Examination of Witnesses (Questions 600-619)|
17 DECEMBER 2008
Q600 Chairman: Does it meet regularly?
Dr Proops: Yes.
Q601 Chairman: How regularly?
Dr Proops: My local one meets
every month. It meets the designated professionals and has to
provide reports up to the board, which expects particular pieces
of information from the child protection team.
Q602 Chairman: This has been so interesting
that I kept asking questions; it has served the Committee. One
last question before an introduction to the other members of the
team: what about the role of the school nurse?
Dr Proops: The role of the school
nurse is very important. In a sense, my comments relating to school
nursing would be similar to those on health visiting. Again, the
caveat is that this is not my professional area, but school nursing
has changed. It rather depends whether we are looking for a public
health service for schools or a safeguarding service, and whether
we can ask our nurses to do both. Many school nurses find that
their time is directed too much down one line rather than the
other, but they are certainly in a good position to support the
safeguarding of children in the broadest sense. I say that on
the basis of research that demonstrates that it is within the
education sphere that most child protection concerns are identified,
and not within health. Therefore, school nurses should be and
are in a good position to support that particular part of the
Q603 Chairman: Thank you very much.
Judith, you know why we are on this learning curve. How can your
research and background help us?
Professor Masson: There are a
number of different areas that we can look at, such as the individual
decision to take a specific child into the care system. The research
that I have done has been on care proceedings and emergency intervention.
If we are looking at, for example, children on the child protection
register, quite a lot of children who come into care proceedings
or are removed in an emergency are not on the child protection
register at the point when the decision to remove them is made.
Q604 Chairman: Why not?
Professor Masson: There is a small
proportion, perhaps 10% of care cases, where the family is not
previously known to social services, or they are not known to
social services in the area and they have moved. There are the
sudden cases, injury cases, but far more of the cases involve
neglect or neglect and injuries. There may have been some social
services or children's services involvement from time to time,
but the case has not reached the level at which it is case-conferenced
and an entry is made on the child protection register. It may
have been case-conferenced but there has not been a decision to
put the child on the register, and then there is a catapulting
incident that leads to the child coming into the system. That
incident might be: coming to the notice of the police, being found
unattended, or a domestic violence incident; it may be part of
an assessment process where concerns are suddenly raised sufficiently
high as to lead to the child coming into the system. Quite often,
the incident that precipitates the child into the system is no
worse than things that have happened in the past, but it is significant
because there has been another incident. A key factor in children
coming into the system through the compulsory means is lack of
parental co-operation. There may have been some work with the
family but the family are not seeming to co-operate; they are
missing meetings and appointments and are apparently out when
the social worker attends. That leads to increasing concern and
then gives a trigger.
Q605 Chairman: Thank you. Colin,
you are very experienced in this field. Tell us a little bit about
the relationship between the children who are seen as at risk
and are on a particular register, and those who are in care or
not in care. When we went to Denmark they told us that they take
twice as many children into care as we do in the UK, although
that has been disputed more recently in the light of the Baby
P discussions. We were impressed by the quality of the care situations
into which they were taken. The fosteringcertainly what
we could seewas of a high order, whether it was institutional
care in small numbers or foster families. Do you see it as a problem
in the UK that our quality of care has no kitemark or standard
that we can all rely on so we can say, "This child's going
into care, but it will be good quality care"? Is that a problem?
Colin Green: May I start with
your original question?
Chairman: Start with anything you like.
I am just warming you up.
Colin Green: First of all, the
relationship between children at risk and children who come into
care is very close. In the statistics for the end of 2008 on the
reasons why children are looked after, 62% were due to abuse or
neglect, and a further 11% were due to family dysfunction. That
is absolutely dominant in why children come into care. It is also
a key reason why children in care may not do very well. It is
about what happened to them before they came into care. It is
a very close relationship. Having said that, I absolutely recognise
the experience that Judith described. The children are a mix.
