11. The origins of public provision for deprived
children can be traced back to the Elizabethan Poor Law. The modern
statutory framework, however, was created following the recommendations
of the Curtis Committee, set up in 1944 to inquire into the methods
of providing for children deprived of a normal home life.
The Committee criticised the way that central government responsibility
for such children was diffused among several departments, and
found that standards of care were poor, even Dickensian. The Committee
proposed a new and unified system which would have the aim of
providing substitute care which would equal loving family care
as nearly as possible. It also emphasised the importance of training
in child care. The Central Training Council in Child Care was
set up in 1947.
12. The Curtis Committee's other recommendations
were embodied in the Children Act 1948. This imposed on local
authorities, under the general direction of the Home Secretary,
a duty to provide care for children deprived of a normal home
life, as long as this was consistent with their welfare. Each
local authority was to set up a Children's Committee and appoint
a Children's Officer to take charge of a Children's Department
with undivided responsibility for the care of such children. The
Act required local authorities to exercise their powers so as
to further the child's best interests and afford him or her opportunity
for the proper development of his or her character and abilities.
The Act emphasised fostering as the preferred form of substitute
care, and gave powers to authorities to continue assisting young
people after they had left care. It provided no other means of
assisting families other than the reception of their children
13. The 1948 Act was concerned with providing care
for children with the consent of their parents, or for children
who had no parents. Children who were neglected or ill-treated
or in "moral danger" could be committed to the care
of a local authority under the Children and Young Persons Act
1933 and other legislation. These two routes into local authority
care were unified in the Children and Young Persons Act 1969.
The Local Authority Social Services Act 1971 integrated separate
local authority departments, including Children's Departments,
into Social Services Departments (SSDs) which were intended to
serve the needs of the family as a whole, being responsible for
the old, handicapped and mentally ill as well for children. Increasing
emphasis was placed on support for the family and preventive work
(the Children and Young Persons Act 1963 had, for the first time,
given local authorities powers to spend money on help and support
to families in order to prevent reception into care). Central
government responsibility for social service matters rested with
the Department of Health and Social Security (DHSS).
14. In 1975 Parliament passed a Children Act which
contained provisions relating to care proceedings, adoption, custodianship
and the treatment of children in care. The provisions of the Act
were implemented in stages over the next 10 years. Various measures
relating to children in care were consolidated into the Child
Care Act 1980.
15. In 1984 our predecessors, the Social Services
Committee, produced a detailed report, Children in Care,
which examined policy and practice in regard to children looked
after by local authorities, voluntary organisations or other bodies
other than their families.
The report recommended that the DHSS establish a working party
on Child Care Law. This recommendation was accepted, and the review
which followed led, via a White Paper, to the enactment of the
Children Act 1989, which forms the basis of current child care
policy and practice.
16. The Children Act radically altered the legislative
framework of services for children. The Government's intentions
for the Act were set out in their first review of its operations,
submitted to Parliament in 1992:
"the Act is a charter for children. Its overriding
purpose is to promote and protect children's welfare and in so
doing it draws together and simplifies previous legislation to
produce a practical and consistent code. ... It seeks to strike
a balance between the rights of children to express their views
on decisions made about their lives, the rights of parents to
exercise their responsibilities towards the child, and the duty
of the state to intervene where the child's welfare requires it.
Central to the philosophy of the Act is the belief that children
are best looked after within the family with both parents playing
a full part and without resort to legal proceedings."
17. The Act introduced a new responsibility for social
services authorities to identify children in need, provide pro-active
support and, where possible, prevent them from having to be looked
after away from home. Children in need were defined as those with
disabilities and those whose health and development were at risk
unless services were provided. The Act empowered social services
to ask other agencies to help provide those services. It recommended
local authorities to draw up jointly produced Children's Services
18. The Social Services Committee examined the contents
of this legislation during its passage through Parliament, and
issued a short report broadly welcoming it, and noting that the
great majority of the recommendations made by the Committee in
1984 had been accepted and incorporated in the bill.
The Children Act came into force in October 1991.
19. Running in parallel with these developments in
legislation over the past decade has been a deepening sense of
public concern prompted by evidence of widespread physical and
sexual abuse in children's homes. Several major public inquiries
have taken place. They included inquiries into abuse at the Kincora
boys' hostel in East Belfast (1989), the 'Pindown' regime in Staffordshire
children's homes (1991), Castle Hill School (1991), Ty Mawr former
approved school in Gwent, Feltham Young Offenders' Institution
(1993) and Leicestershire children's homes (1993).
A tribunal of inquiry is currently investigating allegations of
abuse in children's homes in North Wales.
20. Lord Justice Butler-Sloss's recommendations following
her judicial inquiry into allegations of child sexual abuse in
Cleveland led to the issue of revised Government guidelines on
the detection and prevention of child abuse,
and the Children Act 1989 strengthened the safeguards for children
living away from home. Nonetheless, as the spate of allegations
continued, it became apparent that further action was needed.
Following the 'Pindown' report in 1991, the Secretary of State
for Health commissioned Sir William Utting, who had recently retired
from the post of Chief Inspector of Social Services, to examine
"the broader context to the management and control of children's
homes". Sir William's report, Children in the Public Care,
was published later in that year. Following the conviction of
Frank Beck on child abuse charges, also in 1991, the Secretary
of State set up a Committee of Inquiry, chaired by Mr Norman Warner,
to examine, among other issues, the selection and recruitment
methods for staff working in children's homes. The Warner Report,
entitled Choosing with Care, was published in December
1992. Most of its
recommendations were accepted in principle by the Government,
although not all have yet been put into practice by local authorities.
21. In June 1996 the Prime Minister announced the
setting up of the Review of Safeguards for Children Living Away
from Home, conducted by Sir William Utting with a small team of
seconded civil servants. The review was commissioned, in Sir William's
words, "as a result of continuing revelations of widespread
sexual, physical and emotional abuse of children in children's
homes over the preceding 20 years".
This second Utting Report, People Like Us, was published
in November 1997.
22. In a statement in the House, the Secretary of
State for Health, the Rt Hon Frank Dobson MP, said that People
Like Us was "a most serious report and the Government
are taking it most seriously", adding that it "presents
a woeful tale of failure at all levels to provide a secure and
decent childhood for some of the most vulnerable children".
He announced that the Government would set up a ministerial task
force, headed by himself, and containing also expert advisers
from outside the Government, to prepare a detailed Government
response to the report, following widespread consultation with
outside agencies and the public. This task force would assess
the resource implications of the Utting proposals. The Secretary
of State promised to put forward a "clear, affordable and
enforceable" programme of policy and management changes "to
deliver the safer environment to which children living away from
home are entitled". A DoH consultation paper on ways of improving
inter-agency co-operation in regard to child protection was issued
in February 1998.
The Ministerial task force met for the first time in March 1998.
No formal timescale has been set for the completion of its work.
It is not yet clear whether the Social Services White Paper expected
in the summer of 1998 will report on the outcome of this activity.