To be published as HC 1514 -i

House of COMMONS



Education Committee

the child protection system in england

Wednesday 19 October 2011

Jim Gamble and John Goldup

Professor Harriet Ward, Professor NINA Biehal and Dr Marian Brandon

Evidence heard in Public Questions 1-104



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Oral Evidence

Taken before the Education Committee

on Wednesday 19 October 2011

Members present:

Mr Graham Stuart (Chair)

Neil Carmichael

Bill Esterson

Pat Glass

Damian Hinds

Ian Mearns

Tessa Munt

Lisa Nandy

Craig Whittaker


Examination of Witnesses

Witnesses: Jim Gamble, former head of the Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre (CEOP), and John Goldup, National Director, Development and Strategy, Ofsted, gave evidence.

Chair: Gentlemen, good morning, and thank you for joining us today at this first witness session on our inquiry into the child protection system. Mr Goldup-may we use your first names? We tend to be relatively informal here.

John Goldup: Of course, of course.

Q1 Chair: I will call you John, if I may. The Government announced last Friday its preferred candidate for the role of new Chief Inspector of Schools, Michael Wilshaw. Assuming that this Committee endorses his appointment, what will be the headline of your initial briefing to him about the key current risks in the child protection system?

John Goldup: I think the real headline will be about variability-that the challenge in the child protection system is the unacceptable level of variability between local authorities and local partnerships in the effectiveness with which they protect children in their area. It is a territory in which generalisations about the state of child protection need to be treated with some caution. We see much very good practice, and a lot of very innovative practice, but we see far too much variability and far too many authorities who at the moment are failing to protect children in their areas adequately.

Q2 Chair: To what extent is this about resources and to what extent is it about capability and commitment?

John Goldup: Clearly the resource position is difficult in many ways, but it is not about resources. The differences and variation between authorities are not about differences in resources, demand, pressure, size, or indeed deprivation. We did quite a detailed analysis of that, and there is very little correlation between those factors and the quality of services provided. That is not, of course, to deny that resources are important when you have to make some very difficult decisions, but the variations are really much more to do with the quality of leadership and of management, both inside the local authority and across the partnership as a whole. They are also very much to do with the strength of partnership working, strategically but also on the ground: you can find areas where strategically it seems well in place and everybody is sitting around the right table having the right discussions, but on the ground people still are not talking to each other. The other key variability is to do with the system as a whole and the critical place-it is very much a theme of Professor Munro’s-that early identification and early help play in an effective child protection system. When child protection as a discrete area of work sits on its own and is isolated from that wider range of services, what we find is that it very easily develops a kind of siege mentality and is at risk of being overwhelmed by the demands placed upon it. That is a key area, as well.

Q3 Chair: Thank you, and we will examine some of those areas more obviously, as the session goes on.

Jim, the Deputy Children’s Commissioner, Sue Berelowitz, last week launched a major investigation into the sexual exploitation of children by gangs. Does your experience suggest that she is right to estimate that thousands of children are being exploited in that way?

Jim Gamble: I think she is right to commence gaining some academic, empirical evidence before we make statements about the tens of thousands. The gang culture issue is another example of how we are misusing labels to distract attention. We are not understanding that these are groups of local men, most often offending against local children in a vulnerable environment. The "gangs" label, to me, seems to be another poor attempt to divert attention by saying that this is somehow an organised crime issue, rather than a child protection issue. I am glad that Maggie Atkinson and others are carrying out some detailed, indepth analysis, so that when we talk about it in future-perhaps I will not be talking about it in future, but when others do-they will be able to talk about it from an evidence base. I do not believe it is well understood and I think the label is misused.

Q4 Chair: Why do you suggest that there is a deliberate use of the term to deflect away from recognition? You clearly believe it is counterproductive, but is it not an attempt to suggest that there is organisation here, not just individuals? People are coming together on an organised basis to exploit children sexually, and this is on a much larger scale than perhaps-

Jim Gamble: It depends on the purpose. You have to put this in the broader context of this Government’s approach to child protection. I believe their criminal justice-led approach will mask the symptom but not deal with the root cause of the problem. In essence, I come from the position that we have been aware of grooming for many years; it is an offence that is predominant across all sections of the community, where you have sexual predators. On the gang influence, the word "gang" at the moment is unhealthy and unhelpful, because it labels, so I welcome the fact that they are carrying out academic research so that we better understand the nature of the groups that come together to exploit young and vulnerable women, but we should not allow that to be confused, as it is in the public’s mind, with organised criminality, because that is what it is not. It is not organised crime in the sense that there is a profit motive. Very often-and I have spoken to a number of senior police officers before coming here today-the motive is the sexual motivation of and in itself, which is exactly what we find with nests of paedophiles on the internet.

We are in danger of moving away from the simplistic approach, which is that local children should get local care from local authorities. Where we aim to bring to bear the resources from an organised crime element, we need to be careful that their system is fundamentally different from the child protection one. It is longer; it is on pattern of life. They will take a longer time to do a job that moves away from the early intervention that we want to see in child protection. Look at some of the cases in Derby and Lancashire and elsewhere: in the Derby case I personally believe there could have been much earlier intervention. The evidence available in the aftermath of the complaint, on the offenders’ laptops and phones, would have provided the opportunity for early disclosure by children, for evidential collection and for holding those individuals to account, instead of several years of investigation which allowed children to continue to be abused while the investigation was ongoing. It creates a context of organised criminality, when, if it is going to focus on child protection, it is about early intervention and education.

Q5 Craig Whittaker: On that topic, I know that in my constituency we have had incidences of child sexual exploitation, particularly in the line of grooming children for the sex trade. Is that not organised crime anyway? It is done for profit. Yes, it is sexual exploitation, but it is definitely an organised group of people who are doing it for profit.

Jim Gamble: If you have an organised group of people who are doing it for profit, who have been convicted on the basis of that trafficking-there have been very few convictions in such cases; maybe there have been more in the nine and a half months since I left, but I am not aware that there have been-I would like to see the evidence of the for-profit motive. The motive in most cases is about kudos; it is about the sexual motivation of the individual predator, sharing the commodity that they begin to treat the child as with their other peers. There is simply not enough research done. We jump to the conclusion that this is organised criminality because these people come together. If you go to Belfast, Birmingham or Brighton, you will find groups of youths who come together for a variety of reasons. If that group is so minded and they find the opportunity that they can engage these vulnerable young women, they do so. It is about how you interdict that, and how you do it at the earliest stage.

Where you have organised crime enterprises involved in this-and we need to differentiate-who are actually running it as a business, then of course that is different. That is organised crime, but I see no evidence, and previously did not see any evidence, to suggest that that is the majority of cases. The majority of children are abused by local people whom they know, who form relationships with them that they then exploit. Internal trafficking as a label is unhelpful. I think gangs as a label is becoming unhelpful. Child protection is the issue, and how we prevent groups of young men abusing vulnerable young women and men in the areas where they live is important. I welcome the fact that they will be seeking more academic evidence, because I think we need a more evidencebased approach. At the moment, even standing outside the system, what I see is a kneejerk reaction following every incident: what is the easiest rhetoric to deliver, to reassure in the first instance, but to push it all down the line in the second? I do not think my views on that are secret.

Q6 Chair: Do you think CEOP is giving sufficient importance to missing children? I think it was three months ago that the Government announced there would be this new CEOPled missing children’s unit, but The Observer reported on Sunday that as yet only two specialists have been appointed. Is there a sign of lack of urgency there, or are they just making sure they get it right?

Jim Gamble: First of all, for the record, we lobbied for a long time within CEOP for missing children to be consolidated there, because trafficked children are missing children, although I think they receive a secondclass service, because they happen to come from another jurisdiction. We wanted to build on what CEOP have done around the academic evidence platform they had on trafficked children-who they were, where they came from, what their journey was, how they went missing from care-looking at the runaways, the throwaways, the children who are forced out. We lobbied hard for that. The previous Government had agreed to put missing children in CEOP. This Government delayed that process, as they did with so many of the initiatives that they have introduced since they came in. I think that they have introduced a sense of inertia. They have created vacuums where in child protection we have been forced to pause, uncertain about the direction we will take. From my point of view, it is great that CEOP has it, but in an environment where they are facing a 10% yearonyear budget cut, but being given additional responsibility, I would like to know how they now are going to be able to do it, apart from applying the veneer of a topline website. I am not sure.

Q7 Pat Glass: I have worked with the child protection system from the point of view of education and I recognise many of the issues that Munro raised, particularly around a focus on paperwork filing and on the family as opposed to the child. I remember once going into a child protection meeting where a lady who had been filing in my office the week before suddenly sat across the table from me as an unqualified social worker. There are real issues. What do you think are the main challenges to the system in implementing Munro?

John Goldup: In implementing Munro?

Pat Glass: Or reforming the system.

John Goldup: There are clearly a number, although I think the thrust of Professor Munro’s recommendations is absolutely the right direction of travel. We are working very hard on that, seeking to reflect that very much in the changes we are making to inspection. I think there are challenges to do with culture and changing very embedded ways of thinking about problems that have built up over a long period of time. Professor Munro herself identifies some of the key factors in that in her report. There are real challenges in the legacy that many, many local authorities are still struggling with of the development of IT and recording systems in the early 2000s. These were based on requirements to comply with very rigid centralised specifications and are quite a large part of what is tying social workers to spend too much time on computers putting in data, often repetitive data, and not being able to spend enough time working with children and families. That is an ongoing struggle.

There is also a challenge in making sure that in making this big shift of emphasis from a focus on process and procedure, which is characterised as bureaucracy, to a focus on practice we do not underestimate how important safe processes are in delivering safe services. They are not somehow mutually opposed to each other. For example, if you have referrals coming in that are building up in a duty basket, and nobody is looking at them or responding to them because there are not safe processes in place for ensuring the regular tracking of work and regular management oversight, it is a process and procedural failure, but it puts children at risk. There is a sophistication needed in thinking about the contribution that safe processes make to safe practice, which can be lost in the overcharacterisation of everything to do with process and procedure as simply bureaucracy. That is not in any way, from my perspective, to dispute the central thrust of Professor Munro’s work, but I think it is a key point to bear in mind.

Q8 Pat Glass: I agree. I think that bureaucracy is a pain until something goes wrong, but how do we shift that culture so that there are the right backup systems, but we move away from this riskaverse system where the focus is not on the child? Is it about training? Is it about raising the profile of the social worker?

