Evidence heard in Public

Questions 411 - 487



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Oral Evidence

Taken before the Education Committee

on Wednesday 11 January 2012

Members present:

Mr Graham Stuart (Chair)

Alex Cunningham

Pat Glass

Damian Hinds

Ian Mearns

Tessa Munt

Lisa Nandy

Craig Whittaker

Examination of Witnesses

Witnesses: Phillip Noyes, Director of Strategy and Development, NSPCC, Kate Wallace, Deputy Director Policy & Research, Barnardo’s, and Enver Solomon, Policy Director, The Children’s Society, gave evidence.

Q411 Chair: Good morning and welcome to this first session of the Education Committee in 2012 as we continue our inquiry into the child protection system in England. Neglect is rising up the child protection agenda. Has it always been as common as it now appears to be or has something changed either in society or perhaps in our definition of neglect?

Phillip Noyes: We carried out a prevalence study of child abuse in 2000 and another one in 2010. Over that period there was no sign that neglect had fallen. It remained constant and at a high level. So we have deduced that the increase in child protection plans because of neglect and the rise in care proceedings has been because of something other than an increased prevalence of neglect in our society. What that is has not been well researched yet, but we are imagining it might be two things. One, there was a well placed anxiety about case management in the wake of Baby Peter Connelly. Perhaps, as well, there was an increased recognition-because that had been preceded by an increase in child protection planning for cases of neglect-that neglect was a problem that many professionals around the country were dealing with and that there were inherent problems in the management of cases of neglect which the profession decided they should do something about, those problems being the particular challenges of identifying the absence of care, as distinct from the presence of a trigger incident that provokes an investigation or proceedings with physical abuse or sexual abuse.

There was also a lack of clarity sometimes about what constituted neglect that was sufficiently serious to require child protection planning and then care proceedings. We think that probably-although this has not been well researched yet-those factors influence the upsurge in neglect. It is a problem that we at the NSPCC have been and are concerned about because of its profoundly damaging effect on children. I am sure we will talk in a moment about definitions of neglect. Its definitions have not basically changed, but that is part of the problem really. There has been a criminal law definition since 1933 and a Working Together definition over the last 10 years or so, but they are slightly at odds with each other. There is a dilemma with professionals, and indeed the public, about what comprises neglect, what should be done and how we should do it. But at the heart of neglect, which is often just defined as something about lack of emotional care, lack of physical care or lack of supervision, is a lack or loss of empathy between the parent and the child. The parent does not relate to the child. The child isn’t there; the child isn’t cared for. The effects of that, starting at a very early age, can be profound and very serious.

Enver Solomon: The issue of neglecting neglect has been a theme within children’s social care and within issues around support for children in need for many, many years. There is a widespread recognition from the evidence that for too long agencies have been neglecting neglect. Now these are difficult issues. They are very difficult judgments to make but there has been a tendency in decision making, particularly around assessments and referrals, to wait for a trigger moment, to wait for clear evidence of physical abuse or harm. As a result there has been a tendency to give parents the benefit of the doubt.

The other side of this is that sometimes there have been misunderstandings of neglect. We particularly found that in cases relating to families and children subject to immigration control. Due to the fact that there is no recourse to public funds and due to the fact of their predicament around destitution and associated mental health problems, that can be misunderstood as a form of intentional neglect when actually it is a consequence of their very difficult predicament. But I think the broad issue that the levels of neglect that exist have not widely been recognised by agencies is definitely the case.

Q412 Chair: You are making a difference there between intentional and non-intentional neglect. When it comes to intervention, is the intention the key point or should the outcome for the child be the primary driver?

Enver Solomon: The primary driver, as the legislation is very clear, should always be decisions taken in the best interests of the child. That is very clear in the 1989 Act. The paramountcy principle is very clear, and that has to be the fundamental element and fundamental factor in decision making.

Q413 Tessa Munt: I was going to ask you a little more about the definition of neglect in Working Together to Safeguard Children and whether it was too broad or about right, or whatever. I know that Phillip has made points already about the fact that the two definitions-the ’33 definition and this one-are slightly at odds. Is there anything that you would say should be changed? Is there any amendment?

Phillip Noyes: I wanted to come to the Committee with a solution, but I do not have one. I think they should be changed. The problem, as the Chair’s question showed just now, is that in criminal law, wilfulness is relevant but in civil law, it is not. It is about the impact on the child’s body. Motivation does not actually count there, but the two together do not sit easily for professionals making judgments about how bad is bad, and about when should I intervene and when should I not. The definition in Working Together covers the kinds of incidents that might be relevant to deciding neglect is there, but the critical words are around persistent failure and obviously to do with significant harm. How you judge how persistent is persistent, and what counts as a failure is really a matter of judgment, but motivation does not come into it.

We think actually-short of giving you a solution, which I do not have in a form of words-that it is the right time to review the definitions in both criminal and civil legislation by a really serious think nationally about best practice that would drive both civil and criminal definitions. We would suggest respectfully that you might want to recommend that.

Tessa Munt: That’s great. Thank you.

Enver Solomon: There is a case for that, as Phillip says. One of the key issues around improving the definition is to look at how it better captures the need to take into account young people’s age and development. Parental behaviours that might be deemed abusive or neglectful for a very young child-an infant-would not necessarily be considered appropriate for many older children. Additionally, children aged 10 to 17 face a wider range of issues due to their social networks. The issue of networks in relation to the use of computers and online technology is an obvious one, but lifestyles, their increasing independence, and the fact that young people and older children are more likely to have experienced family change, and are more likely to have taken on roles of caring for parents, of being a young carer-

Q414 Chair: So you can have a series of definitions of neglect based on age?

Enver Solomon: No, I think the definition needs to take into account young people’s age and development. There might be a specific overall definition, but there might be then, unpacking that, a recognition within setting out the definition of the differential issues around age development.

Q415 Tessa Munt: Do we need to explain to people what is expected? Is there anywhere that we explain what is expected that is not neglect?

Phillip Noyes: No. In Scotland, they have parental responsibility set in legislation, and I actually do not know that it has proved particularly useful, other than as a marker for what appropriate parental behaviour is. In England, we do not have that. The Children Act, quite understandably, concentrates on omission or failure-gross acts of bad behaviour by parents-but we do not tell the parent what is expected, no.

For me, the definition needs to get at the lack of empathy-just not connecting with the child. Age is very important, especially with babies. Children are very interesting about this. We asked some young people before Christmas what they thought neglect was and what they made of it. They were teenagers, and the phrase that came through to us, and we have lodged it, was not one that is in anywhere. It was the notion of "severe parental unavailability". That just really felt very nice both on a concrete supervisory level and also being emotionally not there. It felt like a really nice phrase.

Tessa Munt: That is very understandable.

Phillip Noyes: It is, isn’t it?

Enver Solomon: It is something that young people have said to us as well. Poor parenting or a lack of active engagement with them, particularly as teenagers needing support and needing that attachment, is something that they have identified as, to them, constituting maltreatment.

Kate Wallace: We have a particular concern about older children and neglect and the fact that it is not really that well recognised or understood within that age group. I was reading an academic article from the US yesterday around quite affluent parents but also young people who had been involved in childhood sexual exploitation and neglect in terms of supervisory neglect. Just that lack of empathy with parents and their unavailability, as has been described, has been at the heart of some of the issues for those young boys, as it was.

Q416 Tessa Munt: Why do you feel that neglect is so common? Or is it?

