability to attract, recruit, retain and develop staff from a variety of different disciplines. That has been committed to personally by the Home Secretary and successive Ministers, and that is live in the sense that we are still able to do that. So, I think at the time Jim was in the centre it was quite legitimate to be concerned about that. The situation has been managed so that it is far less of a risk now.
Q607 Craig Whittaker: If I just draw you down a bit further on that point: obviously we have got a big drive nationally to, at local level, have much more integrated working between the police and local authorities, and a whole range of partners. This just doesn’t seem to be in tune with what we are trying to do at local level-putting into a bigger national central-type agency. How does that balance itself?
Peter Davies: I think it is a valid point. A centre like CEOP, which is actually quite small in terms of headcount-about 120 people-needs to live somewhere under the wing of a larger organisation; and actually CEOP, since its inception, has been an affiliate of the Serious Organised Crime Agency. So, with the dissolution of the Serious Organised Crime Agency and the creation of a National Crime Agency, in a sense that is more like business as usual for CEOP than a massive change. The unique character of CEOP is that we are a law enforcement-led child protection centre, and I sense every commitment that we will be able to continue to be so under the NCA. As I say, we have always been under the wing of the Serious Organised Crime Agency since our start, so it is not as if there is going to be a radical change.
The kind of things that SOCA currently does for us, that the NCA will do, include the provision of all the human resources services, ICT services, finance services: and the cost to CEOP of trying to own those services ourselves would run to several million pounds. We have a lot of benefits in terms of resilience and the ability to take better care of our staff through being part of a larger organisation. Those are benefits we enjoy now, and I think we ought to enjoy them in the future.
I take the point, though, that child protection is absolutely a partnership endeavour, and being part of a National Crime Agency is something that needs to be managed carefully. I think what will work is that we genuinely preserve the unique nature of CEOP, which is a major asset, in my opinion, to this country, and is something that is the envy of many other countries, and that we manage that potential risk in perception in a way that does not do any harm. People will know whether CEOP is the same kind of organisation, in a year or two years’ time. They will feel it, and it won’t be about where we are lodged in terms of the wider architecture; it will be about whether it still feels the same, or even better, to deal with us.
Q608 Craig Whittaker: Can I just ask you, then, about trafficked children? There has been some criticism that police treat children who are trafficked differently, quite often treating them as criminals rather than victims, particularly when they are forced into the sex trade or, indeed, cannabis factories, as has been widely reported. Is that the case?
Peter Davies: I think it is certainly the case. It happens, and what we are trying to do along with our colleagues in SOCA’s UK Human Trafficking Centre is develop better practice, so that it is better understood that children who may initially present as offenders might actually be victims. This actually reads across to the issue that is the subject of Mr Stuart’s question, which is child sexual exploitation. One of the problems with picking up information from some of these kids is they may first present to us as offenders for some kind of petty crime. Police services and police officers-I have been a police officer for over 26 years-tend to categorise people, and if someone is in the offender category, it is sometimes more hard to categorise them at the same time as a victim. That is about awareness. That is about training and processes that support people in taking that longer view.
It is absolutely true to say that there are children trafficked into this country and around this country who are simultaneously technically offenders and victims. I am sitting here before you today saying the police service and everybody else involved in providing a response need to understand how complex the lives of some of these kids are, and make sure that they are dealt with effectively. It is hugely difficult sometimes to unpick the victim and offender nexus. Some of the cases of child sexual exploitation that preceded the Rochdale one, that have attracted attention from the same newspapers, clearly show a level of complicity and collaboration by children in the victimisation of other children. They themselves may have started out as victims but have become, at some level, offenders at the same time.
I think it is really important that the police service, CEOP, the National Crime Agency and everybody else try to rethink their services around a really good understanding of what it is like to live a day in the lives of these kids, and see the extent to which some of the ways they present, and some of the things they experience, cross over the boundaries or the borders that we tend to draw for ourselves in our minds, whether it is victim, offender, missing child, or child in care. None of these categories means that much to a child living that kind of life. We need to rearrange our services so that we can understand what is going on with them, identify them, assess the risk and provide the best support we can to them to rescue them-"rescue" is not too strong a word-from the situation they are in.
Q609 Ian Mearns: The area we have gone into is understandably quite complex, as you have categorised it, in terms of the mindset of police officers dealing with someone who appears, on the face of it, to be worthy of being investigated for criminal activity themselves. On the complexity of the backgrounds of many of these children, which you have clearly identified, do you think there is enough urgency in the police service nationally when it comes to getting to grips with this? We are actually seeing-recent cases that have been identified have highlighted this-the systematic abuse of children over prolonged periods. Is there a lack of urgency among police, in terms of actually getting their heads around the complexity of this range of problems?
Peter Davies: I think there is always room for things being done more quickly. I do not sense a lack of urgency, and I personally have no lack of urgency about it. There are so many areas for development in the provision of services that rescue and protect children and young people, not just within policing but elsewhere. It is all urgent; it is all very important.
The kind of work that ACPO has done, in terms of advancing the agenda, is not just about the publication of Out of Mind, Out of Sight last year, although I do think that was very significant; it is providing awareness training and packages for front-line workers. We are about to launch a short video designed to be seen by any front-line police worker, raising awareness as to what child sexual exploitation is about and also what kind of risk factors to look for. These things take time to be done properly.
Q610 Chair: How systematic is it?
Peter Davies: How systematic is-
Chair: We know the abuse is systematic and sustained. Videos are available for these people, but how many of them are going to see them? How many people are getting these packages? How many people have been trained so far? Show us the urgency not just in intent, but in action.
Peter Davies: Okay. Well, the training package, which is designed for all front-line staff, is about to be published through ACPO. I cannot require every force to show it to every front-line worker, and I welcome any sense of urgency that people can inject into local forces to make sure that they receive the training package and do it properly.
Q611 Chair: If we looked at this again in a year’s time, Mr Davies, what would success look like? We know there is a problem and we know materials are being put in place, but it is your role-and it is our role-to make sure that the theory converts into practice.
Peter Davies: Of course. Success would be, first and very importantly, a really good, accurate training package that sends the right messages to people, so that they do the right things. We will produce that, and the number of people who viewed it will be a start. It will be easy then to say, "Well, they may have viewed it, but have they done anything any different?" Another indicator of success would be more of these cases coming through the courts. Another indicator of success would be the ability to demonstrate something that has happened already, which is the provision of specialist support and advice-not just from my centre, but from others-to police forces trying to tackle some of these crimes.
It is worth bearing in mind that investigations such as the one that came to a conclusion in Rochdale last week after a successful prosecution take a long time to do properly. They have to be carefully planned. The balance has to be struck between the need to secure a successful prosecution and lock people up, and to not allow further harm to come to children who are victims. These are very difficult, complex risk calculations that we are asking police officers to make. We already provide every support to them in doing that, and we are providing logistical support in cases such as this.
Q612 Craig Whittaker: I want to take you back very briefly, Peter, to my question about trafficked children. You were quite open and straight about what needs to be done. Can I just pin you down to a date or a timeline, perhaps? When are we going to see on the front line the turning of the stone-I know that is one of your sayings-so that police officers are more able to predict a victim rather than a perpetrator?
Peter Davies: I think that we are already seeing it. Although I did not have a chance to set this out at the start, you will have seen in my written submission what the role of ACPO is. It is to provide leadership, national guidance and representation. It is no part of my current role to direct police forces on what to do. That is the responsibility of local chief constables. We brought an issue to light very clearly last year. Local safeguarding children boards are generally but not exclusively independently chaired, and include police, children’s services, and other agencies that have a footprint in local areas and should work together to deal with safeguarding issues. There is a big area for development for LSCBs if they are to get on top of this issue. That is not diverting attention away from policing. We are doing everything that we can to make sure that police practitioners are more aware, better trained and better supported to spot and assess the risks, and deliver successful investigations and safeguarding interventions.
The police service does not act on its own. The best leadership for tackling this on the ground is local leadership. The structures exist; local safeguarding children boards are structures that exist and that should own this. The evidence that we found last year was that many had not spotted the stone, let alone lifted it. That is improving at the moment, and there is every sign that the standard of public debate, and of national practitioners’ debate, on the issue has advanced a great deal in the last year, but it will not make any difference-you are right-until local action changes. The cases coming through show that that is happening to some degree, but there is still a long way to go for the police service.
Q613 Craig Whittaker: Okay. May I turn your attention to people like ChildLine, and ask you whether CEOP should offer more of a technical role to them, particularly as regards children who contact them and who are at serious and immediate risk of harm? Are you in a position to offer 24/7 technical advice to those people? If not, who should provide that service?
Peter Davies: There is a close relationship between CEOP and the NSPCC, which of course owns ChildLine. We have a team of child protection advisers who are wholly funded by the NSPCC, who work within CEOP and advise all our investigators and other teams on child protection issues. We have a close relationship with ChildLine. One of the services that CEOP currently provides is that where a child contacts ChildLine online-not by telephone-and there is an indicator of serious risk, we try to help to identify where that child is, using the limited internet-based information that ChildLine has.
