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The evidence is that we have made progress, but we have not made sufficient progress, and that is why we need to do more.

On the issue of resources, the number of social workers working with children has increased by one third in the past 10 years, and we are now investing £73 million to improve our social work work force, because there are issues about recruitment and retention and they need to be addressed. However, importantly, many of those social workers do a brilliant job in very difficult personal circumstances. It is important that we do not tar them with a particular brush when many of them are highly professional.

I think that I have answered the hon. Gentleman’s question about the public inquiry and the director of children’s services. I was deeply disturbed, and that is why I am determined to act.

Mr. Graham Allen (Nottingham, North) (Lab): Does the Secretary of State agree that the Government should focus not just on the specifics of this single appalling case and safeguarding? Lord Laming’s inquiry, or a further one, should also be empowered to examine how we can break the inter-generational cycle of poor parenting and the poverty of social and emotional capabilities, which is the breeding ground for such abuse. The inquiry should be allowed the time to explore and propose early intervention policies that can command a social and political consensus and build out, over a generation, further dysfunction and abuse. Should not Government and Parliament now be clear about our strategic responsibilities, as well as those in this specific case? Without such clarity, the baby P case will just be the latest in a series of tragedies, no long-term cultural shifts will be made and baby P will have died in vain.

Ed Balls: It is important that we focus on the specifics of the baby P case and take the action that is needed, because it is a particular tragedy that should have been prevented. On the issue of safeguarding, it is also important that we look more widely throughout the country, and that is what we are doing through the work of Lord Laming more generally. On the specific case of baby P, it is clear that there was no sufficient early intervention to prevent that harm. I know that in Nottingham, my hon. Friend has campaigned, researched and led on these issues. Early intervention and prevention, and a culture that priorities early intervention and joint working between the police, GPs, social workers and schools, are at the heart of the cultural change that we have been driving locally, since the Every Child Matters report and nationally with our new Department; the children’s plan was introduced a year ago. The reason why I announced this week our intention to legislate for children’s
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trusts on a statutory basis, with all those agencies, including schools, properly signed up to the children and young person’s plan, was so that we could entrench that long-term early intervention culture that is necessary to keep children safe and to ensure that every child can fulfil their potential and that every barrier to their happiness, well-being and learning is addressed early on. That is the cultural change that we are trying to lead, but this particular case is an example where early intervention should have worked more effectively.

Lynne Featherstone (Hornsey and Wood Green) (LD): Obviously, I shall focus on Haringey. I wonder whether the Secretary of State agrees with me that three things need to be done. First, the atmosphere and the morale of everyone in Haringey have been shot to pieces, but, for there to be a new start, there must be accountability; because if the same faces remain after the report, we will not have that fresh start. Secondly, when the report comes in, I believe that the Secretary of State will take action, but I very much hope that he will put Haringey into special measures to hold the department safe while action is taken. Finally, a public inquiry will be needed, because the Haringey case has raised many issues that are wider than the investigation can possibly examine. Therefore, for all our sakes in Haringey, we need to establish a forum for those people who want to provide information that the inspectors have been unable to collate so far.

Ed Balls: The hon. Lady has experience of and expertise in these matters. For a long time, she has had detailed knowledge of some of the issues that have been raised. However, I hope that she will understand that it is right for me not to rush to a particular judgment and pre-empt the inspectors’ report. I shall make decisions about what needs to be done on the basis of that report, and not before it comes out.

More generally, I understand that people want to know why and how. However, it is also important for the thousands of staff working on child protection in Haringey—and for the thousands of children whose safety is at issue—that we make sure that we move forward in Haringey as quickly as possible. I understand that this is a difficult time, but the sooner that we get things moving forward effectively for the future, the better.

Ann Coffey (Stockport) (Lab): It is absolutely imperative that the supervision of children on child protection registers who live at home is improved. The Government have made a significant investment in children’s centres, which provide a range of services to parents, including parenting orders and good-quality care. However, it is often difficult to get families whose children are on child protection registers into children’s centres. A lot of them hide from the authorities; they do not want the authorities to see what goes on in their homes. Will the Secretary of State consider how children’s centres can be used better to provide early intervention, better monitoring, better supervision and better protection of children at risk? Will he consider the use of compulsory orders in forthcoming legislation to enable that to happen?

Ed Balls: I appreciate my hon. Friend’s suggestion, because she has great expertise not only as a Member of Parliament, but professionally, as a result of her previous
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career. I take seriously what she says. It is vital, in general, that children’s centres play the role that we intend—ensuring that parents who need most help and the children at greatest risk come to the children’s centres. I see many examples of that happening around the country, but it does not yet happen in every children’s centre.