Enver Solomon: There are a number of complex factors here that contribute to neglect. There is a clear relationship around the capacity to parent and the resources in the home. Those are not just financial resources, but resources in the broadest sense, and we found that through our work. The issue of parenting and parenting support is very significant. There are a number of hidden issues, particularly around conflict and domestic violence in the home and also around conflict and breakdown of relations between older children and parents. There are substance misuse and mental health issues, which are often hidden and do not appear to be prevalent or noticeable, and I think the combination of those often presents itself.

Older children in particular are very reluctant to disclose and share information, and their behaviours that are a response to being in a risky situation are often misunderstood as them acting out and misbehaving, rather than them being at risk. Their behaviours are labelled as risky, rather than a consequence of being at risk.

Kate Wallace: I would absolutely agree with that. There are issues particularly around older children. Some children may not know that their situation is any different from anybody else’s, and that can have an impact on whether they speak up, particularly where there is neglect. However, there are some aspects of it where children do feel very acutely that they are different from others. In some cases, particularly with supervisory or other types of neglect and with that lack of empathy, some children might not realise that they are different from their peers or their friends, so I think that adds to the complexity of it as well.

Phillip Noyes: I was going to add to that and simply say that I think the notion gets to the heart of the fact that a lot of people that have children, especially when they are young, do not know how to parent them, and then you add distractions such as relationship problems and domestic abuse. It actually gets at the heart of the fact that a lot of parents who have other problems do not know how to put children first and do not know what to do. Whether that is something to do with the way that they have been brought up or not is moot-it is and it is not-but I think it is a notion that really gets at what we want parents to be.

If we look at things that are going to prevent neglect, I think we are talking about being serious about helping people be good parents from the time that they start thinking about relationships in their teens and at school through into the sort of early help that we know that vulnerable parents can benefit from. It is that kind of thing that we need. That is where I think neglect is in parenting.

Q417 Chair: As you know, we write reports and make recommendations to Government, and they are obliged to respond. Do all three of you feel that the current definitions of neglect are inadequate and that the Government should look to come up with better definitions informed by different age requirements and the like?

Enver Solomon: Yes.

Kate Wallace: I think that would be helpful.

Phillip Noyes: Yes.

Chair: Obviously, because it was your proposal in the first place.

Q418Tessa Munt: There were three things that struck me while you were speaking.

Chair: Are you sure these are three questions, because we are taking evidence from the witnesses?

Tessa Munt: On severe parental unavailability, the things that struck me were that we have got a lot of working parents, and I was wondering about when you listen to young people talking about gangs and how they belong and how they are a family for them. The other thing is the fact of disclosure. Do you not think the problem we face is that young people will not disclose to authority, but they perhaps disclose to each other?

Enver Solomon: Yes. That is what we have found through research that we have done: they are more likely to disclose to their peers than either to family members or to those people whom they perceive to be in a position of authority. That is why I think things like peer-led safeguarding forums in schools, or peer safeguarding mentors in secondary schools or colleges could play a really significant role.

Q419 Tessa Munt: Okay. So if I think about the fact that the NSPCC has decided to prioritise neglect-other organisations may have done so as well-how does that lock in if you have got safeguarding in schools taking place at, I presume, a peer level? How does authority glean that information?

Enver Solomon: There should be a link of that information feeding into safeguarding boards through effective information sharing. That was one of the recommendations around schools and peer support that we put forward in a joint report with NSPCC looking at safeguarding 11 to 17-year-olds.

Q420 Tessa Munt: Are we dealing with the under-16s here only, because you have got issues of confidentiality for the over-16s? What happens?

Enver Solomon: No, no. This is children under the age of 18.

Q421 Alex Cunningham: A lot of people believe that poverty is the significant cause of neglect, and I wonder whether that is the case. The NSPCC has a great list of causes, but what other factors make a child prone to neglect? More important, can these factors be used to intervene early with families at risk, bearing in mind the point that Kate made about some children perhaps not knowing they are in that risk situation?

Phillip Noyes: There is not a straight line between neglect and poverty. A lot of people who live in poverty are really very good parents and do great. There are associations with poverty and with relationship problems, and, as I said before, the lack of ability to relate to the child. In terms of referral, you are absolutely right: babies cannot refer themselves. What is needed is that the universal providers remain and are better at spotting concern and have confidence in referring cases of neglect. With physical abuse-not usually sexual abuse for the very little children, but sometimes-there is a trigger incident and there is a confidence about saying, "Yes, there is a bruise, let us do something about it." Neglect is more sophisticated than that, and we are not there yet in providing the right form of tools to help that judgment to be made confidently. At present, it is for health visitors particularly and medical professionals to be confident that they should refer for help, especially for very young babies.

Q422 Alex Cunningham: How do you close that gap? You say we are not there yet.

Phillip Noyes: The NSPCC is currently-as are academics, and you have heard evidence from some already, I think-working at what sort of tools and what sort of kit can really help to provide confident judgment about referring into social care. The other side of the coin, of course, is that thresholds into social care need to be such that social care providers are available to help in cases where the data might be quite soft and where the concerns might be, at present, unspecific. Perhaps we will come back to that later.

Enver Solomon: There is no evidence that there is a causal link with poverty. There are certainly correlations. We have done wide-ranging research asking children what the factors are that impact on their personal sense of well-being, and it is very clear that sudden shocks in terms of household income impact on children in their home. In other words, they are not immune to sudden changes in income. Given the current financial climate, that is particularly pertinent. It is also very clear that those children living in households that are in the lowest income groups are clearly affected in terms of their personal sense of well-being. I think that that affects whether or not there is a greater likelihood of them being neglected. The capacity to parent is certainly impacted and affected by the nature of the resources going into the household, and we should not ignore that fact.

Phillip is absolutely right. The need here is to give professionals the space to exercise discretion and reflective practice, and to have support from managers to take an holistic approach-to look at case histories, to do not just one-off assessments but continuous assessments, and to observe closely the relationships between parents and children. That is much more complex for older children-for teenagers-who will not necessarily have positive relationships with their parents.

Kate Wallace: I want to make two points. One is about professionals having training in child development, because what we know from the research is that severe neglect, particularly chronic neglect, can have such an impact on child development. Practitioners having knowledge about that, so that they can spot the signs of potential developmental delay is quite important, as is everybody who has contact with the child being aware of some of the signs that might indicate that there is some neglect. It has also just struck me during this conversation that resilience and the strategies for improving resilience among children have not really been discussed yet. That is important to bear in mind as well and can help with some of the points you have made, Alex.

Q423 Alex Cunningham: Are the causes of neglect any different from those of other forms of child abuse?

Kate Wallace: Neglect is such a wide-ranging area and has such different facets that there are some common themes, but there are some differences as well, I guess, particularly if you want to talk about abuse. Part of the issue, and part of the problem in terms of determining exactly how big an issue it is, is that abuse and neglect often go together as a kind of joint term, and that that can be unhelpful. It is quite a big question and it could take about an hour to give you an answer.

Q424 Alex Cunningham: Very briefly put. Can we talk about domestic abuse? How common is it for mothers suffering domestic abuse to be accused of neglecting their child for failing to protect them from witnessing that abuse? Often, it is the abuser who needs the attention rather than the abused person. Could a greater emphasis on stopping domestic violence contribute to reducing instances of neglect?

Phillip Noyes: I would take it the other way round. On the hidden problem of neglect, we think that one of the reasons why it is hidden is that professionals become hooked on to the more visible, tangible forms of abuse and do not look behind the bruise or the sexual abuse to look at the preconditions in the family that may have lasted a lot longer and actually been worse for the child than the physical maltreatment. I would have asked it around the other way: yes, domestic abuse, domestic frictions and all sorts of abuse in families can cause neglect and be related to it, but neglect can underpin other forms of abuse. Professionals should be aware of the fact that the very worst-off children in our society are children where there is both an omission of parenting and a form of physical abuse or sexual abuse, so professionals should be looking for both.

