My Lords, I remind those speaking in the next debate that it is time limited. When the clock reaches seven minutes, noble Lords should finish their speech, as they will have spoken for their allotted time. If a noble Lord is happy to take an intervention, I am afraid that the time taken up will have to come out of their allocation.
My Lords, I am grateful for the opportunity to lead this very topical debate today and look forward to hearing what all noble Lords have to say about this important matter.
I believe that this is basically a humane country, and public tolerance of any kind of abuse of vulnerable people has diminished enormously over the past few decades. But I am afraid that we have a problem and it could be growing. Today, we have heard evidence in the Lampard report of the failings of the system to protect children and vulnerable people within the NHS from the foul predations of Jimmy Savile. I trust that, when we have had time to digest the report and the other reports that are under way, we will be able to give due time in this House to discuss the lessons learnt. In the mean time, we know we have a problem with sexual and physical abuse of children, older people and disabled people. We hear of new cases every week. Of course, the law forbids this sort of behaviour, but, sadly, it does not prevent it happening, and the effects on victims last a lifetime.
The figures are disturbing. The UK’s latest report to the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child admitted:
“The number of children in England who were subject to a child protection plan increased by 47% between 2008 and 2012”.
This is the same percentage increase as that recently reported by the NSPCC in cases of emotional abuse being reported to the police. I welcome the Government’s plans to clarify the law on that in the Serious Crime Bill.
Last year, the Children’s Rights Director consulted children in England receiving care services and found that 10% felt that they were not enjoying their right to be kept safe from all sorts of harm. Last May, the National Crime Agency reported that a new threat has emerged on the internet. While the number of static images of child abuse remains stable, there is a sharp rise in live streaming of videoed child abuse and paedophiles’ use of the “hidden” or “dark” web. These sites do not emerge when one is using normal search engines and are therefore not easily detected. These people are unscrupulous and clever and we need more resources to catch them. I was pleased to note that, following government initiatives, the Internet Watch Foundation is now able proactively to seek out criminal content and, thanks to funding from a number of UK ISPs, has tripled the number of staff engaged in finding and destroying such imagery.
Recent high-profile cases, as well as that of Jimmy Savile, have shown that there are others who have got away for years with abusing children or vulnerable adults. In some cases, nobody knew about it apart from the victims. They did not have confidence that they would be believed or that anything would be done, and therefore did not report it. In some cases of elder abuse, the family has resorted to placing hidden cameras in the room, in order to prove the unacceptable treatment of their elderly relative by those charged with caring for them.
However, in most of these cases there were suspicions. Indeed, in some cases professionals looked into the issue and wrote reports, which were then ignored. This tells me that we need a massive culture change. Many serious case reviews indicate failures to protect, failures to report abuse or act upon reports, and failures of professionals to communicate with each other and with the authorities. I suppose that it is inevitable that we focus on failures, but while we lament those we must remember and applaud all those who care for children and vulnerable adults in a professional and compassionate way. I do believe that attitudes are changing, and it is hard to believe that the reports from Rochdale, which at the time were not acted upon, would be ignored today. The culture has changed, but my question today is whether it has changed enough. I do not believe that it has.
So I now pose three questions. Are we doing enough to prevent abuse happening? Do we know enough about how and why it happens, and what works in other places? Are we doing enough to deal with the perpetrators, and bring justice and support to the victims?
Perhaps I could deal first with prevention. Prevention involves providing training and qualifications, screening staff and volunteers—in the way that Jimmy Savile was not screened—and ensuring that children and vulnerable people know their rights, and know where to go for help if they are attacked. Prevention also involves decent child protection services, and proper therapeutic treatment for perpetrators, so that they do not do it again.
I have always felt that a child is his or her own best protector. We can do what we can to protect a child, but we cannot sit on her shoulder all the time. This is why it is so important that children are taught in every school, through a balanced PSHE course, how to protect their own personal integrity and how to keep safe, including in their use of the internet. They also need to be taught what a healthy, non-abusive relationship looks and feels like, and who to turn to in case of fear or of actual abuse. I believe that this is every child’s right.
Schools need proper oversight from Ofsted of their safeguarding policies and practice. Indeed, Ofsted is the only statutory body given specific responsibility for ensuring that schools keep children safe. Unfortunately, the methods and infrequency of Ofsted inspections make that difficult to do—my noble friend Lady Sharp will speak in more detail about the shortcomings of the inspection system. Then we need to provide decent children’s services. I have every sympathy for cash-strapped local authorities and social workers with large caseloads, and I support the policy of giving freedoms to local authorities to spend the money locally in the best possible way for them. However, I am very relieved that, after careful consideration, the Government have announced that they will not allow authorities to delegate children’s safeguarding services to profit-making organisations. It is vital that there is no chance of the profit motive being put before the welfare of a child.
We must then minimise the opportunity for perpetrators to reach vulnerable children. Here, the DBS checks, formerly called CRB checks, and training for organisations in safe recruitment practices are vitally important. Many organisations have found to their cost that DBS checks alone are not enough, as they only identify those who have offended before, and are no use against first-time offenders or those who are clever enough to avoid detection. There has recently been some streamlining of the system, and the numbers being barred have fallen. I would like to ask my noble friend the Minister how that new system is working. I know that the noble Lord, Lord Bichard, will have more to say about this.
Many serious case reviews have highlighted failures of professionals to communicate. I believe that there is a very strong case for some common training elements for those working with children, so that the professionals understand each other’s perspectives, and are more likely to communicate with each during their career. The Lucy Faithfull Foundation has an excellent programme called Stop it Now! to raise awareness about the dangers of child abuse, and to help those who are concerned about their own sexual proclivities to avoid offending. Such preventive work is to be applauded, and we need more of it.
In the case of care of older people, it is training, qualifications and proper oversight that is needed. Families need to know what quality of care is being offered to their elderly relatives. I was therefore delighted to read in a Parliamentary Answer last week that regulations will soon be introduced to allow the CQC to take robust action against providers that do not offer an acceptable quality of care, and will produce ratings of care quality to provide users with a fuller picture than they now get. Will my noble friend the Minister comment on these plans? I would also like to ask why a Law Commission recommendation to streamline disciplinary codes covering more than 30 health and care professions has been shelved by the Government. It seems to me that such arrangements could act both as a deterrent and as an effective measure for dealing with wrong-doing.
I turn now to knowledge of abuse. Knowledge means doing research about causes and about what works, bringing information together and disseminating knowledge of best practice. Knowledge also means ensuring that those who know what is going on report the facts to the authorities. I have been informed by lawyers who acted for dozens of Jimmy Savile’s victims that the most shocking revelation of all was the number of victims who had reported what had happened at the time to someone in their institution, only to be ignored and their claims covered up. One girl in Stoke Mandeville told a nurse what Jimmy Savile had done, only to be told, “You’re making a mountain, you silly girl. Do you know what he does for our hospital?”. That is why I believe that we need mandatory reporting, which would make it a new offence for those in a position of caring to fail to report knowledge or reasonable suspicion of abuse in a regulated activity. By “regulated activity” I mean schools, hospitals and so on, as defined in Schedule 4 to the Safeguarding Vulnerable Groups Act 2006, although the definitions would need amending to exclude such confidential helplines as ChildLine and Stop It Now!. This has been done successfully in Australia, so I do not believe that it would be a problem here.
We would also need to deal with patient confidentiality, such as when a child discloses information to a doctor. The fact is that many of Savile’s offences took place in schools, hospitals and prison institutions, where vulnerable people and children should have been able to rely on being safe. Fortunately, we now believe children better than we used to. However, in many cases, in order to secure a conviction we need the corroboration of adults who know what has happened. Keir Starmer, the former Director of Public Prosecutions, knows this well, which is why he supports this change in the law. Victims universally support such a change, and tell us that it would not prevent them from reporting the abuse themselves. Indeed, they would be encouraged to do so if they knew that the person to whom they confided was obliged by law to do something to make it stop.
Often ChildLine advisers will encourage children to report the abuse to a trusted adult. In that situation, the child must be able to have confidence that, if they do so, their disclosure will be properly dealt with, and no concern about reputational damage would get in the way of that adult doing the right thing by that child. The only way they can have that confidence is to make failure to report abuse an offence. The intention is not to put people in prison but to change the culture, and I believe that it would help workers to report abuse if they saw it as a public duty and not as telling tales. There is also considerable public support for this. In a recent independent poll of the public, 96% of people supported it.
We also need more research about how mandatory reporting is working in Australia, and I call on the Government to support a current application to the Nuffield Foundation to fund such a research project.
Its aim is to identify barriers to identification and reporting by teachers of suspected child sexual and physical abuse and serious neglect, and to identify effective practice. This would fill a declared gap in the DfE’s research portfolio.