Yes, they may have child protection plans, but there is a large
group of children who do not, who are known and who have been
bumping along, possibly with a just acceptable level of care,
until some precipitating incident leads the Local Authority, in
consultation with the partners, to say, "We need to act to
initiate care proceedings." The second thing is that, of
all the children in care, there is a group of stayers, but there
is also a lot of movement in and out. The movement in and out
concerns a lot of children and young people with significant issues
with abuse or, more often, neglect. For adolescents, the product
of neglect can lead to the breakdown of their life at home or
to unacceptable behaviour at home. The relationship is very close.
On the quality of care, I think that since the initiation of the
Quality Protects programme, a huge amount has been done
to raise the quality of care and care placements. The Care
Matters programme is a further step. The quality of care has
improved significantly in both foster care and the various kinds
of residential care. I have not had the benefit of going to Denmark,
so I do not know what you saw, but it may well be that standards
there are still significantly higher than ours. There is clearly
a view about how good the outcomes are for young people in care,
and that certainly influences people's view of the best way to
make a difference to a child's life. You are balancing what may
not be a very satisfactory standard of life at home with what
can feel like quite a risky journey in care. You also need to
distinguish between the benefits of care for very young children
and for those entering during adolescence. Overall, the research
shows that generally, the longer children are in care, the better
they do, but it can take quite a long time for children to recover
and make progress within the care system.
Chairman: Thank you for that, Colin.
Henrietta, last but not least.
Henrietta Heawood: From the point
of view of social workers, who actually carry out the work, they
are key professionals in terms of identifying children, but the
multi-agency process is also absolutely crucial. I do not know
whether you want me to tell you about the multi-agency processes
from the social worker's point of view or comment on what the
other speakers have said.
Q606 Chairman: Do either. Start with
the first, and then go on to the others.
Henrietta Heawood: Okay. Identifying
children at risk is something that happensthe targeted
part of the child population. When referrals come in to Local
Authority children's social care services, they come in in vast
numbers, which is something that Local Authority social workers
have to deal with. I have been told that there might be half a
million referrals a year in England. From that, a process filters
out the ones who are most acutely in need of detailed services.
Q607 Chairman: If you are a social
worker, how is that flagged up to you? Where does it come from?
Henrietta Heawood: Do you mean
where does the referral come from?
Henrietta Heawood: Referrals come
to social work teams from other professionals, members of the
public and other family membersmostly, occasionally a child
will disclose themselves. They can ring a helpline or turn up
at the office. Professionals who make referrals include the police,
people from education and health services and occasionally the
ambulance service. Referrals from the general public will include
neighbourswe get quite a lot of referrals from concerned
neighboursand extended family members. Grandparents and
other such people will say, "We are worried about these children,
can you have a look?" From then on, the system kicks in.
There are detailed processes that would take me ages to explain.
I can explain them all if you want, but it would take some time.
Chairman: The rest of the team are eager
to start their questioning. I will hand over to Fiona to look
at identifying children at risk.
Q608 Fiona Mactaggart: A number of
you have referred to the proportion of children who are at risk
from harm whom you do not know about. That is obviously something
that we need to consider, to see if there is a better way of finding
out about them. I have also looked at a series of articles in
The Lancet. I was profoundly shocked by the suggestion
that between 5 and 10% of girls and up to 5% of boys are exposed
to penetrative sexual abuse. I do not know how well founded such
figures are. One of the compelling things about this series of
articles was the conclusion that, in the long term, neglect is
at least as damaging as physical or sexual abuse. It occurred
to me that in some of these discussions, we are not looking carefully
enough at neglect and how to identify it. A child is not likely
to know that they are neglected in quite the same way that they
know if they are hit. Judith described cases that come to the
notice of the authorities after domestic violence incidents. That
is not an uncommon way for cases to come into the system. I wonder
whether there are good systems for identifying neglectful families.