Q425 Chair: You did not really answer the question, which was specifically about whether there is insufficient emphasis on intervening on things like domestic abuse, rather than, if we could stop domestic abuse, we would not be characterising the mother, for instance, as failing to protect her child. I think that was the question.

Kate Wallace: I think it is about definitions. In my experience prior to working for Barnardo’s-in Scotland, I worked for the Children’s Reporter-there were a lot of referrals about domestic violence where it was the mother who was seen as failing to protect the child. There was a lack of sophistication and understanding about what those issues were and about perpetrators of violence and how they are failing to care for their children at the point where they are acting in a violent, aggressive, frightening or terrorising way. That part that we have talked about, in terms of children being more likely to speak to peers and friends, is unhelpful, I think. Certainly in Scotland, we found that there was a time when an automatic referral was made to the Children’s Reporter every time the police went out to an investigation. That was hugely unhelpful in a sense, because nobody was really managing risk; they were just passing on the risk to another agency rather than looking at what was happening in that situation.

Q426 Alex Cunningham: Are we becoming more sophisticated in the way that we are identifying this issue?

Kate Wallace: I think so. The issue is also that some people are in situations in families where they can make provision and be helped. Domestic violence, as you know, is a hugely complex area. It is a process of leaving; the person who is being abused does not just go in that set. The research will tell you that the most risky time is actually when the relationship has broken down-that is when women are most at risk of homicide. In some cases where the problem is seen as a failure to protect the child, there are actually some other protective factors that can be put in place to help manage that process in a better way, rather than just seeing it as that straightforward issue.

Enver Solomon: I would just add briefly that the best interest of the child has to be at the heart of the decision-making process. Any professional must always be very conscious and locked on to that fact.

Q427 Alex Cunningham: But other professionals are locked on to that fact.

Enver Solomon: As well, yes, but it is also about adult social care and children’s social care taking decisions that are in the joint interests of children. There is a tendency perhaps for agencies to look at domestic violence not in the context of the impact on children and vice versa; it needs to be looked at in the context of how it will impact on children, and decisions must always be taken that will promote the welfare of the child.

Q428 Ian Mearns: We have already touched on the question of how to define neglect. Phillip, you opened up and told us about the criminal law, and how the definition has not changed since 1933, and Enver, you mentioned earlier that agencies were neglecting neglect. In my own experience, I have been in situations where professionals, be they teachers or school welfare officers, have been concerned about a child, but the level of neglect that the child was suffering was not high enough for a social services intervention. It was clearly identified that neglect was occurring, but the threshold for social services intervention had not been met.

Enver Solomon: What age of children are you talking about?

Q429 Ian Mearns: I have been a governor in primary, secondary and special schools in the last 30 years. Over that period, I have encountered that on a number of occasions.

Neglect has many manifestations. The Chairman talked about intentional and non-intentional neglect, but from the child’s perspective-at that end of the telescope-if it is being neglected, it is irrelevant what sort of neglect is happening. The fact is that it is being neglected, and that needs to be rectified. If we need a better definition of what constitutes neglect, do you think it would be at all possible for all the agencies such as yourselves to work together on a definition for a recommendation to Government?

Enver Solomon: Yes. Government is currently reviewing the Working Together guidance, which includes that, and is consulting with stakeholders on it.

Q430 Ian Mearns: Society has changed beyond recognition, in many respects, since 1933-

Chair: That’s controversial.

Ian Mearns: I’m terribly sorry, Chairman. I didn’t mean to be, but I think most people would accept that.

Do you think that a rapid and urgent update of that 1933 definition is required, from the criminal law perspective?

Phillip Noyes: I am never very good about responding to questions about whether things should be urgent or not. It needs to be done; it could be done soon, but I do not think that it needs to be done tomorrow. It needs to be done properly. The law has lasted a long time, it does feel outdated and it is out of touch with civil law, but it would be good to do it properly.

Enver Solomon: It needs to be done right, rather than rushing it. We are saying collectively that there is a clear rationale for doing it.

Q431 Ian Mearns: I am talking about urgency in the context that it has been 79 years since it was last changed.

Q432 Pat Glass: Many of the children who we are talking about-children who suffer lack of care and lack of supervision-are children who in many respects will go on to cost society a great deal of money. They are more likely to end up in EBD schools, PRUs, mental health services and prison services, and least likely to get stable employment; therefore they are going to cost us a great deal of money. In those circumstances, where do you think a social worker should intervene when there is not a single point of crisis? These children are not just being neglected, but they are actually going to cost us a lot of money. In what circumstances should social workers intervene, when there is not a single point of crisis?

Enver Solomon: If you look at how arrangements are currently configured, it is very clear at what point it becomes a section 47 investigation and at what point it is deemed to be less serious. The challenge here is not so much at what point does children’s social care actually activate child protection proceedings, but at what point do other agencies, when there is clearly early signs of concern about that child’s predicament, seek to try and address that through early help and prevention? We have made progress in that context in relation to multi-agency work, but I think that there is a now real risk, due to a number of factors, of agencies pulling back.

A classic analogy is if you go to your doctor and say, "Doctor, my back is hurting me." They do not immediately refer you to an acute specialist; they seek primary prevention means of trying to deal with that problem. In the same way, if a child is presenting with clear concerns around their behaviour and so forth, there should be a response from those agencies that are immediately engaging with that child, whether it be, for an infant child, health visitors, or for an older child, or schools. I think that there is a risk that that is not happening as effectively as it should be.

The proposals set out in Munro for a statutory requirement for early help is a missed opportunity because the Government have decided to not take that forward. I think that there is a real risk that services coming in early to avoid cases reaching crisis point is will not happen in the way that the Government collectively and all those working in this area would like to see.

Q433 Pat Glass: I accept that, but I have sat in very many case conferences where most of the professionals around the table think, "We’ve done all that. We have brought in the behaviour support services. We’ve got the CAF. We’ve done all of these things. The school is putting loads of support in." This is about the family, and the child is being seriously neglected, but they do not hit the trigger points.

Enver Solomon: Are you talking about a case where everyone is agreed that it has reached a threshold?

Q434 Pat Glass: Yes, but it still does not reach the threshold for social services. These children are going to go on, and five years down the line, they are going to reach their intervention.

Enver Solomon: We know thresholds vary across the country. Certainly in terms of entry into care, you can talk about more than 150 different approaches to thresholds rather than consistency. That variation is a common theme, and it is something that our services experience-even with neighbouring authorities. There are a number of factors that affect that around local resourcing, local cultures and managers, and even different legal advice that might come from local authorities, but I am sure that colleagues will have a different view.

Phillip Noyes: I agree with the view that we should start early, but where there are concerns by people trusting their judgment-health professionals, schools and social workers-and they are worried, that seems to be what Professor Munro is really getting at in terms of the good use of professional judgment. Something has happened in the last few years. Before the upsurge in neglect cases were coming to court, people were saying, "The significant harm test can’t be met. We can’t go. It’s not bad enough." Perhaps they were getting that advice from local authority lawyers. But something has happened, and they have been going to court, orders have been made, and CAFCASS has been saying recently that these cases were not inappropriate.

So I think the new learning-I am sure that we will get better at understanding what has happened in those cases in the next couple of years-would be for professionals to trust their judgment. If they are worried, because they cannot live with these families and monitor everything they do every day, they should put the matter to court to be tested by court.