Of course, mandatory reporting would apply not just to teachers. I also support the call from 88 MPs, led by Tim Loughton MP, to ask the Home Secretary to set up a Hillsborough-style inquiry into organised sexual exploitation of children. We need to restore trust in the system by learning the lessons of all the cases that have come to light, rather than just having the present drip-feed of information.
Finally, I come to my third question. Justice involves encouraging victims and witnesses to come forward and ensuring that they are treated properly, so that they can give their evidence clearly and consistently. Justice for potential victims also means that perpetrators are given programmes to tackle their perversion and ensure that they do not commit more crimes. Without those programmes, those imprisoned may well go on to reoffend after release. We are not protecting children if we allow that to happen.
I was recently privileged to sit on a commission of inquiry into child sexual abuse, facilitated by Barnardo’s. It became clear from the evidence that we heard that there was a lot of good practice, but a great deal more needs to be done. I support all the recommendations in our report, which would help the police and the justice system to support young witnesses and enable them to help to bring their torturers to justice. My noble kinsman Lord Thomas of Gresford and my noble friend Lord Paddick will deal with those issues in more detail.
Finally, as an honorary fellow of UNICEF, I must support its calls for improvements to the Modern Slavery Bill in relation to trafficked children, child pornography and child prostitution—although I abhor the use of the latter term and would like it removed from the legislation. There is no such thing as a child prostitute.
On this day of shocking revelations of how we have let victims down in the past, I look forward to hearing from my noble friend about how the Government plan to improve their protection of vulnerable people, young and old.
My Lords, I thank my noble friend Lady Walmsley for securing and introducing this debate. I congratulate her on her constructive and knowledgeable speech, which has once again shown how much she knows about this subject, how much she has studied it and the leadership that she has given in trying to cure some of the evils she has highlighted.
She talked a lot about the abuse of children. I want to focus today on vulnerable adults, the other party to this compendium debate. Noble Lords will be aware that on
I start with the speech made by the noble Lord, Lord Griffiths of Burry Port, in which he highlighted the importance of avoiding turning a safeguarding policy into a mechanistic exercise. Each person who is vulnerable or the subject of care should be treated as a unique individual, and the carer should be alert and have developed powers of observation. Although the pressure on the person concerned is undoubtedly great, they should appear to be unrushed. Above all, those who look after elderly, vulnerable people should not be on autopilot. I also agree with what the noble Lord said: that the human qualities of care and sharing should never be forgotten or lost from view.
In that same debate, the noble Lord, Lord Mawson, warned against institutions with what he called a tick-box culture, which can be very inhumane and impersonal. In this context, I ask the Minister whether she can indicate any progress with care certification of the individual carers. I would also like some system for evaluating the quality of individual care homes. We do that regularly with restaurants, and we all know the star system. Why cannot we have something similar with care homes, so that we know the degree of quality of each home?
In that same debate, the speeches that really resonated with me were those made by the noble Lord, Lord Turnberg, and the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Oxford. As the noble Lord, Lord Turnberg, said, caring for vulnerable adults is not a simple easy matter. As we all know, the old can be very obstinate and difficult. I especially think of people such as me, who cannot hear very easily. Hearing loss often leads to frustration, and that frustration can so readily become aggression. I hope that people will learn that if the person who is slightly deaf cannot hear something, they should not start shouting, because that really makes it worse. The noble Lord, Lord Turnberg was right when he said how,
“difficult and taxing, both physically and mentally, the job of caring for elderly people really is”.—[ Official Report , 14/5/14; col. 1910.]
What we hope to see, I think all would agree, is that, whenever possible, people should be able to stay in their own home. That requires regular visits when help is needed. An emergency call button is a useful form of assistance. Support needs to be given to family members, who often give dedicated and—I emphasise—voluntary work. I am aware of a 102 year-old lady who lives on her own and is looked after by regular visits throughout the week by two of her nieces, one of whom is over 80 and the other over 90. Both have to travel quite a distance to get to her and they do it selflessly, week in and week out.
Lastly, and most important of all in ending what is really unthinking abuse of vulnerable people, is education, particularly of the younger generation. Other cultures are more fortunate, in many ways, than our own. We have lost the cohesion of completeness of family circle. This was highlighted in the speech by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Oxford. I am lucky: I have 12 grandchildren; they are all young, all loving, all patient and all tolerant. They all communicate and are all great fun and they are all over the world. However, for many people, for those older than my grandchildren, grandparents can be tiresome, irritating and irrelevant.
They are often regarded as oddball curiosities who do not understand texting, e-mail, Facebook, Twitter and the like. The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Oxford had a message for us: he said that we should become more conscious of our common humanity. He drew on his experience of Africa to refer to the word “ubuntu”. We must learn afresh the quality of belonging together and do so with understanding and patience.
My Lords, it gives me very great pleasure to thank my noble friend Lady Walmsley for initiating this very topical debate. I declare an interest as a primary school governor responsible for special educational needs. Until last year—I confess that this is a role that I have now “rolled off”—I was also a governor of my local college, where I had responsibility for child protection functions.
I was interested to read in the Guardian this Tuesday about the experiences of a number of secondary school heads who claimed that, although Ofsted is nominally responsible for checking on school protection procedures, in practice this amounted to little more than checking that people had had their Criminal Records Bureau or Disclosure and Barring Service checks appropriately undertaken, and that the school or college had up-to-date child protection policy and procedures, rather than checking on the impact of the policy on the actions of the school. The Guardian spoke to 11 secondary school head teachers who, between them, had had a total of 47 inspections but,
“only twice did the inspectors ask if any safeguarding referrals had been made to the local authority”.
I was interested in this because my experience as a governor with responsibility on the governing board for child protection issues was that when we had an inspection, I was questioned at some length about my knowledge of the policies and procedures that were pursued and how I kept track of what was going on in the college. This led me to think more widely about the role of Ofsted, which is quite topical, given the issues in Birmingham over the Trojan horse issue. It also goes back to one of the central questions in child protection; namely, the role of different agencies and the co-ordination between those agencies. In the Daniel Pelka case in Coventry, for example, his school was concerned about the child’s physical state and his obvious hunger, but did not see fit to follow this up either with social services or with the police. Similarly, it is amazing that in Rochdale, the care homes with which many of these young women were attached asked no questions about the activities of the young people.
Ofsted describes itself as follows:
“The Office for Standards in Education, Children’s Services and Skills (Ofsted) regulates and inspects to achieve excellence in the care of children and young people, and in education and skills for learners of all ages. It regulates and inspects childcare and children’s social care and inspects the Children and Family Court Advisory Support Service (Cafcass), schools, colleges, initial teacher training, work-based learning and skills training, adult and community learning, and education and training in prisons and other secure establishments. It assesses council children’s services, and inspects services for looked after children, safeguarding and child protection”.
“Ofsted is not primarily a child protection agency, but there is absolutely no doubt in my mind that safeguarding is our core business”.
Ofsted, of course, is not just about schools. As the list I just read out indicates, it is pretty unique in cutting across all the other agencies involved in children and being the one thread that links them all together.
This brings me to the nub of what I want to say. Successive issues in child protection have hinged upon early intervention and the need for the various agencies with responsibilities in this area to work together to recognise the early signs of all forms of neglect and abuse and take appropriate action. Within the college, our biggest problem was the difficulty, first, in persuading local social services to inform the college about the young adults and other vulnerable persons who attended the college but who needed help and support, such as 16 year-olds who were or had been on child protection registers; and, secondly, with those same social services departments taking an interest when the college felt that young people might need more help and support.
It is for this reason that I welcome very much the announcement earlier this week that Ofsted had taken the lead in suggesting that various inspections of these agencies that are responsible for children’s services should come together for an integrated programme of inspections. I gather that this will bring together the Care Quality Commission, Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary, the Inspectorate of Probation and, where appropriate, the Inspectorate of Prisons. Their focus will be on the effectiveness of local authorities’ health, police, probation and other services in helping to protect and care for children and young people. These are real moves towards bringing the services together and encouraging them to work co-operatively.
Yet we are left with the fact that such moves encourage them to work together but do not make them do so, when we know that to be effective they have to co-operate and work together really closely. In the Children and Families Act that we passed in the previous Session we wished upon these services a duty to co-operate, yet we also know that this comes at a time when those same services are under great pressure to cut costs and suffer considerably from the churn in their personnel. Last year, for example, one in three local authorities saw a change in their children’s services director. We also know that many social workers are carrying a case load of well over 30 cases, whereas the optimum is between 10 and 12.
With the establishment of the academies and free schools, many local authorities now have only minimal education departments and are looking to schools to provide the lead in safeguarding cases. In the local primary school where I am the governor, we have used our pupil premium money to recruit a family liaison worker, but we are in no position to take the lead role in co-ordinating supportive activities for children in need of such support.
