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Child Protection

Volume 570: debated on Monday 11 November 2013

3. What recent assessment he has made of progress on inter-agency working for child protection; and if he will make a statement. (900985)

12. What recent assessment he has made of progress on inter-agency working for child protection; and if he will make a statement. (900994)

Professor Eileen Munro looked at inter-agency working in her widely welcomed review of child protection. We endorsed her conclusion that a strong culture of inter-agency working and information sharing is needed in child protection. That is why we have strengthened the statutory guidance, “Working together to safeguard children” 2013, setting out the core responsibilities and legal requirements for all who come into contact with children in order to keep them safe.

The Minister’s response goes some way to reassuring me but, like many colleagues, I find serious case reviews depressingly similar. We hear about the same failings time and again. What is the Secretary of State planning to do to make sure that reviews do not just examine what went wrong, but help us understand why?

The hon. Lady highlights an extremely serious issue which we have taken on board in relation to serious case reviews. It is important that we understand not only what happened but, as she rightly said, why that happened. We have seen in recent serious case reviews the need to get that analysis right so that in the future we see fewer of the problems of the past resurfacing. The Secretary of State will be making a speech later this week on precisely this issue and setting out his vision of what more we need to do to keep our children safe, but it is right that we keep that focus directly where it needs to be—on children—and that it remains our highest priority.

All too often serious case reviews feature a history of domestic violence in the family. What is the Minister doing across government to make sure that a range of professionals are properly trained in this area and are then able to identify and respond to domestic violence?

Before I came to this House and was practising in the family courts, it was a depressing feature of most cases that domestic violence was taking place in the presence of children and sometimes with children being the recipients of that violence. That is why we must be extremely vigilant in whatever work we do with children to make sure we root it out. The Home Office is doing work to try to address training and the understanding of domestic violence, and I know that that is one of the key areas on which the sexual violence against children and vulnerable people national group is working. I will encourage it to do so in collaboration with my Department.

Given the priority that the Government are quite rightly putting on child protection, can the Minister tell me what steps have been taken since I wrote in April to establish the name of the school attended by Adil Rashid, who defended himself against a serious sexual offence on the grounds that his school—his state-funded school—had taught him that women were worthless?

I have been able to identify the school and the steps being taken. I know that my hon. Friend has been in correspondence and the Secretary of State is aware of the issue. I am happy to meet my hon. Friend and to write to him with those details so that we ensure that all that can be done is being done.

In conjunction with the need for inter-agency working, will teachers be given the duty of reporting child abuse when they come across it, and will there be a duty to report that to the local authority without any qualification whatever?

The new statutory guidance is crystal clear about the responsibilities of all those who work with children, including in schools, and if they have a concern about a child’s welfare, safety or care they should report that to the appropriate authority. We do not believe that making failure to report a criminal offence will improve the protection of children. There is international evidence that suggests that that can make children less safe, but of course we always keep these things under review.

Does the Minister agree that the Baby Peter case and the tragic event of the death of that little boy highlighted the need for inter-agency co-operation? Will he also associate himself with my view that we in this House should all be ashamed of the inappropriate hunting down and scapegoating of Sharon Shoesmith?

In the light of the recent tragic case of Daniel Pelka, we look carefully at what we could learn from the serious case review. It seemed clear to us that the most important focus of our work had to be on understanding what went wrong and why, as opposed to trying to single out individuals at that stage of the investigation. We want everyone to prioritise the protection of children, whatever role they have, whether it is at the level of director of children’s services or working on the front line. We need to send out the message, “We are there to support you in your work, but where you need to be challenged, where there are basic practice failures, we will do so and make sure we put it right.”