Q435 Pat Glass: One of the things that I have found to be quite successful-it is awful to have to do this-was to sit in a child protection case conference and say, "I am making a note of my views here and everyone else’s, and the fact that you don’t think that this is serious enough." Suddenly, you find that the social worker thinks, "Oh my god. There’s a record of this," and it changes. That shouldn’t happen for a child.

Phillip Noyes: I did a bit of homework before coming here. I caught a glimpse of an Ofsted report from 2009-10, talking about thresholds, and there was an interesting differentiation between some well performing and some poorly performing authorities. In the well performing ones, there would be a threshold and it would be understood. In situations like the one that you’ve been in, and you’re taking a note, what else would happen? Would it be escalated to a more senior level to have a discussion locally about what is the local mandate and the local threshold for action? Is it understood between agencies? That feels like, in those circumstances, the right thing to do.

Another point is from the same report, saying that in well performing authorities, it wasn’t a question of black or white; you’re not on one side of the line or the other. There is a question of where people are really getting stressed out about a case, like your example, there would be a process of negotiation and consultation, often with the ring being held by the common assessment framework co-ordinator, to have a really good and fresh look at what is actually happening in that family. Both of those feel desirable in the current climate to deal with your concern.

Kate Wallace: I was just going to say that we’ve got only limited research at the moment about capacity of parents to change. The Loughborough research was that there were only very small numbers; it was about the ability of parents to change if they hadn’t already done so by the time their child was six months old. I think that more research like that would be helpful.

Q436 Pat Glass: Can I ask you about how we support social workers from becoming inured to neglect? I am not an expert in child protection, but I have been around it and worked around it for a long time. I can remember thinking, "It’s not the point at which I can’t sleep that’s a problem; it’s the point at which I can sleep." How do we support social workers from simply becoming inured to neglect because they see it and work with it every day?

Enver Solomon: I think training and continuous professional development are key here, particularly on issues in relation to child development, emotional, intellectual and behavioural developments and how parental behaviour impacts on those. I think that training and professional development could be substantially improved in those areas, and there was a recognition of that from the taskforce and the work that Moira Gibb led. In addition to that, effective management support for front-line social workers is absolutely critical. Alongside that, the issue of case loads really matters. It is not simply just about case loads, but it is a contributory factor that is very important, because the number of case loads an individual social worker is managing impacts on their ability to reflect, to properly assess, to make good-quality decisions and to discuss their judgments with their professional peers immediately, in other agencies and with their managers. The combination of those things is really important.

Chair: Does anyone else have anything to add?

Kate Wallace: We would see that as a key area for the Children’s Workforce Development Council and the College of Social Work to look at in terms of some training around that, particularly in terms of development, attachment and the impact of neglect on those.

Q437 Pat Glass: Do you think that social workers should have, as part of their contract, a period of time when they are away from the front line and seeing neglect on a daily basis, so that they can come back and get some perspective about what is a non-neglective circumstance?

Phillip Noyes: Not quite. There is a critical role for a first-line manager in challenging the social workers’ assumptions in both directions: one is that a family is basically good enough, and you get immune to it, or that a person is over-optimistic. What feels important is to decide either that the agency cannot deal with this family and that it needs to be left to monitoring by health and other agencies, or that, if it is on the books, the social worker should not have a sleepful night-something positive should be done to try to test the parents’ capacity to parent. There is quite a lot of evidence now that, if you are going to impact on parenting, it is going to show within about six months and you can make a difference to the way the person parents. It would be to suggest to the first-line manager of the social worker who is sleeping again to make the case management very active, with very clear objectives, over a time-limited period.

Q438 Pat Glass: What does the evidence tell us about critical points of intervention? Are there points at which, if we do not intervene, intervention becomes less effective? Or is it always useful to intervene, at whatever point?

Enver Solomon: There is evidence that, if decisions are not taken early when there is a clear case of neglect and it becomes persistent and chronic, the impact on that child or young person is considerable and substantial and, if you like, deeper and greater. Particularly, there is also evidence that it has a significant impact on older children in terms of behaviours such as offending, substance misuse, and so forth, which seriously impact on their future development.

Phillip Noyes: My answer would be early age, the younger the better.

Q439 Pat Glass: So it is much more effective to intervene early? If you leave it till later, you are less likely to have change?

Phillip Noyes: The baby is so malleable and so vulnerable that it is the earlier the better. Having missed that opportunity, the task later is to ensure that the case management does not drift and that very specific time goals are set for the work.

Q440 Chair: How important will the increase in health visitor numbers be? How important is their role in intervening early with the most vulnerable young children?

Enver Solomon: I think they have a role, but I would draw your attention to the recent report by the NHS Confederation, which raised concerns about overall levels of primary care health support. The make-up of teams, the multi-disciplinary mix, was affected in some areas by the rush to increase the numbers of health visitors, but I think they do play a pivotal role for younger children. It is important to recognise that for older children they are going to have much less impact.

Q441 Chair: I am unclear on their role. Is it primarily a signposting role to other services, which need to be there before signposting is much use anyway, or do they actually play an intervention role themselves? Will the increase in numbers, in and of itself, improve service quality and the likelihood of intervention?

Phillip Noyes: It is a bit of both, but resources are such that it is mainly signposting, although when a health visitor is concerned about a child, she-they are normally women-will find time to help. They are incredibly important. One of the earliest projects I did was in Manchester helping a group of health visitors know when to trust their judgment and refer to social services and keep on pushing the button. That was 30 years ago, and it has not changed very much. They are absolutely critical.

Q442 Lisa Nandy: One of the reasons why we were keen to do this inquiry was to explore what is happening with older young people, who, perhaps understandably because of tragedies such as Victoria Climbié and Baby Peter, get overlooked, certainly in public. A number of the agencies that made submissions to us highlighted their concerns about older young people who are at risk of harm. Can you tell me why you think that older young people are in danger of being overlooked by the child protection system and what ought to be done about it?

Enver Solomon: We have highlighted a number of factors in our research, but maybe I could start with a quote that came from a professional in the work that we did jointly with the NSPCC. The professional said, "We can’t rush out to a 16 year old who’s perhaps sofa-surfing and perhaps experimenting with drugs and getting into crime, you know that’s a big worry, but we can’t prioritise that when we’re working with 0 to 5 year olds in, you know, some pretty dire situations." That reflects the fact that risky behaviour by older children is deemed to be less of a priority when individuals are having to make difficult judgments and prioritise the decisions that they take. Perceptions and how young people’s behaviour is perceived is critically important. Our work shows that 11 to 17-year-olds were seen as more competent to deal with maltreatment, including being able to escape the situation and seek help. They were perceived by some professionals as more resilient-i.e. they were more able to cope with neglect and maltreatment. They were likely to be seen as contributing to and exacerbating the situation through indulging in risky behaviours, rather than being at risk themselves. There were a number of obstacles as well.

Q443 Lisa Nandy: Sorry to interrupt, but I want to ask you about that. That is an important question. Are there circumstances in which it is right to hold young people responsible for their own behaviour and to ask those young people to act for themselves to change that behaviour? I ask that in the context of young people telling me repeatedly over the past 10 years that they find it very difficult, because help and support is often focused on those young people who act out and who do not play by the rules. Those young people who do play by the rules feel that that is incredibly unfair. Is there an element in that phenomenon that you are talking about where that is quite helpful?

Enver Solomon: I think that part of engaging effectively with a young person is about giving them the capacity to take responsibility and recognising with them that they have responsibilities themselves.

Q444 Lisa Nandy: But that requires intervention.

Enver Solomon: But that requires intervention. If you are talking about a young person who has experienced significant trauma or loss in their life, who has experienced significant neglect and abuse and who does not have the capacity to empathise with others, that will be extremely difficult, but it is part of the engagement process with that young person. Let me be very clear, this is not about making excuses for behaviour. This is about addressing a young person’s behaviour that is putting them in dangerous situations and potentially causing harm to others and ensuring that that is addressed in the most effective way.