We started helping ChildLine with that between one and two years ago, and we do provide a 24-hour service to help identify children at serious risk, so that ChildLine can identify which police force to contact. I have to tell you that providing that service is now a source of strain to our staff because the volume has grown. We do not run a full 24/7 service; we run about 10 or 12 hours a day, and then do on-call. Some of my staff look extremely tired some mornings, because they have had to spend one or two hours during their sleep time dealing with some of these referrals. There must be a better solution. I have had a discussion with Andrew Flanagan, the chief executive of the NSPCC, about the need to find one. Finding the right place for this technical facility has yet to be sorted out, but we are holding the line. Of course the people with whom I am proud to work in CEOP will do everything they can to protect a child who is at serious risk of harm. I think the system is at capacity, and we need to find a longer-term solution, because more children will go online to contact ChildLine in future, and I think we will not be able to sustain the 24/7 service.
Q614 Chair: We are aware of that. We have met them and they told us that your staff are doing exactly what you said they were doing. You said that there needs to be a solution; why is there not one? You have been doing it for two years. Your staff are getting up in the middle of the night. ChildLine feels like it is leaning on them for overwhelming reasons. What is the solution?
Peter Davies: There are two or three options. I had a discussion about this with Andrew Flanagan, the chief exec, a month or two ago, and we are about to revisit that discussion. The NSPCC is currently able to get other local services to resolve phone numbers done by other means. The legislation means that it has to use a police service of some kind to resolve those IP addresses.
Q615 Chair: Do you want the legislation to be changed?
Peter Davies: A change in legislation that would enable organisations such as ChildLine to resolve those themselves would certainly help. There are very few options for how to do this within the police service at the present time. We could ask a large force such as the Metropolitan police to do it. We are contemplating that, depending on the outcome of the conversations with the NSPCC, but a solution must be found.
Q616 Chair: When will you get this resolved?
Peter Davies: Well, it is not something I can resolve myself. It is something I need to resolve in partnership with the NSPCC. As I say, we have started the conversation. It is urgent, from my point of view, and it is increasingly urgent. There are very few options on the table, given the current legislation. If the legislation were to change to enable more selected organisations to resolve internet identities in certain circumstances, so that the owners of them could be identified and rescued, that would-
Q617 Chair: If there are any changes that you need in the law, please write to us as part of this inquiry.
Peter Davies: I would be glad to.
Q618 Alex Cunningham: What does ChildLine actually need to be able to access that information? At the moment it needs specific IT specialists in order to trace it. What should it have?
Peter Davies: Well, what it needs is access to the ability to take an e-mail address or an internet identity and legally turn it into a name and address. What that will require at the moment is access through a law enforcement organisation. That involves contact with the service provider, whether it is the internet service provider or the communications service provider-the people who own the data.
Q619 Alex Cunningham: So you would be looking to compel those people to provide that information to ChildLine in certain circumstances.
Peter Davies: That would be one of the alternatives, yes. At the moment, that can be done for a variety of law enforcement reasons, and protecting children at high risk is certainly one of those. There is an established route through the police service and a law enforcement organisation to do it. The options are to expand the capacity that we have, which is difficult in these times, to do that piece of work to find a solution that is more sustainable. This will only grow and grow and grow, and a solution that might meet current demands will probably not meet them in a year or two. My preference, although it sounds as if it is taking a long time, is to find a sustainable long-term solution, and legislation might be a better one in the long term than putting a few more resources into an already stretched organisation.
Chair: We have lots to cover, so if we can keep both questions and answers short and sharp, that would be great.
Q620 Craig Whittaker: A final one for you in this session. Every young person to whom this Committee has spoken who has run away or left home and become vulnerable has said that they did not know who to contact once they left home. Is there a case for a national contact point that can filter the points? The Minister says not, by the way.
Peter Davies: Well, yes. There is going to be a national contact point for runaway and missing children. It will be the national missing children’s helpline on 116000. It will be launched on 25 May-this month-on International Missing Children’s Day, so there will be that helpline available and it will be answered by the missing children’s charity. In addition, CEOP will be building a missing kids website, which is an initiative publishing details of children who have gone missing. It will guide kids to sources of advice and help, and to a number of different referral areas. So a helpline for runaway and missing children is literally going to happen later this month, and it is part of a Europe-wide attempt to put set numbers in place-memorable numbers that people have a good chance of remembering-and provide the service behind them.
Q621 Craig Whittaker: So will a child getting abused at home, for example, have access to that number?
Peter Davies: That is a more complicated question, because the helpline is for runaway and missing children. There is ChildLine. There are a number of different options for children. It is a difficult judgment, in my view-how many different options and helplines you provide. CEOP online, for example, receives reports from children and members of the public with concerns. Many of them do not relate to our core business, which is child sexual exploitation. What we do is to pass them on to the right organisation that can help. I am not sure what the solution is to this. It feels like having a lot of helplines for different areas might get too confusing, but on the missing children front, as I say, that is literally going to happen this month.
Q622 Craig Whittaker: So from what you are saying, basically, a child getting abused at home has to run away from home before they can get hold of a national helpline number.
Peter Davies: Well, no, I don’t think that is what I am saying; what I am saying is that a child being abused at home has a number of options about what to do. They can report it online to CEOP, or to ChildLine, or to a number of people who are a bit closer to home-a responsible adult, a teacher, a medical worker, a police officer. There are a number of different ways of reporting it. If they contact one of the helplines and it is not quite the right helpline for them, there are sensible people at the other end who will get the information to the right people.
Q623 Chair: What about professionals, adults and other concerned individuals? Awareness of ChildLine will not be perfect, but it is there for that child being abused-but a lot of teachers and other people suggest that they bounce off. The authorities do not feel that it is taken seriously. Would there be case for a national line where there is a concern about child safety?
Peter Davies: Forgive me, are you talking about professionals who have received reports who are not sure what to do?
Chair: I am talking about having a single, national point of contact for any adult-rather than the child-who has child protection concerns. Would that offer benefits?
Peter Davies: I am ambivalent about it. I am not saying no. I observe that there are a lot of sources of help already, and the bigger issue that I have is how well people use them. I appreciate that you need me to cover some ground, but if I can use a brief example, CEOP provides some excellent materials for parents and children on internet safety, on our website and through a network of volunteers who deliver it into classrooms. There are still a lot of people out there who have never seen those pieces of information and do not know that they are there.
I am no expert on helplines, but my personal judgment is that we may end up with too many. Consolidating them all into one seems to involve the creation of a large organisation that does not currently exist. It may well be that the better way to deal with the present situation is to do more awareness and make sure that more people use the opportunities that are already there for them.
Q624 Damian Hinds: Before I come on to what I want to ask about, I want to pursue this point about helplines, if I may. I apologise for that. We can only report on things that have actually been said in the session, so even if something seems blindingly obvious, we have to discuss it with you, and you have to give an opinion.
I am fascinated to know the thinking behind introducing a new helpline. I think the 116000 is for children. My background is in marketing. Part of that is trying to make people remember memorable phone lines. If something is a regular purchase-something someone is doing once a month, say, or once a week-it is hard enough. In general, running away is not something you are doing that often, so I would suggest that the chances of a child’s knowing this memorable phone number at the point at which they have just run away are vanishingly small. When you have brands-forgive my using the term "brand"-or trusted names that people know, like ChildLine, the NSPCC or even the local council, presumably there is far more chance of those being top of mind at the right moment. I accept that it is a different question when you talk about adults and people in social care, who may be doing this regularly. What are your thoughts on that?
Peter Davies: I agree with you, hence my observation that creating another helpline may not be hugely useful. One of the issues about 116000 is that it will not just be a UK number. For example, if a child who is trafficked from one country to another knows a number that works around the world that can get them help, I think that is value-added-a UK national helpline will not provide that.
Q625 Damian Hinds: I think it’s a European one, because 118 is the standard European for directory inquiries, so presumably 116 is the standard for helplines of one sort or another.
Peter Davies: Yes. Given the number of kids who are moved around the country-whether abducted by parents or trafficked-and may not even know the emergency 999 number, because that is different in different countries, if there is a number that they can have confidence in, and wherever they are in a fair old chunk of the world, they can call it and there will be help, that is good thing.
You are clearly more of an expert than I am on the whole issue of marketing and awareness, but there is an awful lot of activity going on around International Missing Children’s Day and subsequently, to launch the number and make people aware of it. It is International Missing Children’s Day, so the same message is going out across a number of other countries with which we partner. It is not a precise science; whatever helpline you put together, there will always be a risk that some people who need it most will not be aware of it. That is an operational reality.
Q626 Damian Hinds: I also want to ask about the differential vulnerability to online abuse in different age groups of children. In this inquiry that we are a conducting, we have a particular focus-not an exclusive one-on older teenagers who are 15 to 19. With your experience at CEOP, could you say a word about how different age groups are more, or less, vulnerable to different types of abuse online?
Peter Davies: Thank you; I will. The age group I would focus on is probably that between the age when they start doing social networking and the age at which they become adults at 18. Opinions vary about when people start social networking. Technically, they should not before they are 13, but there are no real checks to ensure that they do not. Nearly every child in this country is online and a fair proportion now have smart phones, so they are online wherever they are. Actually, what we are finding in CEOP is that the differentiation between online and offline is increasingly artificial for anybody under 25 and certainly for our target clients.
