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Column 1148of the appalling policies which have brought poverty to the nation's children. If they do that, they will have absolute and solid support from Opposition Members.
Mr. Roger Sims (Chislehurst) : Several hon. Members have already referred to this Bill as a children's charter. It is interesting to recall that exactly that label was applied to the first legislation which went through Parliament that recognised the child's need for protection in the home ; that was in 1889, just 100 years ago. It was 30 years ago that the United Nations declaration of the rights of children was signed, and later this year the United Nations General Assembly will debate the new United Nations convention on the rights of children.
In retrospect, I believe that the Bill will prove to be one of the most important of this Parliament, for it deals with the welfare of children-- with our future. It covers the rights of children, and the rights and responsibilities of parents and of those who care for children. The Bill will also, happily, be seen to be one of the least controversial measures to pass through the Parliament.
The Bill's general philosophy and most, if not all, of its provisions have been welcomed by a wide range of organisations in the field, including the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children. The House will be aware that I have had the privilege of serving on the central executive committee of the NSPCC for the last nine years.
The events in Cleveland have inevitably focused attention on sexually abused children. The NSPCC figures for 1987, based on 10 per cent. of the register total, show a 21 per cent. increase in registration for sexually abused children. Of course, that does not necessarily mean that there has been an increase in the number of such cases. The problem is that we do not know the full extent ; we only know the extent to which cases come to light.
It was interesting that Cleveland, and before that the establishment of Childline, led to a number of adults revealing that they had been abused when they were children. Child abuse is not a new phenomenon. Indeed, I have an interesting report from the director of the NSPCC discussing sexual assaults on children and whether the number is increasing--it is dated March 1925.
Sexual abuse is only part of the problem. Children are also subject to physical abuse, emotional abuse, neglect, and simply being left alone. In 1987-88, the NSPCC dealt with referrals involving nearly 43,000 children, whilst the Department of Health provisional results from the child protection register show that 40,000 children in England need protection from abuse and neglect. That is the extent of the problem that the Bill seeks to tackle. It is important that we get right the legislative framework both for intervention and for dealing with cases after they have come to light.
However, deciding when and how the state should intervene in family life is an extremely difficult and sensitive matter. In Cleveland, perhaps social workers were prone to be too precipitate, while there has been a string of cases from Maria Colwell through to, just before Christmas, the case of Doreen Mason where, alas, social workers acted not at all or too late.
Before I came to Parliament I sat for a number of years as chairman of a juvenile court, and I actually had to make care orders. It is one thing for us to talk lightly in this place
Column 1149about children being taken into care : it is another to have in front of one a loving but inadequate mother and her children and to have to decide that it is in the best interests of the children for them to be taken away from the mother and put into care. We have to get such things right. We have to have the correct mechanisms for assessing what is best for the child in care, whether it should be in a children's home, whether it should have foster care, and whether and when it is to be returned to its home.
I welcome the provisions in the Bill affording flexibility in grounds for care, supervision and the new emergency protection order especially allowing intervention where there is "likely to be significant harm" to the child. In such cases, we do not have to wait until harm is actually proved. My hon. and learned Friend will not be surprised, however, if I say that the weapons in the social workers' armoury will still be inadequate as the Bill stands. He is well aware of the case for the assessment order, which was advocated by Louis Blom-Cooper in the Kimberley Carlile case ; it was ventilated by my hon. Friend the Member for Surrey, South-West (Mrs. Bottomley) in a ten-minute Bill about a year ago, and I have also sought to give the matter some publicity. I fear that the powers in the Bill will be inadequate for circumstances in which a social worker is unable to obtain access to a child, and an order requiring that child to be produced would fill that gap.
There is wide support among a number of organisations and practitioners in the field for such a measure, although I am aware that this support is not shared by directors of social services. I believe that their objections are ill-founded. I hope this matter can be discussed more fully in Committee.
I welcome the provision in the Bill for greater rights for children and parents and the involvement of others concerned. I warmly endorse the remarks made about grandparents, and other categories are also involved. For example, what should be the right of fathers in cases where there has been a separation and divorce and the mother has custody? I welcome the improved provisions for the review of cases of children in care, and I am pleased with the timetable for the disposal of cases and the increased use of guardians ad litem. In Committee, we shall need to discuss what exactly is their role, how they can be sure of their independence, and, indeed, who should be appointed guardians ad litem.
We should look, too, more closely at the provision of preventive measures. The NSPCC is, of course, a society for the prevention of cruelty to children. Surely there should be some obligation on local authorities to provide preventive measures. The desirability of such measures is illustrated by the fact that the Minister's Department estimates that about £9 million a year is spent on preventive work. Meanwhile, maintaining children in care is costing about £400 million.
Part of prevention is the provision of day care facilities for children under five years old. This matter should be explored further, for such facilities help the child to develop in a supportive atmosphere and can relieve pressures and tensions in the home that could otherwise lead to abuse.