John Goldup: It is inevitably about a whole range of factors. I think it is important to say, certainly from the context I have and the inspection work we do, that there is a real appetite in the system for change. There is an anxiety about change as well, but there is a real appetite in the system for change. I think that that is very much connected with training, particularly multiagency training. We have certainly found in inspection that where Local Safeguarding Children Boards have effective and well audited multiagency training programmes in place, they make a major contribution to helping professionals from different agencies work together. There are clearly issues about streamlining and simplifying the mass of guidance and prescription that has grown up, but at the same time needing to make sure that there are clear standards of accountability within which professional practice is delivered.

Q9 Chair: Can Jim come in here?

Jim Gamble: We are largely in agreement on this. I think the Munro Review has the opportunity to rehabilitate some of the damage done by this Government to the child protection community. When they came in they arbitrarily scrapped ContactPoint, they shelved the NSDU, which was implementing the Laming update following Baby Peter, which I do not understand. It has been described to me by a chief executive of a leading charity as "political vandalism", although ironically he does not feel able to come out and say that himself. The Government may want to reflect on how difficult it is for people in the third sector and elsewhere to challenge them when they see that going on deaf ears. They disbanded Sir Roger Singleton’s Expert Advisory Group, which for the first time in my experience brought together the key strategic leads across policing, social care, health, Cafcass, Ofsted and others, where you were able to build a mutual understanding and respect, and there was a chance for that. Sir Roger Singleton then left.

The Munro Review, with the Chief Social Worker, has real potential. I think the Social Work College coming from the Social Work Taskforce has massive potential, but one of the faculties must be a Protective Services Faculty, whereby police officers, young and old, those from health, those from social care, those from children’s care, collaborate in their training and work together. That will build their confidence in each other’s competence.

The problem, as you say, with bureaucracy is that had we learned the lessons in the Pemberton domestic violence review, we would not have the issue that Nottingham now faces in their review of a domestic violence case recently. We repeat the same mistakes over and over again. It is not about blame culture, it is about a responsible culture when you are involved in child protection. That is down to leadership. The review that has been carried out by Professor Munro would be much better engaged and delivered if leadership of it was to move entirely, for child protection and safeguarding, to the Department for Education. In my view, if the Home Office and the Ministry of Justice play a role in safeguarding, that should be a secondary role under the leadership of the Department for Education, whose single focus is protecting children. I believe by spreading the leadership you cause conflict and confusion, and lose the child focus, because the other areas will have a different approach.

Finally on Munro, the serious case review is the most critical aspect. If we are going to improve the confidence in their own competence of our professionals who are out there dealing with this complex work, serious case review needs to be radically overhauled. It needs to be quicker and it needs to assimilate the information and do what it never did in the past, which is share it in a timely fashion across the country. If you have a serious case review in Belfast, Birmingham or Brighton, they may learn something there, but the blame culture means that they will probably mitigate as much of it as they can, but it most certainly will not be shared across the entire UK geography. Waiting a year or two years for that sharing is not good enough. I think Munro is a fabulous report, if it is able to be implemented.

Pat Glass: You were doing really well until you said that it should all go into the Department for Education. I disagree with that, but I am willing to be persuaded.

Q10 Craig Whittaker: I absolutely agree with what you say, Jim, about serious case reviews. There has to be a huge disparity down on the front line. What I do not understand is you defending the huge burden of bureaucracy and red tape above it that has evolved over many, many years and just put on top of things. It is all right talking about strategylevel communication, but where it really lacks is on the front line. That is where the huge failure, in my experience of being a local Member at the front line, has been. There is a protectionism around health, the police and the local authority, which have become empires.

Jim Gamble: We agree. Let me give you an example. CEOP was a child protection entity, fundamentally multiagency by its nature; it had evolved to be multiagency. However, it is necessary bureaucracy. When you were involved, you needed to make sure that you were delivering best practice, because you would be tested in the serious case review and held to account when you were not; but in CEOP as was, affiliated to the Serious Organised Crime Agency, when we wanted to employ child protection experts we could not, because the Serious Organised Crime Agency had too many officers at a particular level, so we had to take their overflow. The bureaucracy was applied equally all the way through. I could provide the Committee with the letters that I wrote, supported by psychologists and child protection experts, that said, "This bureaucracy needs to be removed, and placing a small child protection entity under the auspices of an organisation facing in a different direction, doing a different job, adds it." It is getting compliance right: the right policy, the right practice, the right compliance regime.

Q11 Craig Whittaker: My point to you then is that you are complaining that this Government has stripped down and done away with some of this bureaucracy. That is exactly what it was, that is the reason why some of these things have gone-it is because of exactly the point you have just made.

Jim Gamble: Then we are in complete disagreement. Sir Roger Singleton, as an independent advisor, was there to give the Government advice as a children’s advocate on what was best for children. That was not bureaucracy. That was preventing them from going off with more haste and less speed down these avenues, where they end up parking the initiative, whatever it is in, the driveway of indecision while they have a listening exercise. In the meantime what you do is to fundamentally undermine the confidence of the child protection community-those people who are going out every day to make difficult decisions. Bureaucracy is the nonsense forms that we looked at when we looked at RIPA, where instead of having seven forms you had 15. Why? Because people, in their own selfprotection, delivering local services, were adding different layers. That is unnecessary bureaucracy. Leadership, through what Sir Roger Singleton was doing-coherent communication across strategic leads within his Expert Advisory Group-was changing things for the better. Look at Cafcass and the way the discussion from there has led now to multiagency partnership in Cafcass, which is dealing with a problem that lay about for 10 years. Why? Because the right leaders were there, and we decided: "Why not put police IT equipment into the Cafcass headquarters? If you can employ a civilian in the police to carry out those checks, you can pay a civilian and vet them properly to carry it out as part of a multiagency team."

Q12 Craig Whittaker: With all due respect, this Committee went to a school in Leicester recently, and for the Cafcass person who attended, it was the first time they had been seen in Leicester for two years. Again, I go back to the fact that it is alright talking at the highest strategic level, but if it is not going near the front line, as it was not-

Jim Gamble: Let me take your example, then. When the Cafcass staff are drawn into the centre to carry out risk assessment, they will not be out in schools. When you have a more streamlined risk assessment, driven by better IT and more coherent, engaged partnership, that will release people to be able to engage more effectively with schools. We talk about technology, yet neither the Laming update nor the Munro review looks at the opportunities through modern social media. If I were a social worker now, going out to look at a child in your care, I should be able to, through either a Google+ or a Facebook mechanism, with closed appropriate security, share my findings immediately with the social care and police team dealing with that child. There are means by which we can positively use social media-which already exists, we do not have to invent or build it-to share information effectively, quickly and cheaply. Those are the things that will radicalise how we approach this, not stripping out what we see as bureaucracy, which is really the guidelines that we need.

The problem with the Pemberton Review in Thames Valley Police was that they did not have policy for too long. They did not have policy, so they could not possibly have practice that followed that policy. Because they did not have practice, the compliance regime that then went to look at it could not look at anything because it was not there. That has been heard again in Nottingham. My fear is that this word bureaucracy is used as a blanket term, which means very little unless you specify what you are talking about.

Chair: Craig, as we have touched on serious case reviews, this might be the moment in which to ask John about serious case reviews as well. To be fair, on the Leicester visit, I think it was the CAMHS service they made that particular point about, not Cafcass-

Craig Whittaker: Yes, it was.

Q13 Chair: -just for the record. John, do you want to comment on lessons of how we can improve on our use of serious case reviews, and make sure, as Jim and everyone says, that we learn the lessons? It seems that we keep making the same mistakes again and again, and we do not make sure that the lessons are learned more widely. How can we do that?

John Goldup: There is a difference, to some extent, between the effectiveness with which serious case reviews are used to learn lessons on a local basis, and the way in which they are generalised into wider learning. When we go into individual local authorities on inspection, we find authorities where local serious case reviews have been taken on board, where there has been very effective dissemination across agencies and changes have happened as a result. We also find authorities where there seems to be a chronic unwillingness to learn the lessons, and quite often that is down to the defensiveness, particularly the interagency defensiveness, that people have spoken about. I do not think we should entirely generalise that nobody is learning the lessons from serious case reviews, because that often is happening at local level.

One of the problems with learning lessons on a wider scale is that the serious case review beast has grown so massively that it is now a massively expensive and resourceintensive way of trying to do what it is still fundamentally trying to do, which is to make sure that lessons are learned, translated into action, and the protection of children is improved. The issues that Professor Munro has really pushed to the fore about whether we are doing this the right way are the right issues. I think the Government has taken the view in its response that an alternative model, which would not involve requiring each individual agency to look at its own practice as a key component part of the serious case review before bringing it together, does need careful piloting and evaluation before it is rolled out as a national replacement. I think there is some sense in that. I think the animal has grown. The other thing that we try to do is to try to pull together the lessons from serious case reviews in our reports of our evaluations-

Q14 Chair: But you are not doing it anymore.

John Goldup: We are still doing it at the moment.

Q15 Chair: You will not be doing it in future.

John Goldup: At some point, yes.

Chair: Craig, have you any more questions on this?

Q16 Craig Whittaker: I suppose as a followup, why do we not start by asking you, John: in 2008, Ofsted deemed 40% of serious case reviews to be inadequate. Has that improved?

John Goldup: Yes. In terms of the judgment that we make on the quality-

Chair: John, can I bully both of you? We have limited time, so give me short, punchy answers.

John Goldup: The short answer to that is yes. In 20072008, as you say, we were at 40% inadequate; in 201011 we found 5% to be inadequate, and in the first six months of this year, when we have evaluated 55 reviews, we have not judged any to be inadequate. In terms of the quality of learning that is occurring through the review process at a local level, there is a very significant improvement.

Q17 Craig Whittaker: Is that in compliance in regards to filling out the paperwork and following the process, or is it in the physically being a useful tool?

John Goldup: It certainly is not to do with compliance and filling out the paperwork, because that is not the route to a positive judgment from Ofsted on the evaluation of a serious case review. It is genuinely down to the enormous hard work that a lot of Local Safeguarding Children Boards have put in to try to make sure this is a genuinely useful vehicle and can be translated into learning at the local level. There is an issue about generalising that learning on a wider scale.

Q18 Craig Whittaker: As the Chair has mentioned, there will come a time when you no longer deal with them. What would you advise those taking over serious case reviews? What should be the top priority that they should adopt?

Q19 Chair: And when does it happen? Could you tell us that?

John Goldup: When it happens, at the moment, is a question for the Government. Professor Munro’s recommendation was "in due course". I will not answer for the Government. We think that the time has come to end it now. We think that the Ofsted evaluation, coupled with the work of LSCBs, has made a huge contribution to driving up the quality of serious case reviews, but we think the huge volume of resources that it now consumes is not proportionate to the value it continues to add. That is where we stand on when it will happen.