The risks that children at that age face on the internet are, first, self-generated risk-the practice commonly called sexting, which is taking indecent images of themselves and sending them to a friend who sends them on to other people, at which point the image gets out there on the internet and cannot be retrieved. One of the biggest areas of risk is kids taking risks for themselves. What we are trying to do with that is educate them about the risk and make them feel empowered to manage the risk and know what to do if it goes wrong.
In terms of child abuse imagery, which some people call child pornography-we call it child abuse imagery and the law calls it indecent images of children-unfortunately, I have to tell you that the apparent age of the victims in images is getting lower and that the level of severity of the images is also getting worse. Of course, that is not a voluntary thing; there is no participation of any consensual kind on the part of the victims there. That is a different type of risk, but it has an internet footprint as well.
The biggest area of risk for teenagers on the internet is the risk they may create for themselves by publishing inappropriate information, getting tangled up with a predatory offender who exploits their social networking site or their naivety in order to meet or to get them to abuse themselves online, which happens alarmingly frequently, or by simply taking risks for themselves and losing control of their identity and their privacy.
Q627 Damian Hinds: I am glad that you mentioned sexting. The NSPCC’s report on this came out on Monday.
Peter Davies: Indeed.
Damian Hinds: It is a very interesting and disturbing report.
Peter Davies: Yes.
Damian Hinds: It reports on girls aged 13. Apparently, it is quite widespread. I think it accepts that it is not a statistically valid survey, but nevertheless, even if it is half-right, they are routinely sending naked or semi-naked pictures of themselves to boys, and as you say, these things may get distributed and used as currency. How often do the police come across those cases? How often are they referred? What is the police’s experience of the sorts of age groups involved and so on?
Peter Davies: There aren’t any really reliable national figures that can gather together the entire experience of all the police forces on this issue.
Q628 Damian Hinds: Even just anecdotally-do schools routinely, or parents or children ever actually come to the police to say this has happened?
Peter Davies: Children come to the police in a tiny proportion of cases, normally when it has gone seriously wrong and turned into bullying or some other form of harassment, or if they realise that it has got out of control; but that is a tiny minority of the actual activity. To give you some measure, CEOP receives from the internet industry, I would think, upwards of 300 referrals per month, which are indecent images of children, apparently self-taken, showing various different levels of risk. That, again, is a small proportion of what is going on, but it is an indicator of the volume that even comes across our networks.
As you will have seen-I think you may have been at the launch of the research on Monday-it is a highly prevalent activity and it is becoming alarmingly normal practice for teenagers. We are very adamant that it is hugely risky and that kids do not necessarily know what they are getting into. As you know, we try very hard to alert kids to the risk, and I wish that more people would see the stuff we put out, because it is very powerful.
Q629 Damian Hinds: We are the Education Committee, covering children’s services and education. If there was a message that you, from your experience, would want to give to the school system or the wider children’s services sector about how parents, schools and others can help to counter this, what would it be?
Peter Davies: I would say firstly, prevent. The best way of preventing that I know-I make no apology for saying this-is to become an ambassador or volunteer for CEOP, to take our education products and take them into your schools, because those materials are as good as they get. The next thing is to protect, particularly in terms of school policy around mobile phones and dealing with children’s behaviour in and around the school. Be aware that, just as a child may present as a criminal first but actually be a victim in policing terms, a child may present as disruptive or as a sexting-type offender in a school environment but may have far more complex problems. Look for the risk factors, ask the right questions and be prepared to spend a bit of time working out whether this person is just somebody who has broken the rules or whether they actually need some greater level of safeguarding and help.
Q630 Damian Hinds: We had a bit of a conversation on this at the launch of that report on Monday about how schools should communicate about sexting. There is a view that sexting is a potentially legitimate part of children’s lives, but that you need to control it and be aware of the danger, so that you can mitigate the risk. There is another view-candidly, I will tell you I share it-which is, "Just don’t do it." Life would be easier for everybody to say no if that message were loud and clear. You may just not be able to answer this question, but in your experience is that message, "Just don’t do it" loud and clear, or is it more about knowing what could go wrong and therefore trying to mitigate the risks?
Peter Davies: Our experience has taught us that if we start lecturing kids about what they should not do, they are more likely to do it. What seems to work better-this is our professional view-is to make them fully aware of the risks they are taking, and to make them feel empowered to manage the risks they are taking and know what to do if it goes wrong. That may not be everybody’s view of how to approach it, but that is the experience of my very skilled and experienced specialist staff in that area. I probably think they are right, and I support them in making that judgment.
If you look at the products that we put out around sexting, which we published in February last year, you will see that they are very hard-hitting. If I saw them, I would say, "I am not going to do that," frankly, and that is always an option for people. If they are going to do it, it is important to ensure that they do not feel they are beyond the pale or they cannot report it because they have done something terribly wrong. It is a difficult area.
Damian Hinds: Thank you.
Q631 Alex Cunningham: Damian covered the education angles on this, and you yourself have said that the age of the young people is getting younger and younger. We all know that younger and younger children are becoming far more competent-probably more competent than I will ever be-on the internet and things of that nature. I just wonder where the education programmes should now be. I know we need to warn older teenagers and everything else of all these risks, but where should we be starting the education programme? Is it seven-year-olds and eight-year-olds? Where should we be?
Peter Davies: Well, I think the moment a child becomes the subject of the education system, that is when you should start. I sat with some friends recently in a café, and their three-year-old son was doodling on an iPad. If you look at it, it is never too soon to start. We used to extend our education packages down to about 10; they are now down to eight, and we are realising that we may have to pitch them at ages below that. This is no longer something that kids do when they are at home in the sitting room under the natural surveillance of their family; it is in their pocket and it is with them all the time. It is absolutely prevalent, and the future is that it will be an integral part of their lives, just as the telephone is to me.
It is never too early-that is my view. The issue is finding the right way to pitch the messages, so that they start early realising the risks. In my view, it is actually quite similar to learning to cross the road. I am a green cross code vintage person-[Interruption.] I see I have got one or two friends here. We did not say that kids should not cross the road. We accepted that they had to cross the road because that was part of their lives, and we tried to teach them how to do it safely. The moment they started crossing the road was the moment they needed to be safe. I think kids go online at ages before they even present to the education system, so I think it should start the moment they come through the doors.
Q632 Ian Mearns: I am a great friend of Policeman Badger.
In your area of expertise and specifically online abuse and exploitation, do you believe that the current thresholds for intervention in children’s social care are appropriate for the field of work that you deal with and concentrate on?
Peter Davies: I think that they are appropriately worded and are workable. They are obviously subject to local interpretation. One essential thing, as I think we put in our written submission, is for everybody in a local area to sing off the same hymn sheet and apply the same kind of thresholds.
One of our biggest issues is the extent to which some people somehow see online abuse as being very different or not fitting into the same system. I am not aware of a huge number of online abuse cases going through that threshold and formal process, and for obvious reasons, they tend to be more about locally reported physical abuse that comes through some of the local agencies. The fact is that online abuse is just as harmful, and in many cases more harmful, than offline abuse. It is an integral part of people’s lives, just as the internet is.
One difficulty faced by the police services and, I have no doubt, the caring services and others, is that there is a massive gap between the prevalence of that kind of harm and the understanding, support, training and equipment, and the ability of those services to deal with it effectively.
At CEOP, we have to focus on the highest risk, highest harm areas. That means that a lot of things that could be harmful have to be passed on to local forces, and the response is mixed, depending on their perception of how risky that information is. Some of it is exceptionally strong, or course, but it is nevertheless mixed.
We need to look at the world through the eyes of the people we are trying to protect, not our own, and if you speak to the average teenager, online and offline is now an increasingly false distinction. Online abuse can be just as harmful as offline abuse in every single sense.
Q633 Ian Mearns: For me, the crucial word is "abuse" and it doesn’t matter how it manifests itself. The crucial word is "abuse" and it should be treated absolutely seriously.
Peter Davies: I entirely agree, and if you look at the harm that some of the victims have come to entirely through online abuse, it is just the same, if not in many ways worse. Think about it this way. There is one case that is yet to come to trial, so I must be careful what I say about it, but if a child has been abused through the internet or a social networking site by someone whom he or she does not know and has never seen, that person is nearly always with them in the room, whenever they have a laptop or a smart phone with them. It is physical abuse because they know whether they are there or not. Given that online activity is such an integral part of young people’s lives, the level of fear that that can create is immense.
One of the most rewarding things that some of our staff did last year with some of these kinds of victims was tell them that the person was no longer there and was not going to reach them again. That tells me that the harm is just the same, although in many ways the level of fear and the psychological pressure is greater. The ability to multiply offending is huge. It needs to be seen as part of our victims’ lives, and we need to arrange ourselves around that, so that it can be dealt with effectively.
Q634 Ian Mearns: From your response, am I right in thinking that the response itself is patchy depending on where it is?
Peter Davies: I think that is exactly right.