To sum up, in issuing new statutory guidance last year in the form of Working Together to Safeguard Children, we are clear that early intervention and integrated services are what we need. We all will these ends, but I am not yet confident that we have willed the means to achieve them.
My Lords, I congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, on initiating this very important debate. I will focus on some of the measures needed to prevent and address the abuse of children and adults with learning disabilities. I do this as a family carer of a vulnerable adult and from my perspective as a psychiatrist working in learning disabilities for more than 30 years. The House will also wish to know that I am a member of the recently established papal commission for the protection of minors.
Why is it important to focus on people with learning disabilities, or “intellectual disabilities” as they are known around the world? There are 1.5 million of them in the United Kingdom. They are one of the most vulnerable groups in our society yet they are also one of the most marginalised, underserved and least able to protect themselves. The appalling abuse at Winterbourne View that was uncovered in 2011 focused policymakers’ attention on the abuse of adults with learning disabilities, adults who are more at risk of all forms of abuse. Similarly, compared with their non-disabled peers, children with learning disabilities are three times more likely to experience neglect, bullying and abuse. There are long-term consequences of abuse for well-being, psychological well-being and mental health, with a strong link to depression and harm. The National Association for People Abused in Childhood provides support for adult survivors of childhood abuse and it reports that the demand for its services, including a telephone support line, is currently at an all-time high.
The Serious Crime Bill makes it explicit that under the Children and Young Persons Act emotional cruelty likely to cause psychological harm to a child is an offence. I suggest that that should also include witnessing domestic abuse. Given the increased risk of abuse and neglect, it is vital that we consider whether these measures taken by the Government will adequately protect children and adults with learning disabilities. The Care Act, which received Royal Assent in May, provides a clear legal framework for how the health and care system should work together with the safeguarding adult boards. The Act requires local authorities to make inquiries when they think that an adult with care and support needs may be at risk, and to take action if needed. To tackle problems quickly and prevent them happening again, it is vital that organisations share information with the SABs. The Act makes it clear that if an SAB requests relevant information from an organisation or an individual, they must provide it. Clearly, for local authorities to perform their duties, they need to identify that someone is at risk.
Since 2010, there has been a mandatory requirement to submit abuse of vulnerable adults returns to the NHS Health and Social Care Information Centre. In February, the centre’s report on safeguarding adults referrals revealed that of the nearly 42,000 men who received safeguarding referrals in 2012-13 nearly
11,000 had a learning disability, as did nearly 10,000 of the 65,000 women who were reported. Worryingly, these figures may be the tip of the iceberg as we know that the abuse of both adults and children with learning disabilities is under reported. We know that the families of those at Winterbourne View who raised concerns were not listened to and that a member of staff who acted as a whistleblower went unheard. It is shocking that it took a TV documentary for that abuse to come to light. What steps are the Government taking to ensure early identification and prompt reporting?
Those working with adults and children with learning disabilities must receive training on signs of abuse and neglect. When people with learning disabilities speak up, we need to ensure that those listening, whether professionals in health, education, social care or the police, have the skills to communicate in a way that that person understands. We know that these people are often unable to speak out for themselves so we need to ensure that families and carers are listened to when they have concerns.
I am encouraged that the Department of Health has commissioned a whistleblowing helpline, to be provided by Mencap, for staff and organisations working within health and social care and I commend the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, for her amendment to the Serious Crime Bill that will make it a duty for people who work in regulated activities with children or vulnerable adults and who suspect abuse to report it to the local authority. I too support mandatory reporting.
Reporting a suspicion that turns out to be inaccurate must not become a disciplinary matter for health and social care professionals—the needs of the child or vulnerable adult are paramount, however distressing false suspicion may be for others involved. Where suspicions are found to be correct, taking immediate action to protect the victim and others from further abuse and neglect is imperative but we must also ensure that appropriate treatment is available for the perpetrators of abuse.
What about prevention? People with learning disabilities have the same human rights as everyone else—the same rights to freedom from abuse and neglect, the same rights to be treated with dignity and respect. However, they also need to be empowered with education. They need to know their rights, what abuse and neglect are and what to do if this is happening to them. This is difficult. Some people may find it easier to understand pictures rather than words. Books Beyond Words uses pictures to tell stories about difficult topics, including abuse, to engage and empower people with learning disabilities and to facilitate their discussion with those who are supporting them. I declare an interest as chair of the charitable organisation that develops these pictures and this method of communicating.
The Government must take measures to prevent abuse or neglect of children and adults with learning disabilities happening in the first place. We need interventions to be offered before there is a need to resort to criminal prosecution. Parents and carers sometimes feel isolated, overwhelmed and unable to cope with their responsibilities and they need specialist support to be available when they need it.
As the scandal at Winterbourne View highlighted so starkly, we need to ensure as well that those meant to be providing care to children and adults with learning disabilities as paid care workers are fit to do so. Many of these care workers are underqualified and poorly paid. We need to ensure that care workers receive a better wage for the important work they do. Can the Government ensure that the use of zero-hours contracts among employers of care workers comes to an end? Let us consider those children and adults living with the effects of abuse. They may carry the pain and trauma with them for the rest of their lives. Their GPs need to know where to refer them. For disabled people the availability of trauma-based therapies is even more limited than for other people. This is discriminatory. I end by asking that the abuse of vulnerable children and adults should be at the forefront of our minds—it is everyone’s business.
My Lords, I also thank the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, very warmly for raising this matter. In my role as co-chair of the Church of England and Methodist Church Joint Safeguarding Liaison Group and the lead bishop for safeguarding, I daily have issues regarding the abuse of children and adults at risk brought to my attention. Clergy and other church leaders across the nation lead churches in which those who have been abused seek comfort, strength and healing. The staff of church schools daily hear from the children whom they serve stories of abuse of all kinds. In my maiden speech during the debate on the gracious Speech, I welcomed the Government’s courageous decision to strengthen the law on psychological and emotional abuse in the Serious Crimes Bill. This adds to other areas where the law has been improved over recent years. The Care Act 2014 has moved us from “vulnerable adults” to “adults at risk”, helping to recognise that while some adults are permanently vulnerable—because of, for instance, age, illness or disability—others become at risk for a period of time. This recognition is undoubtedly helpful. So, too, will be the statutory duty to have local safeguarding adult boards.
Improvements have therefore already been made. The Private Member’s Bill of the noble Baroness, Lady Howe, on online safety offers a further opportunity to help tackle the extremely serious issue of online abuse. I hope that the Government will support that Bill. Indeed, the extension of the offence of extreme pornography to include possession of pornographic images of rape and assault by penetration in the Criminal Justice and Courts Bill will continue to send a message to the public that such abuse is unacceptable. The situation becomes ever more concerning with the use of the dark net, too. CEOP must be supported adequately to stay ahead of the game, so that it can discover innovative ways to unmask the users of paedophile sites and not be allowed continually to fall further behind.
I will focus particularly on the voice of survivors. This has been the deepest lesson for me, and for the church as a whole, over recent years. We have previously failed to listen adequately to the survivor’s voice. We must do so if we are to continue to improve the prevention of abuse of both children and adults at risk. Survivors have been calling for some years for the introduction of mandatory reporting by professionals. Far too many cases of abuse could have been prevented if professional people who had serious suspicions of abuse were required to report it to a relevant authority. There remains too much fear of whistleblowing or of being thought of as interfering. Mandatory reporting for professional staff would alleviate any doubts and prevent people from asking themselves, “Should I or shouldn’t I?”. Suspicions should not be brushed aside or left unheeded. The time for mandatory reporting has arrived.
Survivors also note the need for really good safe spaces, where those who have been abused can go to report their case and find the kind of support that they need. The Church of England and the Methodist Church are currently exploring how we might create such safe spaces. We are working with projects such as the Lantern Project on the Wirral and small, locally based survivor groups in Sussex, which have developed outstanding work. Work like this for survivors of abuse needs to be encouraged and supported more openly.
A further matter survivors have been calling for is the extension of the definition of “positions of trust” in the Sexual Offences Act 2003; the current definition is too limited in scope. Continued work is also required within the operation of the criminal justice system so that survivors and victims are enabled to share their stories in a supportive environment. There have been many good advances, but vigilance and continued improvement is required.
Finally, in listening to the voice of survivors one very strong message keeps being shared: “You can do all you like to improve your legislation, your procedures and practices to ensure the present and the future are better at prevention and in dealing with both survivors and abusers than in the past; but unless and until you face up to the reality of what has previously happened, you will never really change the culture of abuse within which we live”. In short, if we do not face up to past failures, we will never really improve the future. This is a lesson we in the church are slowly learning and seeking to tackle. We have a very long way to go.