Q20 Chair: And the number one lesson?

John Goldup: The number one lesson is to make sure that whatever else happens in the system, and whoever is responsible for overseeing it, we absolutely maintain that obsessive focus on what the point of the whole exercise is, which is to learn lessons, to take action, and to make sure that children are better protected in the future than they have been in the past.

Q21 Bill Esterson: Coming back to some of the earlier comments, particularly from Jim, in local authorities there is a corporate parenting role, which some authorities perform significantly better than others, in my experience. In the kind of delays that Jim was talking about, the real concerns around some of those issues, it seems to me that there is the lack of an equivalent situation in national Government across Departments that puts children right at the centre and says child protection has to be paramount. I do not know whether that is a fair comment or not, and how that sort of approach would address some of the issues that you have been highlighting. I do not know whether a measure of all Government Departments that have an involvement in children that puts child protection first would be a step in the right direction, or whether there is something along those lines that would help. Do you both want to answer that?

John Goldup: That absolutely is a crossGovernment issue, just as it is a crossprofession issue. Children live their lives at school, as young people needing healthcare, in the family-they do not live their lives in chunks. There absolutely is a crossGovernment issue, just as there is a crossinspectorate issue. Certainly at the inspectorate level we are doing a lot of work at the moment to make sure that we do join that up. What the structures in Government ought to be to promote that I am not sure is a subject that it is appropriate for me to comment on, but I am sure Jim will have a view.

Bill Esterson: Jim?

Jim Gamble: In short, I think it is about leadership. Of course every Government Department should have a principled position whereby it will support child protection activity. However, I come back to the point that, when it is about children, schools and families, we need to look at those people who have the overarching authority for that, be it for safeguarding or education. I believe that there needs to be a much stronger lead from the Department for Education. The Home Office and the Ministry of Justice very often deal with the symptoms when things go wrong, but actually the issues are about dealing with root cause in care, in school and in the home. That can only be done through education in my view.

Q22 Bill Esterson: The reason I mentioned the issue of measure is that what gets measured tends to get done. Is there a simple measure or a slightly more complex measure that would help channel people’s focus down that route?

Jim Gamble: The difficulty is that what gets measured is generally driven by the media these days: if it becomes an issue in the media, it becomes an issue on the political agenda, and politicians seem only to respond when it is an issue. I will give you an example. I carried out a scoping review of the Madeleine McCann case for the previous Government and handed it to the Home Secretary of this Government. It lay on a table for 12 months or so, until there was a frontpage letter in The Sun directed at David Cameron, when of course he stepped in and did the right thing, which was to implement the recommendations in that scoping review that had lain about for 12 months. I do not know how you achieve that kind of influence. It would be much more constructive if that were achieved in a crossGovernment body led by the Department for Education. Having to wait for the media to make it the emotive issue, which they will-I notice Munro recognises this in her first four points in her first review-is neither healthy nor helpful, but it sets the trend. What do you expect, if that is what we get from Government around blame culture, from people who are on the front line having to make the difficult decisions?

Q23 Bill Esterson: John, in your opening remarks you mentioned the number of children’s services that were judged to be inadequate in terms of overall effectiveness. Are there common factors across authorities behind this level of performance?

John Goldup: Yes, there are common factors. Those judgments were based on looking very closely at what was happening to real children, individual children, in real time. The biggest common factor was that in all those authorities, inspectors judged that there were children who were avoidably being left at risk of harm. That was the key issue. The very common factors included things such as poor quality of assessment, lack of rigorous management oversight, delays in responding to referrals and reports of risk, slowness in responding when new issues and risks emerged, losing the focus on the child, and being too prepared to take at face value things that they were told. There are a lot of practice issues in common, and there are a lot of organisational and cultural issues in common. In a number of key cases, that judgment of inadequacy has been the key catalyst to significant changes in the local authority concerned, and a very significant momentum for improvement, which is obviously a positive part of the story.

Q24 Bill Esterson: I think previously you talked about selfprotection at local levels, adding these layers. I forget which of you said it.

John Goldup: Jim.

Bill Esterson: It was Jim who spoke. Is the issue the balance between a need for national standards and good local practice, and what should that balance be?

John Goldup: I am not sure that the issue is about the balance between good national standards, the national and the local, in that sense. The variation between authorities is not a variation that is responsive to differences in local need and local community priorities. It is variation from a standard that would be accepted by everybody both nationally and locally about prioritising the effective protection of children. That is the key issue. There are issues about the balance between national prescription and local discretion, and clearly they will be fairly central to the Munro review. The story of the IT systems that I referred to is probably a classic case of when national centralised overprescription has led to some difficult results. The fundamental issue about the variation, however, is not about local need. It is about a fallingoff from an accepted standard of service delivery.

Jim Gamble: I agree with your point. I think that is your point. It is about national leadership and support to local delivery. The support is key-making sure that they have the right information, shared through the learning from serious case reviews, when we have got it badly wrong. You have 100,000 cases that go well and nobody applauds you for that, but if you have the one case that goes wrong, it is the focus of everybody’s attention. On national leadership, Munro provides a platform through the Chief Social Worker, through this Social Work College-I would like to see that broadened. That is the type of national leadership and support, but the Government needs to be listening and you need the crossGovernment, Department for Educationled, childfocused approach to this, I believe, so that people believe what the Government says not by what they say or the rhetoric of a kneejerk reaction today, but demonstrated by their commitment to the acts of what they actually deliver.

Chair: Thank you very much. Bill, I think I need to move on.

Q25 Craig Whittaker: Going back to 2008 again, if I can, Ofsted criticised universal services such as education and health for missing signs of abuse in children who were known to them. Has that changed?

John Goldup: I hate to be boringly repetitive, but it is a picture of variation. The 2008 report that you are referring to, I would just caution, was a report of our evaluation at that time of 50 serious case reviews. Now we have evaluated 537 in four years, but even that is a tiny fraction of the work that is being done day in, day out and, of course, by definition, is looking at cases where things have gone wrong. I think one needs to bear that in mind. The engagement of universal services, for example schools and health services, is very strong in a number of areas, and I have seen many cases where, for example, the school has been a really key agent, both in terms of identifying problems in a family and in providing real support to that family, so I think there is a lot of good going on. However, in health, there are still a lot of issues on the ground, for example about the difficulty of fully engaging GPs with child protection issues.

Q26 Craig Whittaker: So health is still the poor partner then?

John Goldup: Sorry?

Craig Whittaker: Health is still the weaker partner?

John Goldup: No, I am not saying that, because again, there would be examples of good practice in health, but I think because of the breadth of responsibilities that health services carry, it is sometimes difficult for them to give the priority to child protection issues that more exclusively childfocused services perhaps find easier to do.

Q27 Craig Whittaker: Jim mentioned earlier about the pauses that are currently going on, the listening exercises. What about the changes in the NHS? How is that affecting the performance of health around child protection?

John Goldup: It is affecting by anticipation at the moment. Clearly, there is a lot of instability with, for example, changes in leadership in primary care trusts and difficulties in recruiting or sustaining leadership over a period of great uncertainty, so I think that is how it is affecting it. There are still a number of key questions that do need to be clarified about the impact of the changes. It is currently very clearly a local area, the responsibility of the local primary care trust to ensure that the health system maintains its commitment and delivers on its responsibilities for child protection. It is not entirely clear at the moment where that responsibility will sit under the new arrangements, and that is very much part of the developing picture.

Q28 Chair: I met yesterday with the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health, which came up, I think last year, with standards of training for paediatricians, so it is up to the PCT to ensure that those standards are implemented. They suggested there was variation as well.

John Goldup: I think there is variation. We generally find a high level of commitment at PCT level to child protection issues. It is an area where some of the current uncertainty factors and resource pressures are having an impact. We are increasingly, for example, with our colleagues at the Care Quality Commission, reporting vacancies in some key roles within child protection in health in local areas, such as designated child protection nurses. Here are some real pressure points in the health system at the moment I believe, and it is a period of great uncertainty and great transition. However well that is managed, that inevitably brings risk.

Q29 Tessa Munt: Talk to me about GPs again a bit more.

John Goldup: The key issue is that GPs hold absolutely critical information, are obviously amongst the first people to pick up signs of difficulty or risk, and of course are key providers in the community of ongoing care and support to families in difficulty. There are some fairly chronic difficulties in many areas of the country, for example, in GPs being able to attend child protection conferences, which is where the key interagency planning goes on. GPs will say that that is also often because they do not feel they are given enough notice or enough attention is paid to the particular constraints and patterns of their working life to facilitate their attendance. Again, there are areas where, through the engagement of the GP community-lead GPs in an area-and the Professional Executive Committees of the PCTs, there are some very strong relationships.

Q30 Chair: Thank you John. Jim, could you make a quick comment on health?

Jim Gamble: I can only speak up to 15 January when I left, but health was the poor partner when it came to sharing information. There are some excellent examples of where they get it right. I spoke at the national sexual abuse and trauma unit conference in Galway the other day; I work closely with the SARC in Greater Manchester, led by Dr Cath White, who would be a useful person for you to speak to; and there are great examples. However, I also carried out a murder review where I spoke to one GP who said that this was the first case of domestic violence that they had come across in 18 years.

Q31 Tessa Munt: Can you just tell me what percentage of referrals are taken through GPs? How often is there a problem raised by a GP as opposed to a social worker or a school?

Jim Gamble: Well, I think they would probably be as rare as hen’s teeth, but I could be wrong. I can only speak from my personal experience.

Tessa Munt: I find that extraordinary.

Jim Gamble: I do not know. I can only tell you from my own experience in one particular murder review where the GP stated, when we interviewed that person, that they had never come across another case of domestic violence in their 18 years of practice.

Q32 Chair: John, do you want to comment on this?

John Goldup: I am speculating slightly, without going back to the hard evidence, that in terms of sources of referrals they are probably more likely to come from health visitors than GPs, for example.

Q33 Tessa Munt: Can we ask for that information?

John Goldup: The other thing I just would say is because health is a very complex system there are issues of communication, not only between health providers and other agencies, but actually within the health system-so between secondary care and primary care and, indeed, sometimes between different parts of primary care.

Q34 Chair: If we do not have that information, the Committee staff will ensure that we have it on the referrals and where they come from.

Jim Gamble: Can I add one very quick thing to that? When "Safety and Justice" was carried out by the former Government, there was an opportunity to amend the Data Protection Act to create a positive duty to actually share information when you believe a person might be at risk. That was not taken up. I think that would deal with all of the ambiguity that the Data Protection Act creates-and I understand it-within the health service, which prevents people, they think, from sharing information.