Q635 Ian Mearns: In Tower Hamlets, we heard that 70% of referrals to children’s social care came from the police themselves. Do the police always find that action is taken in response to their referrals, or do you find that there are particular circumstances in which children’s social care bodies turn referrals away?
Peter Davies: I think the picture is mixed, and I make no apology for saying that because we are talking about locally devolved services that operate with different dynamics. I have worked in places where it was felt that cases were not being attended to by social services and also in places where the co-operation is really good. The critical thing is to have the same understanding of what the risk is and enough communication to know what each agency can and should be doing. One of the best vehicles for that is a multi-agency safeguarding hub, where the referral, no matter from where it comes, goes through a shared process based on a shared set of information and a shared risk assessment process. That works; that seems to be effective, and it addresses some of the risks about cases almost ping-ponging-I probably shouldn’t use that term-between different agencies, none of which necessarily feels that it is their job to step up. It is very easy for these relationships to go wrong when people are under huge pressure, particularly in terms of resources. What works is people working together effectively, with a shared set of information and a shared understanding.
Q636Chair: Do we know who is failing?
Peter Davies: I don’t think we know place by place who is failing. It is easier to point to what works, and that is what I have described.
Q637Chair: So we don’t know who is failing. The referrals are being made; they are being turned away inappropriately; and we don’t know who they are.
Peter Davies: I think people are having to make subjective judgments every day about what to do with referrals. This is a very imprecise science. I cannot sit here and tell you, either on behalf of CEOP or ACPO, that I know those places where this is working really well. Our job is to identify good practice, and support and encourage it. MASHs-multi-agency safeguarding hubs-are being fed out as good practice nationally. Mistakes will be made, because we are in a high-risk business. There is not a choice between risk and no risk.
Q638 Chair: I am just trying to identify whether we know where the problems are. It would seem pretty extraordinary if we have these referrals that are not being handled properly, and the agencies know that, but somehow we do not know where these people are. Therefore, if we cannot identify them, we might be spreading out best practice, but we are not identifying those who are failing.
Peter Davies: To be fair, perhaps I am the wrong person to ask, because I am not an inspectorate. Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary and Ofsted are probably the organisations to which you would be better directing that question, to get a better answer than I can provide.
Q639Chair: Perhaps you feared I was leading you to name names, and I am often tempted to do that here, because people so rarely do. However, I was not asking you to name names; I was just trying to find out whether you are confident that the inspectorates and others know where the problems are, so that they can be addressed.
Peter Davies: Ah, okay. I am confident that they are rearranging how they work to make it more likely that they will spot where the risks are. For example, I know that HMIC and Ofsted have started doing no-notice, snap inspections. I cannot speak for them in terms of how well it is going. It is not my job to inspect police forces or children’s services; it is my job, on behalf of ACPO, to identify the right policy and good practice, make sure that it is shared and promote the best practice, in the hope that police forces and partners will end up doing the best job they can.
Chair: We will move on to more productive avenues.
Q640 Ian Mearns: I am not here to give evidence-I am here to ask questions-but if I can make an observation, the hope that best practice will somehow morph itself out there could be a bit forlorn in some places. If, in your role, you are clearly identifying places where the response is not adequate or falls short of what we would hope, surely there is an argument that a referral should be made to an inspectorate to look at that matter.
Peter Davies: And referrals are made, not necessarily by ACPO or CEOP, but there is a system for these referrals being made. If I can just-I know you have other people to see.
Chair: We’ve got no time.
Peter Davies: Okay. May I make one observation? One critical thing that the Munro review identified is that thinking somehow local services will get better and better if there is more compliance checking and more rules has not worked. I think that system has run into the ground. What Munro clearly identifies is that, like it or not, whatever you do in terms of inspections and setting rules and policies, you have to trust local practitioners to do the right thing and make effective local judgments. That feels uncomfortable and risky, but it is not as if there is no risk with the other approach. I refer to the thematic assessment that we published last year, which clearly identified that, despite guidance being published many years ago on how to tackle the phenomenon of child sexual exploitation and despite structures and inspectorates being in place, it was not happening. What that says to me is that my mind is open to a different approach that is less command and control, but empowers local people to do the right thing, and supports them in doing it.
Q641 Ian Mearns: I am paraphrasing, but it seems that as with evil, all it takes for evil, or bad practice, or a poor response to prevail is for good men do nothing.
Peter Davies: Absolutely.
Q642 Ian Mearns: I am reassured that referrals are being made where you feel that the response is inadequate. It may be better, from the perspective of a national service, that those referrals have been made, that it is done in confidence and that people do not know where the referrals have come from. However, in such an important and serious area of work, it appears that if the job is not being done on the ground, we are spending an awful lot of money on doing nothing. That seems to me a matter of grave concern. With your ACPO hat on, what are the benefits of co-locating police units with children’s social care? We have seen where this has happened out in the field. What are the benefits from your perspective?
Peter Davies: I absolutely support that model of doing it, and I refer to one model: the multi-agency safeguarding hub. In brief, the benefits obviously include better access to data, because people can have their own computer systems in the same room. Comparing data is hugely important, as is a shared, understood way of assessing risk and a shared approach to the task. There is a host of cultural benefits with agencies understanding each other better. Child protection is a collective, partnership-based, multi-agency endeavour. It cannot be done as a single agency. Anything that puts those practitioners in the same room and shares the best of what they have got and gets them to work better together I wholeheartedly support.
Q643 Ian Mearns: I have a number of other questions, but I am conscious of the time. Would it be okay if we sent you those questions and you could respond?
Peter Davies: You would be very welcome. I apologise if I have been too long-winded and not helped to manage the time.
Ian Mearns: No, no, not at all.
Chair: It is complex stuff.
Craig Whittaker: Shall we add those final questions from me into the same list? Would that help?
Chair: Yes, excellent; we will do that. Peter, thank you very much for giving evidence to us this morning. We will be in contact with you on the lines we suggested.
Peter Davies: Thank you very much indeed.
Examination of Witnesses
Witnesses: Dr Shade Alu, Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health, and Dame Moira Gibb CBE, Chair, Social Work Reform Board, gave evidence.
Q644 Chair: Good morning to our next witnesses and thank you both for joining us. I feared we were going to overrun on the last session even longer than we did, but we brought ourselves nearly back on track.
We are a year on from the Munro review and there is still no chief social worker in post and a long-awaited revised guidance on working together still has not been published. Has the momentum behind that review been lost? What needs to happen to maximise the opportunities presented by Munro? Who would like to pick up that?
Dame Moira Gibb: I am not sure that I can answer all of those questions for the Committee. My role is chairing the Social Work Reform Board, which is seeking to implement the recommendations of the task force. We see the work that we are doing as the underpinning of Munro. Her model of moving away from a rules-based system to a professional judgment system requires competent and capable social workers at the front line. Our work has been designed to do that over time, but it is taking a long time. It would in any circumstances, but these are not the best of circumstances.
I am conscious that I appeared before your predecessor Committee almost to the day three years ago, when I was chairing the task force. In its conclusions it recommended to the Government a strategic approach, with not too many initiatives. I think the present Government are to be greatly commended for continuing our work and recognising its underpinning nature. There is always the risk of being pulled away from that fundamental nature of the changes that we are trying to put in place.
Our work, of course, has not been helped by the financial circumstances in which local authorities and the Government find themselves. The question of how to promote best practice and drive improvements out there remains a conundrum for us. We have a reform board made up of 32 different organisations that come to the table willingly and have contributed, but we are dependent on them taking back our work into their organisations and spreading it out through those pre-existing mechanisms.
There is not any capacity or capability in our work, as it were, or in the system as a whole to make those changes happen from the centre. People have to be willing. Employers have to engage with our employers’ standard, which is designed to ensure that social workers have the necessary support to do their work well. However, if employers choose not to-although I hope that Ofsted would look unfavourably on them in that process-my board and I have no sanction to bring. So, it is slow and steady work.
With regard to Eileen Munro’s report and her one-year-on assessment, I think that she would agree that there is a very mixed picture in that some places are driving ahead with reform and others are struggling with their current work load and cannot quite see the space to change. It is very difficult to reduce your expenditure on these services, which every local authority has to do, and to try and transform it at the same time, which requires, in a sense, a clear vision of where you are trying to get to. Our work is designed to help local authorities feel that that is not beyond them, that they can do it, that there is a vision to get to and that they should not just take the simple answer of sticking with what they know, because it does not produce the results that we want to see.
Eileen Munro identified the conundrum in the sense that it is very hard to ask people to give up the levers that they currently have and what they think is their control of the system and to depend on professional judgment if they do not actually trust the front-line workers’ professional judgment. We are in that slightly vicious circle of trying to make steady progress, but I do not think that there is an alternative, frankly. I think that this is what we have to do. There is no other answer to finding capable social workers at the front line apart from training them better, ensuring that we pick the right people to be trained, supporting them and encouraging them to continue their continuous professional development in their careers. That is what our work has been designed to do.
Chair: Thank you. That was a long answer.
Dame Moira Gibb: Can I go now?
Q645 Chair: I am not that much clearer as to whether, from where you sit, the momentum has been lost, or is it where you would expect it to be? Obviously, we would always like to be doing more, more quickly, and to a higher quality, but what do you think, Dr Alu?