Henrietta Heawood: May I just
tell you about a couple of early identification models that I
happen to know exist in a couple of hospitals in Sheffield and
Grimsby? Protocols were set up to identify pregnant women who
were drug users. When they delivered their babies, a protocol
was set up to establish whether they were co-operating with A,
B and C. It is a multi-agency plan with social workers and the
hospital staff. Therefore, that is a proactive rather than reactive
scheme. In Sheffield, such a scheme resulted in a lot of care
proceedings because the level of risk was judged to be still very
great. At least it was a system, rather than waiting for something
dreadful to happen. Professionals might say, "This is what
we have got and we will assess it now because we recognise that
these are risk factors."
Fiona Mactaggart: But you sound as though
that is an exception.
Henrietta Heawood: I hope that
it is across the country. There are things in place. People are
trying to say, "We know that this is going to be a risk."
Dr Proops: May I try to answer
the question in two parts? First, let me look at the figures and,
secondly, at the consequences of neglect. I have some copies of
The Lancet article with me that I would be delighted to
give to the Committee. The reason why the figures appear both
discrepant and worrying is that we have to understand how they
and it is not straightforward. There are three types of studies.
Two of the studies are retrospective. One group asks the children
themselves, if they are old enough and another group asks the
parents. The third type is drawn from official statistics, which
is why one gets these apparently rather discrepant and worrying
figures. If one asks retrospectively, the number who say that
they have been harmed in a variety of ways is much greater than
the numbers collected prospectively from official statistics.
For example, physical abuse ranges between 4% and 16%, and neglect
ranges between 1% and 15% depending on which study one looks at.
The other point about the Lancet series and where those
data come from is that that looked only at high-income countries.
The figures will be rather different if one looks at much broader,
worldwide research. It is not entirely fair to give the figure
of one in 10 children, because that merges all the different types
of study together. One has to have some sense of where the figures
come from and whether it was a retrospective or prospective study.
Nevertheless, whichever way one looks at it, the numbers are rather
large. The second point about neglect is that in its full picture,
it is profoundly harmful to babies, pre-school children and older
children. There are some clear physiological consequencesit
harms the brain, as it fails to grow properly and nerve cells
do not connect properly, and permanent damage can ensue. You will
read in all sorts of papers about the importance of protecting
children under the age of two in particular, and certainly those
under the age of three. After that, one's chances of making good
are much less. Colin made the point earlier about the different
approaches and actions that may be needed for the very young child
and for the older child. As a practitioner, I would say that other
than a child who is severely physically abused, a chronically
neglected child is the saddest child. Neglect affects all aspects
of their being, from their physical growth to their emotional
and psychological development and their educational attainmenteverything.
Neglect is a very severe insult to all children. As I said, we
have good physiological evidence. You can compare the brain scans
of a neglected 18-month-old with those of a healthy, sociable
18-month-old, and they look different.
Q609 Fiona Mactaggart: This seems to
point out that we should focus more comprehensively on the families
that are at risk of neglecting their children, and that we should
do so through intervention. We should be prepared to be more active
about putting in place protective services around their children.
Too often, our care system seems to be triggered by an episode,
an event, or a drama. What Rosalyn is saying, and what the Lancet
research seems to be saying, is that if we could focus more effectively
on the continuing appallingness, we would protect children better.
Colin Green: I absolutely agree
with that, and I think that it is true to say that neglect is
quite corrosive, which I think is what Rosalyn is saying. At the
heart of identifying that is the quality of assessment and people
having time to spend with families, potentially as a multidisciplinary
team, to understand what is happening in a family and the relationship
between the child and the parents and to get underneath the child's
experience of living in that family. We are then in a much better
position to make a decision. Without that depth, we end up responding
to an incident that is evidentially much easier to present in
court than trying to describe the impact of neglect over a period
of time. In some ways, it is a more skilled job to describe the
impact of that on a child's development than to present an injury
of some kind. The other thing that I would say is that in the
case of many of the children who are physically injured, and certainly
those who are sexually abused, there is inherently neglect and
those injuries occur within very neglectful circumstances.
Henrietta Heawood: I challenge
a little bit the idea that the courts cannot deal with chronic
neglect, because there have been a lot of conferences for judges
and so on about research on brain development. It is widely known,
and experts speak about it in court quite a lot, so courts should
be able to deal with the effects of chronic neglect. However,
the research is new.