The lessons of cases like Savile and Rochdale have highlighted that, in our nation, we have a long history of abuse within institutions. Schools, residential care homes, hospitals, the police force, churches and local and national political institutions have all been used by abusers to hide their wicked activities. Powerful people have engaged in serious abuse and have worked with each other to create opportunities and share their vices and victims. As a nation we have to face up to the seriousness of institutionally based abuse against the most vulnerable in our society, both children and adults, which has gone on in the past and, sadly, continues today.
The survivors are right when they say that if we want the future to be truly different and better we have to confront the past. I believe, as do many of my colleagues, that we need a fully independent inquiry that will fully examine the reality of institutionally based abuse in our nation over the past possibly as much as 50 years. This is needed so that we can understand why this happens, where responsibilities lie and what cultural, societal and institutional discourses and dynamics lie at the heart of these ongoing failings.
I know it will take time and will be costly to undertake, and I know that for both those reasons it will be argued against. However, I firmly believe that the true cost of child abuse and the abuse of adults at risk is far higher than any of us have ever been prepared to acknowledge in terms of the mental, emotional, social and physical health and well-being of very large numbers of our population. Justice, fairness and the very health of our society demands that we no longer hide away from this dark part of our story. We need an independent public inquiry and we need it very soon.
My Lords, I also want to thank my noble friend Lady Walmsley for this debate. I particularly welcome the comments we have just heard from the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Durham, in relation to survivors, which is a theme that I hope to continue.
I speak as a police officer of over 30 years’ experience and someone who for a time was the national lead for the police on mental health issues. I also conducted a review of rape investigation for the Metropolitan Police in 2005. For me, there is a serious issue of concern about the police and the Crown Prosecution Service in relation to this area. Understandably for the CPS but, arguably, less so for the police, there is a focus on criminal prosecution. This can be problematic in relation to victims of abuse, particularly children and vulnerable adults. The problem becomes more acute when the alleged offence is conducted in private, where only the perpetrator and the victim are present, and there is no forensic or other evidence to substantiate the allegation. The problems become even more acute in cases of vulnerable adults in rape cases where consent is an issue.
Clearly, everything should be done to ensure that perpetrators are brought to justice for abuse of the vulnerable, but the conclusion we came to in the Metropolitan Police rape investigation review was that the needs of the victim should be primary and the need for a prosecution should be secondary. Even if, because of the vulnerability of the victim, a jury might be unlikely to believe the victim or the victim might be unable to accurately recall the event, if at all, the importance of those reporting abuse being believed by the police cannot be overstated.
As my noble friend Baroness Walmsley has said, we saw in the recent case of Jimmy Savile how vulnerable victims were either not believed or did not feel able to report the abuse until after the perpetrator was dead. Clearly, as a prosecuting authority, the CPS has a legal obligation to apply a test of how likely it is that the case will be proved; but the police have other and, I believe, overriding obligations to the victim and to society as a whole to ensure that vulnerable people and children are safeguarded.
In the past, police performance indicators, particularly in relation to clear-up rates, the proportion of crimes solved compared with the total number of offences recorded, has encouraged the police to concentrate on the most solvable cases and even to look for reasons not to record offences at all. It is much easier to influence the clear-up rate by not recording an offence than it is to try to solve very difficult and serious cases. Indeed, in the first draft of my review into rape investigations, we identified wide differences across London in the total number of offences recorded, the proportion that was classified as “no crime” or “not a crime”, and the proportion of successful prosecutions. We not only identified differences in leadership, the amount of resources and the expertise that was applied to those cases, but we also identified differences in how the vulnerability of the victim impacted on how seriously the police appeared to take the alleged offences.
In some areas of London prostitution was an issue, while in others there was a problem with those addicted to drugs, or a higher proportion of those who suffered from mental illness, and in those areas there appeared to be a higher incidence of crimes being written off as never having happened. While one can see the dilemma for the police in some of these cases, when the prospect of securing sufficient evidence to mount a successful prosecution may have been small and they were in effect presented with an unsolvable crime, that was no excuse for writing off such offences as simply never having happened.
The most important starting point in any police investigation—and one that appears not to have been followed, certainly in the era of Jimmy Savile—is that the child or vulnerable adult who complains of abuse must be believed unless there is compelling evidence to the contrary. Even if a prosecution does not prove possible, it is essential that at the very least the matter is recorded as a crime for police intelligence purposes and that steps are taken to ensure that the child or vulnerable adult is supported and protected from future harm.
There is also a need to act with fairness and balance towards the accused in these cases. We have seen other cases where serious allegations have been made against well known individuals, and in some of those cases the press appear to have assumed their guilt, even when those individuals have subsequently been acquitted or no further action has been taken against them by the police. I am not in favour of anonymity for those accused of sexual offences, but there needs to be a sea change in people’s attitudes towards police investigations in such cases.
The police may arrest someone if they have “reasonable cause to suspect” that a person has committed an offence, not because they have evidence that they can put before a court. The CPS may charge someone on the basis that it believes there to be a more than 51% chance of conviction before a jury, not because it is certain that the person is guilty. It seems that in the minds of the public in this country at the moment, rather than a presumption of innocence there is a presumption of “no smoke without fire”, which is very often planted by the media. In particular, there needs to be a balance between the need for a thorough police investigation and the innocent accused being bailed, rebailed, and bailed again.
The police appear to have to perform a very difficult balancing act, but I will try to simplify things. Children and vulnerable adults who have suffered abuse must be believed, cared for and protected at all costs. Whenever possible, perpetrators must be brought to justice—but not at any cost. Above, all inability to prosecute must never be an excuse for failing victims of abuse.
My Lords, the awful history of Savile is truly terrible, and we all need to extend concern and care to the victims, particularly today, when their memories are again being revived. However, we should not let celebrity cases focus our thinking on issues of abuse in one direction. Let us remind ourselves that most abuse takes place—is taking place at this moment—in the home, by the neighbour, in the sports centre, and in the local church congregation, and is usually perpetrated by a known and trusted adult. What we need from government—this is about what the Government are doing in this area—is a joined-up strategy that looks at all the areas. Perhaps it can look separately at adults and children, but certainly those two areas need joined-up strategies. I will talk in particular about child sexual abuse in relation to that.
Before I begin to talk about that, I pay tribute to the people who work in this field, because normally we hear only about the failings. I was at a conference this morning where we were told about the case loads of social workers; the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, has already mentioned this. Those case loads are twice what they should be, and solicitors are undertaking work free, because the fees are now so low that they could not otherwise spend more than about three hours in consultation with families. Because those workers are usually condemned, I think that we should recognise the thousands of cases that, day in and day out, are carried through successfully by all the statutory services—the police, health workers, and particularly social workers.
I cannot agree with the call for a national inquiry. I know how expensive that would be. There are two reasons why I do not support an inquiry. The first is that if there is any money going in these years of austerity, when the answer is usually, “Deficit, deficit, deficit,” please let us plough it into the front line. Let us get the money to the preventive work, where we can really do good. The second reason is that we already have a plethora of reports. I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Bichard, will tell us his thoughts about how we follow through on the reports, and the analysis of those reports, that we already have. That is crucial to take us forward. Producing yet another report would, I fear, just take us to the same place. The work is already done.
I shall now talk about child sexual abuse and the other connected issues that I want to raise. I am vice-chair, and a trustee, of the Lucy Faithfull Foundation, which the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley—whom I congratulate on securing this debate—has already generously mentioned. Dealing with child sexual abuse tends to reflect two strands of activity, child protection and offender management. The Lucy Faithfull Foundation takes a slightly different view, which might be called a public health view. It says that all adults, everywhere, are responsible for all abuse, particularly child sexual abuse. So we have to increase the understanding of parents, and of local groups such as schools and churches. I commend the work that the right reverend Prelate is doing at the moment; I confess to being on his committee. I think that the church is now trying to undertake some of the education work through its parishes.
Because child sexual abuse is such an emotive subject, providing the proper treatment and preventive strategies for abusers has brought particular challenges. It is easy to talk about the victims and get help for them; it is extraordinarily difficult to get a focus on abusers.
As many people will know, the Lucy Faithfull Foundation has developed a helpline. I thank the Government for their support for the helpline, especially recently, to ensure that all the men—it is mostly men—who might be abusing can get through, as well as families, often wives, and young people, who are sometimes referred from ChildLine with their problems involving abuse. More than 31,000 calls were taken between 2002 and 2013, but many were missed, and for every call missed there may be a child who is being abused, or a family life lost because the husband was not able to get help fast enough. The Government are playing their part in working with that helpline.