Chair: Thank you very much for that. Of course, as I try to remember to say to witnesses, what we do is we conduct an inquiry; we write a report; we make recommendations to Government, who are obliged to respond. We want to understand the system through these sessions, but most importantly we want to identify changes and recommendations to Government that we at least have the power to force them to address and respond to, although whether they adopt them or not immediately is up to Ministers.

Q35 Lisa Nandy: Since the national referral mechanism was introduced, only 108 children have been identified as trafficked in two years, which I find absolutely extraordinary, having worked with many of those children. The NGOs, ECPAT, Refugee Council, Barnardos and The Children’s Society say they are working with so many more than that. Can you tell the Committee what you think is going wrong in that process?

Jim Gamble: It is an administrative process linked probably more closely to immigration than it is to child protection. The fact that it is carried out by the UKBA probably speaks volumes and it is a really good example. I work with children and families across borders. I was in Afghanistan several weeks ago dealing with the Afghan national police general officers, talking about child protection to do with young Afghan boys being trafficked on the same routes that bring in drugs and guns. The fact of the matter is, when you talk about legislative lip service and you talk about the victims being criminalised by the system, you do not have to go to Afghanistan to see that; you can see it happening here. It is one of the areas that we struggled with at the beginning. If it is going to be a mechanism that makes sure the right child is delivered into the system and protected by the system, then it should be carried out by child protection professionals, and if you read the theme of Munro, while it does not talk about that, clearly that is where we have got to be going. I will ask each of you: would you want your child assessed by the National Referral Mechanism before they could get support and help or would you want them assessed by a children’s services specialist?

Q36 Lisa Nandy: Just to be clear, Jim: you are recommending that actually the system is overhauled so it is not the UK Border Agency that makes the decision.

Jim Gamble: Absolutely.

Q37 Lisa Nandy: Okay. That is really helpful. Typically the trafficked children that I have worked with over the last 10 years have come into contact with a whole host of agencies before they are identified as having been trafficked, yet, still the police are prosecuting children who are picked up in cannabis factories, in nail bars and in other settings where they are clearly victims and not willing perpetrators of crimes. How do we stop this appalling practice, given that over many years CEOP has tried to put in place a framework so that that does not happen, yet on the ground it still happens?

Jim Gamble: I would need to see the evidence that it is still happening. I will say it as I see it, and I think that there has been massive improvement. Police understanding of the child as a victim is much stronger. The issue is a cultural one as far as I am concerned. When you raid a cannabis factory, are you going in to rescue the children or are you going in to deal with the particular crime? It is getting the balance there right, and that is done through training. My fear is that as we go back towards the criminal justice aspect, of course, we lose that.

Q38 Lisa Nandy: Do you have any concerns about the structural changes that have been made? Obviously there was a specialist team within the Met that was tasked with dealing with child trafficking. Do you have any concerns about that being disbanded?

Jim Gamble: Of course, but while I am highly critical of this Government when it comes to child protection, I also recognise the reality within which they have to operate and that they need to deal with the budget deficit that they are faced with. It is for the police service to configure its resources to meet the demands placed upon it and to do that in an appropriate way and I think the Met example was a leading example. The Paladin team, I think, lead the world when it comes to operating with trafficked children.

Q39 Ian Mearns: Ofsted has highlighted a particular problem with insufficient attention being given to cases where children are repeatedly referred to children’s services. Is inappropriate action being taken on receipt of the initial referral in these cases, or is there a situation where children’s services intervention thresholds are too high? Is it a problem that the services are resourcedriven, for instance?

John Goldup: The issue of repeat referrals is often a function of cases being closed too early, not so much because of threshold issues but because that is an attempt to manage demand and pressure by maximising the throughput of work at the expense of the quality of the assessment and the clarity of management oversight. Sometimes, in those areas where we have identified the inappropriate use of unqualified social workers as an issue, it can be a factor there, because what we tend to find in those situations is that, in the end, cases have to be referred back for more clarification or more information, eventually leading to quite serious delays in responding.

The issue about thresholds is slightly different. It is a really key issue. Again, I would say on inspection we have undoubtedly seen examples of thresholds that we have judged to be too high, and that being an issue in terms of safety. Equally, we have inspected authorities where actually the threshold has been set too low, and I think that is partly the risk aversion issue that a Member of the Committee referred to earlier. The consequences of that will tend to be that, because there is nowhere else to go other than social care, we will find social care services that are overwhelmed with large numbers of referrals, many of which could have been more appropriately dealt with through preventive and universal services working together. Thresholds can be too high; thresholds can be too low. It is not a straightforward matter of, "Well, they are being set too high and that is where the problem has come from".

Q40 Ian Mearns: Do you think that there is a problem with the commonly understood terminology in terms of what constitutes neglect, for instance? I think the legal definition of neglect was set in the 1930s, wasn’t it?

John Goldup: There is a major issue about neglect. Neglect is the most common feature in all the serious case reviews that we evaluate. It is the area where professionals find the most difficulty in drawing the line and determining what is good enough. It is also an area where research-I think some of your later witnesses will be able to tell you far more about this than I-very clearly demonstrates that longterm neglect and intervening far too late is an absolutely critical damaging factor on children’s chances of growing up happily and successfully. I think neglect is a really key issue.

Ian Mearns: Thank you.

Q41 Tessa Munt: The Government has accepted all four recommendations regarding Ofsted inspection of children’s services from Professor Munro, but there is evidence that children’s views are not taken into account. I just wondered, how should Ofsted examine the child’s journey, as per Professor Munro, and should children’s satisfaction be taken into account?

John Goldup: We will be introducing a new inspection framework, heavily influenced by Professor Munro’s work next year. We will be piloting it in a few weeks’ time in a number of local authorities. To pick up your two points: we will seek to ensure that we consider the child’s journey through making sure that inspection, even more than it is now-because it very substantially is now-is based on the detailed analysis of individual cases and the experiences of individual children, and by making sure that we look at those experiences at different points in the journey, from the point at which concerns are first raised and early help either is or is not provided through to entering into the formal child protection system and indeed out the other side, and whether children and families are adequately supported as they move out of the child protection system. That is broadly how we are tackling the child’s journey.

On children’s views, it is a characteristic of the new inspection framework that in a sample of the cases we look at we will also seek to make arrangements to talk directly with both children and families about their views of the effectiveness of the help provided, not as a basis for making a judgment but as an important contributory factor to making a judgment. I think that is slightly different from the issue of children’s satisfaction, but I think children’s views of the effectiveness of the help that they have had is an important thing for inspection to consider, yes I do.

Q42 Tessa Munt: Is it not central to inspection? From what you have just described about looking at the child’s journey, it was looking at it from above, and I just wonder whether in fact there is the opportunity to have much more of a testing of children. You use words like experience and evidence. Only children can tell you what it feels like, whereas from what I think you said to me-I will have a look at the transcript later-the suggestion was that actually you would, perhaps even through the parents, be getting a view of that journey from the outside, rather than what it feels like inside. There is some work done with highcontact families in my county of Somerset where at every point the victims of the services is actually asked what they feel about everything, and that is plotted on a graph. That is the sort of thing that you might do.

John Goldup: If I gave you the impression that we were looking at this from above, I clearly gave you the wrong impression. We will absolutely be looking at it through the eyes of, through the experiences of, and indeed through the views of, the children involved.

Q43 Tessa Munt: But you can only do that by asking the children.

John Goldup: You can only do that by asking the children and, as I said, that is something that we will be doing in the new framework significantly more than we do at the moment. The area where I might take a slightly different view is the implicit premise in your question. Children’s views are important at all ages, but age and stage of development and the fact that they are children are issues to take into account in weighing those views against a range of other evidence. So the idea that children’s views should be alldetermining is an area where I might perhaps part company from you.

Q44 Tessa Munt: I have to disagree a bit. I understand what you are saying; children cannot say, "I want this, I want that" because they may not even know what is out there and available. However, we are all a product of our experience and unless we understand what it feels like-and we may place a judgment on that-if we do not actually listen to children at every stage and ask them what they feel like, we are not going to have any hope of them growing up into contributing adults.

Jim Gamble: It is not for me to talk about Ofsted, but the make-up of the inspection team is critically important: the fact that you have credible practitioners represented in that, who understand what it is like when you are delivering a frontline service. I say that because in CEOP-and this is not Ofsted- we had the HMIC inspector, a retired deputy director from MI5, as the lead person on the team. You might want to ask how that was ever deemed to be appropriate. I notice in Lord Laming’s update review he does talk about the make-up and the importance of credible staff on the inspection. If you are going to engage children, you need the right staff to engage them to make those assessments.

Q45 Tessa Munt: I absolutely understand that. I want to just very quickly ask you about whether there is any disadvantage to an unannounced inspection?

John Goldup: There are certainly huge challenges in delivering unannounced inspections effectively.

Q46 Tessa Munt: Are there not huge challenges to announced inspections?

John Goldup: Yes, absolutely. We are proposing that these inspections be unannounced and we are working very hard internally and with the sector to make sure we deliver that effectively. Maybe it is not so much about disadvantages, but clearly we have experience in doing unannounced inspections now; we have been doing them for two years in local authorities going in to look at frontline duty services. That is a very short, focused, twoday inspection. We are now going to be doing an unannounced inspection of the full range of child protection activity in an area over a twoweek period. The challenge is making sure that we do not displace the frenetic volume of preparation and running around that local authorities feel they have to do at the moment with a twoweek notice of the inspection into the first days of an unannounced inspection. The practicalities and the logistics of that is something that we are working very hard on. We are confident we can deliver, but it is undoubtedly challenging.

Q47 Tessa Munt: Will unannounced be truly unannounced? When you walk in through the door that is the first anyone knows of your arrival.

John Goldup: It will be like the unannounced inspections we currently do, which are commonly referred to by directors of children’s services as the 8.30 am call from the car park and that is the point at which they know we are there, on the day we arrive.

Q48 Chair: Can I ask John about how you propose to carry out multi-agency inspections of child protection arrangements, and just how delighted other inspectorates will be with you coming along to evaluate them as part of this?

John Goldup: I think there are two dimensions to that: there is multi-agency inspection and there is multiinspectorate inspection, and they are connected but they are not entirely the same. Professor Munro was very clear, and we absolutely endorse, that inspection must consider the contribution of all agencies for the protection of children and not just see it as something to be parcelled off and left with the local authority, although the local authority is the lead partner. We will do that, as Ofsted, through the very detailed case tracking and case analysis we do of the experiences and outcomes of individual children and families. We look now at the contribution and the working arrangements between all the different agencies involved in that. We are also doing a lot of work with our colleague inspectorates, so the Care Quality Commission, Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary, Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Probation, prisons, et cetera, to try to develop our options and plans for more joined up inspection, potentially leading to multiinspectorate teams undertaking the inspection. There are some really complex issues to resolve on that, both in terms of the different levels of resources that are available to the different inspectorates to support a universal child protection inspection programme, and to do with some really key differences in the legal basis and the remit within which the different inspectorates operate.