Members will have received extensive and high-quality briefing from various bodies on a number of issues which
Column 1150I will not go into and which are better discussed in Committee, now that we are subject to the constraints of the ten-minute rule. In closing, I point out that the NSPCC was founded in 1884, and had its royal charter in 1895. Since 1933 it has had the right uniquely--as my hon. Friend the Member for Uxbridge (Mr. Shersby) said--to initiate care proceedings, but it does so only because the legislation states that such proceedings can be initiated by a local authority or "authorised person" as designated by order of the Secretary of State. The NSPCC has been so authorised for 55 years, and has established its credentials beyond doubt. Perhaps it would be appropriate recognition of the work done by this society over 100 years if such authority, rather than being given by regulation, could be written into the Bill.
Although this is a good Bill, aspects of it are capable of being improved and others would benefit from clarification. I look forward to a constructive and fruitful discussion in Committee, from which I hope will emerge an even better Bill.
Ms. Mildred Gordon (Bow and Poplar) : For many years I have worked for children's rights, so there are several matters that I would like to see included in this important Bill. However, since time is restricted to 10 minutes, I shall confine my remarks to the question of the responsibilities of local education authorities in the matter of the employment of children of school age.
I first began to be concerned about the employment of schoolchildren--in both waged and unwaged work--when I began teaching. Often girls were absent from school because they were caring for younger children, allowing the mother to go out to work when the usual child minding arrangements fell through. Other children's mothers had early morning cleaning jobs or evening jobs, and then my pupils would have the daily responsibility of looking after their younger siblings. Arrangements of this sort had a deleterious effect on their education and their lives. It does not take much imagination to conjure up the pitfalls of such arrangements when emergencies arise.
Most people in this country think that it does children good to do a job to earn a little pocket money, but many times I have tried to teach pupils who are half asleep, having been delivering newspapers since the small hours, in the dark and cold. They had regularly started work much earlier than the legally permitted time of 7 am. My pupils were often afraid of being attacked by dogs or strangers, but they wanted money for their own needs-- because it would give them a degree of independence, enable them to buy clothes, and to keep up with their friends. In very poor families, children's pay is often important for the family's very survival.
Most people assume that regulations exist for properly protecting children in employment, but one third of all children in work are subject to accidents. That is a dreadful figure. Sadly, some work is so dangerous that children are killed doing it. Even if children like doing some of the jobs that they do, far too often they are exploited as cheap labour to the benefit of their employers. In theory, sections from eight different Acts govern child labour, but there is no specific legislation, except that relating to entertainment, which says that children aged below five years can work for up to two hours per day, and may attend the
Column 1151place of entertainment for up to five hours. Some of the charming babies who right hon. and hon. Members see in television advertisements may have been kept working for much longer than the public realise.
In 1973 a private Member's Bill, the Employment of Children Bill 1973, was presented by my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Warley, West (Mr. Archer). It passed through all its stages but was never implemented. Its purpose was to introduce a national system giving local education authorities throughout the United Kingdom powers to oversee and control all employment by children in a trade or occupation carried on for profit, whether or not the child received a reward for the work undertaken. Local authorities would have been given powers to demand details of the type of work, place of work and hours worked. They would have been able to prohibit such employment, even if it were not unlawful but appeared to be unsuitable for the child by reference to his age or state of health, or because it would be prejudicial to his education. That Bill was passed in 1973--one and one half decades ago. Times have changed and the proposed penalties for which that Act provides are now very out of date. Increased adult unemployment has brought increased exploitation of children as cheap labour. It is even more vital today that the present patchwork of regulations is replaced by comprehensive, uniform national regulations to protect working children, and that those regulations are given teeth.
I commend to right hon. and hon. Members the booklet "School Age Workers in Britain Today" by Caroline Moorhead, published by the Anti-Slavery Society, which explodes many of the comfortable assumptions that most people make. The harsh fact is that about 2 million children work illegally in this country. No really effective mechanism exists to enforce the existing regulations. That is the task of education welfare officers, but there is only one for every 1,000 children of secondary school age, and so theirs is an impossible job. One authority that has taken the matter seriously is the Inner London education authority, but it is being abolished. In 1987, the ILEA appointed 10 new employment officers and a principal child employment officer to examine the problem.
Children working illegally are unprotected in every way. There is no insurance for them. There is no legal minimum wage for adults, so children's pay is very much less. A survey of children employed in the midlands reveals that some boys and girls work for as little as 30p per hour, but in central London pay can be very much higher. Outside all the safety nets are the increasing number of children living on the streets of London who have lost contact with their families and who are open to all kinds of exploitation and danger. All Governments have failed to address the problem properly. Clear protective legislation must be put on the statute book to replace the existing mystifying patchwork of regulations that are honoured in the breach, and money must be made available to local authorities so that they can employ more child welfare officers to monitor and enforce the law. The Bill provides an opportunity to put right a dreadful situation. Our children are our stake in the future, and it is our duty to protect them from exploitation of all kinds.