Dr Shade Alu: My view is that the health service, as you know, is undergoing huge reform. At the same time, the Munro report came out, which was much more focused on social work, although obviously it affects health services. The picture will be mixed in terms of the momentum. It has been embraced and the recommendations are being worked through. From a health perspective, "Working Together to Safeguard Children" not having been released for consultation is one of the factors that has allowed the momentum to slow down somewhat, because "Working Together to Safeguard Children" for us in health is a seminal document. I know that it is written by the Department for Education, but many of the levers that we have from a health perspective are in "Working Together to Safeguard Children", and what we have heard from our membership, and from health more generally, is that until we know what is in that document, it is very difficult to move forward. I think that the delay has contributed to a loss of momentum in health, although we are obviously working together with partners, and I am aware that LSCBs are continuing to drive through the reforms from Munro.
Q646 Chair: Moira, the College of Social Work is an establishment that has not been without difficulty. Can you update us on where it is at?
Dame Moira Gibb: They are hopeful that there will be very good progress to report, but nevertheless even if they resolve the difficulties with BASW that have been at the heart of the delay, there is still the challenge of encouraging social workers to join the college and ensuring that it has a membership that means that it has capability. I could not think of a more difficult time-at a time when social workers are going to have to pay more to be registered-to say to them that they must also join the college, because that is part of being in a profession. In a sense, the new regulator of social workers will, as it were, assert minimum standards, and the college will be the one that says, "This is how we take you beyond those minimum standards." It is incredibly difficult. Everywhere I go, I tell social workers that employers have to do all these things and higher education has to do all these things, but you-social workers-have to join, participate, think like a professional and be serious about continuing to develop your own capability. As I say, I cannot think of a worse time financially for them to be asked to do this. We have to be optimistic and encouraging, and it may take a long time.
The medical colleges have had centuries to develop their resources and standing. The professions are much more firmly entrenched in the health sector than they are in the local government sector. It is going to be a young organisation for quite some time. Again, it says to social workers, "You have responsibilities as a professional, as well as your employer or anyone else having responsibilities." I hope that that will encourage them to think more carefully about their continuous professional development.
It is incredibly difficult at the moment. There is no money for courses or the kinds of things that people see as somehow extra to the day job, when they are actually fundamental to doing the day job to the standard that you have been talking about this morning.
Q647 Craig Whittaker: There is obviously a high profile national board reforming social work and, similarly, we have high-profile organisations. We heard Shade talk about "Working Together", and, Moira, you talked about the issues between the college and BASW and how long it will take-it is long term. Children in need do not have a long time, so how will we really start? If you guys cannot sort out among your own profession how you will work together, how on earth can we have confidence that other professions will work with you? The end game is the children. How will we nail this? What structures are you going to put in place to nail it once and for all?
Dame Moira Gibb: Frankly, I do not think that it will ever be "nailed". In a sense, you have been discussing this morning just how complex the world of childhood has become. You help children in one set of circumstances and train people to do that well, and suddenly, lo and behold, there are a whole new set of circumstances that you had not thought about and those people have not been trained around. I think that we will constantly be running after the service that we would like to have in place.
I want to stress that I think we are talking about improvements, not a system that is incapable. We are talking about lots of social workers who do meet the standards that we would want. There are lots of employers who are actually providing the support and situation tools and giving social workers the tools to do a good job. They are stretched and stressed, but nevertheless there is lots of good work going on.
Ofsted itself produced a report at the end of last year that talked about how there is clear evidence that if employers provide that support and regular professional supervision for social workers, it translates into better outcomes for children. It is making sure that employers understand that it is not just something that social workers, like a trade union, are campaigning for, but actually makes a difference to practice. That is the message that we need to keep getting out to employers. There is not a quick fix, frankly. There is not one single answer. You have to do this in a systematic and consistent way and not give up today.
I would like to see more evidence that people at the top of organisations are interested in the actual individual cases. My sense is that in health, the strength of the professions in the health service has meant that the people at the top of the organisation know about operations-as it were. I do not think we have lost that sense of actual practice, and focus on the quality of practice needs to increase.
Q648 Craig Whittaker: Okay. I understand the evolving bit. This place has taken 1,000 years to evolve. It is still not right and is a long way from being right. I understand that, but it is about the basic stuff and working together. It is the things in areas around the country where we see it working well where people do work. The MASH system, for example, improves kids’ lives incredibly. Yet time and time again we hear this criticism and we see evidence of it on this Committee that we cannot seem to get it right. If you guys around social work cannot even agree among yourselves, what hope in heck has everybody else got? In that same vein, Moira, is there a role for the College of Social Work in bringing together strategic child protection leads from across different disciplines?
Dame Moira Gibb: The sector agrees on many things and certainly in terms of a coherent picture, the taskforce recommendations were widely welcomed, including by BASW and employers. Inevitably the devil is always in the detail and an organisation that has to question its own future will perhaps not be quite so keen on partnership straight away. As you say, there are excellent examples of partnership but we have to avoid having too many expectations of this fledgling college. It is a college of social work rather than a representation of social workers. It has already taken on a number of the tools and products that the reform board has developed and it is creating faculties that support specialisms. I am not directly involved in the college. It was one of our recommendations but it is an independent college. It is important not to overburden it from the earliest stage, but I would want it to be allowed a voice for social work and that partnership working. If it does not work in partnership then it is not going to succeed.
Q649 Craig Whittaker: Okay. The National Safeguarding Delivery Unit, of course, was abolished. Is there a bigger role for the national college to play in taking up that gap?
Dame Moira Gibb: Again, it would have to decide itself whether it could do that. I think you would want to look at a partnership body. I was involved with the safeguarding unit and a very wide range of organisations and professions was represented there and that was valuable.
Q650 Craig Whittaker: So was it a mistake disbanding it?
Dame Moira Gibb: Partnership working should be supported and encouraged. It had only just got started-
Q651 Craig Whittaker: So yes or no? A mistake or not? Or are you loth to say?
Dame Moira Gibb: It was too hard to say that it was the right answer, I have to say. I think it is important that we remain focused on partnership working around safeguarding but Eileen Munro’s review was taking place. But leadership around these issues is important, yes.
Q652 Craig Whittaker: You may have heard Peter Davies and we had a bit of a discussion around a single national point of contact, not just for children but for professionals too. Is that a good idea? Where would a point of contact best be based and who should administer it?
Dr Shade Alu: We should acknowledge that there are points of contact already so the NSPCC one that we heard about is available for children and professionals. There is the Coram children’s legal centre which is also a point of contact for professionals. I think I would agree with the previous witness who referred to the fact that in trying to bring together a single point of contact we are in danger almost of creating an organisation that would be quite unwieldy. What we need to do is to define what we want from that point of contact. Do we want it for children? Do we want it for professionals?
In terms of the professionals there are areas where they can already pick up information and where they can go for advice. What we need to do is to strengthen the advice that professionals can get as opposed to building up a point of contact when I am not sure what it is supposed to deliver from a professional point of view. From the children’s point of view, picking up on what was said in terms of marketing, we need to keep it as simple as possible and maybe strengthen the NSPCC that we already have, as opposed to trying to build something else nationally.
Q653 Craig Whittaker: So your advice, then, would be to extend ChildLine services as a single point of contact for children but that the advice that professionals get through the current local contacts, whether it is the local safeguarding children board or whomever, is sufficient but needs to be strengthened? Would that be your recommendation?
Dr Shade Alu: I would recommend strengthening the local, and I would say keep and strengthen the NSPCC for children. There is a branch of the NSPCC that gives professional advice, and I think that should keep going. There are others, such as the Coram legal centre, that give legal advice to professionals, which I think is really helpful, but we mustn’t take away from the local because professionals really should go back through their local routes for the advice they need to do their work.
Q654 Craig Whittaker: Moira, would your advice be any different?
Dame Moira Gibb: What we should do is work on what you were talking about earlier and children’s connectivity. It is about being online and being sure that they have access to information online in the ways that they do it. If you use a single point of contact, it is always the next stage that is the most important: what you do with that and how you connect single points of contact to service delivery. So it often feels like an answer when, actually, it is just another layer of complexity in a complex system.
Q655 Craig Whittaker: Dr Alu, we have heard many times about sharing information, data sharing and stuff, and we have heard that the health service is by far the worst at sharing information. How do we get over that? How do we get over medical confidentiality? The police are in a very similar boat. They all blame health, but, the truth be known, they are all as bad as each other. The MASH system seems to be a halfway house, but it just seems madness in some ways that we can’t get over this silo thinking around data. How do we fix it?
Dr Shade Alu: From our point of view, there is always tension, as you say, between confidentiality and the need to share information. I think our message is very clear to practitioners: the needs of a child are paramount and have to come first. One of the issues around information sharing, on which I can give a few examples, is that some practitioners who do not work in this field do not necessarily understand their responsibilities. Their responsibilities are clear, but it is the implementation of those responsibilities. So it goes back to training and awareness; it goes back, I guess, to colleges, as well. The various medical colleges need to talk to their membership and give guidance on what needs to be shared.