Q49 Chair: How cooperative are they?

John Goldup: They are extremely cooperative. There is a real commitment to try to find ways through those issues.

Q50 Chair: Thank you. One final question: how successful are we in getting the whole community engaged in child protection and the improvement of the system? I was just struck this morning going to the East Riding Local Safeguarding Children Board’s website, a singularly poor construction; it took the person at the other end of the phone five minutes to identify where on the website their annual report could be found. It does not suggest that there is a lot of openness to encouraging other people to play their part. As a Member of Parliament and Chair of this Committee doing this inquiry, you ask yourself, "What role am I playing in understanding and improving the safety of children in my local area?" Talking to councillors as well, apart from the leads they often feel very excluded. How do we get everybody to be able to play a role, not driven by the media or headlines-as Jim referred to earlier-but on a daytoday basis?

John Goldup: I think that is the issue, yes. That is a really important question that probably Ofsted’s inspection evidence does not help me very much in answering. We recently published a report on best practice in Local Safeguarding Children Boards and we have seen some very good examples of those boards taking up a wider community engagement role. It is generally the case, however, that child protection is one of those issues that everybody thinks is important, but that quite a lot of people think is somebody else’s responsibility and it only becomes really important when something goes wrong. There is an absolutely key role in local authorities, certainly, for elected members and the leadership that they give in this area in their role as key representatives of and routes into those communities. The quality and strength of corporate leadership and engagement, both at electedmember level and at chiefexecutive level, is a very significant dimension of what we look at in our inspection activity.

Chair: Thank you. Jim?

Jim Gamble: Engaging and empowering local people to play a constructive role in child protection is central to everything that we do, because parents and carers are the primary individuals involved. They are the ones that will either mask it and hide it or disclose it. Having a sensible vetting regime, which does not deter people from becoming involved and taking a role, is something that is absolutely required, as is, secondly, demonstrating that Government is actually listening, that it is not about false consultation.

I want to come back to this just to finish on the CEOP issue, because CEOP had built the potential, through its network into local villages, towns and cities, into their schools, with local volunteers trained as trainers to deliver those programmes into the classroom where children were better protected through education and they protected one another better. We were able to educate the professionals that were involved in the field in a different way. Education is key, as are children’s services and social care. That is why I believe that the Government were fundamentally wrong to force CEOP into a National Crime Agency. I believe that that will drive it backwards. I am sure that a great job will continue to be done by Peter and the staff, but the culture cannot help but shift.

That was not simply my opinion: there were over 30 submissions to a document that was 50 pages long on the National Crime Agency consultation that mentioned CEOP once, and in no specific question. I am led to believe that the vast majority of those responses said, "Do not put it in there" I know the Association of Directors of Children’s Services, many of the leading charities and many other commercial entities said that. You know why? Because I have copies of the report. Why is it that the Government has not released those when there have been requests? Up until the last time I am aware of a check, they were saying that they were not releasing them under Freedom of Information. It is not about plutonium poisoning; it is about making decisions about what is best for children and young people, and if we are going to do that it has got to be about education, not about arresting people.

Q51 Craig Whittaker: You spoke about going into schools through local volunteers. How many schools in the UK?

Jim Gamble: What I can say is CEOP, with less than 100 people, had delivered an education programme to 7 million children in the UK.

Q52 Craig Whittaker: Okay. How many schools though?

Jim Gamble: I am not going to be able to estimate now how many of the 30,000plus schools in the UK that got into. What I will say is it covered Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. That is a tiny entity. We talk about this Big Society. Do we know what it means? Because I think Big Society was staring the Government in the face through the initiative that was being driven there. I agree with the Government’s push to get rid of quangos-no issue there-but the good compromise, rather than to become compromised, was to move CEOP under the Department for Education, where the central focus was going to be children, and where it sat alongside education and safeguarding, which made sense, because the police will always partner. It seems to me that, if you are going to talk about child protection, that is one of the fundamental errors. We will look back in 10 years-and if I am still around, I will be looking back-still speaking about it.

Chair: Thank you very much. You have made a powerful case and that is what we provide the platform for. Thank you both very much for giving such interesting and full evidence to us this morning. Jim, I particularly thank you as I know you have flown in from Northern Ireland and I think you are flying back to Northern Ireland, and then flying back here again.

Jim Gamble: I am. Many people will be glad to hear that I’m flying back to Northern Ireland . Thank you, Chair.

Examination of Witnesses

Witnesses: Professor Harriet Ward, Professor of Child and Family Research and Director, Centre for Child and Family Research, University of Loughborough, Professor Nina Biehal, Research Director, Children and Young People’s Social Work Team, University of York, and Dr Marion Brandon, Senior Lecturer in Social Work and Director of PostQualifying Programmes, University of East Anglia, gave evidence.

Q53 Chair: Thank you very much for joining us this morning. I hope that you are happy for us to stick with the informal manner in using first names. We are looking forward to learning from your research, work and your understanding of how to improve the system. As I said to the earlier panel, we conduct inquiries, we write reports and we make recommendations. Useful and important though it is to try and build the Committee’s understanding of the system overall, so that we can write a betterinformed report, please do make sure you think of any recommendations you would like to see in the report, because it is that practical end that we are most focused on. We will be laypeople at the end as we were at the beginning, but hopefully slightly better informed.

I will start by asking: if you were to pick one recommendation that might be accepted by Government as a result of this inquiry and this Committee’s report, can I ask you to identify one? Whom shall I pick on first? Harriet?

Professor Ward: Thank you very much. One recommendation that I would like to see would be some monitoring of the impact of the current economic situation and the likely retraction of some services on the extent to which children are safeguarded from harm, but I think there are a whole lot of layers to that. There are a number of services, not only directed towards children but also directed towards parents, that are likely to reduce stresses in families and therefore likely to reduce the likelihood of significant harm. If some of those services are retracted, I think children will become more vulnerable. For instance, parental substance misuse services are likely to do quite an effective job in reducing the harm to children. That would be one thing that I would be recommending.

Q54 Chair: Thank you very much. You will have the opportunity during the session; I cannot stop an academic asking for more research. Of course, seeing you are all academics I should bar you on this first recommendation from recommending more research.

Professor Ward: I took that as read.

Chair: You passed that without warning, but we will take as read that more research is always required. Nina?

Professor Biehal: I very much agree with what Harriet is saying. Before I say what I think, I have another example. I have no direct knowledge of this, but, from my reading in the social work press, one of the current impacts of reducing budgets has been that local authorities are no longer feeling able to fund as many children’s centres to support families. It is just another example-

Chair: The numbers are fairly small, are they, in terms of a reduction?

Professor Biehal: I don't know because it is just what I have read in the social work press, but that really made me think: this is going to have a knock-on effect-we do not know what it is going to be yet-on all those early intervention services that we have been talking about. We have heard a lot in the last year or two as to the importance of early intervention. It could have a serious effect on that. That is by way of supporting what Harriet was just saying.

Asking for one thing is a very hard question, but I would say greater attention to the issue of thresholds for care. We have done a number of studies at York looking at not the front end, but the end result-what happens when children have not been taken in early enough. It is difficult to judge what is early enough-that is a thorny issue that we do not have precise answers to-but I think it is something that needs attention and that there are no easy answers.

Q55 Chair: Marian?

Dr Brandon: My answer is complicated and difficult, as you would expect from an academic. It is connected with what Nina and Harriet said. One of the conceptual problems of working with abuse and thresholds is that there is an assumption that, if it is not referred to children’s social care, then it is not abuse. We know that 10% of children are living with abuse and we cannot work and help all of those children in social care, so all of these belowthethreshold agencies-teachers, GPs, health visitors-are working with child abuse, but they are not allowed to call it child abuse. That is a real conceptual problem because we know they are doing it and all the work cannot be handed over to social services and social care. We need to name it and recognise that if we are doing effective, early intervention we are working with early stage child abuse and neglect. A lot of GPs will be holding quite complex neglect cases. We are not recognising it and not naming it. It is tricky; it is difficult; it is stigmatising. Until we recognise that we are all working with abuse and neglect, not just the social workers, people are not going to share the work and share the responsibility. It is difficult. I am sure you have ways to deal with it, but I think we need to change that-

Q56 Chair: So the recommendation, Marian, for clarity’s sake?

Dr Brandon: We have to accept that belowthethreshold work is child abuse work too. Not everything can and should be referred to children’s social care, but it is still working with abuse. Professionals cannot say, "I don’t work with abuse." The Children Act 2004 was very helpful in that there is a shared responsibility, but people still think, "It is not really my area." It has to be everyone’s area and they have to have some basic expertise.

Q57 Chair: Isn’t the early intervention report that Graham Allen wrote in that area?

Dr Brandon: But it is not called abuse.

Chair: The Government’s response, increasing the number of health visitors; the Education Bill’s provision for increasing free nurse ry education for two year olds-i s there not a whole series of policies that are looking precisely to reach children who may be likely to be more at risk?

Dr Brandon: It is, but it is subtle and it is conceptual. It is that acknowledgement that they are working in the neglect and abuse field, albeit at an earlier stage, but sometimes not at such an early stage either. From the work that we have done on serious case reviews , we know that just under half of those are cases that are not being currently worked with by children’s social care.

Q58 Chair: So the children for whom a serious case review has been conducted-

Dr Brandon: We are doing some more work on it at the moment, but around about 42% are not currently on the books of children’s social care. Threequarters of them were in the past, which is another threshold issue. I will be able to be more precise when we have completed this twoyear study, but it is about 42% that come through as not being currently on the books of children’s social care.

Q59 Chair: And you are analysing all serious case reviews in England?

Dr Brandon: Yes.

Chair: Right.

Dr Brandon: We have done since 2003.

Chair: And this is an interim finding on which we should-

Dr Brandon: It is something that we have done on a subsample of a small number of cases and we are currently looking at it on all of the cases in one year to be clearer, but we know there is a repeating story that a substantial minority of cases are not on the books of children’s social care. Maybe they should be; maybe these are cases that have been closed too early, but a quarter are not anywhere near there, so maybe these are unpredictable cases. It is that sense that it is very complicated, difficult work and we cannot always get it right, but everyone needs to be accepting it is part of their business.

