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Education Committee calls for earlier use of care proceedings

Report focuses on neglect, older children and thresholds for intervention

The House of Commons Education Committee's report Children first: the child protection system in England calls for earlier intervention by local authorities to prevent abuse to and neglect of children.

The report finds that the balance of evidence is heavily in favour of care being considered as a viable, positive option at an earlier stage for many children.  

The Committee also found that the child protection system is not meeting the needs of older children and must be reviewed urgently.

The Committee's report examines three key themes: neglect, older children and thresholds for intervention, taking children into care and adoption.

On neglect, the Committee found evidence that children are left too long in harmful situation. To encourage earlier intervention, it calls for better training for all front-line professionals in child development and the long-term consequences of neglect.
On older children, an urgent review is needed of the support offered to this group in order that services can be re-shaped to meet their needs. Ofsted should monitor and report on the provision made for this group by local authorities, taking into account the views of the children themselves. Practitioners must demonstrate greater willingness to look beyond behavioural problems and recognise signs of neglect and abuse in teenagers.

On thresholds, the Committee makes a number of recommendations to ensure that the referrals process makes better use of intelligence from teachers and doctors and to improve co-ordination between agencies, including multi-agency training and greater clarity in guidance over data-sharing. The report strongly encourages moves towards multi-agency co-location and more integrated services where all children receive help regardless of thresholds. The Committee recommends that the Government commission research to understand the impact of varying thresholds in different areas, and whether thresholds for section 17 and section 47 interventions are too high and/or rising in some areas.

The Committee recognises the strenuous efforts made by local authorities to protect child protection services from cuts but considers that this position is going to be difficult to maintain in the future.  It calls on the Government to monitor the impact of the economic situation and cuts in services on child-safeguarding. It also calls for clarity on where and how safeguarding and child protection accountabilities will work under the new health structures.

Whilst recognising recent positive developments in the child protection system in England, the Education Committee calls for changes to ensure that all children are treated as children and that their interests are put first.

Lisa Harker, NSPCC head of strategy, responded to the report, saying:

"Too often the child protection system fails older teenagers. Though some may look more like adults they are still children and it can't be assumed they can take care of themselves or know who to ask for help.

"The Committee's focus on child neglect is welcome as we know it is the main reason why children are subject to child protection plans. And often professionals see teenagers as more resilient so they can be left in neglectful situations for too long."

The report can be downloaded here.