Colin Green: I think that, with
regard to dealing with it in court, is about the confidence of
Local Authorities to present this somewhat more difficult evidence
and gather those kind of chronologies, and their ability to present
the child's experience of living there in a way that has a sharpness
in court. It is just that that it somewhat more difficult. What
do you think, Judith?
Professor Masson: There are a
lot of neglect cases in court, and the evidence presented is very
rarely this sort of brain information. It is much more likely
that there will be a psychiatric assessment of the child and various
sorts of evidence about the state of the home, the presence of
the parents and what the parents have done, such as whether they
have visited the child when he or she was in foster care. Neglect
cases are neglected in court, but there is a lot of this attitude
of expecting the parents to do better while the proceedings are
going on and suggesting, "Let us see if the parents can do
better" or "It is only neglect, and the parents are
trying very hard. What more would you expect of them in these
circumstances?" There is a kind of rule of optimism. Many
people in the system have low expectations and take the view that
taking children into care is so draconian an intervention that
merely neglecting children is insufficient to justifyI
use the phrase I hear around the systemtaking the children
away. The suggestion is that parents have been shown not to be
bad, but to be rather feckless. That is about recognition in the
community, the legal community and elsewhere that neglect is what
might be expected from families in those circumstances. That means
that those families do not get triggered into the legal system
at an early stage, and when they eventually do, they spend quite
a long time in the system before people realise that the parents
cannot do any better. Therefore, those cases might go on for more
than a year, even though an expert who deals with this work all
the time may, from their point of view, question why the order
cannot be made within three or five months.
Q610 Fiona Mactaggart: As Dr Proops
has pointed out, that really makes a difference to the child's
Professor Masson: Yes, and what
is more, the courts have recently become very concerned about
removing children during the course of proceedings. Five or 10
years ago, proceedings would generally have started with the children
being separated from their parents under an interim care order,
which was often not contested. If the parents improved, they might
get their child back at the end of the proceedings. Now, following
various decisions by the High Court and the Court of Appeal, the
courts are saying that to remove the child we really need to have
proof and a proper hearing for finding the facts. Therefore, there
is an emphasis on Local Authorities not applying for an interim
care order and more of an incentive on parents to contest an interim
care application if one is made, and children may stay at home
with their parents until the end of the hearing when all the assessments
have taken place. As those proceedings take about a year, there
is potentially an extra year of damage. Or, one could say, "That
is how the system should work, because otherwise these cases are
being pre-judged." The judiciary have taken the view that
removing children at the start of proceedings is pre-judging.
Q611 Fiona Mactaggart: One of the
things that has struck the Committee is the evidence about the
number of child deaths. Initially it looked as if there was about
one child death a week connected with abuse, maltreatment or neglect,
or a little more than that, but more recent figures from Ofsted
suggest that that number is more like four a week. Having listened
to the issue about neglect, it sounds to me that, if the court
procedure is so complicated and laborious, perhaps we ought to
put in place other interventions at an early stage, perhaps while
those proceedings are ongoing. I was looking at The Lancet
articles that assessed various programmes and said that lots of
them did not have a research basis. One said that "the effectiveness
of most of the programmes is unknown. Two specific home-visiting
programmesthe Nurse-Family Partnership (best evidence)
and Early Starthave been shown to prevent child maltreatment."
While trying to bring those children into public care, should
we not be putting in place programmes to protect them more effectively
during the proceedings? It sounds to me as if these things operate
on different planets and do not coalesce enough. Am I right?
Dr Proops: There are a couple
of points. When looking at interventions, as the paper described,
we must be clear about which programmes are set up to prevent
occurrence, and which are set up to prevent reoccurrence. You
are talking about the latter. There is some evidence that some
of those programmes work, but from the point of view of an everyday
practitioner, I wholeheartedly agree with you. There could be
a family that is struggling and has three school-age children.