Q60 Chair: Analysing that over time would be interesting. Did you suggest at one point it was threequarters of children that were known to children’s social care?

Dr Brandon: Threequarters had previously been known to children’s social care, yes-their families or themselves. If they are tiny babies they cannot have been known themselves very much, but other siblings in the family or the family had been known to children’s social care in the past in threequarters of the cases. At the time though, just over 40% were not known to children’s social care.

Q61 Chair: I am labouring this because I am struggling to understand. Are you saying that in some previous year’s analysis or group of years’ analysis it was 75% of children?

Dr Brandon: In the very early days it looked like more, but I do not think that data was very robust. We have had good information since 2005 and we know that it is coming through as a theme that around 40% of the cases, or possibly more, are children who are not known to children's social care at the time of their death or serious injury.

Q62 Chair: I am just trying to understand whether this is changing over time, because if the number not known has gone up that would suggest there was a failure of identification, an issue with thresholds or something else. If it is consistent, then that is a very different picture.

Dr Brandon: It is pretty consistent since we have looked at it.

Chair: Right, thank you.

Q63 Ian Mearns: I asked this question of the previous panel, but I think it is an important one. Is there a problem with the common understanding in policy and in the field of what constitutes neglect? I think the definition of neglect that we are working with is almost eighty years old. Time has moved on somewhat since the 1930s when I think it was enshrined, so do we have a problem with the common understanding of what constitutes neglect?

Professor Ward: I would say we definitely have a problem with what constitutes neglect. We did the scoping study of what was known about neglect and emotional abuse in 2004, prior to the major research initiative on safeguarding children. One of the key findings there was that there was very little common understanding of what constitutes neglect. Since then, there has been increasing evidence from the fields of psychology and neurobiology about the impact of various neglectful parental practices on children’s longterm wellbeing. We need to know much more about what we actually mean when we say neglect.

We found in the cases we have been looking at that there are children living in quite appalling circumstances who are not being picked up as neglected. There was one child in our study, a two year old who was taking food out of the waste bin because he was not being properly fed. Those sorts of things are not being picked up as above the threshold at which one would have to intervene, so I think there is a major issue. The problem is that pretty well all parents neglect their children up to a certain point. What we do not really understand is the point at which it becomes unacceptable and the point at which it will have longterm adverse consequences. I do not think as a society we have identified at what stage of adversity we decide the consequences are so bad that we do have to intervene. There are lots of grey areas there that we really need to have an open debate about.

Professor Biehal: Within our study of lookedafter children who were reunified with their families, we looked at their history before they came into care, and neglect was a huge issue, often not recognised for many years or, as Harriet said, accepted as being something that needed a response. Again, I could give you a string of quite shocking examples of practices that have gone on for years and years before something happened. Often with neglect something then happens and the child is admitted, and services sit up and think, "Well, we have to do something now".

I think it is very difficult for services, if a situation has gone on simmering away for a long time, to know at what point you justify intervention. That is a very difficult issue for them, but we were very shocked, looking at this detailed case record data, at some of these circumstances that had been allowed to persist. Often, it only ended and the child only became looked after when the mother with mental health problems had a major crisis, was admitted to hospital or had a drug abuse overdose or an incident of physical abuse, and suddenly there was a trigger. It was waiting for a trigger rather than a proper assessment of what was needed to meet that child’s needs that was really problematic.

Dr Brandon: I agree that waiting for a trigger is the really complicated and difficult thing in neglect. Waiting for the trigger does seem to appear in quite a lot of research, so even when there is intervention and there is neglect, sometimes physical abuse will be looked at first or sexual abuse will be thought about; or even when physical abuse appears, it will be downgraded. In one case we looked at, there were three investigations of physical abuse, but it was thought it was a neglect case so it did not count. I think, because often the families where there is neglect are very complicated, difficult and confusing for practitioners, they can overwhelm individuals working with the families, so they fail to see what is in front of them. One way to help that is to have very good, robust supervision, so that even when it does cross the threshold, social workers need to be helped to think more clearly about what they are saying and to look at the evidence of the children’s behaviour, demeanour and outcomes, so you can gauge whether the poor level is no longer acceptable.

Q64 Ian Mearns: What is behind the increase in referrals to children's social services, and the increase in initial assessments and care applications by children’s services in the last few years?

Dr Brandon: It may well be that people are getting better at recognising what is out there because we know that there is an underadmission of the extent of neglect and abuse generally. It may be that people are doing the job better. If we are looking at this 10% of the population of children who are abused, then maybe we are getting closer to that-maybe it is what is anecdotally called the Baby P effect of people being very scared, frightened, and wanting to be seen to act and seen to be doing something.

Professor Biehal: I agree with Marian.

Professor Ward: I think there are questions about whether those numbers will increase. They are likely to increase with increased unemployment, with the number of negative factors that are likely to occur as a result of the economic situation, but there is evidence to suggest that when times are bad, in fact referrals decrease because as a population we become more accepting of low standards.

Q65 Ian Mearns: Does academic evaluation support Ofsted in finding variation in the effectiveness of local authorities’ child protection arrangements. What are the consequences of such variation in terms of outcomes for children?

Professor Ward: There is a lot of evidence from research about variations. There is research from Bristol University that suggested that there were quite considerable variations in case management between local authorities, and it is good leadership and good case management that has immediate impact on outcomes for children. York University has done a lot on variations, hasn’t it?

Professor Biehal: Not specifically about child protection arrangements, but you find local authority variation across just about everything we look at in terms of adoption rates, applications for special guardianship, quality of planning, proportions of children experiencing instability in care or more stable placements, which is a lot to do with planning, support and supervision as well-it is right across the board.

Q66 Chair: Is there a correlation between spend and quality? John Goldup suggested earlier that, although obviously resources are relevant, fundamentally, when he looked at the variation, it was not about the spend, but about other things.

Professor Ward: There is a correlation between socioeconomic factors and levels of referrals and numbers of children coming into care.

Q67 Chair: I was looking more at the service rather than the incidents on the ground. Is the quality of service about how much resource councils attribute to the area or is it about the quality of the systems?

Dr Brandon: It may in part be that. I am thinking of the differences between rural and urban areas. Urban areas would have access to more resources and have more services on offer. Rural areas would maybe get less resources, and individual workers are reliant on themselves more, so there may be less to offer in the rural areas, where there are problems with transport and so on.

Q68 Chair: Do you have any evidence? I am interested to know whether it is about spend or getting best practice spread more widely.

Professor Biehal: We would not have any evidence at York on spend in relation to quality, but there is evidence on resources in relation to the nature of services offered. One study of preventive services for teenagers found that some local authorities devoted more to their preventive services. They had ring-fenced money for preventive teams working with teenagers; they were much more likely to get a service there and they were also less likely to come into longterm care at the end of that than the ones who had no dedicated service, who were very unlikely to get one until things had got significantly worse, and then if they did come into care they were the ones who were more likely to stay long term.

Q69 Chair: Marian, you talked about the difference between urban and rural areas. Is a child subject to abuse or neglect less likely to be picked up if they live in a rural than an urban area? If they are picked up, are they likely to receive a better or worse service?

Dr Brandon: It may be that there are fewer services to offer, so there are not the same choices. If it is a hard-stretched service and there are not enough individuals to go around, then it is difficult. There are some pockets of rural areas where there do seem to be some repeating difficulties.

Q70 Chair: But that will also be true of urban areas.

Dr Brandon: Yes.

Q71 Chair: Do you have any insight overall, looking at the system, as to whether rural children are at peculiar risk? Is it an area where we should be looking to make recommendations?

Professor Ward: I doubt whether it is a rural/urban issue. Spend would be worth looking at, particularly the proportion of spend between services for children in the community and services for children in care-that makes quite a difference-and spend relating to mainly socioeconomic indicators of likely need. I am not aware that rural areas would be a major issue.

Dr Brandon: I am just thinking in terms of what would be available.

Q72 Chair: Has any analysis been done to look at incidence in rural areas as against urban areas and outcomes?

Professor Biehal: I am not aware of any.

Q73 Chair: I will be calling for research.

Professor Biehal: It’s a good area for research, yes.

Q74 Bill Esterson: I came across some research that suggested that neglect was the most damaging form of any abuse, and Harriet’s research highlighted it as the most common form. Is the research that I came across familiar and consistent with what you found?

Professor Ward: The child development psychologists, the people who work in that area, would say that neglect has a particularly corrosive impact, particularly on very small children. It has a major impact on the developing brain, for instance, and also on children’s ability to regulate their emotions. That has a major impact throughout their lives and there are knockon effects when they start school, and so on and so forth.

Q75 Bill Esterson: Does the research suggest what happens to them later in life?

Professor Ward: The research suggests that neglect has a major impact on a baby’s ability to control their emotions, because, if you are not picked up when you cry, you become more and more frantic, and that has an impact on the way in which your endocrine system develops and so on. It makes it much harder for you to control your emotions later on in life, and it is those children who then become liable to burst out with angry outbursts, and that has a relationship with delinquency in teenagers, and so on and so forth. We do not know quite enough about exactly what the correlations are, and we certainly do not know enough about what sort of interventions might be effective in trying to turn children around when they have reached that sort of position. Certainly there is increasing evidence that neglect is more than something that we ought to do something about because the baby is not being fed properly, is hungry, and is not putting on enough weight: it is much more complicated and much more damaging than that.

Q76 Bill Esterson: How reliable are the various risk factors in your research in making decisions about the safety of children, and how reliably can we differentiate which children are at risk and which ones are not?

Professor Ward: The risk factors that we used in our research are the most reliable known, in that they come from David Jones and colleagues’ research. They are an exceptionally well regarded team. They did a meta-analysis of a number of reputable studies of risk factors for significant harm, and you could guarantee that they were as methodologically sound as any research team you are likely to come across. I would have a lot of faith in their work. We took the risk factors that David identified initially to try to classify the families in our research as to those families where children were more or less likely to suffer significant harm.

The children in our research who at the start of the study we thought were more likely to suffer significant harm, severe risk children, were those whose families showed combinations of risk factors according to the David Jones methodology; no protective factors according to their methodology; and no evidence of parental change at the time the child was identified. We then followed those children through until they were aged three, and there was correlation-we are talking very small numbers here-between severe risk children and their outcomes at age three in that all but one of our severe risk children had been permanently removed by their third birthday. The one child who had not been removed is now severely neglected, going to a school that gives that child clean clothes every day when he arrives, brushes his teeth, gives him breakfast, and there are now concerns about whether that child should have been taken into care at birth.

Q77 Chair: Harriet, can you talk a little more about what these risk factors are?

Professor Ward: Yes.