My hon. Friend has made an interesting proposal, which we will seriously consider. As she says, it is essential that at-risk and vulnerable children who are the subject of a child protection plan, and their parents, are regularly seen and that they are getting the support that they need. The children’s centre is often the kind of place where such support can be provided. I take seriously what my hon. Friend has said; we will consider it carefully and may discuss it with her in further detail.

Several hon. Members rose

Madam Deputy Speaker (Sylvia Heal): Order. A great many Members are interested in this statement. I make a plea for short questions and short answers, so that more can make a contribution.

Mr. Eric Pickles (Brentwood and Ongar) (Con): The Secretary of State is asking Lord Laming to consider three questions. I suggest that the most difficult of them is about how to strike the right balance in applying the process when children are taken into care. I am sure that the Secretary of State does not want to replace one inhumanity with another.

A few years ago, I had a heartbreaking case in which there was a forced adoption of a child who was at no physical risk. It happened because the social workers considered the child’s parents to be stupid. I looked at the casework, which was riddled with inaccuracies and misinformation. It was clear to me that the principal motivation was to cover the social workers’ backs in case something went wrong. Will the Secretary of State make sure that the balance is addressed precisely? Believe me, the admission a few years later that social workers might have overreacted in that case was no consolation.

Ed Balls: The hon. Gentleman is right. A balance must be struck with care to meet a clear legal test about the safety of the child. We have to appreciate the great difficulty of social workers around the country. As the hon. Gentleman said, the public debate in the past year has often been much more about too many children being subject to care orders; at the moment, the public debate is asking whether not enough children are.

I have asked Lord Laming to consider whether the balance is being struck correctly and whether the processes are enabling the proper test to be applied—that is, what is in the best interests of the child and their safety. However, we are not asking Lord Laming to tilt the balance in one direction or the other. We want to make sure that the legal process is properly applied, so that children are safe.

Mr. Ian Cawsey (Brigg and Goole) (Lab): My right hon. Friend has already referred to the growth in resources for this work, but will he look at that issue across the piece as he does his research and considers the report? I still talk to people working in children’s services who say that the number of referrals is difficult to cope with. That adds to an already stressful job; we are seeing burn-out and people choosing to change career.

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At the weekend, I spoke to a trainer of social workers who said that young social workers are increasingly wary of children’s services as an area to move into. Can we consider resourcing, raising the esteem of the profession and ensuring that there is a new generation of health and social workers in children’s services, to protect children not just now but in the future?

Ed Balls: My hon. Friend is right. We must do more to support the training and recruitment of social workers—particularly children’s social workers, for whom the issues are often most acute and the publicity most intense. In my judgment, more cases will be coming through in the weeks to come because of the publicity that has rightly surrounded this tragedy. That will only add to the pressure.

We have the best generation of teachers that we have ever had. It is important that we ensure that we also have the best ever generation of social workers. That means ensuring that we bring that about through pay, support and training. We are considering the issue as part of the children’s work force review. At the same time, as I said, when mistakes are made, there has to be proper accountability.

Angela Watkinson (Upminster) (Con): The Secretary of State will know that people who commit serious acts of abuse against children do so without witnesses and are clever at covering up the evidence. Is it known in how many, if any, of the 60 reported visits to the home of baby P, social workers were unable to gain access or were fobbed off with excuses that the child was not available because he was asleep or ill? Was social workers’ right of access an issue or a contributory factor? Does that need to be looked at?

Ed Balls: The hon. Lady’s wider point is absolutely right, but in this particular case the deception was based on co-operation; the mother, it seemed, co-operated fully with the authorities. There were many meetings, discussions and consultations. However, the evidence from those meetings was not seen or acted on. The deception was skilled in this case. More generally, it is important that our social workers follow through and make sure that meetings take place and are properly conducted.

Helen Southworth (Warrington, South) (Lab): As part of the extensive range of actions that my right hon. Friend is rightly taking in this awful case, will he consider the issue of safe places for children and make sure that every local authority has emergency accommodation available? In that way, a child who needs one can definitely be taken to a place of safety—at a foster carer’s, if one is available, or elsewhere.

Ed Balls: In this case, one of our concerns is that the “safe place to be” procedure—a temporary placement with a family friend—was not done appropriately. More generally, my hon. Friend is absolutely right. Local authorities have an obligation to ensure that they have in place arrangements for emergency placements. I know that she is interested in the issue more widely and has led work on runaway children. However, in these particular cases, it is essential that arrangements are in place. As I said, we have concerns that in this case they were not effective and proper.