Phillip Noyes: I think we need a different mindset from thinking that the solution to helping young people is intervention. We did a bit of research a while ago and asked some 18 to 24-year-olds who had been sexually abused how it stopped. Only 4% said that it stopped because of people like us. They did not want to touch us with a bargepole. For the rest, it stopped because the perpetrator went away, they individually had stopped it, someone that they loved or trusted had stopped it for them, or it had not stopped. I think that if we are looking at how young people who have been abused-there are lots of them-who have not told anybody, and if they did, they told their friends, we need to think of a new kind of help that gets them friends and peers to talk to, which helps them decide when it is appropriate to talk and when not.

Q445 Lisa Nandy: How do you achieve that without intervention?

Phillip Noyes: It is a different kind of public education and a different kind of intervention from that offered by special professionals through LSCBs. It has much more of a feel of peer support and volunteerism of information. One of the things that you will have heard from my colleague from ChildLine is about the increase in the number of 16 to 18-year-olds calling ChildLine. There is a message getting through that it is socially respectable for a 16 to 18-year-old to ask somebody for help. If they can do that privately, without disclosing their name and without losing control of what happens to them, then good for them. We need to think about how we make that happen more and more systematically.

Q446 Lisa Nandy: One of my concerns about that is that many of the young people who I have worked with in the past-particularly refugee and migrant children-are friends with other children who are in a similar situation, so their expectations are much lower. They are very reluctant to go to authority for help. It is quite a challenge to think that we could put a culture like that in place without any kind of formal structure of intervention.

Phillip Noyes: It is, but I think that there is more than one way to skin a cat. For example, we offer a service to voluntary groups, which is Government funded, to simply equip them to know what to do if a child wants to talk to them about something sensitive to do with abuse. That kind of approach is effective, and it is wanted. There are forums in which these young people go and meet. Wouldn’t it be good if we could equip them to offer soft-touch starter help, so that the young person could decide what to do-live with it, do something about it or, the 4%, come to us?

Kate Wallace: One of the key issues that we’ve got is about child sexual exploitation among that older age group. One of the concerns about that is that services don’t recognise it as a child protection issue. It often doesn’t hit the thresholds. That’s been anecdotally shown from our side and from others. One of the key problems causing an issue in this area is that often, the children themselves and their families might not see it as an exploitative relationship. Their peers might not recognise it either. We need to bear that in mind as well. We certainly have a particular issue about child sexual exploitation and how it is often not viewed as a child protection issue.

Q447 Chair: Enver, I saw you shaking your head at one stage when Phillip was talking. Tell us where you disagree.

Enver Solomon: Personally, I don’t think it’s an either/or. I think there is quite a lot of peer support work out there; we are just not necessarily conscious of it taking place. We have what we call a squad of young people, for want of a better term, who work with other young people who go missing and run away from home, as a means of engagement.

But that is alongside. I cannot over-emphasise the importance of a professional who can develop a trusting relationship with that young person. Often, the voluntary sector is able to do that very well, because it does not have the perceived suspicions associated with social care or others. I am not particularly bothered about who that trusted professional is, but it needs to be someone who has the capacity to form a relationship and work with that young person. Talk to any person whose life has fallen apart-it is very evident when you talk to people in the deep end of the criminal justice system; I have spoken to many in custody-and they say, "The one thing that made a difference to me was a relationship with someone who understood me, who I trusted and who was able to support me to move on in life."

Q448 Lisa Nandy: In the submissions that we got about older young people, trafficked children came up quite a lot, along with migrants, homelessness and young people in the criminal justice system. It strikes me that many of those are young people who do not naturally fall within the remit of the Department for Education, and for whom policy responsibility is held by various different Departments. Do you think that the change from the Department for Children, Schools and Families to the Department for Education has been a good or a bad thing, or has it had no impact on those young people? Is Government sufficiently joined-up to see these young people as children to whom they have a child protection responsibility, and does the structure of Departments make a difference?

Chair: Brief answers, please.

Enver Solomon: We have a Minister responsible for children’s safeguarding who is very committed and knowledgeable, and we welcome that, as indeed does the sector, but I think there isn’t effective cross-Government working. We know from our work with children in the immigration process that the UKBA and the Home Office duty around safeguarding is not delivered as effectively as it should be, and that there isn’t a link-up with other agencies. We have real concerns, particularly in relation to children who are trafficked and are in the immigration system, that duties around safeguarding and welfare of the child are not always prioritised.

Q449 Chair: So what do you propose?

Enver Solomon: I think that the duty for those children, where there are clear child protection issues, needs to be with a Department that has clear responsibility and lead for that within Government.

Q450 Chair: Does anyone want to add to that? Do you both agree with what Enver said?

Phillip Noyes and Kate Wallace indicated assent.

Q451 Craig Whittaker: We have already heard about all the 16 to 18-year-olds contacting ChildLine. We have heard from Enver about how there is quite a lot of peer support that works alongside, but how and from whom do older young people generally tend to seek advice? Do services offer help in appropriate forms? For example, is there a difference between the effectiveness of statutory compared to voluntary services?

Phillip Noyes: I think there is probably a misfit. The child protection system over the years has really been more geared to dealing with abuse that happens at home within families. Young people are experiencing a range of abuse, as was indicated earlier, out of home as well. Because they are older, assumptions are made about their resilience.

It is not clear what would be the best way of enabling young people to access face-to-face help and intervention. I do not think we have got that right, and I do not have a view of that. What we have found is that young people are incredibly receptive to talking not at the face-to-face level, but over the internet using online services. We do not have a solution in this country where we can find face-to-face help for young people that they will go and look for, because it tends to be stigmatising. They tend to be worried about losing control when they interact with somebody more formally.

Enver Solomon: To be blunt about it, the child protection system as it is currently configured is not working as well as it should be for older children. Too many services are neglecting their needs, and that has come through very strongly in the research work.

Q452 Chair: Is that primarily statutory, or primarily the voluntary sector? Is there is a qualitative difference in the way older children are treated?

Enver Solomon: I think it is primarily statutory agencies, but I also think there is now less available for older children across the board. There are a number of issues here that I have already touched on. Professionals feel that it is difficult to engage young people for a range of reasons, such as older children and young people themselves not wanting to engage in child protection conferences, or practitioners feeling that the child protection process as it is currently configured does not always allow young people sufficient opportunity to control the process and to have a say in the process, which is particularly important for this age group. There the value of advocacy is really important.

Q453 Chair: What would that look like-changing the system so that older young people felt better able to control it and thus were more prepared to engage with it?

Enver Solomon: There need to be very clear mechanisms for them to have a participatory role in the process and to facilitate that role through things like the right to advocacy-meaning that advocacy and advocacy support is one of the most effective and obvious ways to facilitate that. It is also about how local areas reach out to that young person and ensure that they are well informed about the process. Often young people say to us that they do not understand the process; they are not clear how it is supposed to work to address their concerns and to facilitate their involvement and active inclusion in it.

Phillip Noyes: Two answers. One was a difference in the solutions to being at home or being in care. For children of that age something else is probably needed rather than removal to care, to do with finding ways of minimising risk at home.

We know that one of the things that young people really mind about is confidentiality, and one could say that maybe the conventions of confidentiality are wrong for this age group. There is a wisdom about information sharing, so information is shared at a level within the LSCB framework where there might be a risk of significant harm to the child. There is a good case to be made, I think, for operating with a higher level of confidentiality-say at the serious harm level-when older young people refer themselves, so that they know they can talk to a professional in confidence and it will not be whisked around the local agencies the following moment. That is quite controversial, but from the point of view of young people, they really mind what is confidential and what is not.