Chair: Are there any in particular that are counterintuitive? If it is a collection of things that anybody would regard as a pretty awful way to treat a child, and you say you get those all together and get a high risk, it is not terribly useful to inform practice. If any of them are counterintuitive, or are particularly easy to monitor externally and should be embedded into the practice of professionals in a way they are not now, we would love to hear about those.

Professor Ward: The ones that were very common in our sample, and have also been identified by a number of other studies, are things like parental substance misuse, parental mental health problems that are not medically regulated, parental alcohol misuse, domestic violence-those factors in combination with one another rather than existing singly; also learning disability, not on its own, but in combination with some of those other factors. Protective factors are things like having a supportive extended family, having a supportive partner, having a protective partner who will protect the children if the mother is not available, and vice versa. The key one is evidence of capacity to change.

Q78 Bill Esterson: It is the absence of those factors that is the risk?

Professor Ward: Yes. Protective factors mitigate the risk, and if they are not evident then the risk becomes greater.

Q79 Chair: To what extent do we have triggers in place that reflect those, and how could we do so in a way that better protects children?

Tessa Munt: You said, "And most importantly"?

Professor Ward: Evidence of the parental capacity to change if adverse behaviour patterns have existed in the past-evidence of a parent’s ability to overcome substance misuse, for instance or to recognise the part that their previous behaviour played in the removal of an older child. The NSPCC are trialling our methodology as a practice tool to see whether the results from our study have a wider application as a practice issue. What we may see is, particularly in the case of severe risk families, if there is sufficient evidence to be able to say that a family fits this profile, then the social worker or the courts need to be able to explain why that family is capable of being able to look after a child, rather than vice versa.

Q80 Chair: Turning the onus of proof the other way around?

Professor Ward: Exactly. If the likelihood is that this family is going to harm this child, therefore what evidence is there that this family goes against the grain of what the research will tell us?

Q81 Craig Whittaker: On that point, we do have an issue in some areas of this country with forced adoption. How would that change? Because there is a growing underbelly about this not being the right way to go. If you change the onus the other way that may increase forced adoption.

Professor Ward: I am very interested in this issue of forced adoption. I have not come across it in any of the research that we have undertaken on babies in the care system, on very young children likely to suffer significant harm. I am not aware that it has come across on the Adoption Research Initiative either. There are obviously cases where it happens, or obviously cases were families are treated very unjustly, but on the methodological basis, I am not aware of any research study that has picked this up. I am not sure how strong the evidence is on that.

Q82 Tessa Munt: In those families where you have identified the risk factors, do you have evidence that shows how many of those parents-particularly the mothers, but both parents-have suffered in the same way themselves? History repeats itself where, if you have been neglected yourself, your capacity to understand the need to change may be even more deeply challenged.

Professor Ward: There is strong evidence that parents who had themselves had very adverse parenting experiences as children repeat the pattern. There is strong evidence that parents who have been sexually abused particularly have grave difficulties in overcoming that. There is some evidence that there are interventions that support parents and help them overcome those issues, but it is very difficult.

There is also some evidence that parents do change. Some of the parents in our study were able to overcome major problems-substance abuse, alcohol abuse, and so on-and provide a nurturing home for the baby that we were looking at, although previous children had been placed for adoption. They themselves talked about the reasons why they had changed. Very often they had had a wakeup call; often in substance misuse cases something happened, somebody died, and they realised it was going to be them, that their lives were going to follow that pattern, and that shook them into making changes. All is not lost for some parents, but if you are focusing on the child you need to be able to come to terms with the fact that some home situations are very damaging for children. It is unfashionable and it is extremely unpleasant to produce those findings, but that is what the research does say.

Q83 Tessa Munt: When you are looking at a particular potential care situation, is one of those risk factors a parent who has, himself or herself, suffered neglect or abuse?

Professor Ward: It is more that when you look at parents who are showing current risk factors, combinations of those factors that I have already identified, you look back into their previous life histories and you very often find that they have experienced abuse in their own childhood. Abuse affects the wider family; so it affects your protective factors. You may find that you do not have a protective grandmother, because she herself has been abused, or she has lost contact with you and has not been able to protect you from abuse, so you are no longer speaking to her. It reduces the capacity of the extended family to support.

Professor Biehal: I would like to talk about the distinction between using the idea of risk factors in research, and how we make best use of them in practice. We have to be very cautious. It is undoubtedly true, as Harriet says, that there is very strong evidence about the impact of these clusters of risk factors. Harriet’s study is unusual and really important because she was able to look at it prospectively, from when the children were very tiny, and then follow them up; most studies have not been able to do that. That is really important. We know that an accumulation of risk factors is particularly damaging and increases the risk to the child.

All that is true, but when we think about practice we have to also understand that certain clusters of risk factors can have different outcomes. There is a variety of outcomes. As Harriet said, for some of the parents in her study the intervention was a wakeup call and they were able to change, so you cannot predict forward and say, "We must do this because…" on the basis of risk factor analysis alone. The key issue is evidencebased, informed professional judgement within children’s services, within the courts, making a careful appraisal of this. As Harriet said there is strong evidence that parental experience of prior abuse or neglect may affect their parenting, but we cannot say from that we can predict forward for any mother with a history of neglect or abuse. We must not forget the role of careful, evidenceinformed professional judgment in there.

Professor Ward: It is a huge ethical issue. There is a danger that some of our work will be converted into actuarial tables and rule of thumb: "If you tick these four boxes, then you lose your children" sort of thing. People do not understand probability theory and they do not understand that there are intervening factors or that the profile of an individual case may go against all the received wisdom. You need to be able to make a case for one family being different; even if they have those risk factors you need to be able to explain why it is that this family is going to be able to-

Q84 Chair: An actuarial table that leads to challenge, where challenge currently does not happen, and then is carried out by a thoughtful professional who balances it up on a rounded basis would be an improvement, wouldn’t it?

Professor Ward: I am not so sure. They make a lot of use of these actuarial systems in Canada and the US, and I think they do become a tick-box exercise, which can be used to the detriment of parents. It is a dangerous route to follow and one would need to be really careful about what sort of recommendations would come following that.

Dr Brandon: I was doing some work in Sydney looking at their actuarial models for assessing risk. They had too many cases brought into the net, to the extent that they could not then do the work. It is not a good predictor, and it is not helpful. I endorse Nina’s point about professional judgment, because that is really important: it gives you a guide, and then you have to impose professional judgement on it.

In working with these cases there is a risk of overoptimism, because you want to see the best. These people are often very socially excluded, so some professionals will fail to see the lack of change. I have one example of a young mum who desperately wanted to come off the drugs while she was pregnant. The drugs agency worked with her and felt very fond of her, so even though all of her tests were positive, they said, "She is trying her best." She was not able to change, even though she was trying to. That is the difficult thing about neglect: some parents cannot change, even if they want to.

Q85 Bill Esterson: This point about overoptimism is incredibly important. The time taken between children first being identified as being at risk to an intervention resulting in a permanent placement that enables a child to move forward can be months, even years.

Dr Brandon: It can happen in the courts as well. We identified a term called "start again syndrome", which can happen in a court where, in order to try and give families a fair chance and, if there is a new baby, a hopeful new beginning, there is a failure to look at what has happened in the past and see whether things have changed. The factors are often the same, but people want to start again. Even though there is a big fat file, you start at the beginning because it is easier, and it is very risky and very dangerous.

Q86 Neil Carmichael: I agree with Professor Ward that there is a danger in analysing risks and probabilities, but it raises the issue about judgment and the importance of professionalism and evidencegathering. I have two questions. First, do we think that we are training our social workers in the right way? Do we need to upgrade our training to ensure those judgements can be made, and the linkages can be drawn? Secondly, what impact can parent training programmes have? Should we be looking for situations where providing that kind of training would be welcome?

Professor Ward: I do not do social worker training any more, although I have done in the past. The evidence from our studies suggests that social workers are not learning enough about childhood development. They do not have some of the factual information at their fingertips that would enable them to make better judgments. There is a slight danger that training will focus so much on issues such as judgment and supervision, and too little on the hard evidence base from a whole range of disciplines.

Chair: More knowledge, less skills-you are right in tune with Michael Gove.

Professor Ward: Yes, I would advocate more knowledge. Social work training has focused on skills for too long and is likely to continue to do so. There is a lot of evidence that the knowledge base needs to be improved and recognised as something that is necessary.

Dr Brandon: I am doing some work with newly qualified social workers; they are coming through at the end of their training with a lot of enthusiasm and determination. Using that knowledge to form a relationship of trust with families that have these complicated issues is crucially important, but there is a bit of a mismatch between what they are coming with and what is expected of their managers, who are still in the culture of performance and targets, do not challenge them and do not build their knowledge and skills. We need some training for those firstline managers who have sometimes been left out of all the schemes. It is not just the social workers; it is where the social workers are when they are embedded in the agencies and who they are working with.

Professor Biehal: Coincidentally, I have been looking at parent training programmes recently. Virtually no evidence has been collected on the impact of parenting training programmes on maltreatment specifically. That is probably because parenting training groups are often very small. If you think about the rate of identified child abuse in this country, with about 1.3% with a child protection plan-no, in fact, the child protection plan is about onethird of that-they are very small numbers, and it is difficult to identify.

There is extensive evidence that evidencebased parent training programmes such as Triple P and Incredible Years are very effective in changing parenting behaviours, parenting styles, and all those things that increase the risk of abuse or neglect. There is a huge amount of evidence that they can make a difference there, as well as in helping parents manage their young children’s behaviour better, thereby reducing family stresses. That behaviour is often the product of parenting difficulties in the first place, so they can reach a better equilibrium. What we do not have is much hard evidence about the impact on maltreatment, because without enormous studies of these programmes it is difficult to get.

Q87 Chair: Do you think there are any successful models of prebirth risk assessment and is it fair to judge the performance of a putative parent even before a child is born?

Professor Ward: I am not aware of any models of pre-birth assessment, but there is quite a lot of evidence about, for example, parents who are substance misusing throughout the pregnancy. We have parents in our study who were injecting heroin throughout the pregnancy. There is a lot of evidence of domestic violence increasing during the pregnancy. It is fair to assess risk of harm during the pregnancy, because that is a time when people are likely to change. There is quite a lot of evidence that women stop smoking during pregnancy, for instance. It is a time when people are very emotional, preparing for the birth of a child, and trying to do everything to keep that child safe. I do not think it would be unethical to identify where a child is not being kept safe during the pregnancy.

Q88 Chair: Do you agree with the NSPCC who say there should be a rigorous prebirth assessment, triggered by risk factors?