In the time that I have left I want to talk about a couple of other areas. The first is the work of the courts. In the NSPCC’s presentation of its recent work on the courts, I was shocked to discover that many of the procedures that we thought had already been implemented in the courts are still not there. What distresses me most is to discover that children are still being aggressively cross-examined by barristers, and that most of those who could be heard outside court, on off-site premises, do not do so because the provision is not there. Only 1% of the children get that opportunity. I commend the work of the NSPCC in that area.
Finally, the Lucy Faithfull Foundation works with young people who are sexually offending. We had a contract with the Youth Justice Board, which was successful until 2012. It was then given up to the health service. NHS England decided that it would take it in-house, but it has not taken the staff, so there is no specialist support for these children. Will the Minister look at what is happening to young people who now need extremely specialist programmes in young offender institutions, now that the one group that knows about this has been removed?
I want to say a word about mandatory reporting before I finish. I do not think that I could do better than to quote Donald Findlater, one of the most experienced workers in this field, both here and internationally. Again, I am taking a different position from those who have spoken before. I agree with him when he says:
“In other parts of the world I see police and child protection agencies swamped by demand following mandatory reporting. It leaves little time to invest in prevention, especially as most cases are unsubstantiated. I want staff to intervene when they have concerns, not just when abuse has happened. And I don’t want the criminal law to be an obstacle to such decent, responsible behaviour”.
I hope that the Government agree.
My Lords, I congratulate my noble friend Lady Walmsley on bringing this important debate to the Floor of the House this afternoon, and I refer Members to my interests in the register, in addition to which I am patron of Action on Elder Abuse and the main carer of an adult with autism.
A report by Action on Elder Abuse states that abuse is often by more than one person—something that we sometimes overlook. There is often collusion in abuse between adults—23% of cases are by members of a family and 62% by paid staff. In respect of that, there are three things that I would like my noble friend on the Front Bench to take away from this debate. The first is training, which has already been raised. The Action on Elder Abuse helpline identified that the greatest number of problems it receives have at their heart poor training, so I hope that the Government will concentrate on training, particularly for care workers and those with professional qualifications.
The other is whistleblowing. I support the moves that the Government are about to take in forthcoming legislation to tighten up on whistleblowing. In that context it is also important to state that it is not just about whistleblowing on something that is evidently what we would all recognise as criminal abuse; it needs attention much further down the track than that. Before things get to the level of criminal abuse, people need to feel that they can report it, and do so safely, particularly regarding their own position.
The other thing that I have mentioned before, but which would be remiss of me not to press again, is that we need a proper register for care workers. They do not work just in organised homes; they work greatly in the community and do invaluable work. When we look at the people who are accused of and found guilty of a range of abuses, we still have that rather unquiet feeling that for many, if they have not received a custodial sentence, they can go back into the ether and re-emerge somewhere else to obtain a post caring for another vulnerable person.
My noble friend Lady Hollins raised the shocking case of Winterbourne View, and I take this opportunity to say that we have seen the government report Winterbourne View: 1 Year On, but I still have concerns about report-backs that I hear from the medical profession and others that far too many people with learning disabilities and who present as mental health patients are being detained for far too long and a long way away from their natural home and community. Much as I know that the Government have taken Winterbourne View very seriously, we cannot, as has rightly been said, just accept a tick-list on a well written report. This House needs to be reported to with evidence that change has happened and is happening for these vulnerable people.
Winterbourne View involved adults with learning disability and autistic spectrum disorders. I know the House would expect me to devote some of my contribution to people with autism. While I appreciate that the new Care Act does a lot to make improvements, there is one aspect of it that is going to cause a real problem for people on the autistic spectrum. It commits the Government to introduce a new national eligibility threshold for care and support, which will tell local authorities when they must provide adults with support. Until now, local authorities have had the power to set eligibility for support against one of the eligibility bandings—low, moderate, substantial and critical—which reflect different levels of care need. The new national eligibility criteria are intended to be comparable, but the banding is different. It should be a fairer system, but I suspect that many people on the autistic spectrum will fall through the net.
I would like to share with the House the case of Adrian, who was diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome when he was 14. Social services assessed his need for support at the age of 18. His parents were concerned that he was putting himself at risk because of the people he was spending time with, and they thought he needed help with the transition to adulthood. The assessment found that Adrian had difficulty interpreting other people’s motives and actions—something that is very common with people on the autistic spectrum—and that he was easily led, which could place him at risk in the community. However, the local authority decided the risks were not sufficient for him to receive support.
Adrian was later bullied and intimidated. His parents continued to contact social services, as well as the police, asking for a reassessment and support for him. After Adrian reported being raped by one of the people who had befriended him, his parents again appealed to the police and social services. Eventually, a small package of evening support was approved. However, five days later, Adrian was murdered by the same person he had accused of rape. Under the Government’s new proposed criteria, Adrian would not have been eligible for support.
I draw my noble friend’s attention to the very first word of the debate we have before us today: “preventing”. With many people on the autistic spectrum, the right package of support—not necessarily a hugely costly package at that—can prevent abuse and neglect. I hope my noble friend will ensure that the Front Bench team from the Department of Health are aware of our concerns about the safety and security of people on the autistic spectrum, and about the change in the Care Act.
My Lords, I, too, would like to congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, on securing this important debate. In particular, I would like to congratulate her on her excellent speech.
I intend to confine my comments to the abuse of children. Evidence from a range of sources in recent years has underlined that children are being increasingly exposed to harmful and damaging content online. A parliamentary inquiry in 2012 found that one in three children aged 10 or under has seen sexual images online, and four out of five children aged 14 to 16 access online pornography at home. The inquiry went on to say, somewhat chillingly, that,
“the whole history of human sexual perversion”, is available on the internet and only two clicks away. It goes on to say that,
“unfortunately, our children, with their natural curiosity and superior technological skills, are finding and viewing these images”.
The inquiry also noted that the rise of internet pornography is leaving teenagers with an inability to develop normal relationships and is even increasing their susceptibility to grooming by sexual abusers.
Last year, the Deputy Children’s Commissioner for England suggested that the scale of access to adult pornography among children was now so widespread that it should trigger “moral panic” among parents, schools and the Government about what should be done. Her research also revealed that in one large local authority area, 100% of boys in year 9 classes—14 year-olds—accessed pornography. The damaging consequences of all this are plain. Children do not simply view these images and move on. They can produce real trauma for weeks, months and even years to come.
In a 2010 Home Office report into the sexualisation of children, leading psychologist Dr Linda Papadopoulos found that there is a striking link among young males between the consumption of sexualised images and a tendency to view women as objects, along with an acceptance of aggressive attitudes and behaviour as the norm. According to research by Ybarra and Mitchell, children who are exposed to pornography are three and a half times more likely to be depressed and two and a half times more likely to be less bonded to their carers.
Given the effect on children, I am very clear that the provision of this kind of material online without robust age verification to protect children constitutes a form of abuse, about which something must be done. So, what have the Government done? They have persuaded 90% of the ISP market to provide what is in effect a form of default filtering, which I welcome, although the self-regulatory nature of the current arrangements—missing out 10% of the market and therein many homes with children—is deeply problematic for reasons I have explained on previous occasions.
However, I want to focus particularly on the ATVOD call on the Government to make the law clearer that R18 material should be put behind robust age verification mechanisms that it would be ATVOD’s responsibility to monitor. I am pleased to say that the Government have responded favourably to this request, although they have not yet produced any legislation. That is of concern, given the importance of the issue.
In the light of this, my Online Safety Bill, which had its First Reading in your Lordships’ House on
Act 2005, we have required all online gambling sites to be set behind robust age-verification processes based on credit referencing, the electoral roll and so on. We must now do so in relation to 18 and R18 video on demand material.
ATVOD has also rightly drawn attention to the fact that the majority of R18 material that is accessed in the UK comes from beyond this country where the authority has no jurisdiction. Simply to make the Communications Act 2003 clearer on the point that all 18 and R18 material should be placed behind robust age-verification systems, while essential, is by no means the whole solution. I am not aware that the Government have done anything specifically to address the problem. It is for this reason that Clause 8 of my Bill would introduce a financial transaction blocking provision.
Clause 8 provides a mechanism for requiring financial transaction providers not to process transactions between internet users in the UK and websites based outside the UK that provide 18 or R18 content without a system of robust age verification. This is a vital measure. It will cut the flow of money to such websites, challenging them to act responsibly and introduce a system of age verification.
There is no doubt in my mind that given the damaging implications of all this material for adults, making it available to children constitutes a form of abuse. Moreover, if as legislators we have the capacity to require people who engage in the provision of this material to do so behind robust age verification, as with online gambling, but cannot be bothered, there is—I say this gently—a sense in which we are all complicit in that abuse.
I welcome the steps that the Government have taken in relation to filtering—subject of course to the problems associated with its self-regulatory basis—but there is so much more to be done. To this end I hope that they will carefully consider and adopt my Online Safety Bill, as suggested by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Durham.
