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"(4A) Only a person with parental responsibility for a child within the meaning of section 3 of the Children Act 1989 can justify battery of the child on the ground that it constituted reasonable punishment."'.
'(1) When Local Safeguarding Children Boards commission serious case reviews these shall be published in full within 60 days of completion, subject only to the redaction and anonymisation which is necessary to protect the welfare and reasonable expectation of privacy of those persons mentioned in the Serious Case Review.
(2) The Local Safeguarding Children Boards must also ensure that within 12 months of the publication of the serious case reviews there is in each case an independent evaluation of the extent to which the conclusions of the review have been acted upon.'.
'(6A) The Board will disclose, on request, the names of the persons and bodies from whom it has requested information except in cases where disclosure would threaten the anonymity of a child or his family.
(6B) Section 28 will apply to LSCBs when commissioning Serious Case Reviews which, unless they can be shown to be harmful to the welfare of the subject of the Serious Case Review or his siblings, should be published in full, subject to appropriate considerations of anonymisation and redaction.
(6C) The Secretary of State shall direct a body to maintain a register of suitable, qualified authors of Serious Case Reviews and to monitor their quality which should be available to LSCBs commissioning Serious Case Reviews.'.
'(8) Provision must be made for appeals by those persons who consider it to be unreasonable or improper to supply the specified information to the Local Safeguarding Children Board under this section.'.
Tim Loughton: This group of amendments concerns a very serious subject: serious case reviews. This is the first opportunity that we have had since the baby Peter tragedy, more than a year ago now, to put forward our proposals, which we have been making for some time, as part of the relevant legislation. It is particularly important that we can do so today because, as you might know, Mr. Speaker, we did not reach this part of the Bill in Committee, so we were not able to have any debate about the operation of local safeguarding children boards or, specifically, our amendments on serious case reviews.
I want to talk about four sets of amendments in this group. The most important is new clause 1, which is complementary to amendment 39. We have tabled a series of similar and technical amendments-amendments 35 to 38 and 40 to 45. Three further amendments-46, 47 and 48-concern the inspection of the operations of local safeguarding children boards.
Let me start by commenting on the operation of serious case reviews and the way in which they are commissioned by local safeguarding children boards. It is fitting that we are having this debate now, because on Thursday it will be the 10th anniversary of the tragic death of Victoria Climbié, whose name resonates hugely with everyone in this country who has any remote interest in the safeguarding of vulnerable children. I am sure that everyone will agree that much more still needs to be done to safeguard our most vulnerable people.
In the past few days, we have heard about a further case involving violence towards a child known only as baby Y in Haringey, following on from the baby Peter case in Haringey and the Victoria Climbié case, which happened in Haringey 10 years ago, as I said. Just last month, we heard the incredible details of the torture of the 10 and 11-year-old boys in Edlington, Doncaster, by two boys of a similar age who were known to children's services and other agencies. Those two young boys were lucky to escape with their lives and they were the latest tragedies in that part of the United Kingdom after a catalogue of no fewer than seven deaths in Doncaster in a five-year period, five of which merited serious case reviews.
The trouble is that few people in this country are convinced that the lessons of the serious case reviews in Doncaster, in Haringey and in other high-profile areas of this country that have experienced similar tragedies have seriously been learned by those in a position to do something about the situation and to make the safeguarding environment better for vulnerable children and families. Public confidence in child protection in this country has been hugely undermined, particularly after the baby Peter case. Social workers and other professionals involved in child safeguarding feel demoralised and undermined up and down the country. The system simply is not working, which is why we feel that a more drastic overhaul and more drastic and immediate action is required than the Government are prepared to countenance. That is why we have tabled these amendments.
The truth is that the number of children who are dying at the hands of parents and carers has not materially changed since the death of Victoria Climbié, despite significant investment that the Government have made-nobody is denying that-and despite huge structural changes. However, I fear that many of those changes have meant that attention and resources have been diverted to overhauling the system rather than dealing with the problem at the sharp end. That has proved counter-productive in many cases, and that situation remains despite the large amount of legislation that has been introduced, much of which we supported. In too many cases, the outcome of that legislation has been to exacerbate the bureaucracy that now surrounds too much of our child protection system. All that has to change. The first steps needed to bring about such change must be to have greater transparency, greater accountability and genuine learning from mistakes, and the public's confidence that that learning is taking place must be restored. It is no longer good enough for the Government to say, as I predict the Minister will say in reply, that serious case reviews must remain secret. They cannot trot out the same old excuses about protecting anonymity and then cite the various children's charities that oppose change for whatever reason.
Back in December, the Government produced, "Working Together to Safeguard Children", chapter 8 of which dealt specifically with the future construction of serious case reviews. We welcomed many of the proposals in that document, but we think that it did not go far enough. It dealt with time scales-I think everyone agrees that we need to speed things up-and the extent to which we want to gather information. We want it to be as wide and as comprehensive as possible.