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Mr. Richard Holt (Langbaurgh) : Earlier, my hon. Friend the Member for Croydon, South (Sir W. Clark) rebuked the hon. Member for Southport (Mr. Fearn) for reading his speech. I have no notes because I lived through Cleveland, and anyone who lived through that does not need notes to make a speech in the House on that subject. The hon. Member for Middlesbrough (Mr. Bell), my hon. Friend the Member for Stockton, South (Mr. Devlin) and myself--as well as the hon. Member for Stockton, North (Mr. Cook), who is unwell and unfortunately not present--worked very hard together on the whole Cleveland scenario. Was there ever a child abuse crisis in Cleveland? The statistics show that the number of cases dealt with prior to the advent of Dr. Marietta Higgs was fairly consistent. The graph showed about 30 cases per month. It continued much as it had always done, which is probably true of every other part of the country--be it affluent Buckinghamshire or the less well-heeled areas in the east end of London.
Suddenly, for three months in Cleveland, children were being taken away from their parents--very often on the most specious grounds. It took the hon. Member for Middlesbrough, my hon. Friend and myself to bring that matter to the attention of the House, and for the House to react, before anything was done. One wonders how long that situation would have continued had it not been for the sharp eye of a newspaper reporter who noticed what was happening in the statistics for Cleveland and first raised the matter in a small paragraph in the Middlesbrough Evening Gazette.
The Bill now before the House is a consequence of that development. How is it that, from the days of Barnardo and Shaftesbury right through to the present--in future, perhaps the name of Bell will be mentioned--Parliament still cannot get it right? The answer is that we are trying to legislate for human nature, and however hard we try, we shall make mistakes. Parliament will always make mistakes. However, the Bill is a genuine and honest effort, in the light of what has occurred over the past three, four or five years, to put on the statute book legislation that is an improvement on the status quo. The hon. Member for Ogmore (Mr. Powell) has not only the support of my hon. Friend the Member for Littleborough and Saddleworth (Mr. Dickens) in respect of grandparents but mine as well. In the child sex abuse cases with which I have dealt, I frequently found that the grandparents came off worst. They first lost their own children. In one case, that was because of a suicide. We all know about the situations that arise. When children are taken into care and subsequently adopted, their grandparents--who have done absolutely nothing wrong, and who may have nurtured and loved their grandchildren--are left with no access to them and no rights. They cannot even send their grandchildren a birthday present. That cannot be right in this country today. My hon. and learned Friend had better take that point on board. If he does not, I am sure that the Committee, on which I hope to serve, will make sure that it is taken into account.
That child was taken into care and subsequently adoped. The mother committed suicide. The grandparents had the children of the first marriage ; one of the two children of the second marriage had been adopted, and the
Column 1153other was with the father. The father did not get on very well with his in-laws, who loved the child but were not allowed access to it. The father tried to knock down a bus and was killed, so the child was put in care. The grandparents immediately asked if they could bring the child up along with its half-brother and sister, but they were not even allowed access. The child is to be adopted and they will have no rights at all. That is wrong.
A note was passed to me today about another family caught up in the Cleveland child sex abuse case. Three children were taken into care, under the care orders that we are to abolish, following medical examination by the discredited Cleveland doctors. It took the parents more than a year to take the case to court so that they could get their children back. There are two girls and a boy, all alleged by someone to have been sexually abused. That allegation, however, was completely disproved by the courts, and the parents were exonerated. As a result, the parents have been given back the two eldest children, who are girls ; the youngest, a boy, has been forcibly adopted. Those parents have lost their son. But they did nothing wrong. They may not have been the greatest parents in the world, but that is no reason for parents to lose their children. According to the note passed to me today, they have now moved to another part of the country-- thanks to the help of one of my colleagues--to start a new life with the two daughters who are left, because they were afraid that they might lose them as well under the present law.
Many case histories have arisen out of Cleveland, as we know from the hon. Members for Ogmore and for Middlesbrough. I am sure that we shall deal with them all in Committee, but we should also examine aspects of the problem that are not dealt with in the Bill, such as the methods used to interrogate small children to determine whether--in someone's opinion--they have been abused. I find it almost incredible that small children have sometimes been faced with full-sized inflatable rubber dolls and, as a result of some action that they may or may not have taken, have been alleged to have been sexually abused.
I agree with those who say that there must be training. People should not be allowed to interfere in families' lives in this way unless they have been properly trained and assessed and we know that they are capable of making the right decision in 90 per cent. of cases. No one, of course, can always make the right decision--no one is perfect--but 90 per cent. is far better than the Cleveland average.
The Bill is only one step towards ensuring that matters continue to improve. As the hon. Member for Middlesbrough said, in Cleveland we are now trying to put all that has happened behind us, and a lead has been given by the Earl of Stockton. Last week three of us went to a disco in Cleveland. It was a Friday afternoon, and 1,700 children were enjoying themselves. That is the sort of image that we want--the image of a loving and caring community. We want to get rid of the image that the Cleveland case created. The Bill will go a long way towards achieving that, and I hope that I will be present to help it.