Q656 Chair: Who is not doing it? You said that groups are not doing it. We have had tragedy after tragedy, and, time after time, we are told that there isn’t a level of training, awareness and understanding in the medical professions, as well as others, and you are telling us exactly what we have heard.
Dr Shade Alu: What I would suggest is that training is certainly a lot better. In terms of who is not doing it, I think you would find pockets of excellence across the medical professions and pockets where practice is not as good as we would want it to be.
Q657 Chair: Name those pockets.
Dr Shade Alu: With great difficulty, because I guess in any one discipline we would have pockets of good practice and pockets of practice that is not as good as we would want it to be. I think it is difficult to finger one particular discipline. Practice is quite variable across disciplines, and part of our role is to ensure that it is more uniform across all disciplines.
Q658 Chair: I don’t want to be impatient or rude to you, but we are told again and again that things are better than they were but that it is all a bit patchy. Meanwhile, we feel like we are sleepwalking until the next tragedy comes along. It doesn’t feel as if we are quite getting the honesty that we need-I don’t mean from you, but generally-to address this and get change.
Dr Shade Alu: Anecdote is always difficult. In terms of evidence around training and awareness in health, CQC did a straw poll a few years ago that showed where training was at and it was well below the benchmark. My understanding is that it is now above where it was. It is certainly not where we want it to be, but it is moving in the right direction. It is a work in progress. I can understand your impatience; I am as impatient as you are. We are talking about children and abuse. The poor children who are subject to it do not have another life and therefore it is important that we get there very quickly. We are working on it and it is moving in the right direction.
Q659 Alex Cunningham: My wife was a school nurse and she told me that when it came to sharing information, her professional registration was in jeopardy in some circumstances. Are the royal colleges standing in the way by placing restrictions on people through the advice they give them or the rules that they lay down related to the person’s registration, so that they cannot share it without that risk that my wife used to fear?
Dr Shade Alu: My response to that would again be what I have said previously: it is interpretation. The duty to share information when there is child abuse and where children are involved is very clear. The colleges are clear that they must-I use the word "must"-share information. However, interpretation locally can be tricky. We get this time and time again and we hear it from a range of members. Organisations might be saying, "No, you can’t do that", but actually you can.
Q660 Alex Cunningham: So what is being done to overcome this?
Dr Shade Alu: It sounds like a broken record, but it is back to training, it is back to interpretation and it is back to awareness. It is not just training of the front line. We are not talking about the training of management and managers. It has to come from the top of the organisation. If the people who are in charge of data protection, who are not medical at all, are saying, "Oh no, you cannot share information", they use that as a blanket statement, rather than saying, "This relates to child protection. This is a child who is at risk of harm. It is a slightly different set of rules here." We need to get to the information officers. I think that the front-line staff are aware, but they usually want to collate with the organisations, and that is sometimes where we get into the issue of, "No, we cannot share." We need to be getting to information officers across organisations.
Q661 Craig Whittaker: Can I just ask whether there is there a case then for creating a positive duty to share information under the Data Protection Act? If so, how would it work and would it improve the current situation?
Dr Shade Alu: It is one of those things where, when you hear it like this, it sounds really attractive and one would almost jump out saying, "Yes." I think, as always, however, that when these things happen we need to be mindful of unintended consequences and we also need to be mindful of the ethical dilemmas that come around sometimes with information sharing. What I would say today is that it needs some thinking. I am sure that we would be happy as a college to go away and think about it and put something in writing to you.
Chair: We would be very grateful.
Dame Moira Gibb: We can overstate the importance of sharing information. Certainly our work has been very much focused on what people do with information. It is important that people can analyse and understand what it means, and not simply have it recorded. We have had a focus on ensuring that everything is recorded, but, as I say, it needs to be understood and then interpreted and acted upon if a child is in some way at risk. I think that we can get carried away with clarifying who can share what and with whom. Often people have enough information, even without one missing bit, to take action, and they have not done that, because they are not doing that analysis and thoughtful reflection on what is in front of them.
Q662 Ian Mearns: I must admit that I am becoming a bit frustrated as we go through this, Mr Chairman, because in the previous session we were talking about sharing good practice and it is a bit like trickle-down economics, because it does not always work, particularly if you are in the north-east of England. We do not feel very trickled on at the moment. It seems to me that sharing good practice is all very well, as long as the recipients realise that they need to be shared with. Sometimes that is the problem. Somebody needs to give them the metaphorical shake sometimes in order to make them aware that they need to be shared with. Then they might begin the learning process, which is so important. We need to reach the parts that other information does not reach, as it were. Sorry, that is my two minutes of frustration vented.
Dame Moira, what progress has the Social Work Reform Board made in implementing its five priority reforms?
Dame Moira Gibb: What we were doing was overseeing the implementation; we don’t do it ourselves. I think we have made some progress, but inevitably it has been slower than I and most of my colleagues would have wanted. In September, the assessed year in employment will be introduced, which, when I came in 2009, was a considerable concern for this Committee. That will mean that social workers will have a more consistent and more supported, but more judged first year in practice. The universities are introducing stricter criteria about who is selected to join a social work programme and we have developed support for the partnerships that we think are at the heart of this. When I first started the work, what we found was that higher education was blaming employers, and employers were blaming higher education-that we weren’t delivering social workers of the calibre they needed. But, actually, unless they join up-because they are both very important contributors to that training of the next generation-then it doesn’t work and we just keep on blaming each other.
I think we have made steady progress, but it is a mixed picture-I wouldn’t disagree with you. I visited Gateshead children and adult services and they wanted to be at the forefront of sharing good practice, but that is not the case everywhere. In a model that is not top-down, but sector self-improvement, it is inevitable that we will have a bigger range of performance. On the other hand, however, we might drive up the performance at the top end, because people will not be restricted to that particular model of being told what to do and doing it; they will actually be thinking about what is necessary and developing new approaches. So it is all lumped together in mediocrity, or a longer tail of perhaps underperformance. I certainly think that the model we are pursuing at the moment-encouraging more leadership and concern locally to develop that practice-is again underpinned by individual social workers wanting to be more professional and to share practice. They ought to be able to influence the organisations that they work in, and have more confidence.
Q663 Ian Mearns: So you don’t implement, you influence. Is that what you are saying?
Dame Moira Gibb: We provide the tools that make it possible for employers, for example. We have an employers standard that, if employers follow it, will mean that they are very good employers and, as I said, will produce better outcomes for children. But if they ignore it completely, I can’t give them low marks on some scale or other-they are independent. As I say, I hope that Ofsted and other inspectorates would look at what notice employers were taking and what attitude they had to the professional development of their staff in their inspection, particularly given the evidence of the impact it has on children.
Q664 Ian Mearns: In your role-as with the previous person who gave evidence, Peter-if you come across people who quite clearly aren’t taking on board what they really should be doing, would you give Ofsted a call and say, "Go and have a look at them please."?
Dame Moira Gibb: No, I wouldn’t. The body I run is a partnership. Frankly, I wouldn’t have the evidence; I would have anecdote. If I saw something that I thought was absolutely failing children, my first point of contact would be the director of children’s services or the chief executive rather than Ofsted, because I think that people should have the right to put it right themselves. This is a part-time role for me. I am not out there all the time. I don’t have the evidence to call people to account, I’m afraid. I was an inspector in an early life, but I have no desire to be one now.
Q665 Ian Mearns: Obviously, you are dealing with people in individual social services departments at a strategic level. If you are, from personal experience, coming across people who you feel are in danger of failing the people who they are meant to be serving, surely you have a responsibility to do something about that.
Dame Moira Gibb: Yes, absolutely; but as I say, my first point of contact would be within the department or the local authority. I should say that the college is, again, intended to help, because social workers will know about it if there is something going wrong. Where do they go if they have not been heard in their own authority? The college will be a help. And of course the chief social worker will have an important role. I know that you are impatient, Chair, for the appointment, but I am encouraged that the two Departments have stuck so closely together to have a chief social worker across social work in general. I am hopeful that they will make an appointment and that that appointment will make a difference to the system.
Q666 Damian Hinds: Doesn’t this at heart come to judgments? You are saying that you would not have the evidence to do it, but, repeatedly, a theme that has come up in this inquiry is people saying, "You know problems when you see them," and "Professionals should exercise judgment," but that everything has become so systematised that sometimes these things get missed. No one is asking you to make an instant, snap judgment on whether someone is out of line or not, but by saying, "I should refer this to Ofsted," that then creates the opportunity for there to be a full investigation. Shouldn’t not just you but people throughout the system be able to exercise their judgment and say, "Yes, we need to thoroughly investigate this. It feels like something might be wrong, even if I don’t have the perfectly formed evidence. Let’s get them to find out."?
Dame Moira Gibb: Absolutely. In my role, I am going to Gloucester tomorrow to talk to their social work conference, but even in the smaller meetings that I have in the breaks or whatever, I will not get evidence of their practice, so in this role I am not getting that kind of information. Lots of people on the ground will have that kind of information and the question is where they go if they-
Q667 Damian Hinds: But they might say something to you in the coffee break. What would you do with that information then?