We now seem to talk about comprehensive executive summaries, which are just executive summaries, but there is no guarantee that executive summaries will reflect the complete story, chronology and analysis of what went wrong that led to a serious case review. We should all be able to learn from best practice when serious case reviews are carried out, but we do not know where best practice takes place because serious case reviews are not published. I was amazed by one aspect of the baby Peter tragedy that blew up last November, because I had assumed, quite wrongly, that serious case reviews were available in full to a much wider constituency of professionals than they are. I would assume that directors of children's services and other key professionals would automatically have access to full serious case reviews so that they could read those reports, even
confidentially, learn from them and see whether there were potential echoes in their own authority of what went wrong in another authority and do something about that urgently. But, no-a very small constituency of people get to see serious case reviews.
There seems to be very little urgency in some of the reviews. One case review, in Doncaster, of the death in October 2004 of a child who was known very robotically as baby B05, was not produced until 2008-almost five years later. We now know about the underlying structural turmoil that was going on in that authority, despite the fact that the authority was described by Ofsted as "adequate". At the same time, locally commissioned reports and other front-line reports clearly stated that there were serious problems in that authority. It took almost five years to produce a serious case review. One would hope that someone could learn lessons from that and make improvements, but it took too long to produce.
A few weeks ago, a leaked copy of the full serious case review of the Edlington case was obtained by the BBC, and the BBC "Newsnight" programme read that report in full. Alongside that report, which ran to just over 150 pages, it also read the accompanying executive summary-or comprehensive executive summary-which ran to just 11 pages, including the title page. The BBC could clearly see serious anomalies between the full-blown serious case review and the executive summary. Indeed, they bore little resemblance to each other. The BBC made that patently clear, yet even when the executive summary of the serious case review of Edlington incident was exposed as a sham, the Government and the authorities in Doncaster refused to produce, in any form, a fuller version of the summary or a slimmed down version of the full serious case review. They were completely in denial, and the serious case review of a horrendous case remains suppressed, secret and available to only a few individuals.
It is no wonder, therefore, that confidence in the child protection system in this country is at an all-time low. To this day, I still do not understand why the Government were so steadfast in their refusal to produce anything other than a discredited executive summary of what went on in Doncaster.
Mr. Edward Timpson (Crewe and Nantwich) (Con): Does my hon. Friend share my concern that, if we had seen only the executive summary, we would not have been aware that, on 31 separate occasions, nine agencies were involved that could have intervened, and so possibly have prevented the subsequent events from taking place?
Tim Loughton: That, of course, is exactly right, and it is why we need much fuller accounts of what goes wrong in tragedies such as the Edlington and baby Peter cases than can be provided in brief serious case reviews, however comprehensive their title calls them.
We definitely need a radical overhaul of how serious case reviews are commissioned, compiled and published, as well as of how they are subsequently learned from and acted on. We need that to restore public confidence in child protection, and morale in the social worker profession. We also need it to ensure that all the agencies involved in safeguarding children can see clearly where mistakes have been made and can work to ensure that they will not be repeated, on their watch and in their patch, in the future.
In the past 18 months, I have travelled widely around children's services departments. I visit local authorities most weeks to speak to the people in the front line and the ones who manage those departments. Some children's organisations claim that they do not agree that serious case reviews should be published in full, and I am sure that, as usual, the Minister will give us a litany of them before long. However, despite those claims, the overwhelming view among the child protection social workers at the sharp end whom I meet is that they would be in favour of the full publication of serious case reviews.
Full publication of the reviews would be in their interests. More importantly, it would be in the interests of vulnerable children and families, so I was pleased to see the stance taken by the British Association of Social Workers, which was confirmed in The Times just last week. The association is the professional body for social workers, and it is headed-very skilfully, I might say-by a former colleague of the Minister in this House. He has committed BASW to campaigning for full publication of serious case reviews. The association represents the professionals who have to deal with these problems every day of the week at the sharp end. They now see the merits of exposing the weaknesses in serious case reviews, as opposed to suppressing them and keeping them secret, as has happened for too long.
"It's vital that these reviews are transparent and can be seen in full, subject only to the need to preserve individual anonymity. These reviews are vital learning tools and it is imperative that they are made widely available."
There speaks the head of the professional body for social workers in this country. A former social worker himself, he incidentally had experience for a short time as a Labour Member of Parliament in this House.
In addition, Community Care magazine , the bible of social workers- [ Interruption. ] That name causes some tittering from the Secretary of State, but the magazine is used very widely by the social worker work force. The magazine has also committed itself to the publication of serious case reviews, and has been waging a very forceful campaign to that end.
"Serious case reviews are usually published only in summary. This limits learning. Community Care recommends that reviews be published in full so that practitioners can use specific details to inform their practice according to their experiences and roles. There is some resistance but it is possible to publish without harming anonymity . . . Names can be removed and reviews could be collated and distributed centrally, thereby disassociating them from specific local authorities, teams and known cases. It would help if reviews focused on learning not recrimination."
We will never abolish cruelty to children outright. There are evil individuals in society who will always seek to do evil to vulnerable people, including children-incredibly. What we can do is to make it as difficult as possible for those people to be able to perpetrate their crimes, and to make sure that everybody is working together to ensure that those opportunities are as limited as possible for the perpetrators of such crimes.
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