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Miss Joan Lestor (Eccles) : I do not want to follow what was said by the hon. Member for Langbaurgh (Mr. Holt), except to make one comment. The hon. Gentleman asked why Parliament gets it wrong, and answered that it is because we are dealing with human nature, but I do not believe that we are- -I do not think that it is in the nature of the overwhelming majority of people to abuse their children. In my view, we are dealing with the behaviour of a minority. Let me say to the hon. Gentleman, and to others who may use that phrase, that whatever the outcome of the Cleveland case-- whatever rights emerge from it, and whatever is said in discussion about it --we must not lull ourselves into believing that we have discovered all the cases of child sexual abuse in this country. We must accept the lessons of Cleveland, but we must also plead for more money, research and training for those who deal with such matters, as the hon. Gentleman pointed out.
As has already been said, we are debating the Bill in the context of the United Nations convention on the rights of the child. One such right should be a child's right to live with his parents whenever possible, but if that is to happen many parents will need far more support than they receive now, or will receive under the Bill. According to some of the briefing that we have received, children who are taken into care are mainly the children of the poor. I am not sure that that is true. Children who are ill-treated are not necessarily the children of the poor, although such children are often discovered to have been ill-treated because they are already known to the agencies. We would be deceiving ourselves, however, if we believed that children in materially well-endowed homes or in professional homes are not suffering as others are, although they are a minority.
We must also distinguish between children in long-term care and those in short-term care. Many children who go into care leave within six weeks, and often there is no repetition of the difficulties that put them there. In the main, we are concerned with children who go into long-term care. Those children's families--whether they have broken down, are poor, or are cruel- -have failed them, as indeed society has failed them.
The hon. Member for Birmingham, Edgbaston (Dame J. Knight) blamed what she called the permissive attitudes of Roy Jenkins. I have nothing to praise Roy Jenkins for, but if I could produce one factor that I believe has contributed to the break-up of families it is the current housing policies. The matters dealt with in the Bill must be taken in conjunction with a number of other issues.
Whatever we are talking about, however, we want to keep our children out of care. As Baroness Faithfull so eloquently put it in the other place recently, children who come into care are vulnerable children, they are frightened children, and they are often emotionally disturbed children. They are suspicious, mistrustful, unhappy and usually very lonely. They are not like the children of the family that will care for them if they go into a foster home. I am glad that the 1955 regulation which talks of people treating a child in care as though it were their own has been relaxed. Many children who come into care have contact with their parents, and it is now the policy of many agencies to continue that contact, for various reasons. Of the seven children whom I fostered for many years, only one had no parental contact.
Column 1155That brings me to a point that was lost in the other place, and I hope that we shall put it back into the Bill. Why should a child in care be subject to any form of corporal punishment? How can people say that such punishment is wrong in a residential home but right in a foster home? According to the survey done in Dartington, 83 per cent. of the children surveyed who were in long-term care had more than one foster placement and 56 per cent. had more than three. What sort of relationship will be built up if we defend the concept of corporal punishment for children in local authority care who are housed with foster parents? The concept that we should encourage parents to pay for their children in care is also wrong. It would be difficult to implement and it might do enormous damage if the parents are poor and already in need.
I referred earlier to the degree of support that will be needed if many of the provisions in the Bill are to work. Some hon. Members have already referred to the sad army of little children who have died as a result of one form of neglect or another--Jasmine Beckford, Kimberley Carlile, Maria Colwell, Tyra Henry and others. I do not know enough about the details of those cases to enable me to suggest what more ought to have been done. If, however, the aim is that children should stay with their families so that families can be kept together, they will need a great deal more financial support than is provided for in the Bill. The families to whom I referred-- and many others--broke down because of a lack of the variety of support that is needed by such families. That support is crucial.
Children in care should have the right to complain about their treatment. When this matter was debated in another place the Lord Chancellor said that he would consider providing some means by which children would have a right to complain about their treatment. The Children's Legal Centre and the Voice for the Child in Care have argued strongly in favour of such a procedure. Children in care are vulnerable. They are often frightened about making complaints. A means must be provided by which they can make complaints. I was glad to receive a letter that advocated that if children run away from home they have a right to be protected and should not be returned to the place from which they came. It has been impossible for me to obtain confirmation from a Government Department that there are 75,000 missing children, but that is the figure that has been given by the Children's Society. The society explained to me in a detailed letter how it had arrived at that figure. If it is accurate, it is an absolute disgrace that 75,000 children and young people are missing. Most of them will be between the ages of 14 and 16. I welcome the statement that safe houses will be provided, but we must find out why such a large number of children disappear from home and what can be done to assist them.
Reference has already been made to young people who leave care. The assistance and support that they need is crucial if they are not to end up on the streets of London--I have seen some of them--begging for support. The suggestion that young girls who have babies in order to get homes should be given the worst possible accommodation is absolutely unbelievable. If we do not want that pattern or cycle of deprivation to be repeated in a few years' time, that is exactly what we must not do. Those young women want homes and protection. They should not be blamed for the situation in which they find themselves.
