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21 Feb 2007 : Column 144WH—continued

We will report very soon not only on the target that we set for the development of CAMHS services
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throughout the country, but on how I intend to maintain the pressure in the system, particularly in the health service, to ensure that once the target period is over we keep our eye on the ball to maintain investment and to focus on the importance of CAMHS services. It simply will not be enough to say, “Here is the target and here is our report on how we have done against it.” The prioritisation of CAMHS services in the national health service is equally important.

We work closely with the Department for Education and Skills on those issues. We also work with other organisations. For example, with the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence we are working on guidance on the identification and recognition of all forms of child abuse. Guidelines are expected in late 2008.

We are working with the Home Office, the DFES, the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children and other voluntary sector organisations, providing services for sexually abused children through the joint Department of Health and National Institute for Mental Health in England victims of violence and abuse prevention programme. The objective is to equip professionals and services to identify and respond to the needs of children and adolescents who have been sexually abused, raped or sexually assaulted, or of victims of sexual exploitation through prostitution, pornography and trafficking. I look forward to seeing the national service guidelines that the programme will publish later this year on therapeutic and preventive interventions with sexually abused and exploited children.

With the Home Office, the Department of Health has been supporting the establishment of sexual assault referral centres, a joint service for victims of rape and sexual assault provided locally by health and police services and the voluntary sector. St. Mary’s hospital in Manchester and The Havens in London, as my hon. Friend has said, have piloted children’s services, and they are being evaluated.

We are also working with the Home Office on behalf of young people who sexually abuse, a point made by the hon. Member for Mid-Dorset and North Poole (Annette Brooke). Many were victims of abuse in their childhoods. We have recently published two research reports: one provides evidence that interventions can be effective in preventing new or continued abuse; the other studies links between sexually abusive behaviour and emerging severe personality disorder traits in childhood. That makes it all the more important to provide early and effective interventions.

To support that work, a national strategy is nearing completion, and with it we will publish guidelines on therapeutic and preventive interventions. That directly responds to a point that the hon. Lady—to her credit—has raised time and again in this House.

It is not often that I credit a Liberal Democrat Member with anything in this House.

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My hon. Friend the Member for Dewsbury knows that I have met the NSPCC formally to discuss the issues before us. I also want to pay tribute to his role more generally as an ambassador for the NSPCC in this House. He does a tremendous job in ensuring that the voice of children is heard loudly.

Reflecting on last week’s report about our international standing on children and young people’s well-being, I was concerned about the way in which it was presented, because it did not make any reference whatever to the Government’s every child matters programme, children’s centres, Sure Start, universal nursery provision, massively expanded child care or the beginning of work on emotional and social behaviour in primary schools. None of that work will feed through for a generation.

This Government are often accused of going in for short-term initiatives and for headlines, but there are no short-term political benefits in investing in such early years prevention. No other Government in the history of this country have done as much as this Government to create an architecture in which such early intervention is offered to families during the earliest years, when the greatest difference is made.

Although I am not complacent about that international study, on which we must reflect, we must balance the coverage of the issue before us. None of the findings has reflected on the new approach to early intervention and to early years provision that this Government have created for the first time in the history of this country. It was sadly lacking from the debate that rightly took place about the way in which we should react to the fact that our children and young people are regarded as not being as well and as happy as we would all want them to be.

Currently, a child who is sexually abused does not automatically need access to mental health services, and universal health services may be adequate for addressing some needs of those children and young people. However, we have agreed that later this year there will be a scoping event to bring together all people with an interest in the provision of services for sexually abused children. That will take place in direct response to my meeting with the NSPCC and to my conversation with Mary Marsh, who does a wonderful job.

We must reflect on whether the policy is right. Should we as a country say that a child who is sexually abused ought to have automatic priority access to child and adolescent mental health services? That is not the current position, but the NSPCC has a strong case when it argues that it ought to be the presumption for children in such circumstances. My hon. Friend has raised an important issue, and I promise him that the Government and I take it exceptionally seriously. I expect to see some real progress in the months ahead.

Question put and agreed to.

Adjourned accordingly at Five o’clock.

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