Q454 Craig Whittaker: We spoke primarily about children in the care system or who have been referred, but are they able to refer themselves to social services? Is that an option, and if so, should it be made more available for young people?

Enver Solomon: That is a good point, and our experience is that there is not as much self-referral, as I think Phillip was indicating that there should be. There is a real need to encourage self-referral. That needs to be done through better information, reaching out to young people and their having confidence that systems are there to work for them and in their interests, as well as addressing all the other factors.

Q455 Craig Whittaker: Do we know what percentage of young people refer themselves?

Phillip Noyes: It is tiny. And you think, "Why would they?" Adults do not know what happens when they refer people to social services-whatever would happen to a young person that did that? There is an awful long way to go, if one was going to elicit self-referral, to make it safe for young people to refer.

Q456 Craig Whittaker: We had a trip to a children’s home in Barnsley some weeks ago now. It became very clear that a couple of young people there were really eager to leave once they turned 16. Is this common and, if so, what kind of support do we give these young people for the transition?

Enver Solomon: The numbers moving out of care at 16 have actually declined in recent years, because there has been much greater effort to support them up to the age of 18, which is absolutely right. There are still issues around the cliff-edge support for children leaving the care system. There have undoubtedly been some improvements, and it was recognised by the previous Government and this Government as being one of the key issues for children in care. But I think the challenge here is to support the young person in terms of what they think is best for them; to have flexibility around that, because some young people will be in a better position about taking on independence than others; and to make sure that independence is about supported transition and supporting independence.

Q457 Craig Whittaker: Do we really do that well, though? I know we have the pathway planning and stuff, but my experience is that pathway planning is so inconsistent across the country, wherever you find it.

Enver Solomon: It is, yes. There is certainly room for improvement.

Q458 Craig Whittaker: So, room for improvement or is there actually a long way to go?

Enver Solomon: Some of the reforms have been well intentioned and some of the changes have been well intentioned, but there is still a long way to go.

Kate Wallace: The other thing we have been looking at is numbers coming into care at that age group. That is actually quite high, so that is another issue to bear in mind as well. Our view would be about the stability of placements. For older children, placements are less stable-they are more likely to come in and out of care. We know that the research will tell us that that can be quite damaging, and the most damaging aspect of it is the instability.

I would agree with a lot of what Enver was saying but, for us, we would want to see a flexibility in the care system so that there is a flexibility of placements that suit the needs of that particular child, and a recognition that older children have quite distinct needs and that some aspects of the care system may work better for them than others. I would agree with some of Phillip’s points about different types of care and looking at different aspects of that in terms of minimising the risk at home and using stuff like respite care and that type of thing. There is quite a bit-

Q459 Craig Whittaker: Bearing in mind what Enver said earlier about resilience-that there is a natural presumption that older young people have a higher level of resilience-does that mean we give them the level of support that you say should be happening or that we don’t?

Kate Wallace: I would agree with Enver saying that there is an assumption-certainly one we found-that older children automatically have higher resilience, but some of the research that is around will tell you about the impact of long-term and chronic neglect on development, abstract reasoning and thinking. Some of the neurological stuff would challenge some of those assumptions for some older children, but obviously it is different for different children.

Q460 Craig Whittaker: I get what you are saying about the assumptions. What we are trying to get at is what actually happens. We can assume and we can say we have this policy and that policy, but actually the question is: does it work and is it working?

Enver Solomon: The reality is that provision exiting out of care and transitioning from care is not consistently good. There is certainly room for improvement. We work with a lot of children in care councils, and we come across cases where there has not been effective support. I do not think access to supported accommodation and the provision of supported accommodation in the number of placements are sufficient, so there is certainly room-

Q461 Chair: Can you put that in the form of a recommendation? Our bemoaning, in our report, the fact that, although there have been improvements, there is a long way to go, does not actually create the framework or the drivers to get something measureable. What we need is some metrics or steps that we can measure and materially see a difference and an improvement in the outcomes for these young people.

Enver Solomon: I think that the new sufficiency duty around placements for looked-after children needs to extend to placements on transitioning out of care. There’s something for you.

Q462 Chair: One of the big things that we see again and again when dealing with children suffering neglect abuse is the need for stable relationships. The churn of social workers and of care workers of one sort or another is a big issue. We talk about older children-we see them at 16, and it might move up slightly to 17-ending up in a bedsit with new relationships and there isn’t a continuity of care or a trusted adult, or possibly adults, to support them through those years. The best educated, best supported and most loved children in the country are struggling in their early 20s to make sense of life, yet here are the most vulnerable and disadvantaged children lacking that basic support. How can we change the system so that we have those stable relationships maintained for those young people? Are there any thoughts on that, assuming that my premise is right?

Enver Solomon: Yes, I think your premise is right. I made the point about the sufficiency duty and that it applies to supported accommodation on transition out of care. It is about access to quality support and transition planning and pathway planning. Equally, there is a role here for reviewing the effectiveness of the IRO and the extent to which the IRO is actively holding the authority to account for effective pathway planning and access to support around befriending and advocates as well. I would be happy to submit some specific key recommendations on that to the Committee.

Chair: Yes, we would very much welcome that. Thank you.

Q463 Pat Glass: Can I bring you back to thresholds? How much of a problem is this variation over the, I think, 151 local authorities that we have now? Is there a case for standardisation and what would you recommend to get better standardisation?

Phillip Noyes: Yes, it is a problem.

Q464 Pat Glass: What would you recommend to make it better?

Phillip Noyes: From our experience, the problem is both across and within local authorities sometimes. As we have discussed already in relation to your example about the health visitors, the problems can be very local indeed. It goes against the grain of the current approach to want to centralise and to create a national threshold-I understand that-but it seems absolutely obvious that the local Safeguarding Children Boards should define local thresholds so that the agencies understand what’s going to happen locally. It seems self-evident-I hope it is-that they get some help in formulating those kinds of thresholds from central Government.

Q465 Pat Glass: Is any Government guidance issued, or is it just the legislation and each local authority finds its own salvation in its own way?

Enver Solomon: The Working Together guidance is very clear and actually quite detailed and prescriptive, and I think the Government see it as too prescriptive. I don’t think we are in a world whereby we will have a national threshold that will be sent down to local authorities and that they will be hauled over the coals if evidence suggests that those thresholds are not being met. We need to look at the key determining factors that are often highlighted in some of the Ofsted reports that Phillip referred to that determine good practice and good quality decision making.

In my mind, it is not an issue about thresholds; it is about good quality decision making that takes place in the best interests of the child. A number of things that colleagues and I have referred to would address that-issues around case loads and around professional support and training; issues around how managers support front-line workers; and, in particular, a better understanding of child development and the nature of neglect, and a better understanding around working with older children, with teenagers, and the differential experiences around teenagers. If you take those packages of things and ensure that they are effectively in place, you would get good quality decision making. That is borne out in those inspectorate reports that demonstrate that in those local areas where there is good quality decision making and where thresholds are deemed to be at an appropriate level.

A number of factors impact on thresholds in local areas. The working group under the previous Government identified a range of them around local cultures, management and resourcing. It would be worthwhile for the Government to seek to understand the current factors determining the differentiation in local thresholds, as well as to concentrate on the package of measures that is going to lead to better-quality decision making.

Q466 Ian Mearns: Most people would accept most of that in most areas. As we know, there are different positions around the country. I am certainly aware of local authorities in the north of England-not necessarily Gateshead but in the surrounding area-that have a pretty good reputation in this field but are currently dismantling the services they have put together because of the level of cuts in local government finance they are facing.