My Lords, I was a member of the panel under the chairmanship of Sarah Champion MP, sponsored by Barnardo’s, inquiring into the effectiveness of current legislation for tackling child sexual exploitation and trafficking. My particular concern was the way in which the judicial system dealt with complaints. We heard evidence from members of the Bar who were highly experienced in prosecuting and defending charges brought under the Sexual Offences Act 2003. They identified a number of issues.
One was training and specialisation of the judiciary. A judge plays a crucial role in setting out ground rules at the start of a trial. He determines what special measures should be employed for putting a complainant at his or her ease; for example, by the use of remote television. An experienced judge will decide whether a registered intermediary would be helpful. In particular, he may set a time limit for cross-examination. In the course of the trial he will intervene if he feels that cross-examination is too aggressive or strays too far. He should prevent different defence barristers asking the same questions over and over again. I noted what the noble Baroness, Lady Howarth, said and I think that this is not a course that is followed in all cases.
The powers of control are not generally exercised in most criminal trials before a jury because when a judge “steps down into the arena”, as we say, a jury may react badly and think that he is taking sides. The trial process may be distorted. It is also the case that in the past many judges may have had no courtroom experience of sex cases, or at least recent experience, since such cases have over the past 30 or 40 years in my experience tended to be left to junior barristers and to women, who are unhappily under-represented on the Bench. In my 35 years as a Queen’s Counsel, I can recall being involved in only three cases in which rape alone was alleged. These have usually involved the most unusual circumstances, such as the alleged rape of an 82 year-old lady suffering from Alzheimer’s. She had died before the hearing and the evidence was confined to a video of her interview.
In nearly 30 years sitting as a recorder, I tried only one case of rape and that was probably a mistake in the listing. Sensitive training of the judiciary is essential. There is such training on sexual offences cases for judges, although it has been reduced quite recently from a three-day course to a two-day one. It is now necessary for any judge who is ticketed to try these cases to undergo a refresher course every three years and there are supplemental courses on vulnerable witnesses. The Barnardo’s report concluded that,
“no judge should be assigned to try a complex child sexual exploitation case without having received such training”, and that thought should be given to limiting those authorised to preside over sexual exploitation cases unless they had previous relevant experience of working on ordinary sexual offences cases.
With regard to the training and specialisation of advocates, Nazir Afzal QC of the CPS told us that there has been a change of mindset. The CPS has produced revised guidelines on prosecuting cases of child sexual abuse and has introduced specialist rape and serious sexual offences units embedded into the Crown Court team. Patricia Lynch QC, who both prosecutes and defends and is a tutor judge at the Judicial College, told us that her Chambers used to have a self-imposed rule that,
“you didn’t conduct a sex case until you were seven years call and 10 years for rape. Only Silks and very senior juniors did rape and serious sex cases and they were tried by High Court and Senior Circuit Judges. Now anyone can take on a sex case; Silks are deemed too expensive and there are not enough practitioners trained to do the specialist cases”.
There lies the problem. The fact is that no one wants to spend their whole career at the Bar doing this type of case. They are not well paid, are more than usually distressing and rarely of high profile. It is only in the high-profile celebrity cases that you will see Silks of standing stepping forward to do them. They generally have no experience of doing sexual offence cases generally. We called for specialist training for both prosecutors and defence counsel and recommended that,
“legally aided defendants should be restricted in their choice of representation to a panel of solicitors and counsel who have undergone specific training in CSE issues. The professional bodies should have the power on complaint to remove an individual from such a panel”, if it were appropriate by reason of the conduct of the advocate in court.
Finally, with regard to jurors’ perceptions, all those who appeared before our panel were concerned that a jury consists of,
“people who are unfamiliar with child abuse and how it manifests itself”.
Jurors tend not to understand,
“the levels of coercion and manipulation used to control and exploit young people”.
I hope that abuse is not so widespread that it does come within their life experience. Young people tend not to present themselves as victims and become defensive, aggressive or even laugh as they give their evidence. Eleanor Laws QC told us:
“Trafficked victims don’t behave the way a jury thinks they should behave. There is a danger that the jury sits in judgement”, not on the abuser but on the victim.
Myths and stereotypes do exist. Judges may warn the jury against making assumptions about the possible effects of sexual offences on victims and increasingly do so at the outset of a case. I proposed that members of a jury panel, before the actual jury is selected out of it, should be shown a standard and agreed video about common myths and stereotypes, just as they now see a video explaining their role as jurors. The report recommended that the Ministry of Justice should explore,
“the development of materials, either written or filmed, to better inform jurors”, about those continuing myths and stereotypes that undermine our judicial system.
The report contains much more guidance on special measures and the possibility of pre-recorded evidence closer to the time of the offence. There are pilots under way. But the essential thing is that justice is done, for victims certainly, but for the health of society as a whole as well.
My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, for securing the debate. I congratulate her, genuinely, on her wide-ranging opening speech. I will focus my comments primarily on children, although I think that some of the lessons to be learnt are common.
It is now 40 years since the death of Maria Colwell. Since then there have been seemingly countless similar tragedies. Each has resulted in an inquiry or a serious case review, and many of those inquiries and case reviews have produced similar findings. Very often communication is a real problem. More recently we have seen the sexual abuse in the Savile and Hall cases, which, frankly, beggars belief, not least because of the failure of the institutions involved to prevent it.
There is no simple answer to the question, “Why does this keep happening?”, but we have to continue the search for answers rather than accept these things as inevitable. By “we” I do not mean just professional social workers, who, as many have said today, are under the most intense pressure because of their case loads. Indeed, when I use the term “we” I refer to many of us here, because I think that those of us who are involved in leading or chairing major institutions of any kind have a particular responsibility to carry.
We should be asking ourselves some very difficult questions rather than passing those questions over to the HR department, which is what too often happens. We should be asking ourselves in our institution, whether it is a diocese or a school or whatever: “Do people realise that there is a climate of zero tolerance where child abuse is concerned? Do we have in place clear, detailed policies to minimise the risk of abuse? Do those systems enable—no, encourage—those with concerns to share those concerns? Do we have in place effective training for staff, even during a period of austerity? Do we ensure that the voice of young people, of children, is heard and treated with respect? Do we, wherever possible, share information with other agencies? When allegations are made against our institution, do we respond by seeking the facts, or do we respond by trying primarily to defend our institution?”. These are searching questions which I do not believe many leaders of institutions are yet asking themselves.
The Government, to their credit, have accepted their own responsibilities—their responsibilities to protect children, not least by having in place systems for prior checking of people who work with them. I have always taken the view that those arrangements need to be proportionate. However, I have to say that safeguarding will always require some bureaucracy. Protecting vulnerable people in our society always requires some bureaucracy. Attempts to reduce that bureaucracy should never be made at the expense of children’s safety.
I remain concerned that some of the recent changes contained in the Protection of Freedoms Act could have a negative impact. I remind noble Lords that the Act redefined regulated activities so that 4 million posts are no longer covered, many on the grounds that their work is supervised. As a result of not being covered, not being a regulated activity, access to the barred lists is denied to employers when considering appointments.
I said at the time, and I have not changed my view, that I do not believe it is possible to supervise employees in a way that avoids them developing a bond of trust with young people with whom they are having regular contact. That is a bond of trust that can then be exploited outside the workplace, not least through social media. Nor do I yet understand why we are denying employers access to the barred lists. I am not alone in thinking that the current arrangements are as confusing as ever. That worries me because I fear that some inappropriate people will slip through the net yet again.
In the context of all that, I have been somewhat shocked this week to read—the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, has referred to this—the statistics which show that the number of people stopped from working with children due to having committed sexual offences, which stood at some 12,500 in 2011, has now dropped to 2,800. I ask this genuinely, because I have been under some pressure this week to go on various programmes and comment on it. I have refused to do so because I do not understand what is behind this reduction in figures, but I know that I am worried about it. So far, the explanations from the department have not been reassuring or convincing. I hope that the Minister will be able to give us some explanation of why the figures have changed so dramatically.
I conclude by making two suggestions. The first is that the Government should commission a proper review of mandatory reporting. There are people who I respect who have very different views on this. We should have a close look at the arguments for and against mandatory reporting, and look at international experience before we come to a decision.
My second suggestion is that we should establish a very small—I underline that—centre of excellence for child protection. My fear is that we do not do enough to learn the lessons of child abuse tragedies and to make sure that they lead to real change in the way in which we design and manage the various safeguarding systems, the way in which we manage and share information and the way in which professionals are trained. I apologise if this seems a simplistic comparison, but the way in which the aviation industry ensures that the lessons of accidents and near misses are learnt and lead to real changes in the system is exemplary. I do not think that the way in which we deal with some of the tragedies to which I have referred are, by comparison, good. A centre for child protection excellence would be tasked with ensuring that the recommendations of reviews and inquiries are actioned where necessary to change the systems, the procedures and the training programmes. It would be a small investment—yes, it would be an investment—but one which was justified.
