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Children: Ofsted Report

Volume 727: debated on Wednesday 25 May 2011


Asked By

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of the recommendations in the report The voice of the child: learning lessons from serious case reviews, published by Ofsted this month.

My Lords, Ofsted’s report highlights the crucial importance of placing children at the centre of front-line practice in child protection. The Government expect practitioners and local safeguarding children boards to take account of Ofsted’s findings and their implications. The final report of Professor Eileen Munro’s review of child protection, A Child-centred System, which was published on 10 May, also underlines the need to refocus the system on children. The Government will respond to her report by the summer.

I thank the noble Lord for his reply. In his response, will he consider agreeing with Professor Munro that the current system is far too focused on finding out what happened rather than why and that, in future, the focus should be more on the underlying issues of how the social workers behaved? Will he also agree with me that it should be a statutory duty, and not just guidance, for social workers to see the child alone, in order to ascertain its wishes and feelings?

My Lords, the Government have welcomed the review by Professor Eileen Munro, which includes the recommendation that my noble friend refers to about looking at the whole way in which serious case reviews work and about moving to a more systems-based approach. The Government are considering their response and have set up a working group of practitioners across different disciplines—not just social work, but the police, education, health and other areas. We will be responding to that and will bear in mind the points made by my noble friend.

My Lords, does the noble Lord agree that some of the report’s lessons on serious case reviews are for the Department for Education, not least that the department should encourage schools and education services to play their full part in securing the safety of children?

The findings of the review have implications for a range of different services, including the Department for Education. In responding to Munro and working out the best way forward in this important area, my honourable friend Mr Loughton will reflect on the Ofsted review and Professor Munro’s recommendations, as well as the duties that we have so far as schools and other educational authorities are concerned.

My Lords, 100,000 children under 16—a staggering figure—run away from home or care each year. I am told by the Church of England Children’s Society that, obviously, such children are at very much greater risk. Do Her Majesty’s Government plan to look into links between children running away from home and care and their subsequently being put at serious case review level?

My Lords, it is clearly the case that the kind of children to whom the right reverend Prelate refers are those who are often at greatest risk. In working out the best system for learning the lessons and applying them across different disciplines, one would want to look very closely at the implications for children in care.

My Lords, are the Government aware that the General Medical Council is currently involved in preparing new guidance for doctors who are involved in child protection issues? I declare an interest as an independent member of the working group that is helping to prepare that guidance. Does the noble Lord agree that GPs are often at the very front line in identifying child protection issues and that they have difficult issues of their own to resolve, such as conflicts of interest between a child and that child’s family? Will he ensure that the voice of doctors is heard very clearly in the Government’s current review?

My Lords, that is an extremely good point. The group that my honourable friend Mr Loughton has set up to advise him on responding to the Munro review includes health service representatives, I believe, but I shall speak to him specifically about the point to make sure that the importance of the role of health professionals that the noble Baroness emphasises is properly taken into account.

My Lords, we all know how vulnerable some children are because of adults who prey on them and get away with abusing them, as children do not always know how to protect themselves from abuse. What are my noble friend’s expectations of local authorities and their partners, including schools, about informing children of their right to protection from violence and the assistance that is available to them to keep them safe?

My Lords, one of the themes coming out from the Munro review and the Ofsted report, which I think is widely accepted, is the need to make sure that all our child protection systems put the interests of the child at their heart. The underlying critique that Professor Munro has developed is that, over time, the system has become more focused on a box-ticking, prescriptive approach, rather than putting the interests of the child at the heart of everything that we do. I accept the point made by my noble friend: we need to make sure that children are aware of their rights and the avenues that are open to them. The Ofsted report highlights the fact that children do not have a loud enough voice in the processes as they currently operate. We need to try to redress that balance.

My Lords, can the Minister tell me whether an assessment has been made of how many perpetrators of serious neglect and abuse had similarly abusive and neglectful backgrounds and whether this is likely to influence the prioritisation of early intervention in the coalition’s programme?

I do not know the answer to the noble Baroness’s question about whether anybody has done that analysis and I do not know how simple it would be to do. I will ask my officials whether such an analysis has been done and, if it has, I will of course share it with the noble Baroness.

My Lords, I am sure that the Minister knows that, since the Government have required serious case reviews to be published in full, there has been a significant fall both in the number of serious incidents notified and in the number of serious case reviews undertaken, leading to the concern that local authorities are carrying out internal reviews that they are not publishing. What investigations is he undertaking in order to understand what is really happening and to ensure that every case for which it is appropriate is subject to a serious case review?

I accept the point that underlies the noble Baroness’s question. It is an important area. My honourable friend Mr Loughton is keeping the situation to which she refers under review to try to understand why this might be happening. The Government were trying to strike a balance within the serious case review system: there is a need for more openness to try to rebuild trust in the system, as we had reached a point where people were mistrustful, but clearly one wants to balance that with the interests of the child, to make sure that this is done in a sensitive way. We will keep that under review and it will clearly need to be taken into account in our response to Munro, to ensure that we have the best system and that lessons are learnt throughout child protection agencies.