We should also provide greater protection for children over the age of five who are being cared for after school.
Column 1156The regulations that apply to the employment of people known to have maltreated or abused children do not yet apply to the voluntary sector. I understand that a pilot scheme is being run, but greater protection is needed for children being looked after outside the home, whatever their age may be. That should apply to private fostering, too, which is not adequately provided for in the Bill. More information should also be made available to people who employ private nannies. That is a growing area of abuse.
I support my hon. Friend the Member for Bow and Poplar (Ms. Gordon), who referred to working children. I have the honour to be chairman of the United Kingdom branch of Defence for Children International, which has published a document on working children as a result of a survey carried out in east London, and I can confirm everything that my hon. Friend said.
Another omission from the Bill that both I and Defence for Children International think should be rectified is the growth in the illegal adoption of children in many parts of Europe. The Council of Europe published a report on that practice. The House must consider how to deal with it before too long.
Although the Bill deals with a number of matters, there are still many omissions which suggest that we need an ombudsman for children and possibly a Minister for children who could deal with all the needs of vulnerable children and make sure that their interests are taken seriously.
Mr. Andrew Rowe (Mid-Kent) : Sometimes I wonder whether the British really like children. Some of us sentimentalise them. Some of us, alas, brutalise them. Many of us strive, like parents anywhere, to cherish and nurture them. However, British society has a distressing record of undervaluing its children and young people.
Virtually all the reports of our schools inspectors point to the fact that schools expect far too little of our children. It is typical, but surely it is a source of shame, that this week it has been reported that there is not a single football club in the English League that enables its supporters, most of whom are young people, to play any part in the organisation of the club. Far too often, discussions that directly affect the lives, fortunes and future of children and young people appear to be dialogues between extinct volcanoes while those who are the subject of the dialogues stand on the sidelines, with no involvement and almost totally unnoticed. I was interested when the hon. Member for Leicester, East (Mr. Vaz) referred to a children's rights officer. We pay far too little attention to the opinion of children about their lives and future. We have an ambivalent attitude towards parents and families. I welcome the marginally increased scope for grandparents to play their part. However, I believe that the wider family as a whole ought to be more carefully provided for in the Bill. Research shows that placements with relatives are a great deal more successful, on the whole, than other placements. The hon. Member for Eccles (Miss Lestor) referred to the Dartington research, which highlighted the fact that many children who are placed in local authority care have several placements.
Fathers have rights, too. The hon. Member for Chislehurst (Mr. Sims) was absolutely right. We shall do women no good service if we assume that in practice they
Column 1157will be able to exclude a child's father from access if there is a family break-up. In that context, it is worth asking how many cases of abuse start with stepfathers.
We are making a serious mistake by not proceeding more rapidly with the establishment of children's courts. I have mentioned before to my right hon. Friend the value of the French system. The juge d'enfants is usually much younger than the average judge on the bench. He is a practising solicitor or advocate who leaves his practice for five or six years in order to preside over a special court for children. I am not confident that a judge's training is the best preparation for making decisions about children. The Kilbrandon principle in Scotland is absolutely sound. The adversarial system may be effective in eliciting the truth. A judge's training allows him to adjudicate, but the adversarial system is appallingly corrosive of human relationships. The sooner that we introduce effective mediation, reconciliation and discussion of the appropriate outcome for a child--a procedure that has made great progress in children's hearings in Scotland--the better.
Turning to day care, when it is perfectly clear that there will be a huge demand for day care from commercial firms and others, I understand the Government's desire to allow a thousand flowers to bloom and for a market place to develop without too much Government interference. I should declare my interest in the British Franchise Association Ltd. I believe that one of the ways forward in the development of day care is to introduce the concept of franchising. One of the advantages of the franchising system is that the franchisor has a commitment regularly to inspect his franchisees to make sure that they are achieving adequate standards. That doubles the amount of inspection because there is private and public inspection. Perhaps it is a good idea to charge companies and large providers of day care a fee for inspection. At present there is a huge bottleneck in the registration and inspection of existing day-care nurseries because of the huge expansion in such provision. The Bill should contain clear criteria as to when day care is not adequate because one of the present problems is that the inadequacies of the criteria make it extremely difficult for people to strike out inadequate day care because nobody knows the grounds on which that should be done.
More day care at every level of income and at every level of provision is absolutely necessary. Day care can give women a genuine choice about their careers, and for single women trying to bring up a family it is indispensable to the family income.
As for social work training, I believe that there still runs through social services departments a clear misunderstanding of the Seebohm report. The concept of the generic social work department has been misinterpreted as a generic social worker. I am appalled that the Central Council for Education and Training in Social Work can tell us that social workers are allocated to child care cases in their first year of fieldwork never having undertaken any child care work during their training. That is ridiculous. There is no point in considering pre-entry training in isolation from management practice among employers.