The abuse of children and vulnerable adults is not historical. There is a growing view that these are things that happened in the past. It is not historical; it is not reducing; it is widespread. It is, let us not forget, a blot on our claim to be a civilised society.
My Lords, I apologise to the House for my earlier attempt to speak. It was purely because of my interest in the subject and my wish to engage in the debate that we have been having. The debate has been a very good one, and our thanks are due to the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, and other speakers for making it so. I should declare an interest as a deputy chair of a special school, the Chiltern Way school, and have had some responsibility for child protection matters in that.
The noble Baroness asked whether we knew enough and whether we were doing enough prevention work. Those are important issues which I want to position next to that raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, who also posed the question of whether the Government have willed the ends of policy but not yet the means. Although it is a very old and hoary saw which is often used in matters affecting government policy and action, it seems particularly relevant today.
This debate is timely as it comes on the day of the first tranche of reports on the predatory actions of Jimmy Savile, which will, as the Secretary of State said in another place, shake our country to its very core.
The debate comes also during the week when a major new report from the Centre for Social Justice, entitled
Enough is Enough
, reminds us once again of how we are failing so many vulnerable young people. Some of the case studies are shocking and distressing, and they have been reinforced by many other examples which have been raised today. They include the seven year-old boy feeling forced by his mother to steal milk from his baby sibling and then abandoned by social care following his arrest, and a young girl who was severely neglected and physically abused by her mother and repeatedly seen with her siblings searching for food in rubbish bins. As the noble Lord, Lord Bichard, said, these are things that we should not be seeing in a civilised society.
The report is a wake-up call to those, including me, who thought that these crucial child protection issues, identified in the Munro report of 2011—to which I want to return at the end of my remarks—were finally being understood and addressed by the Government. Sadly, we have heard recurrent themes emerge from the comments made today: countless examples of abused, neglected and traumatised children being failed by statutory services; social workers being overwhelmed by the scale of the task and a lack of resources to intervene; a failure to grasp the necessity of early intervention; professionals lacking the skills, training or experience to deal with complex cases; the lessons that were clearly set out in Every Child Matters being lost in short-term expediency and sticking-plaster solutions; an ability of statutory bodies to share information and collaborate effectively being lost; and a disconnect between the valuable work carried out by voluntary agencies and their interfaces with statutory services.
The result is that we are confronted by too many shocking cases hitting the headlines, but also with the knowledge—graphically illustrated by the Savile reports today—that these cases are just a tiny fraction of the abuse and neglect taking place day by day. Arguably, the role of Ofsted in inspecting children’s services is a significant part of the problem. Unlike with schools, the inspections are not routine and rigorous, but rather crisis-driven. Similar arguments can be made for the inspection of adult care services. In 2010, the Government announced the cessation of annual performance assessments, which has resulted in the Care Quality Commission no longer inspecting the commissioning practices of local authorities. Parallel to this move to lighter-touch regulation, we have seen an increasing number of care home scandals.
We should surely all agree that it is essential to have a strong and effective regulator to protect vulnerable adults. This should be a precondition to enable patients to have confidence in the services they receive, and to allow them to exercise informed choice when choosing services. This is why we think it is essential for the CQC to be allowed to proactively inspect and review the commissioning of adult social care services in local authorities.
One issue which has been picked up during this debate, and highlighted by numerous reports, is that reports are not investigated or charges are not brought because victims are often thought to be “not credible”.
It is surely the job of all of us, across government, to try to tackle a culture which consistently fails to give victims—especially child victims—of abuse the status they deserve in the criminal justice system. One way this could be, in some senses, remedied is to improve sex and relationship education in schools. This week the Prime Minister announced that he would allow the guidance given to schools to be updated to reflect the new pressures resulting from the internet, but this still fails to acknowledge that too few schools are teaching proper sex and relationship education.
Sex and relationship education is not just about challenging the attitudes among victims. It is also about changing attitudes among perpetrators. As the noble Baroness, Lady Howarth, reminded us, we need to remember that most child sexual exploitation is done either by a child’s peer or by a young adult. The NSPCC study already mentioned found that 65% of sexual abuse was conducted by the under-18s, while a Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre sample of 1,200 known perpetrators found that, where the age was known, over half were under 24. Sex education can also be particularly useful in combating new forms of abuse, such as sexting.
As the noble Lord, Lord Bichard, said, the key to protecting children is accurate data sharing between agencies. However, there is concern about the Disclosure and Barring Service, whose job is to stop people who pose a danger to children from working with children. The operation of the DBS has been dramatically changed by the Protection of Freedoms Act 2012, which means that the DBS is barring fewer people. The number of people placed on the barred list in 2009 was over 17,000, and so far this year it is 1,400. Like the noble Lord, Lord Bichard, when the Minister comes to respond I would like to hear from her what the explanation is for this. Perhaps more importantly, the Act dramatically reduced the number of agencies with which the DBS is able to share information. Indeed, in many cases the DBS will be forbidden from sharing intelligence with a school or youth club, even after a DBS check has been requested.
Child protection is an incredibly broad subject, as reflected in today’s contributions. A number of inquiries have taken place, and there are many ongoing. There is an inquiry into Jimmy Savile’s conduct and why action had not been taken by various institutions with which he had a relationship. There is also the Waterhouse inquiry into the North Wales abuse scandal, and the Deputy Children’s Commissioner is in the process of holding an inquiry into the culture of grooming. The NSPCC has conducted a number of excellent pieces of research, as have Barnardo’s and the Children’s Society.
There are so many reports, but all seem to be brought forward in a way which allows those who have commissioned them, or those who have received them, just to leave them and move on to the next one. What we need from these reports is an action plan. As mentioned by other noble Lords, we need either a serious case review which brings together the various inquiries and brings forward clearer recommendations or, as suggested, the sort of qualitative and very narrow investigation prompted by accidents. This type of investigation was referred to by the noble Lord, Lord
Bichard, in relation to civil aviation. Whatever the type, there is enough information and evidence around to require us to ensure that we have action plans and for them to be implemented.
At the beginning of my remarks, I mentioned the Munro report. The Munro recommendations were, by general accord, an excellent blueprint for action. When the Government responded, the then Children’s Minister, Tim Loughton, wrote:
“There is now a significant opportunity to build a child-centred system that: values professional expertise; shares responsibility for the provision of early help; develops social work expertise and supports effective social work practice; and strengthens accountabilities and promotes learning”.
What happened to those aspirations? All the evidence seems to be that the situation has got worse, not better, under this Government’s watch, and very few operating in the sector have seen a positive drive for change.
We do not need Jimmy Savile and the reports that have come out today and will be coming out over the next few months to remind us that we need to do more, discover more and work harder at prevention. I hope that we can use this useful debate to make progress on all those points.
My Lords, I, too, thank my noble friend for tabling this important topic for debate today. As other noble Lords have said, the fact that the reports on Jimmy Savile’s reign of abuse have been published today shows how extremely timely it is and how we must all be vigilant to ensure that everyone, however old, young or vulnerable, can live free from abuse and neglect. The noble Baroness, Lady Howarth, explained that that often happens in the home or in familiar places with familiar people.
In all respects, we must counter abuse, as my noble friend Lady Walmsley said, through culture change, or legislation, regulation and training. We need to support professionals in this difficult and complex work—I pay tribute to them, as did the noble Baroness, Lady Howarth—but we also need to challenge them and agencies to do the right thing and act quickly when things go wrong. That also means holding people and organisations to account. We also need to be aware of the cultural shifts, such as those manifested and driven by the expansion of the internet, as the noble Baroness, Lady Howe, and others mentioned.
There is a well established legislative framework for social care and support for children set out in the Children Act 1989, including the duties of local authorities in relation to children in need in their area, as well as their child protection duties, but we know that child protection does not always work as effectively as we would want. As the noble Lord, Lord Bichard, noted, continued and repeated serious case reviews and other investigations provide stark reminders that there is much more to be done. He is right about ensuring that we learn from them.
The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Durham noted the long history of abuse in our institutions, whether schools, hospitals, the police or even churches. My honourable friend the Minister of State for Crime
Prevention, Norman Baker, is leading a national group of experts urgently to address missed opportunities to protect children and vulnerable people. He is assisted by members of the NSPCC, Barnardo’s and Rape Crisis. The group is looking at lessons that could be learnt from recent and current inquiries to see what should be taken forward.
