We recently published revised guidelines, “Working Together to Safeguard Children 2006”, which set out three key principles for local agencies working with children who abuse others: first, there must be a robust, co-ordinated approach on the part of all agencies concerned in a case; secondly, the needs of children who abuse must be considered entirely separately from those of their victims; and, thirdly, there must an overall assessment of risk, which must include the risks to the victim, the abuser and others, particularly other children, whether in a family setting, in a school or in the wider community.
I thank the right hon. Lady for that answer and in particular for her emphasis on the last point. Will she tell me why it is believed that abusers between the ages of 16 and 18, or indeed over the age of 18, in further education colleges where there are youngsters as young as 14 should be treated any differently from employed abusers?
First, those who are employed are in a position of authority and trust vis-à-vis children and young people, which is not the case for those who may be students. I know that the hon. Gentleman is rightly concerned about the issue so I want to reassure him. Where an abuser is a child and the victim is a child there are many cases of a different nature: in some, the risk to other children will not be very great at all, because the abuse has arisen in a specific situation, but in others, there will be a more generalised risk to other children, which is why I stressed in the final part of my answer the need for agencies to look at each case individually and to make decisions on the basis of the risk posed by an individual young person to any other young people. Indeed, in some cases that will include the need to provide for education—whether further education or education before the age of 16—that is not in a mainstream education facility. That option is open to the agencies concerned.
As one of a number of very useful initiatives, the Labour-led Scottish Executive have appointed a team of professionals with expertise in the area of adolescent sex offending to work urgently to produce a strategy that will produce swift, effective action to deal with those young people. Can the Minister say whether we on this side of the border are learning lessons from that group and working with them to ensure that our own strategy is improved and made as effective as possible?
Yes. There is close collaboration. We also have on this side of the border our own joint programme, including all the relevant agencies and victims’ organisations, to develop national service guidelines based on research evidence of interventions that we think are effective and that have been properly evaluated. That is an important point in this difficult subject. We have also supported, through the Department of Health, the development of sexual assault referral centres for children—one initially in London and one at St. Mary's centre in Manchester. They are providing beacons of excellence and setting standards of good practice in this difficult area of work for professionals to draw on.