234. Discussion about "the rights of the child"
can have a hollow ring when one considers the numerous cases of
physical and sexual abuse of looked-after children which have
emerged in recent years. In such cases the rights of children
were not merely disregarded but trampled upon. We took evidence
in our inquiry during the period in which Sir William Utting was
completing his major report on safeguards against abuse, People
Like Us, which appeared in November 1997.
Another major report on child abuselooking at the subject
in a wider contexthad appeared in October 1996, that of
the National Commission of Inquiry into the Prevention of Child
Abuse, established and funded by the NSPCC under the chairmanship
of Lord Williams of Mostyn QC.
235. We did not want to duplicate the work of Sir
William Utting and the National Commission. We therefore focused
our inquiry primarily on other issues relating to the welfare
of looked-after children. For the same reason we have not included
an extended section on abuse in this report.
236. Our decisions in this respect do not, of course,
indicate that we regard the issue of abuse as being other than
critically important. The long-term social and emotional damage
done to children by abuse can be enormous, and none of the improvements
in the care system which we call for elsewhere in this report
are likely to mean very much to children who are being preyed
upon by the very people entrusted with their care.
237. An appreciation of the dangers and extent of
abuse, particularly sexual abuse, has been slow to emerge. The
Social Services Committee, in their 1984 report, commented that
little thought at that time had been given to the prevention of
sexual abuse. Sir William Utting, who was Chief Inspector of Social
Service during the period when some of the worst cases of abuse
were taking place, was commendably frank when we asked him why
the steps he now advocates were not taken when he was directly
responsible for overseeing social services:
"I think the crude answer to that question would
be ignorance. ... The subject of sex abuse of children in institutions
did not really become an issue until the early 1980s. ... There
were tremendous pressures, I think, on everybody in the system
at that time to deny that those of us working in the system and
accepted by the community as being devoted to the interests of
children were in fact exploiting them and abusing them. So there
was a period of ignorance and a period of denial and then the
very painful process of the revelation of these awful things that
had gone on for a long time."
238. That process of revelation is now well under
way. Further evidence of past abuse is likely to continue to emerge
for some time to come. The true extent both of past and present
abuse is very difficult to establish. As with other forms of crime,
it is probably impossible to eliminate abuse altogether, but it
can be minimised. It seems likely that steps taken over the past
10 years have already significantly reduced the incidence of abuse.
239. Sir William Utting's report contains a comprehensive
analysis of the causes and nature of abuse, not just in residential
homes but in other settings where children are looked after away
from their families. We wish to endorse his main findings.
In particular we wish to support the following proposals:
(1) The recommendations
about recruiting and selecting staff in the Warner Report of 1992
should be fully implemented by all local authorities (most have
already done so), and they should be applied in all settings in
which children live away from home. Conformity should be a condition
of registration and approval of children's homes.
(2) All organisations which care for children
living away from home should provide parents with full information
about their arrangements for keeping children safe.
(3) The Government should extend the legal
protection of employers in respect of communicating information
about people unfit to work with children, and the new system for
criminal record checks should access other approved lists as part
of its own checks.
(4) Staff should be required to communicate
concerns about the conduct of other staff towards children and
be afforded full legal and employment protection when acting in
(5) The Government should undertake a comprehensive
review of the arrangements for prosecuting offences against children
in order to make them more effective.
240. An additional issue raised by Sir William is
of particular concern to us. That is the issue of child prostitution.
We also received memoranda on this subject from both Barnardo's
and the Children's Society. They both contain thoughtfully written
and harrowing accounts of how children, many of them from a care
background, are lured into a life of prostitution from which they
find it enormously difficult to extricate themselves. The criminal
justice system at present offers very little assistance to such
children. The law treats children working in prostitution as criminals
rather than victims.
241. It is unlawful for girls under 16 in England
to have sexual intercourse, although by doing so the girls are
not committing a criminal offence. It is illegal for adults to
have sex with a child under 16, and such adults are committing
a criminal offence. Although prostitution in itself is not illegal,
charges of loitering and soliciting may be brought. After two
cautions girls and women are deemed to be "common prostitutes"
and the cautions remain on their record for eight years. Boys
can be prosecuted for importuning. Pimps can be prosecuted for
"living off immoral earnings".
242. Barnardo's commented that "it does seem
a legal absurdity that a young woman under 16 years of age can
be convicted of soliciting and labelled a 'common prostitute'
when she is not old enough to give consent to sexual intercourse".
They added that terms such as "young prostitute" or
"child prostitute" disguise the reality of a child who
is being abused.
243. In its consultation paper on child protection,
issued last February, the Government states that it
"believes that children who become involved
in prostitution should be seen primarily as children in need of
welfare services and in many instances protection under the Children
Act. We propose to encourage Area Child Protection Committees
to take an active interest in the problem of children who have
become involved in prostitution in their area, and to develop
a protocol for handling this type of situation at an individual
and a policy level. Close co-operation between all agencies, but
in particular the police and SSDs, will be important."
244. We welcome these comments by the Government.
We recommend that prostitution involving children under the age
of 16 should be recognised as a child protection issue. Pimps
and those who seek out children for paid or unpaid sexual gratification
should be treated as child sex offenders. We call on the Government
to bring forward proposals for amending the law, if necessary,
and issue guidelines for police and prosecutors accordingly.
245. Elsewhere in this report we refer to and support
other recommendations made by Sir William Utting in relation to
the registration and inspection of private foster carers (paragraph
136 above), abuse in foster care (paragraph 143 above), the need
for increased capacity in residential homes (paragraph 170 above),
and appropriate targets for training of residential workers (paragraph
246. We urge the Ministerial Task Force now considering
the way forward to acknowledge that People Like Us is a
report which should be implemented, notwithstanding the resource