There were noble Lords on either side of the question of holding a public inquiry. I note what the noble Baroness, Lady Howarth, and the noble Lord, Lord Bichard, said, about following through on the reports that we already have, but I also noted what the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Durham said. What it comes down to is that nobody is satisfied with where we have got to; we have to ensure that we do better.
The noble Lord, Lord Stevenson, mentioned Professor Eileen Munro’s review of the child protection system in England and her report in 2011, with all her recommendations. Most of them have been implemented. In the Working Together to Safeguard Children statutory guidance, we have focused more clearly on the core legal requirements that all professionals should follow so that children are kept safe. We have also sought to put the needs of individual children back at the heart of the assessment process by removing the requirement to have separate initial and core assessments.
As noble Lords are clearly well aware, changes to the overarching framework on their own are not sufficient to ensure real improvement on the ground. That is why improvements to social work practice are crucial. For the first time, a Chief Social Worker for Children and Families has been appointed in England to provide independent, expert advice to Ministers on social reform and act as a leader for the profession.
Following Sir Martin Narey’s review, we are taking forward a number of reforms to improve the calibre and confidence of the workforce by improving social work training and developing further the skills of existing social workers via programmes such as Step Up to Social Work and Frontline. The new Ofsted single inspection framework looks at the child’s experience from the point of needing help and protection right through the system. In addition, CQC has also introduced a new programme to inspect local health service arrangements for these groups, and we are planning further improvements, with multiagency inspections due in 2015. By ensuring that serious case reviews are published we are seeking to improve public accountability where there have been failures to keep children safe.
The new children’s social care innovation programme should help us to support the development, testing and sharing of new and effective ways of supporting children who need help from children’s social care services. My noble friend Lady Walmsley rightly emphasised the need for research and practice to be evidence-based, a point that the noble Lord, Lord Bichard, echoed. My noble friend Lady Walmsley commented on the Government’s consultation on the outsourcing of children’s social care functions. Following that consultation, as she noted, we announced last Friday that profit-making organisations would not be able to take on outsourced functions, including those relating to child protection, and draft regulations have been amended accordingly.
The issue of mandatory reporting was raised by my noble friend Lady Walmsley, the noble Baroness, Lady Hollins, and others. This is one of a number of possible future approaches that the Government are considering. The Government are reviewing the specific case for mandatory reporting in regulated activity and the Home Office is looking across government at options to strengthen the system. I note the comments of the noble Baroness, Lady Howarth, and the noble Lord, Lord Bichard. I hope that the noble Lord will be reassured that we will continue to examine the evidence on this, both nationally and internationally.
My noble friend Lady Walmsley mentioned PSHE and how it could help to protect individuals. We believe that all schools should teach PSHE, drawing on good practice. My noble friend Lord Paddick spoke about victims and survivors and the need to believe them. The Crown Prosecution Service published final guidelines on prosecuting cases of child sex abuse in October 2013, setting out a new approach to dealing with the particular issues that differentiate these cases. Focusing on the credibility of the allegation rather than the credibility of the individual is a significant cultural shift which recognises and addresses the particular vulnerability of some of these potential victims. We published the new victims’ code in December 2013. I hope that my noble friend Lord Paddick has seen it and feels that it is a positive move.
On health services, the Government’s mandate to NHS England sets it an objective of continuing to improve safeguarding of both adults and children in the NHS. One issue that has come up here is making sure that information sharing is done early and systematically. This was emphasised by my noble friends Lady Walmsley and Lady Sharp, the noble Baroness, Lady Hollins, and others. We know that early information is the key to providing effective early help where there are emerging problems. No professional should assume that someone else will pass on information which they think may be critical to keeping someone safe. We have recently rolled out the first wave of sites on the child protection information sharing project. This aims to help health professionals to make clear, timely judgments on potential safeguarding concerns and enable more rapid contact with children’s social care. We have emphasised in statutory guidance, Working Together to Safeguard Children, that effective sharing of information between professionals and local agencies is essential.
For adults at risk of abuse and neglect there needs to be a keen focus on the quality as well as the length of life. I note what my noble friend Lady Browning said about the quality and valuing of staff and about training them so as to ensure that they are looking after people with empathy. We need radical reform of how health and social care are experienced and delivered. The Care Act 2014 starts this process by providing a legal framework placing the well-being principle, prevention and early intervention at its heart. However, we are under no illusion that legislation alone will eradicate the type of behaviour that leaves people feeling distressed, frightened and humiliated. This can be realised only through a change in culture that leaves no tolerance of abuse, supports individual and collective responsibility for detecting abuse and challenges corrosive practices.
With services, people must be held to account for the quality of care that they provide. We are taking measures to ensure that company directors who are complicit in, or turn a blind eye to, poor care will be liable to prosecution. In future, they and provider organisations could face unlimited fines if found guilty. This could provide additional incentives for the effective management and support of staff—and those staff must be properly valued, as the noble Baroness, Lady Hollins, and others have argued.
Systems and processes are already in place to provide public assurance, including the Care Quality Commission registration requirements and the Disclosure and Barring Service. I note what my noble friend Lady Walmsley and the noble Lord, Lord Bichard, have said about the falling numbers of people barred from working with children. We note that, and the Government are currently reviewing the position. When we conclude, I am sure that noble Lords will be interested in what we have found. However, those processes alone do not go far enough. That is why, following the publication of the Francis report into the failings of Mid Staffordshire, we asked Camilla Cavendish to review how healthcare assistants and support workers in health and care settings were valued and supported. We are also considering the proposals in the Law Commission’s review very carefully.
My noble friend Lord Eden and others will be interested to know that the introduction of a certificate of fundamental care, the care certificate, will, we hope, give clear evidence to employers, patients and service users that the person in front of them has been trained to a specific set of standards and knows how to act with compassion and respect. Health Education England, working alongside key partners, has already begun piloting this across England. Subject to evaluation, there will soon be a standard national approach to training on the skills and values needed to be an effective healthcare assistant or social care support worker. It is planned to roll this out in March 2015.
As with children’s social care, we recognise that the system of regulation and inspection for adults needs to improve; I hear what my noble friend Lady Sharp said. The CQC is currently introducing a new system of inspection of social care providers, based on much tougher fundamental standards of care, which places the individual at its heart. It will be structured around five key questions that matter most to people: are services safe, caring, effective, well led and responsive to people’s needs?
New measures in the Care Act make clear the responsibilities of local authorities and key partners, such as clinical commissioning groups and local police, in safeguarding adults. This is vital in ensuring clear accountability, roles and responsibilities for helping and protecting adults who are experiencing, or at risk of, abuse and neglect. The Department of Health is working with the College of Social Work, the Social Care Institute for Excellence, the College of Policing, Health Education England, Skills for Care and others to ensure an integrated approach to adult safeguarding that is reflected in the training that different staff receive.
In response to my noble friend Lord Eden, who made an important point about the contribution that carers make, the Care Act 2014 gives carers parity with those using services. I also mention to the noble Baroness, Lady Howarth, and my noble friend Lord Thomas that a review was recently conducted looking at ways in which to reduce the distress to victims of sexual violence in trials. The Crown Prosecution Service has set up a network of specialist prosecutors, and only advocates from that panel can be used to prosecute child sexual abuse cases. All judges receive training that includes the treatment of vulnerable witnesses, and no judge involved in a serious sexual offence case, whether the child is a victim or a witness, can do so without being specially authorised to do so by the senior judge. I listened with care to what my noble friend Lord Thomas said about sexual offences right across the age range.
Finally, on the point of child sexual exploitation, we have established a national group that seeks ways to prevent sexual abuse happening in the first place. In relation to the report from Barnardo’s, we remain committed to ensuring that all necessary legislation is in place to tackle child sexual abuse. We welcome the recent inquiry and we are reassured by the conclusion that there is no evidence to show that justice could not be served due to a lack of a specific child sexual exploitation offence. We are considering its findings and wider recommendations and deciding how they can inform the national group’s ongoing work. There have been many important contributions in this very thoughtful debate and I will make sure that this debate is flagged to my colleagues both in the Department of Health and the Department for Education. I will also write to noble Lords on specific points that I have not covered here. These are very important and interlinked issues but, in essence, it is indeed, as was mentioned before, about how civilised we are. It is about how even the most vulnerable in our society should feel safe and cared for and, as my noble friend Lord Eden put it, we must be more aware of our common humanity.
My Lords, I thank my noble friend the Minister and all noble Lords who have taken part in this debate. It has been wide-ranging, interesting and thoughtful. I thank noble Lords who have supported the things that I have been calling for. I also thank noble Lords who have disagreed with me. When you have experienced and thoughtful people who all want to achieve the same end disagreeing about the correct means to achieve it, that supports the call that the noble Lord, Lord Bichard, and I have been making for more research on specific ways of addressing these issues. I hope these things will be taken forward.