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Children and Young People: Safety

Volume 700: debated on Monday 31 March 2008

My honourable friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Children, Young People and Families (Kevin Brennan) has made the following Written Ministerial Statement.

I should like to update the House on the work we have undertaken and the further action we plan to take to safeguard children and young people from forced marriage.

Keeping children and young people safe is a top priority for this Government and my department. The Government are committed to improving the safety and welfare of all children and young people, whatever their background or circumstances. We are determined to do all we can to make the existing systems and guidance as effective as possible and to strengthen them where needed. We have introduced new legislation, new guidance and new structures to make children safer. And we are committed to doing even more as set out most recently in the cross-government Staying Safe: Action Plan published last month.

I gave oral evidence to the Home Affairs Committee on 4 March in relation to the committee’s inquiry into domestic violence. My letter to the committee of 11 March set out the range of measures that this department has already put in place and the further action we are planning to take in order to make children safer and to tackle all forms of abuse, including domestic violence and forced marriage. It also addressed the specific questions asked by the Select Committee on action to safeguard children and young people from forced marriage and how this relates to the local authority duty to make arrangements to establish the identities of children not receiving a suitable education. This was informed by data gathered from 14 local authority areas, via government offices. The committee has placed my letter in full in the public domain.

This department recognises the importance of doing more to raise awareness about these issues among children and young people and signpost them clearly to sources of advice and support. Working with the Forced Marriage Unit, we will develop materials on the issue of forced marriage specifically for use by schools and tailored to young people and we will actively encourage schools to use them. We will draw on our recent data-gathering exercise which indicates that a range of different approaches can be effective.

Within the next few weeks, Ministers in my department intend to write to all schools and local authorities reminding them of their responsibilities and of the existing guidance—both general safeguarding children guidance, which includes the issue of forced marriage, and the specific forced marriage guidance for education professionals, issued jointly with the Forced Marriage Unit. We will also set out our plans to consult on revised forced marriage guidance which will then be placed on a statutory footing this autumn.

In addition, I have written to Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector to ask Ofsted to provide its view of how well the duty on children not receiving a suitable education is being implemented. Following advice from Ofsted, the department will work with local authorities to share best practice and lessons that can be learnt about putting in place more effective mechanisms.

My department will continue to assist the Home Affairs Committee with its important inquiry. I look forward to seeing the committee’s report and recommendations in due course.