Dame Moira Gibb: I would ask them who they had talked to about it, and if they had not yet taken it up with their manager, I would offer my e-mail and say, "If you don’t get anywhere, do get back in touch with me." That is the first principle of complaint handling: have you taken it through the normal route?
Q668 Ian Mearns: Moira, we have had a previous contributor who has suggested that the social work profession needs a bit of oomph. Are you happy to provide some oomph for the profession?
Dame Moira Gibb: Perhaps not oomph, but confidence and capability. I think that the existence of the taskforce and the reform board has, in the absence of other kinds of formal leadership of the profession, helped people to feel that they were not simply being criticised but that the difficult role they carry out was being recognised and supported. I would still not call it oomph, but that confidence that is at the heart of the current problem needs to be addressed.
Q669 Ian Mearns: The British Association of Social Workers has told us that the numbers of front-line social work staff are being cut. In your work, have you seen any evidence of this?
Dame Moira Gibb: There is some evidence of departments trying to cope with their more limited resources and making decisions about-
Ian Mearns: You have been to Gateshead, so I would guess you probably saw that there.
Dame Moira Gibb: It is a very tricky judgment for individual departments.
Q670 Ian Mearns: In that case, is it of interest to you in terms of trying to evaluate what the scale of the reductions across the board is?
Dame Moira Gibb: We do not have the capacity in the small joint unit that I have got working for me to do that, but again what I would want to encourage employers to recognise is that even if that is the reality-we don’t have the money and they have to cut the cake in some way-is that what they must not do is simply to burden the front-line workers with having to carry more cases. Again, the employer standards help them to do that and ensure that they say, "Well, actually, that means that we are going to have to change our criteria," not simply, "You will have to carry more of the burden," and that they have a conversation with their staff about what is a reasonable way of handling the work load in these circumstances.
Q671 Ian Mearns: That is a concern, because I think there has always been this tension between needs-led and resource-led levels of service. If you are cutting the number of front-line social workers and increasing case loads, that is only going to go one way in terms of thresholds for intervention, isn’t it?
Dame Moira Gibb: Yes. We have been in the business of rationing in children’s social care for a very long time and I do not see a time, given the complexity in childhood that we were talking about, when that will not be the case. Some authorities are definitely under much more pressure than others. I have always said that the work that we have been doing is to try to make a more rational response to this, as opposed to the irrational one that was happening before, when newly qualified social workers were at the front line of the hardest work, being burnt out and clearing off. Doctors spend 25 years in practice, I understand, after their training; for social workers it is seven years. We want to make it a doable job, so that you retain that experience and skill at the front line of practice and make more of a difference. What employers should not do is take short-term decisions that in the long term make their situation more difficult.
Q672 Ian Mearns: I am very aware that you have stressed the fact that you are not an inspectorate and that you can only do what you can do, but we have heard concerns about the use of non-social work staff in child protection teams. Have you seen anything like that? Is it widespread, and is it at all inappropriate?
Dame Moira Gibb: We have had a period when, to use your words, social work did not have much oomph and people invented lots of other kinds of professionals to support, work around or engage in some of this work. It often occurred to me: why didn’t they use social workers with a specific skill around that and help them? Of course, while people struggled to recruit social workers, they often invented other roles around it. It is a very difficult job and putting people who are less well trained seems to me to be an error.
Q673 Chair: How widespread is it?
Dame Moira Gibb: I do not have that oversight of how widespread it is. There are some perfectly appropriate uses of other paraprofessionals, as it were, in the work, so long as it is clear that you are doing that and that you need to provide more support for those people if they have not had the professional training.
Dame Moira Gibb: Again, one of the challenges that the social work taskforce had was to describe what only social workers could do. We resisted that, I have to say, because of the wide range of roles in social work. We are only talking about children’s services, but obviously there is a wide range. It means, and there is a concern out there, that people are replacing social workers with untrained people more than they should.
Q675 Ian Mearns: Is it easier to ask in that case whether you have a clear view of those things that should not be done by non-social work staff in child protection teams?
Dame Moira Gibb: Social workers struggle to do as well as they might. The difficult work of engaging with families who have problems is not an easy task. Unless someone is very well trained in another discipline, it would seem to me inappropriate to use them in that front line of practice.
Q676 Ian Mearns: In your role in terms of promoting the profession, surely you must have a clear idea of particular things that really should not be done by non-trained social work staff. Could you elaborate on that in terms of written evidence to us?
Dame Moira Gibb: As I say, I think that first-line engagement with children and their families in difficulties is a task that social workers should do. As I say, we resisted the temptation to go down and restrict certain things, as there are in other professions, that only social workers could do; but it seems to me that it is a false economy of employers to try to get around it by using other, presumably cheaper, members of staff, because you are running greater risks. You need to put more support in to help them.
Q677 Chair: Is there concern in the profession that this is happening?
Dame Moira Gibb: On the announcement of the local government settlement, there was considerable concern that a number of employers were doing that. I have to say that there was more of it on the adult side and in mental health that I heard of-it is anecdotal; nothing more sophisticated than that-than in children’s services, but others may be better able to advise you on that, Chair.
Q678 Charlotte Leslie: I would like to ask briefly, if I may, about the training of social workers. I am sorry I was so late and interrupted. One of our witnesses commented that knowledge, particularly about child development, has been slightly neglected in social work training in favour of skills. How is the Social Work Reform Board working to improve that?
Dame Moira Gibb: One of the recommendations that we made was that the Government should stick with the social work degree, but that there should be a review of the curriculum to ensure that it met the needs of nowadays practice, as it were. We found that there were some excellent courses, and others that were not so good. What employers were hoping for was consistency. So that new curriculum will come into effect in 2013. Again, it is not a rigid "every student social worker will be taught this on this day". There is still quite a lot of flexibility for the higher education institutions to work locally with their partner employers.
Q679 Chair: Prior to the introduction of that, has there been a reduction of the component within training around child development and knowledge as opposed to skills as such?
Dame Moira Gibb: In some places; not everywhere. I still think social workers need to develop skills in communication and interaction, so it is not simply knowledge in itself.
Q680 Chair: Overall, there has not been a degrading and an imbalance.
Dame Moira Gibb: There has been less focus than is necessary on child development.
Q681 Charlotte Leslie: Do you think that in future the royal college would have a role in setting the curriculum, and should it?
Dame Moira Gibb: I would certainly want them to feel that they had a voice and that they were engaging with employers, with higher education and with social workers themselves and feeding into being at that table, really. And I would expect the chief social worker, too, to be laying down concerns and expectations to the sector as a whole.
Q682 Charlotte Leslie: In medical royal colleges, the royal colleges tend to set the curriculum and the standards. Is that something to which you would like to see the royal college of social work moving?
Chair: The college. It is not a royal college.
Dame Moira Gibb: Sadly. Again, on success in the longer term, it would seem to me that they would have much more of a voice. I think there is a position where the professions can be over-dominant, but we are certainly nowhere near that in social work, so I would like to see a rebalancing. I would feel pleased if, in 10 years’ time, that were the case.
Q683 Charlotte Leslie: I have a couple of other issues that have arisen through our witnesses so far. One is the management-the training for first-line managers for social workers in terms of supporting and challenging front-line staff. Someone suggested they are still slightly stuck in a culture of performance and target meeting. Is that something you recognise and is that something that the board is working on?
Dame Moira Gibb: I absolutely recognise that. The social workers we talked to told us that the most important person in their life was their first-line manager. Actually, the first first-line manager you get probably decides whether you stay in the profession or are one of these people who leave as quickly as they possibly can from front-line practice. There was a specific recommendation from the taskforce about ensuring that they have the necessary support and development. That is inextricably linked with the Munro recommendations in children’s services. Where there is a focus on time scales and targets, there is less room for that professional supervision.
We have also got, among those first-line managers, people who were brought up on this system and only know the model that we operate now. People as old as me remember professional supervision, but there are fewer of those around, so there is a real training need, and we have worked hard on that, but I have to say it has not had the same priority as some of the other work that we have had.
Q684 Charlotte Leslie: In many ways, it is how you ingrain Damian’s point about judgment into the system. I have just another issue, and then I will come to you, Dr Shade Alu. One more issue that was raised is that some NGOs and victims report that there is not always specialist knowledge about certain forms of abuse, specifically of child trafficking and forced marriage. Should there be more of a curriculum focus on these specialist areas of abuse?
Dame Moira Gibb: We have had lots and lots of lobbying about specific areas that should be included. What is most important is to develop social workers who understand how to use research and to have that more analytical and thoughtful frame of mind. Again, it may be in particular areas in that partnership that there is a need for a specific module or course; but at the heart of it, you have to be prepared to understand what is in front of you, to use knowledge and to find ways to experts and contacts, rather than assuming that you know enough.
Q685 Chair: So is that yes, trafficking should be included, or no, it should not? Is skill enough or do they need to know about this before they are faced with their first case?
Dame Moira Gibb: How would they begin to understand what to do when faced with a case such as that? There is a generic understanding of how to learn, where to go, and who to ask. Using the internet is an important skill. It is good to use examples of current issues that they understand, but we do not want those newly qualified social workers to be expert in a narrow area, because they probably will not get a job in that narrow area; they will have to cover the waterfront of practices that exist at present.