Enver Solomon: Yes. That is the reality of a situation that is still being played out. We still don’t know how it is going to impact. The issue around resources has always been there and is more relevant today than before. In our work we have experienced some children’s social care using deflection strategies at the point of referral to try to reduce the number of cases accepted. There is what we describe as strategic deferment, when the referral is sent back to the referrer to ask for more information about the case. There is also signposting, when they say that it could be signposted to more appropriate agencies, and they question the quality of the preparation work. There is clearly a tendency at a time of reduced resources to move towards more gatekeeping measures. That is the reality, but it needs to be addressed through effective inspection arrangements and careful monitoring of resources and resource allocation.

Phillip Noyes: I slightly disagree. In the Working Together guidelines over many years, a lot of time and space have been spent describing roles and responsibilities. They are inter-agency guidelines about how people work together. People in a local area will know who does the medical examination and what health visitors are supposed to do. It seems wrong to me that there is not the same deliberateness about what to expect from each other when you make a referral, and what kind of referral you make will get a positive response and when you can expect not to get a response. It feels important to tackle that, although it is obviously very politically sensitive to do that.

Enver Solomon: Do you not think the current guidance spells that out clearly enough?

Phillip Noyes: No.

Enver Solomon: So, would you like more detail, specifically? Is that at the point-

Q467 Chair: If I may, Enver, I will allow the Committee to ask the questions.

Enver Solomon: I am curious to flesh that out. I think it is an interesting point.

Q468 Pat Glass: There are similar tensions, as I have mentioned before, in special needs referrals. In the authorities where I have worked when we get what we consider inappropriate referrals from schools-as happens consistently-that is seen as a training issue. Someone from the authority would sit down with the school and say, "You are making these referrals and they are not appropriate," or "Why do you think they are appropriate?" There is some kind of follow-up.

The evidence we received from an entire panel, including GPs and teachers, was that there is often no response. You send a referral, it disappears into the ether and nothing ever comes back to say that it has not been accepted, or why it has not been accepted. Is that something we could give guidance on?

Phillip Noyes: It is important to deal with these things locally. We refer out from our national helpline to local authorities and we sample them. We did a sample of 2,500 last year. Where there is a gross abuse in referral-something very serious-generally there is a good predictable response. Anything less than that is really not predictable, either between authorities or within an authority. It can be a local fiefdom in part of a borough that gets a particular response, rather than something that is officially sanctioned by the management of the organisation. It feels important that that is dealt with properly. I would prefer to see something said centrally, even though there cannot be a national threshold, about expectations about referrals. I certainly think it is a requirement of local Safeguarding Children Boards to do that in relation to child abuse referrals.

Q469 Pat Glass: Kate, can I ask you about Barnardo’s submission? It suggested that instead of having a system where cases are either open or closed there could be some stepping up or stepping down. How would that work in practice?

Kate Wallace: You need to be a bit more sophisticated about how much services or how much intervention you put in place and how much monitoring you keep of a case and of a child’s situation with a bit more of an understanding about what that situation is rather than closing a case completely. I suppose I see it as quite self-explanatory. I know that I am not describing it particularly well. They are still there and in the system to some extent-

Q470 Pat Glass: I guess what I am asking is would there be any legal issues with this, because there are so many definitions of children in care, children looked after etcetera. Would it cause difficulties legally if you just kept cases open indefinitely?

Kate Wallace: No, I don’t think so.

Phillip Noyes: I ran a child protection register and one of the really important points-I agree with the point that has been made-is to be completely clear which is which. If you are monitoring a case you need to be absolutely clear that that is what you doing and you are not doing anything else. A number of the serious case reviews will have highlighted alleged casework management as active casework when in fact it has not been, it has simply been monitoring.

Damian Hinds: Enver, you touched on the Munro report, statutory duty and so on. In terms of families or cases that do not meet the threshold, in your experience what are the interventions or programmes that are most effective and which are the most widely available?

Enver Solomon: The NSPCC is currently piloting some programmes particularly in relation to infants. We know the evidence from family-nurse partnerships is very strong. I just heard David Olds talking. He is behind the family-nurse partnership and the work that was pioneered in Colorado and that now we are piloting here. There are some good programmes, particularly those that inform better quality health visiting. The challenge from our perspective, because we run a number of children’s centres but we also work with a lot of older children, is the support provided to teenagers, older children if they don’t meet thresholds, and the kind of packages of support that are available there and the targeted support. There is a risk that resources drift away from that age group around universal provision. There isn’t an equivalent of the resource that is going into children’s centres, for example, which will play a pivotal role in providing that support for older children and that is of great concern to us.

Phillip Noyes: The NSPCC has currently reorganised its services to try to innovate and look at that question. If I may, could I send you something to describe the services that we have chosen to try out in this country either from scratch or where there have been successes abroad, particularly in the States, which have not been tried here? We are trialling one in particular, as Enver has flagged, that is like the family-nurse partnership, called "Minding the Baby". We are doing that with Yale. It is an intensive support package for young parents with babies. We are also trialling a programme called "Safe care" in the field of neglect, which is based on some American learning about the particular issues in family life that should be targeted to make the most difference over a shortish period of time on parenting. If I may, I’ll send you a briefing on those.

Kate Wallace: The majority of our services are family support and parenting services. We do some evidence-based interventions and evidence-based programmes but we also grow some of our own and develop our own types of programmes so we can send you some information as well. For different types of children in different circumstances with different parents there are different programmes and interventions that can work effectively.

Q471 Damian Hinds: Can I turn it around a bit? Following the Field report and the Allen report, there was a lot of heightened interest in this area. For obvious reasons, because of the title of this inquiry, most of what we have been talking about this morning is about what happens when things go wrong. There is another big question about the programmes that you have put in place to try to make things go right as much as possible. The family-nurse partnership always gets mentioned as the successful evidence-based programme. It is very high-intensity and therefore quite high cost, and therefore it cannot really be done on a massive wide scale. Do you know of programmes that are perhaps of lower intensity, lower cost and more widely applicable, which have good track records in terms of trying to stop some of the problems appearing in the first place?

Enver Solomon: There is a range of programmes. The Blueprints work at the University of Colorado has looked at a number of programmes that are less intense such as family functional therapy, which is being used in New York State, and which has been used here on a much smaller scale. More expensive and intensive is multi-systemic therapy. There are the programmes there. I do not think we should get away from the issue of resources, which is something that Phillip and I were talking about before we came in. The 1989 Act was constructed on the assumption that it was not just about providing resources to meet the needs of children who reached child protection thresholds. It was very much constructed with the assumption that children in need broadly would be provided with support. Arguably, the system has never been effectively resourced and implemented to deliver on that. To be blunt, we can tinker with resourcing and adopting these programmes there and those programmes there, but fundamentally, unless local areas are going to be resourcing provision right across the scale of need, there will be a limited impact.

Phillip Noyes: We are trying something one back from early intervention, which is a more public education approach to a specific issue to do with shaking babies. In the States they have had some success in telling brand-new parents about the damage to children from shaking them. We are running it in 12 sites in this country to see if we can get a similar kind of effect here. That obviously would be very exciting if it is successful, because it is low unit cost and very wide population.

Q472 Damian Hinds: Whether shaken babies or otherwise, how much of the emphasis do you think should be pre-birth? Speaking as a relatively recent new parent myself, it is amazing how much stuff people tell you about how much pain you are going to be in in labour, and how little they tell you about what will happen thereafter when you get the baby home. That is just an observation. It comes as quite a shock.