Evidence might suggest that the children are not functioning well,
have behavioural problems at school, and that their educational
attainment is poor and limited. The pre-school child might not
be developing properly, and although the parents are trying within
their means, perhaps their means are not good enough. In those
circumstances we must provide support. I have seen evidence of
very good support, but it must be provided for more than an hour
three times a week and sadly, sometimes that is all that is available.
Without wishing to say that we need more resources, in some areas
we do. We need clarity about what types of support are more likely
to produce a positive outcome and be effective. We must carry
out research in that area and put those programmes into place.
Removing many of those children might not be the right answer,
yet they are living in an impoverished home, not achieving their
potential and so harm accrues. There is plenty of room for further
research to look at the evidential value of certain programmes,
and we would then need the resources to implement them. It is
resource heavy, but not as resource heavy as removing children.
Colin Green: I just want to ask
about the figures. I was interested in the figures that Ofsted
gave the Committee last week, and I hope that we can have a full
breakdown so that we can fully understand what is being counted.
The figures are much higher than the figures from the NSPCC, which
I would generally regard as the most authoritative, given that
it has tracked this issue for a long time. I hope that we will
get full information from Ofsted. There are good programmes, particularly
the family-nurse partnership which looks very promising. I return
to the discussion about health visiting, which shows a way forward
for that kind of intensive programme. We need more evidence-based
interventions that are focused with clarity of plan. There is
too much monitoring. People talk about monitoring and support,
but those things can be empty vessels. The issue is about what
people can do in a more programmed way. Some of that could involve
setting targets against which to measure progress, whether for
the child or the adults in the family, and carrying that through
properly. As part of the social work role, the practitioner must
be able to lead all the people working with that familyincluding
the familyin their journey of change. They must find out
whether people can actually change. We need a more active approach
based on mobilising change and finding out what we need to do
to make life better for that child.
Professor Masson: We have to bear
in mind the fact that a key factor in the cases that come to proceedings
is parental non-co-operation. Although evidence suggests that
services are often not offered, sometimes those that have been
offered are not accepted. There is non-compliance and non-acceptance
of services, and there is false compliance where people appear
to comply with services, but in reality do not do so. In that
context, we have to take account of the very high levels of domestic
violence and drug and alcohol misuse in such families. The mother
may wish to comply, for example, but she may not be a free agent.
She may be a depleted person because of the violent atmosphere
in which she lives. That domestic violence may be knownthere
is much more recognition of domestic violence than there was 10
or 15 years agobut she may well not be disclosing what
is going on. She might appear to be complying, or trying her best,
but a picture of what is going on in that family might be completely
different from the one that the professionals appear to acknowledge
at the beginning. I would question the idea that we can provide
a service, even an evaluated service, that will make a difference
in many of those families. I would focus on the cases that go
to court. There is a greater group of children on the edge of
care. There may be more opportunity to make a positive difference
for that group, but once we set the thresholds very high, as we
have done for care proceedings, it is less easy to see that change
can be achieved easily for that very difficult group.
Q612 Fiona Mactaggart: Even now,
Judith, your final remark made me want to ask whether you think
the threshold is too high. I also wonder whether we have a good
enough risk assessment at an early enough stage to ensure that
we are focusing preventive services as effectively as possible.
As far as I can see from what you have been saying to me, the
characteristics of a large proportion of the families with children
at risk include mental ill-health, drug abuse, domestic violence.
Can we tell who is most at risk, and can we target what we do
more effectively to protect their children and prevent abuse?
Can we intervene earlier to protect those children?
Professor Masson: That is not
a question for me.
Q613 Fiona Mactaggart: No, my question
for you is how high we should put the threshold.
Chairman: We will start with Colin, then
go to Judith.
Colin Green: Certainly we can.
The tools that we have are reasonably good. The assessment framework
is a good tool; the issue is being able to use it effectively,
which requires very sophisticated training, understanding and
competence. That relates to the work force issues that you have
previously considered. We have some good tools, but we need to
apply them much better. They should help us identify the families
that need earlier intervention. We are talking about going to
court, but that is not very early. There is quite a lot of confusion
about early intervention. Does it mean focusing on nought to threes?