Q686 Charlotte Leslie: So, again, it makes a distinction between developing the social worker as a person who is able to use judgment and knows how to find out stuff when they need to, as opposed to going through a certain set of tick boxes, saying, "I have learned about this, and I will now learn about this."
Dame Moira Gibb: Yes.
Q687 Charlotte Leslie: Finally, let me come on to GPs and GPs’ training in child protection. Dr Shade Alu, it seems that the GP training in child protection is slightly ad hoc at the moment and it is not as widespread as it should be and there is no particular layout of rules for what should be done. Should GPs, by default, be required to undertake child protection training? If so, to what kind of level should this be, and who will be responsible for checking it? Perhaps it should be the Care Quality Commission. How do you think it should work?
Dr Shade Alu: In terms of GP training, absolutely, GPs should be trained. I would say that GPs are trained. The Royal College of GPs has a toolkit on child protection, which is available to all members. It is at level 1 and level 2. If I refer to the entire collegiate document, which is what sets out the standards for the health professionals around training, the expectation is that GPs should be trained to level 2. The college is committed to the fact that all GPs will be trained to level 2 and aspiring to level 3. Anecdotally, my understanding is that for quite a lot of GPs in their localities, the PCTs-the PCTs have responsibility at the moment-are saying that they should be level 3 trained and they are rolling that out. It is better than it was. A few years ago, GPs were not embracing training at all. Going forward, they have started to embrace the training. Perhaps one of the drivers is the fact that they will have to be registered with the Care Quality Commission in the near future and that will be one of the requirements. I believe that that has driven some of the compliance around training.
In terms of who should oversee it, at the moment it is the responsibility of the PCT whose performance list they are on to make sure that they are trained. In the new NHS, it would have to be the successor organisations, I would suggest. Given that the national commissioning body would be the people who commission GP practices, the opinion at the moment is that it probably should be devolved to the national offices. We await guidance from the Department of Health on how it will all land.
Q688 Charlotte Leslie: One of our witnesses, who is a GP, suggested that there might be some merit in doing joint training between health and social work for child protection. Do you think there might be any merit in that?
Dr Shade Alu: The answer is yes, and the answer is that that already exists. What I would say is that we need to be really mindful of it. Absolutely, I believe in joint training across a range of disciplines, so it should be the case, but it should be at an appropriate level. The information that we get back from some of the joint training is that the levels were not appropriate. For example, the social worker might say, "That was at such a low level," or the health professional might say that it was at a low level. The police do something called a multi-agency critical incident exercise, which gets social workers, police, voluntary sector and health coming together over two days around child protection training. So the answer to multi-agency training is, absolutely, we should do that, because it is really helpful, but we just need to pitch it right so that engagement continues.
Q689 Alex Cunningham: I have a few quick questions about structures around safeguarding. Has there been clear guidance now from the Department of Health about where safeguarding will sit within the new health structures?
Dr Shade Alu: Quick answer: no.
Q690 Alex Cunningham: Right. So something needs to happen quickly there.
Dr Shade Alu: Yes.
Q691 Alex Cunningham: What would the royal college recommend to ensure that the structures and practice of named and designated doctors and nurses for child protection do not get lost in this new landscape?
Dr Shade Alu: We have been advocating to the Department of Health that absolutely the expertise in health has to remain and those rules, as you have described, need to remain. What I would suggest to the Committee is that, as I have said previously, "Working Together" has been a seminal document. That probably sounds a bit strange, but it is a document that we have been able to take to commissioners, to organisations and to employers and say, "It states in here very clearly this is what the designated professionals should be doing. This is what the named professionals should be doing." Because it is in statutory guidance, organisations have been very mindful of it and have ensured that that has taken place. We are very concerned from what we hear about "Working Together" coming out and there being a very limited document that might not cover this, and that would be a detriment for us health professionals if that were to happen.
Q692 Alex Cunningham: So are you confident that NHS professionals will continue to be involved at the level they need to be with local safeguarding boards? It is variable across the country already.
Dr Shade Alu: I would not be 100% confident if, for example, "Working Together" comes out and that is not in it. I am particularly concerned because commissioning arrangements are changing and moving to CCGs, who, as you know, are mainly GPs. As we have discussed in this session already, GPs are not necessarily trained to the same level and therefore their understanding of their commissioning responsibilities around safeguarding might be somewhat limited. In the financial situation in which we find ourselves, there might be some compromising of the resource. I believe the positions would remain, so they would be mindful of keeping the named professionals and the designated professionals, but they might pare it down to the barest minimum, so that they are able to say, "Yes, we have it," but not resource it appropriately. If there is anything that I would want to get across to the Committee, it is precisely this: there are concerns that if it is not almost mandated, as it were, we might see a loss of the expertise in health.
Q693 Alex Cunningham: So there is the potential for a huge risk that safeguarding services are going to suffer within the new structures.
Dr Shade Alu: I think that risk is there. Without having seen an accountability framework from the Department of Health-we have not seen it yet-and without knowing what is in "Working Together", which are the two documents that commissioners will be looking at in terms of putting the structures in place, that risk is there.
Q694 Alex Cunningham: But you believe that the Government should be mandating the clinical commissioning groups to do this.
Dr Shade Alu: That is our belief. We would want it mandated.
Q695 Alex Cunningham: What about health and wellbeing boards? Will they be able to retain child protection as a specific and discrete priority in a world in which they have such a wide remit for both adults’ and children’s safeguarding services?
Dr Shade Alu: In response to that question-sorry, it is not a short response-there are concerns, because the focus of health and wellbeing boards is wide, as you describe it. There is not a mandatory membership of anybody who has expertise in child protection. We know that directors of children’s services are mandated members, but we also know that although some directors of children’s services have a social care or education background, those roles do not exist everywhere. There are lots of don’t-knows, not-sures. Because it has not been mandated that designated professionals, for example, should be part of health and wellbeing boards, we are hugely concerned that those boards may not focus on child protection. Again, we want something that-mandated becomes a bit of a mantra-suggests strongly to health and wellbeing boards that there has to be a child protection focus, perhaps a sub-group of the health and wellbeing board if it cannot be at the level of the board. That would be important.
Q696 Alex Cunningham: The Government do not seem very keen on the words "ring-fenced funding" for anything across anything. Do you think there should be ring-fenced funding for child protection services in the NHS, as your own organisation has proposed? I suppose the short answer is yes.
Dr Shade Alu: The short answer is yes, but we know how difficult it is. It is very difficult for organisations even to identify what they have put into child protection. We would want mandated the absolute focus of an organisation on child protection, and it has to feed through everything that it does. A budget would be fantastic, but in reality, looking through the organisation and threading child protection through it is important.
Chair: Thank you. After that excellent period of short and punchy questions and answers, we have time for a couple more questions from Craig before we draw to a close.
Q697 Craig Whittaker: The Committee has been told that thresholds, for example, are becoming increasingly outdated and that services at different levels are being provided to all families in need. Is that true? Is that what is really happening on the front line?
Dame Moira Gibb: Again, the picture is varied. There has been concern from those in health and other colleagues for many years that social services, or child welfare services, draw their threshold too high. Of course, the other part of Eileen Munro’s recommendations is about early help and trying to get people to rethink whether the right answer is to raise the threshold for service.
Q698 Craig Whittaker: So is that transpiring on to the front line?
Dame Moira Gibb: Not yet.
Q699 Craig Whittaker: Okay. We have also heard that some local authorities offer a one-in, one-out system for taking children into care. Could you advise us whether they have the right formula for taking the right people in need into care if they operate that system?
Dame Moira Gibb: I think that the system is illegal. They cannot fetter their discretion in that way. In some cases, there is a considerable focus on stopping children from coming into care, because it is difficult in care to offer the help to children. We have to be clear that the local authority has responsibilities for the child while the child is in the community, right through to if they are placed for adoption. The judgments are made up of lots and lots of judgments by individual workers. It is about whether there is an oversight and a challenge to those decisions about whether the right children are coming in, or whether children are being left in their families for too long. That sense of what is happening in practice, going further up the organisation, is certainly something that I would like to see happen.
Q700 Craig Whittaker: Okay. So should there be a statutory duty then to provide early help, as Munro recommends, which the Government seem to have so far resisted?
Dr Shade Alu: Certainly from the point of view of the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health we would say yes. That is a short answer because I know we are running out of time. Going back to what I said previously, if things are not in statute, certainly from a health point of view and in an environment where there are competing demands, a lot of the time those things do not happen. With the threshold discussion that we are having, we are finding more and more that health professionals have to hold on to the families and children more because the thresholds into social care would be higher. Therefore, if no early help is in place to stop those children reaching those thresholds anyway, we run into a bit of a vicious circle. The short answer is, yes, we would want it in statute if possible.
Chair: Thank you both very much. I must now bring the session to a close. Various people have suggested that the civil and criminal definition of neglect needs to be updated. Could I make a request for you to write to us if you see fit with your thoughts on the subject of neglect and its definition, so we can ensure that neglect isn’t neglected? Thank you both very much for coming along this morning.