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Robert Neill (Bromley and Chislehurst) (Con): The Secretary of State is right to stress the importance of political and managerial accountability. In the interests of ensuring that there are the clearest possible lines of accountability, will he assure the House that in all local authorities direct responsibility for front-line children’s services is with the authority’s director of children’s services, rather than being shared in any other way with any other department?

Ed Balls: It is statutory under the Children Act 2004 that that responsibility is with the director of children’s services, so I believe that I can give the hon. Gentleman that assurance.

Fiona Mactaggart (Slough) (Lab): Will the children’s work force review ensure that everyone in contact with a vulnerable child—teacher, social worker or nursery worker—has really effective training in dealing with child abuse?

Ed Balls: That is one of the issues that was highlighted in the joint inspectors’ report in July and again in the summary of that in the Ofsted report yesterday. It is essential that across the children’s work force, including in schools, there is an understanding of how to spot the early signs and then how to act. We are not saying that teachers should become the social worker, any more than they should be the parent or the paediatrician, but it is important that there is proper training so that early signs are spotted and schools and other agencies know where to refer on their concerns. That is at the centre of the reforms to children’s trusts that I announced earlier in the week. We must ensure that this is being thought about more generally right across the children’s work force.

Dr. Evan Harris (Oxford, West and Abingdon) (LD): The Secretary of State said:

He will be aware that there is an additional professional duty on paediatricians to put the child first. Given that an organised campaign is being waged against paediatricians who suspect parental abuse or factitious or induced illness, and who cannot answer back, will he look into what can be done through the Department of Health, and particularly the General Medical Council? Far too many of the GMC’s judgments and sanctions are being overturned on appeal, and the damage to the morale of paediatricians and their willingness to engage in child protection work has already been done.

Ed Balls: In this particular case, as the hon. Gentleman will know, the GMC has taken action concerning the paediatrician involved because she did not spot a problem and no action was taken. More generally, there is concern that in this case health professionals spotted clear signs of non-accidental injury abuse, and then there was no action. It is important that we learn lessons from that, and Lord Laming will consider those issues.

On the hon. Gentleman’s more general point, my right hon. Friend the Minister for Children, Young People and Families and I have been in discussion with the RCP over the past year, since the change of Department. We need to ensure that health professionals, including
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GPs, are very much at the centre of our thinking to ensure not only that children are safe but that their well-being is promoted. That is why primary care trusts are involved in the new children’s trust arrangements and we will have a lead children’s GP in every area.

Ms Sally Keeble (Northampton, North) (Lab): I very much welcome my right hon. Friend’s statement. He referred to a stock-take of local safeguarding boards and serious case reviews, and the hon. Member for Yeovil (Mr. Laws) mentioned a partial stock-take that has already been undertaken. Will my right hon. Friend ensure that copies of all three reports—the two that are coming out and the one that is already done—are placed in the Library so that those of us who are concerned about this can see what the position is in our own local authority areas and take up any issues of concern with those authorities?

Ed Balls: I will do that. In fact, I spoke to the director of Ofsted only this morning. In the next few weeks, Ofsted will publish a detailed evaluation of serious case reviews, which will be made public. It will also detail the areas where there were serious case reviews that were judged to be inadequate. That inadequacy was sometimes about timing, sometimes about independence and sometimes about an insufficient focus on where the failure occurred. The inadequacy of those reviews is unacceptable, which is why we started the work over a month ago to look into that. I hope that the fact that Lord Laming is now taking forward our review on how we strengthen the process for serious case reviews in future will give assurance to the whole House that we are taking this very seriously.

Tony Baldry (Banbury) (Con): One of the tasks that the Secretary of State has given Lord Laming is the development of a professional work force. Will he make it clear that Lord Laming will welcome representations from social workers on how they think they can be more effective? Is it not important that the message goes out that this House does not in any way want to scapegoat social workers, and that we are in fact trying to ensure that they have the support they need to carry out what is often one of the most incredibly difficult jobs that society has to do?

Ed Balls: I understand that. It is important that we all make that point regularly from all parts of the House. This is a time when social workers around the country will be feeling very worried. As I said, many of them are doing very difficult jobs. We will ensure that Lord Laming considers that issue. Today he has made a call for evidence from experts, including those in the social work community. The children’s work force plan that we have been drawing up for the past few months, which we will publish before the end of the year, has a particular focus on what we can do to strengthen support for social workers. It is important that we recognise the very difficult job they do and give them more support when there are problems.

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