On the question of the resources available to social workers, there is scope for a considerable increase in the
Column 1158number of volunteers who would like to help and who could be useful. I have spoken on the subject before, and I believe the use of volunteers in child care work diminishes the dangers of assault for the social worker whom they accompany, increases the opportunity to visit families at times when it will be unrealistic and unreasonable to expect a statutory worker to attend and allows for the development of friendships between client families and volunteers which would be quite impossible for a professional to allow.
From my own experience and from the observation of others, most children over 16 come home when they want their laundry done and to get a good square meal at weekends. How many children leaving local authority care would love to be able to do that? I believe that there is scope for imaginative development as many older people living isolated and lonely lives would welcome the opportunity to develop a friendship across the generations and perhaps provide laundry or a meal at the weekend in return for friendship. Obviously there are risks involved and that suggestion will have to be considered, but it may prove useful.
We all know that the child is the father of the man and that patterns of parenting are passed down from one generation to the next. The figures provide distressing evidence that my generation has passed down a poisoned chalice. The Bill is the response to the working of that poison and a determined step towards the long-awaited antidote. I thank the Government for producing the Bill and for their willingness to continue to improve it. As many hon. Members have said, there is nothing more important than getting the protection of children in the legal system correct and ensuring as best we can that our families are enabled to bring up their children in ways which will make the Bill unnecessary.
Mrs. Rosie Barnes (Greenwich) : I welcome the Bill as a well-thought -out and constructive attempt to remedy an unsatisfactory state of affairs. I also welcome the fact that there has clearly been considerable consultation with various groups that represent children, and their views have been taken into account. I particularly welcome the replacement of the place of safety order with the eight-day emergency protection order, the reasonable access of the parents to the child and the attempt to avoid taking children into care who may have been abused by making arrangements for the abuser to leave home. I reiterate the comment I made in the debate on the Cleveland case. When that is not possible and when a child is taken into care at short notice, arrangements should be made to allow the mother to accompany the child so that the separation of young children and their mothers is not as dramatic and horrendous as it has been recently.
I should like to draw attention to a number of omissions from the Bill, and to some improvements that could be made. I should like there to be a child assessment order whereby the medical inspection of a child at home could take place if there were grounds for concern but they were not sufficient to justify further steps. In the case of Kimberley Carlile who hon. Members have mentioned and who was from the Ferrier estate in my constituency, had such a child assessment order been available to the health visitor who was particulary concerned but unable to insist on a medical inspection, that child would probably be alive
Column 1159today. While I recognise the difficulties involving liberty, interfering with parents' rights and social workers trying to build up good working relationships with parents, we have to put the child's safety first.
I regret the exclusion of children over five from regulation in regard to child minding, school holiday provision and private fostering. In recent months we have come to regret the lack of safeguards that existed in the past, and we omit those provisions at our peril. We are beginning to recognise that there is an unfortunate group of people in society who gravitate towards children for the wrong reasons. If we allow children to be preyed upon by such people, ultimately we shall find ourselves discussing an emergency Bill following a tragedy. I should like to prevent that instead of waiting for the sacrificial victims.
I shall raise an aspect of the Bill with which I am particularly concerned following recent events in a Greenwich children's home. I should like to make it clear that I am not using parliamentary privilege to describe anything, which is not already known, but simply to use what is happening as an example to show why there should be a crucial change in procedures and in the Bill. The White Paper specifically requested that local authorities should provide a procedure with an independent element for children in care to use if they have a complaint. The specific requirement for an independent element is lost in the Bill and I would like to see it restored. A number of bodies involved with young children in care have called for its restoration, including the Voice for the Child in Care, the Independent Representation of Children in Need, and the National Association of Young People in Care. All of them have had experiences of children who have become the victims of the social services, rather than being supported by them. Again, I want to make it clear that I am not attacking local authorities or social workers. But I am saying that there have been abuses of children in care by social workers--sometimes by senior social workers. Obviously, it is difficult for the colleagues and employers of such social workers to be the judges of what has happened.
I have a particular example of that in a children's home in Greenwich, where a key worker was disciplined for serious offences and was ordered to be demoted and transferred. Very much against the wishes of the principal of the second children's home, which was for severely disturbed teenaged girls, but on the direct instruction of the director of social services, the worker was placed in the second home. Within a short time, one of the girls in the home alleged that she had been raped.
There is a potential conflict of interest if that case is investigated by the director of social services, who has been responsible for the placement of that employee in that particular home. I am asking for a provision in the Bill that would make it possible for a girl in such a case to ask for an independent investigation. That would not always be necessary because there will, of course, be many more mundane and routine complaints in which ordinary investigations by the local authority concerned would be wholly appropriate. But we must remember, as has already been said today, that those girls are vulnerable and afraid, and have often been severely abused for most of their lives. They do not expect to be believed and if they make an accusation and are not believed they will fear recrimination from the people whom they have accused because they will still be at their mercy. I want such girls and boys to know that if they have a complaint and wish
Column 1160it to be investigated by people who are not responsible for their future maintenance and well-being, they will have someone to whom they can turn.