Is it early in that sense, or early in the development of difficulties?
We might need to do both. There has been a lot of investment in
universal services of various kinds. Schools are much stronger,
and children's centres provide a lot more support for under-fives.
We need more investment in the bit in the middle between those
and the very high-threshold services characterised primarily as
social care, in order to work with those families, who are quite
resistant and need an assertive approach. To make that more concrete,
I read a number of serious case reviews when I was a civil servant,
and I would always ask, "Where was SureStart?" One would
find that the families may have been in a SureStart area, but
they did not engage. An assertive enough approach was not taken
with them. Some of the disengagement may have been due to lack
of motivation, but some of it may have resulted from the fact
that someone with four children under five found that the sheer
logistics of getting out of the house defeated them.
Professor Masson: There are two
issues, really. In relation to assertive engagement, there is
a whole issue about what people are expected to do. Children's
services such as SureStart are all voluntary. There is quite a
negative approach among some sections of the community about children's
social care"the social are coming to take your children
away"and there is a rejection of the service, rather
than seeing it as a positive, helpful service. I think that the
demonisation of children's social care that we see through Baby
P, etc., does not help that at all. Children's social care is
not viewed within our community in a positive light. That is another
distinction between ourselves and some countries in mainland Europe.
I want to move on to the issue of thresholds. Thresholds are very
high, in that it is not just a question of, "Can we satisfy
the `significant harm' element?" It is also a question of
what is being offered and what is the alternative plan if a child
comes into the care system. We view children's social care negatively
and we view what being looked after means for children and the
outcomes of being looked after as poor, this tends to push the
threshold up. Then there is the notion that intervention must
be proportional. So if something can be done through compulsory
services without using a care intervention, or through encouraging
the use of services in any way, whether it is through a supervision
order or just getting the parents to engage, then obviously getting
the parents to engage is the right response. In many cases, that
leads to a delayed intervention, because there is an attempt to
get the parents on board before you go through the legal process.
So you get this period of neglect before cases can enter the system.
Henrietta Heawood: I do not know
if we will go on to talk about the public law outline and the
changes in care proceedings at some later point this morning.
Chairman: We are going to come on to
that in a little while.
Henrietta Heawood: I brought you
a copy of the flow chart of the public law outline, which explains
all the stages that must be gone through before people
can go to court. As you can see I also have the complete guidance
to the Public Law Outline and the whole document is enormous.
Chairman: Excellent. We will drill down
on it in a moment.
Q614 Mrs Hodgson: I just want to
give you my analysis of what we are talking about, to see if you
agree with it. We now knowthere is evidence, as Rosalyn
pointed out, and I have seen evidence myselfabout the impact
of what happens between nought to three on the brain, emotional
development and empathy, and how damaging that impact can be later
in life. If we know that to be true, why are we not quicker to
remove children in the first three years than we are later? There
should be no benefit of the doubt. I wrote down what Judith said
about "just neglect", or "merely neglect".
We know how damaging that neglect is. I think that the peak in
the number of children in care is normally around the adolescent
age rangethat is, later down the time line of the child's
life. With what we know, should that peak not be a lot sooner:
between nought and three, on the basis that, when those children
go back to their parents, the neglect that they might then suffer
will not be as damaging? In the short term, we might end up with
two peaks, but in the long term, if this evidence is right, that
later peak will drop. You would have the earlier peak and then
there would be just a trailing-off, because we would not have
all these damaged children later on.
Dr Proops: May I answer part of
that? Then perhaps Judith could talk about the numbers. I say
that because I think that that question links with an earlier
one. In a sense, two of the pieces that are missing, or certainly
not as complete as they should be, are related to the inter-agency
analysis of a problem. Colin hinted at that. So the information
and the tools might be there, but we are not as good as we could
and should be at analysing the information in front of us. That
is partly to do with training and partly to do with the methodology.
