Oral Answers to Questions — Children, Schools and Families – in the House of Commons at 2:30 pm on 12 November 2007.

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Photo of Helen Southworth Helen Southworth Labour, Warrington South 2:30, 12 November 2007

What steps the Government are taking to improve the safeguarding of children and young people.

Photo of Edward Balls Edward Balls Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families

Over the past four years, the Government have introduced new legislation, new guidance and new structures to make children safer and to strengthen the vetting and barring system. The recent cross-government Staying Safe consultation and the new public service agreement to improve children's safety will ensure that children's safety is a top priority. We will shortly introduce the children and young persons Bill to improve further the services for our most vulnerable children, including looked-after children.


As a working parent of a child who has a degree of learning difficulties I would request that this safe guarding of "vulnerable children" also goes as far as considering the safeguarding of them from abuse of other children. My child attended a playscheme where the staff were vetted accordingly but a child who was a...

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Photo of Helen Southworth Helen Southworth Labour, Warrington South

I thank my right hon. Friend for that answer. He is aware that we have been holding parliamentary hearings to try to find better ways of protecting children who run away or go missing. Will he, however, give his immediate attention to the case of the 18,000 children who are being placed outside their local area by local authorities? Many of them are hundreds of miles away from their networks of support. Will he also ensure that a child can be placed away from their family and friends only when it is in the best interests of that child to do so?

Photo of Edward Balls Edward Balls Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families

I commend my hon. Friend for the work that she has done for looked-after and missing children. The meeting that she held in the summer with colleagues, including the Under-Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families, my hon. Friend Kevin Brennan, and me, was directly responsible for the inclusion of a looked-after and missing children's indicator in the local government indicator set. She has raised a particular point today and she is completely right to do so. We, too, have concerns about the number of children in care who are looked after out of area. We think that that currently involves about one third of children in care. In the Bill that we will publish later this week, we will require local authorities to secure a placement for a child within their own local authority area unless to do so would be inconsistent with the welfare of the child—for example, because of complex disabilities or because a child needed to leave an area because of domestic violence.

Photo of Mark Harper Mark Harper Shadow Minister (Work and Pensions)

The Minister will probably be aware that Mencap has recently published a report called "Don't stick it, stop it". One of its conclusions is that 82 per cent. of children and young people with a learning disability have experienced bullying, and that such children are twice as likely to be bullied as other children. Has the Secretary of State seen the report? If so, what does he propose to do to try to improve this dreadful situation?

Photo of Edward Balls Edward Balls Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families

I have read a report of the Mencap report. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will agree that all bullying of any kind is completely wrong, and I am keen to work with Mencap to ensure that we give priority to bullying against children with disabilities as well. We produced new guidance on bullying a few weeks ago, and I will ensure that we include Mencap in the current consultations, to make sure that we can eradicate that terrible occurrence.

Photo of Ann Coffey Ann Coffey PPS (Rt Hon Alistair Darling, Chancellor of the Exchequer), HM Treasury

Fifty-three per cent. of children and young people in Stockport are from other boroughs. There is already advice from the Government to local authorities that children and young people should be placed within their locality if possible, but it is clear that some local authorities are completely ignoring that advice. During the passage of the children and young persons Bill, would the Secretary of State be willing to look again at the registration process and the Ofsted inspection process, to ensure that we can monitor the way in which independent homes that often encourage the placing of children with extensive criminal records in those homes manage the children in their care?

Photo of Edward Balls Edward Balls Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families

I can give my hon. Friend that assurance. I also congratulate her on the work that she has done in this area. As I have said, the Bill will make it clear that a child should be looked after in their own area unless it is in the interests of the child to do otherwise. We will look at the provisions that will require that of local authorities, to ensure that the proper safeguards are in place.

Photo of Tim Loughton Tim Loughton Shadow Minister (Children)

Key to the safeguarding of vulnerable children is the engagement of dedicated social workers. Key to the findings in the Victoria Climbié report was the failure of health service professionals and others to engage with those social workers and to adopt a multi-agency approach. Why, then, has the National Children's Bureau today published a report on safeguarding arrangements that reveals that, five years on, 53 per cent. of hospitals do not even have hospital-based social workers, despite the Government's own guidance in the national service framework for children that was introduced after the Victoria Climbié case? How does the Secretary of State hope to remedy this situation, given the worsening vacancy rates for children's social workers revealed in the latest work force review? Has he had an opportunity to read the Conservative party's report on social workers, "No More Blame Game", in which he might find some of the solutions?

Photo of Edward Balls Edward Balls Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families

Unfortunately, I have not yet had time to read that particular document, but I look forward to studying it along with the range of other documents that I read in the course of my duties. I will raise the question that the hon. Gentleman has asked with the Secretary of State for Health and we will look at the issue to see what more needs to be done. I have a joint responsibility on this. I met the Secretary of State last week to discuss these issues as part of our consultations on the children's plan. I will happily have a conversation with him about this and provide a report to the hon. Gentleman in due course.