Several other hon. Members have mentioned today the guardian ad litem system. I want to reiterate the need to strengthen that service and, again, to make it more independent. It is often the case that a social worker in one authority will be a guardian ad litem to the charge of a friend of hers in another authority, or vice versa. There should be some distancing, so that children in need know that there is one person who will be independent of the rest of the network that surrounds them. We must take that seriously. The Children's Legal Centre has said :
"At present, children in care, unlike every child in the country, cannot go to court under wardship, if their parent--the local authority--mistreats them."
They must have independent and, where appropriate, legal redress. A new procedure has been initiated in Greenwich and it includes an independent element at the start of the inquiry. However, it states how the progression will go if the complaint is not resolved and it is gradually sucked back into the heart of the social services department. The final opportunity for the complaint to be heard is with a case review within the local authority and the decision of that case review is binding. I would like to see that procedure eliminated so that any children in care who have serious complaints can be sure that they are heard by people who will listen fairly, who will not disbelieve them and who will have no motive for wishing their version of events not to be true. Children need such independent representation.
We are considering cases of potential tragedy. We need to ensure not only that tragedies are unlikely to occur--although they will certainly occur sometimes--but that no longer shall we never know about many of them. Children in care who have been in care for most of their lives, especially those who end up in secure units, have had a difficult life. It is interesting that, following the Cleveland affair, many adults have come forward and explained how they were abused as children but had nowhere to turn. The girls and boys I have described will be in the same circumstances and may be damaged for ever. We must ensure that they have someone to turn to who will give them a fair and independent hearing.
Mr. Peter Thurnham (Bolton, North-East) : I want to join other hon. Members in welcoming the Bill, which has a big job to do. It emphasises the important role of the family and of children within the family, but it also highlights the important role of local authorities. We have seen far too many examples of failure in the performance of local authorities in this area and they must improve their performance. The Bill provides a legal framework in which people can work and it will mean that there will be far fewer excuses for failure of performance in the future.
I want to deal with four aspects of the Bill. My first concern is with the under-fives, a group spoken about at length by my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Kent (Mr. Rowe), who pointed out the growing demand for services for the under-fives. The growing demand is not being met by facilities sufficient either in quantity or, more importantly, in quality. Parents are demanding higher quality and we should insist on a sufficiently high standard of care for under-fives in particular. In the Bill, the priority
Column 1161should be day care services for under- fives. We have heard examples of provision in the rest of Europe compared to this country and more must be done in the enforcement of standards and the registration of facilities. The Home Office has said that we can expect amendments on those matters and I look forward to seeing them. It is true to say that the character of a child can be largely formed by the time the child is five, so that is the most crucial stage of a child's development in ensuring that matters go well thereafter. The Bill is much concerned with what happens if matters do not go well. I join with other hon. Members, such as the hon. Member for Greenwich (Mrs. Barnes), who have said that they are in favour of assessment orders. I support that and I am much swayed by arguments put forward by the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children and by the British Agencies for Adoption and Fostering. The objections made to assessment orders are bureaucratic objections. Assessment orders will be much to the advantage of children in the grey areas in which it is difficult to legislate, but in which it is obvious that more powers are needed. The Kimberley Carlile case is an example of a case in which an assessment order was needed. I hope that provision for assessment orders can be brought forward. In Bolton, we have just had a major investigation into child abuse. Eight children were made wards of court and a further eight children were also involved. One of the parents of the children involved has been in touch with me and he asked me to put it to my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Health that he should carry out an investigation of the way in which Bolton social services carried out the inquiry. I have written to my right hon. and learned Friend to ask him to consider the need for a full investigation. There is also great concern in Bolton about the question of juvenile offenders. It is welcome to see the improving trend nationally. The number of children in care has declined from 82,000 in 1983 to 66,000 in 1987. The number of offenders aged 14 to 16 has come down from 114,000 in 1981 to just under 100,000 in 1987 and the number of juveniles in custody has dropped from 8,000 to 4,000. Although no one wants juveniles to be put in custody--the subsequent careers of those placed in custody are often difficult, with a pattern of continuing returns to custody--there is no doubt that there is a need for places in secure units in cases where discipline has broken down. In Bolton there has been great concern about persistent offenders who have been arrested time and time again by the police. One 14-year-old was arrested 23 times. The police feel that it is most frustrating for them simply to arrest someone who is then allowed to repeat the offence. More care is needed in this area, either to impose the course of last resort, which is to put a child in custody, or to make sure, if that course is not followed, that an effective course is followed whereby the child is kept properly under control.
Today I have received a letter from the clerk to the magistrates court in Bolton, saying that the magistrates in Bolton feel that the court should have extra powers. The clerk said that he would like the present situation to be improved, stating :
Column 1162"The situation therefore is that if the Local Authority chose not to submit a report to the Courts, the Magistrates have no power to certify the young offender unruly and he has to be remanded into the care of the Local Authority."