So I think that that is something that we ought to look at. The
other point comes back to the evidence base. We are at the very
beginning of having the research to give us the evidence base
of what might or might not be the better outcome. When I say the
beginning, I mean the beginning for both health and social care.
We rarely get together seriously, as health and social care, with
any research to look at the evidence base for some of these things.
So the point that you made is absolutely spot on. However, we
would come at the issue in different ways to explain why we think
something should happen. One of the things that we do need is
a serious, joint health and social care research programme that
truly looks at the evidence for some of the things that you suggested.
Professor Masson: As far as the
numbers are concerned, over 50% of the children who come into
the care system compulsorily come in before the age of five. There
is little use of care proceedings for children over the age of
12. It used to be the case that many teenagers were brought into
the care system compulsorily, but that hardly happens at all now,
for a variety of reasons that we could go into. Many children
are removed at birth. They are often removed using compulsory
measuresemergency protection orders or police protectionor
their mothers are encouraged to have them accommodated under section
20 and then care proceedings are brought. Probably between one
fifth and one quarter of care proceedings relate to children who
are removed within the first three months of birth. So the peak,
if we look at the care data, is to do with what happens to the
children in the care system. By and large, children who are removed
at birth are adopted. Children removed under the age of three
are most likely to leave care by being adopted. Children who come
into the care system at five and above are likely to stay in it
until 16 or older, and children who come in in their teens stay
Q615 Mrs Hodgson: Those are the children
Colin was referring to when he said that it is a question not
of what happens to them from age five to 16 in the care system
but what happened to them in the first few years of life. Can
we not rescue such children sooner, for those important years,
and then perhaps they could go back to their families for the
years when they would normally be in the care system?
Colin Green: You could take that
approach. We could take what I would call a more ruthless approach.
Even for the children Judith talked about, where a second child
or a first child is removed on a care order, the court process
can still be substantial. Parents will often say, "Things
have changed. I have a new partner. It will be different this
time. I am no longer on drugs," and so on, so there is still
quite an elaborate and rigorous court process. The recent judgmentsJudith
has expertise on thismade it clear that the judiciary sees
removal of a child at birth as a truly draconian step, even on
a second application. Considerable weight is given to that. We
need to look at each case carefullywe should always do
thatbut we are still expected to go through a rigorous
process. Doing otherwise would require sanctioning a shift in
what society is able to tolerate. Of course, the other side of
that is that then there will be increased concern that children
are being removed from their parents unnecessarilyparents
who could have succeededand that there is permanent removal
into adoption, which severs the legal ties. That is one of the
most, if not the most, draconian things that the state can do
to an individual. Getting a balance requires a much wider debate.
We must think about that.
Q616 Mrs Hodgson: It almost seems
that we need to change how we think about the whole process of
taking children into care at birth and having them adopted, so
that in those early years the parents do not get the child back.
Instead, parents could be given help during the stage when it
is so important that the child is not neglected, but with a view
to their getting the child back when he or she is older.
Colin Green: I do not take that
view. Children need parents who are absolutely committed to them
for their lifetime. If you are removing children at that age,
it is for adoption or some permanent solution away from the parents.
The parent does not get a second chance if you do that, if I have
understood you correctly.
Q617 Mrs Hodgson: No, but the parents
might be totally capable of looking after a child from three onwards.
They just need help earlier.
Professor Masson: They will not
have a relationship with the child. There will be none of the
development, bonding and all those things. Neglect is about a
failure of bonding, to put it crudely. Children cannot be put
like books back on the shelf in the library. It is a different
child when it is three. It is not the same book.
Q618 Chairman: Just a quick question
for you, Colin. Where does the common assessment framework come
from? Who wrote it?
Colin Green: It came from the
DCSF. But it was developed as a cross-Government programme.
Q619 Chairman: How long has it been
Colin Green: It was being developed
Professor Masson: The original
assessment came from the Department of Health in 2000.
Colin Green: That is the assessment
framework. But the common assessment was in 2005. It was in development.
2 Note by witness: It is necessary to understand
how the figures are collected. Back
Note by witness: The Local Authority. Back