Professor Ward: Yes, there should, because it saves time and I do not think time is on the side of a lot of these children.

Q89 Chair: Any more thoughts on that?

Professor Biehal: It is not something I know a lot about.

Q90 Chair: They also talk about the time it takes to assess the parent’s ability to change. If you have got a heroin injecting mother you need to assess quickly whether she is going to be able to get off it or not.

Dr Brandon: Yes. If she has not got off it by the time the baby is born, she is unlikely to get off it after the birth. All the parents in our study who did change did so before the baby was six months old. They may have changed later for other children, but for the children in our study the baby was less than six months old; otherwise they did not change.

Q91 Tessa Munt: I wanted to follow up on one of the questions I asked in the earlier session: where do referrals to social services mostly come from?

Professor Ward: I do not think that data is systematically collected on that issue, as far as I am aware.

Dr Brandon: We tend to rely on American literature; there is not a clear readacross.

Professor Ward: There is evidence from some of our studies about where it comes from, but there is a case for arguing that it should be collected; it is a data item that would be extremely valuable. We have very few referrals coming from adult services, from adult mental health or adult substance misuse, the reason being, we think, that people who work in those services are often very protective of parents and do not identify the child protection issues early enough.

I think some local authorities collect the data. A few years ago we did a study in two authorities that had very different patterns. One of them had a very high proportion of referrals from neighbours, relatives, and friends, and the neighbouring authority did not. We had no idea why that was the case, but it would be something that would be well worth looking at.

Dr Brandon: There might be a way of getting better information from existing sources if we join up what comes from health and what comes from social care. I am working with epidemiologist Ruth Gilbert at the Institute of Child Health, and she has been asking for this for a long time, because she said with aggregate data you do not get as good information as if you follow the route for each individual child and then learn that way. Although we are collecting a lot of aggregate data from different sources, we are not putting together the individual route of the child from health and social care, and we could put those bits of information together and learn much more.

Q92 Tessa Munt: Do you sense that more weight is given to a referral from one professional to another than one from a neighbour or a grandparent?

Dr Brandon: I think so. There is some smallscale evidence we have that if the referral comes from a member of the family and they are considered not to be a reliable witness-"bad dads"-their referral is not taken seriously when they may have a very clear sense of what is going on. Community level referrals need to be taken more seriously.

Q93 Tessa Munt: If referrals are made by health, by somebody who is a professional-we had a discussion earlier about whether it would be a health visitor or doctor-is that taken more seriously?

Dr Brandon: There needs to be a challenge from the individual who has made the referral; making a referral and then doing nothing else is sometimes not satisfactory. If they really believe the child is at risk they need to follow up, challenge, and make a fuss. When that happens it can be more successful, but it is very draining for the individual professional when they are constantly being rebuffed, which can stop them making a referral in the first place.

Q94 Tessa Munt: Do professionals-teachers, doctors, health visitors-follow up?

Dr Brandon: They should and they often do, but sometimes they will not, or they do it once and then it does not happen, or they do not want to make the referral in the first place because experience has shown that it does not go anywhere.

Professor Ward: They quite often do not get a response, do not know what happened when they made the referral, and do not know whether it was taken up as a case or not. There is a lack of feedback of information to professionals.

Professor Biehal: It is also important to bear in mind that with older children, particularly adolescents, referrals might not come in badged as child protection. With adolescents it is the parents saying, "Take him away, his behaviour is appalling, I cannot stand it anymore." Our research has shown that ongoing or past abuse and neglect was occurring in a proportion of those cases-I think it was one third current, and about half in the past-so for some it was continuing and they had been known to social services before. Something was being presented as a behaviour problem that had underlying histories of abuse and neglect-quite often current neglect-emotional abuse, and domestic violence as part of the pattern, but it had not been recognised and the response of agencies was often gatekeeping: "Keep this at bay; we do not have the resources to deal with this. We will have a shortterm response, patch up how they are getting on as a family, give them a few weeks’ intervention and close the case," because of resource issues. Local policies are built around local resource issues.

A study that colleagues have done at York with the NSPCC and the Children’s Society found that when adolescents hit the child protection system, they took much longer to get an assessment and to get a proper child protection inquiry. It was much longer than for younger children. It was not being recognised that they were in abusive and neglectful situations and it was very serious.

Q95 Tessa Munt: Is this just about resource? We had some evidence from Children England saying that teenage children do not get picked up, particularly older boys.

Professor Biehal: My study of adolescents showed younger children were prioritised, and we had workers saying, "We just do not have foster placements or children’s home places available for adolescents, so what can we do? We do this instead." We just do not have that in some authorities. There is a complex interplay between what resources were available, what policies were built around those, and how that filters down to gatekeeping by social work teams. It is a complicated process.

Q96 Tessa Munt: Children England also said that children are very often scared to report abuse because they think they may be separated from their siblings or they may be sent back to their abuser. The message about keeping families together has gone very clearly out into the smaller community. I wondered whether there is research supporting that that you are aware of?

Professor Ward: There is evidence from one of the studies in the Safeguarding Children Research Initiative that schools are in a good position to identify abuse, because teachers see a whole range of children and they see them every day, so they are most likely to see a major change occurring. A child who is being abused might stand out amongst the other children. Also, children quite commonly refer themselves to school nurses-they talk to the school nurse.

Q97 Tessa Munt: Are there any school nurses left?

Professor Ward: I do not know about the availability of school nurses. One of the studies showed that as an important factor to build on-that school nurses were in quite a good position to act as referral agents.

Professor Biehal: We have to think particularly how secondary schools can help. Staff in the adolescent support teams were saying, in the study, that often children were being supported quite well in their primary school, with a lot of pastoral care and awareness of the difficulties the children were having, and then they hit high school. In that much bigger environment, teachers could know them far less well than their individual class teacher. It was harder for those schools to pick things up, and at that point, around 11, 12, 13, things seemed to get to more of a crisis point and they presented to children’s services with, "Do something about him, his behaviour is dreadful," masking a whole range of underlying family problems.

Professor Ward: There was a question earlier on about whether children would report abuse themselves and whether you should always take children’s views into account. There is quite a lot of evidence that children will accept really quite abusive behaviour patterns without realising that it is unusual or damaging to themselves, so I do not think you can always rely on children’s views. The research that Mike Stein did on neglected adolescents identified how adolescents do not always understand that neglectful behaviour is happening, because they accept it as a norm. In studies we did of children in the care system, in abusive placements, quite often the children came up with really quite astonishing remarks that made it evident that they had not understood that they were being treated extremely badly. I do not think you can only rely on children’s views.

Q98 Chair: None the less, how can you make it easier for them to report and more likely that they will seek to do so?

Professor Ward: Confidentiality is obvious, is it not, but how you get across taking action when it is obviously the child who has reported the incident is something that I do not think we have cracked.

Q99 Tessa Munt: It would be quite interesting, I would imagine, to look at Childline’s experience, where children understand that is a confidential service, and then to look at the agencies, the schools, the safe places that children might consider they can report, and the contrast between those two. Has anyone done any looking?

Dr Brandon: Childline keep very good records of what they have done and children often use Childline as a rehearsal-they practise with Childline. It is not just the phone; they can now work online as well. It is helpful when they feel it is under their control. I am doing some research on trying to think about how children get better access to services.

Q100 Tessa Munt: How do we make it easier for children or their friends to report abuse?

Dr Brandon: We need to give them a bit more control of the process. Often they know what is going on, but people are not telling them, or they assume they do not know very much. They might not have the agency to know what is in their best interests all the time, but often they will be carrying a lot of responsibility and want to gauge how far and how fast they want things to go.

Q101 Tessa Munt: The Government has accepted the Munro recommendation to remove the difference between the initial and core assessments and the required timescale for assessments. Is that a good move? Is there any evidence that removing time targets will just create delays or allow delays in the process?

Dr Brandon: There is some evidence that even though that distinction has gone a lot of agencies are not in a cultural shift, and do not want to make the change, because they are comfortable working within those timescales. It may not happen anyway, so we might not get the delay. It will take time to see, but it ought not to make things worse.

Q102 Chair: Are they culturally resisting merged assessment and doing two; are they carrying on doing initial and core?

Dr Brandon: Some areas want to just carry on doing what they did before, but in principle the merged assessment makes a lot more sense.

Q103 Craig Whittaker: We spoke earlier about overoptimism about the ability of parents to change. In the context that the presumption is in favour of keeping the child with the parents, has this presumption placed the rights of the parents over the rights of the child?

Professor Ward: There is a lot of evidence that that often happens. Both the Children Act and the UN Convention state quite rightly that most children are best brought up within their own families by their own parents. The difficulty is identifying those children who are not, and the argument that the parent has a right to respect for family life is often taken up by the courts. What is not so often argued, and you could argue equally well, is that a child also has a right to respect for family life.

There is evidence that, if you wait too long and a child has to be removed later on, they have lost their chance for a family life, either with their own birth family or, indeed, with a substitute family. I think that could be argued. There is also a right not to be exposed to degrading treatment, which is obviously not to be exposed to abuse. I do not think the courts take up the rights of the child in the same way that they take up the rights of parents. I am not saying that parents do not have rights, but I think we have the balance out of kilter in a number of cases. I do not think the legislation is wrong; it is the way it is interpreted sometimes.

This thing about optimism is terribly important. You cannot do this job unless you are optimistic, and that must make it very difficult to identify those families whom you cannot be optimistic about and where it is very hard to keep the children with the parents.

Dr Brandon: We need to distinguish between parents and wider families: children often cannot be with their parents, but they can be with other members of their family, who need support and help to look after children if they are in difficulties.

Professor Ward: We do not give enough support to wider families; we do not give enough support to kinship carers, for instance.

Q104 Craig Whittaker: On the point you mentioned about the court’s interpretation of the right to family life, do you think that causes professionals to leave children in abusive situations?

Professor Ward: Yes, I think so. There are all sorts of reasons why children are left in abusive situations. That is one reason. All professionals want to keep families together. I do not think you would do the job if you did not. The tendency to think that it ought to be possible to support the child should be the focus of the work.

There are other factors. There is a great fear of taking children into care; there has been a lot of adverse publicity about the care system, even though, in fact, the evidence suggests that maltreated children do better in care than if they remain at home or return to their families and continue to be maltreated. The care system has been castigated for a lot of inadequacies, but the research suggests that some of the bad publicity is not really backed up by the evidence.

Craig Whittaker: The evidence shows the UK is quite a world leader in some of the work we do around this, albeit we do not always get it right.

Chair: Thank you all for giving evidence to us this morning. Our inquiry will continue, and it has been informed by you today.

Prepared 3rd November 2011