I understand that the court wants a provision
"to the effect that if the Local Authority is required by the Court to provide a report for the purpose of the Certificates of Unruly Character (Conditions) Order 1977, it shall be under a duty to do so".
I hope that when the Bill is under further consideration, my hon. and learned Friend will give thought to that point so that the Bill can be amended suitably because such provisions would be welcomed. Problems with children who have not had the right upbringing in their own family can be ameliorated to some extent if they can be placed in the care of a suitable foster family. I encourage more families to come forward to carry out a fostering role, although it is not an easy job at the best of times. When I spoke to Bolton council about this, I was told :
"This is a tough job, requiring experienced, mature, resilient, sympathetic and unshockable parents".
I call on the Government to reconsider the scale of the fostering allowances available to such parents. Payments to such families can be about £125 per week, but the amount varies from place to place and, generally speaking, falls short of the amount recommended by the National Foster Care Association.
The alternative--a child being placed in a local authority home--is unsatisfactory. A child should be within the love and care of a family and, if not in its own natural family, in a suitable loving and caring foster family. If a child is placed in a local authority home, the cost will be between £200 and £300 per week. If discipline is so lacking that the child has to be placed in a secure centre, I understand that the bill to taxpayers could amount to in excess of £500 or even £1,000 per week. However, it is not so much the cost that we should be concerned about as the fact that that sort of care is so inferior to the proper care that a child needs and its need to be in a family.
I call on the Government to have another look at the scale of allowances provided for fostering to see whether more support could be given to the campaign by the National Foster Care Association for a generous national scheme of adoption and fostering allowances. Those are my main points in welcoming the Bill. More resources will be needed, but I stress that those resources must be used more effectively by the local authorities in the true interests of the child and of the society in which those children will grow up and become adults. 8.14 pm
Mr. David Hinchliffe (Wakefield) : I welcome the general principles encompassed in the legislation but echo points that have been made by hon. Members of all parties that there are several glaring and important omissions. I hope that the Government will be prepared to listen to Members of Parliament during the process of this legislation and amend the Bill accordingly.
It is important to learn the lessons of previous child care legislation and to avoid this legislation being simply a narrow reaction to any particular issue. I am referring, of course, to the Cleveland question. With respect to those hon. Members who are no longer in their places, and who have been concerned with Cleveland, they are doing no service to future generations of children if they see the Bill
Column 1163as purely and simply a reaction to Cleveland, because a wide range of issues need to be addressed that are not directly concerned with what happened in Cleveland.
I begin by addressing several issues relating to social work practice. I am very much aware of the no-win situation in which social workers find themselves, especially in child abuse cases. I know of that personally because I spent nearly 20 years in social work before becoming a Member of the House. I remember vividly being a team leader in Leeds when one of the social workers for whom I was responsible was responsible for the care of a baby who died at the hands of its mother. I will never forget that case as long as I live because we had to deal with the problems arising from it and to have on our consciences the death of that baby.
I am worried by the fact that some politicians who have spoken in this debate thrive on social worker bashing and have little insight into the problems faced in social work practice, especially in child abuse cases. I do not need to give examples, but perhaps the industrial placement scheme that is used to give Members of Parliament experience in industry should be extended to place certain hon. Members in social services departments because they might then have a different view of the difficulties that are faced every day by those people who work in the social services under the stress that I have experienced personally.
The central dilemma of social work is whether or not to intervene. I have found from past experience in social work that, whatever one does, one ends up in trouble in someone's eyes. Social workers were criticised in the Beckford, Henry and Carlile cases for their failure to intervene, and were criticised in Cleveland for unwarranted intervention. Social workers simply cannot win. On the one hand, they should respect the privacy of family life and the rights of parents and children in their own homes, but on the other hand they must ensure that the children do not suffer serious harm from those same parents or guardians.
From my experience in this place, I would say that there is little understanding of the fact that in some instances there is a need to take a risk with children and to take the decision, "We believe that it is in the best interests of this child to take a risk and to leave the child in its home where we do not think that there are any risks." I am worried that the legislation does not seem to recognise that. Indeed, some hon. Members do not seem to recognise that one of the most precious and important skills in social work is risk-taking. I commend those local authorities which have set up policies and produced detailed written documents stating their set policy on risk-taking and which have said that they will support the risks that occasionally have to be taken where a child is remaining in a home about which questions have been raised.
If social workers did not sometimes take a calculated and properly thought- out risk, every child referred to a social services department, to the NSPCC, to the police or the caring agencies would end up being removed into care, and that is not the answer. I hope that more politicians will understand the need for risk-taking. That is why in addressing myself to some of the Bill's omissions I highlight the fact that there is no mention or recognition of the need for a properly thought out policy on risk-taking in child care and child protection. We should support and encourage local authorities in drawing up such policies.