Phillip Noyes: It is critical.

Enver Solomon: I was going to say it is crucial. That is one of the key features of the family-nurse partnership programme, and there is research evidence to prove it. I would like to stress to the Committee that the pre-birth period, the early years and infancy are critically important, but things can go wrong in a child’s life later on. There are critical triggers and transition points. Some of the obvious ones are when there is conflict in the home, a crisis in the home, or a breakdown in relationships in the home. The transition from primary to secondary is absolutely a critical point in a child’s life. If we are looking at particularly the histories of young people who end up in the youth justice system, there is very clear evidence that that juncture in that young person’s life is pivotal, and we need to do much better at configuring support at that point.

Q473 Damian Hinds: What would you do? There is a new summer school proposal.

Enver Solomon: There is.

Q474 Damian Hinds: Is that in line with the sorts of things-

Enver Solomon: There is, but it is small numbers. It is well intentioned, but we need that on a bigger and better scale. We need support to schools to provide additional help to those children, and primary schools will be able to tell them which children to look out for and provide additional support for.

Kate Wallace: I was just going to say that in our experience a lot of parenting programmes focus on parenting babies and do not focus on preparing parents for parenting older children or for children with specific needs-for example, mental health problems that might come up later on. That type of thing needs to be borne in mind as well, which echoes Enver’s point. I agree with the other point about resources-the impact of resource cuts, on early intervention in particular, and what that will mean in terms of the whole system. Over 60% of the cuts that we have felt have hit early intervention types of service.

Q475 Damian Hinds: We have a new focus from the Government on the 120,000 most troubled families. We know that is a statistical construct; we do not actually know exactly who the families are, although you would probably say that you do know, broadly, who some of them are. First, do you welcome the initiative? Secondly, operationally, as that approach is rolled out, what would you advise Government and local authorities to do to make the most of it to reduce child abuse and neglect?

Enver Solomon: My organisation has cautiously welcomed it. There is a danger of fixating on a group of families who develop, in the public discourse, a kind of mythology, which becomes attached to them. We must recognise that families move in and out of crisis. Shocks to families can push them into crisis, and then they can get over those shocks. It is about giving all families resilience and support. There will be those who are in greatest need. The family intervention projects model is a very good one, but there is a danger that resources drift to particular groups of families. A universal offer, and targeting within it, are critical.

Kate Wallace: I agree. Speaking from previous experience, before I worked at Barnardo’s, I was looking at rationalising services within that group and at some of the innovative models. You are seeing where there is duplication of services within families in that group and stripping out some of that duplication and rationalising it. A local authority in Scotland had a budget for developing innovative services, exactly for looking at those in families with multiple and complex needs. It found that it did not need to use that budget by the time it had stripped out the duplication, looked at innovative models and slightly changed the models that it had, but, as I said, that was my experience before Barnardo’s.

Q476 Damian Hinds: Would you recommend particular local authorities as poster children for this, in terms of success stories that you have come across in the past? Who has done it best?

Kate Wallace: I was talking about my experience before coming to England.

Q477 Damian Hinds: Okay. Was that in Scotland or somewhere else?

Kate Wallace: Yes, Scotland.

Damian Hinds: That’s not too far away; we are still talking-at this point.

Kate Wallace: Certainly, that should be looked into, because there is obviously a different framework.

Phillip Noyes: I might be a bit naive, but I welcome the notion of focusing on the most troubled families-not necessarily the number-because the reality in child protection is that there are worst cases in every town, with files piled high. They are multi-generational, they involve intra-familial and extra-familial abuse, and people are stuck. I welcome it if it is an initiative to encourage a fresh look-on a case-by-case basis, with inter-agency planning-at these most entrenched families, who are very difficult to impact on. I thought it was a good thing to do.

Enver Solomon: We need to be mindful, not just of case-based intervention, but of place-based intervention. If we are talking about communities and their importance in providing resilience to families within them, we must not lose sight of the importance of a place-based approach as well as an individual, case-based one.

Q478 Damian Hinds: What do you mean? You’ve lost me.

Enver Solomon: If you are talking about individual cases, you are talking about pinpointing particular families, who you then direct resources to; if you are talking about a more place-based approach, you identify particular areas. You can do that within wards, even in a very specific area, where you know that there are indices of levels of need. You look at building resilience in those communities, not just targeting individual families.

Q479 Chair: May I go back to the issues of resources and place? You have suggested that there is a problem because of local government funding at the moment, but there is the increase in health visitors and the very expensive extension of nursery education to two-year-olds in the Education Act that has just gone through-it is getting on towards half a billion pounds a year, if I remember rightly, to provide that, and that was before it was up from 20% of young people to 40%, so it is a very big investment. Then you have the Government talking about trying to pool funding across agencies, because they said that there was so much money being spent supporting particularly troubled families and they needed to look at it more holistically. Trying to draw that together, I am trying to get a sense from you-obviously, there are positives and negatives, because of the overall financial situation-whether the situation is expected to improve or deteriorate. How exactly do all the resourcing issues balance out? There are cuts in some areas, but quite significant increases in others. What is the overview where you sit?

Enver Solomon: We do not know what the Chancellor is planning for the next public spending round. If early intervention is a core element of that spending round, then we would hope to see a resource boost. It should be a core element. On the disadvantaged two-year-olds offer, my understanding is that funding is rolled into the early intervention grant. There is certainly a piece I read, as part of my preparation for this, in Children & Young People Now, that has analysed the new financial year spend on the early intervention grant, saying that the funding for the disadvantaged two-year-olds offer is part of that grant. I would suggest that the Committee look at that in more detail and try and unpick that, because that clearly means that it might ostensibly be an increase, but actually, overall, it might be a rise. There was also an indication in their analysis that some authorities have done better out of the grant than other authorities, so it is a complex picture here about resources.

The issue around ring-fencing is also important. It is not just about the resource allocation, it is about how resources will be spent within local areas. One needs to take into account the overall package on universal provision for older children as well, and youth support. Different local areas are making different decisions on levels of funding for that.

Phillip Noyes: There was a survey recently of expected cuts in children’s social care in the year 2012-13, and it averaged out at 24%. The authorities are now saying that it is not going to be as bad as that, and they said they were not cutting their hard core child protection section 47-type budgets, but what was going was the early intervention budgets. When we did the report we published a few weeks ago, our take out of that was that, okay, yes, you should prioritise the urgent risk today on the prevention of risk tomorrow, but actually that is a false economy in the medium to long term. They say they are not cutting as extensively as that, though, so we are asking them again and updating the report.

The thing that I feel really concerned about is that there is a gap in our mindset, in my view, between the child protection section 47-type funding and universal services, and the gap is not filled by the notion of children in need, because it never has been-there are too many of them to afford to give help to. What we should be thinking a bit more about is who should be most targeted to get early intervention because they present the greatest risk to children-although academics will disagree, we broadly know who they are-and we should be thinking about looking at the level of funding to those families with whom there would be some overlap with the 120,000 problem families, but there sometimes would not be.

Q480 Chair: There is also the investment, as Damian talked about, of identifying families at risk before they actually have a problem and trying to ensure they get it right first time, so that we do not have the problems.

Phillip Noyes: Excuse me for saying, we do not really have a notion of that in the legislation. You are either in need, or you are in need of protection. The Prime Minister’s new category of problem family, I think, is a different notion. Actually, reintroducing a notion of who is at risk and who we should be targeting first does seem to me to be desirable.

Enver Solomon: People in different parts of the country and different agencies in different local areas have different check lists for what constitutes risk, so there is no consistency there either. There is merit in looking at that. We are doing a piece of work with NSPCC and Action for Children on this issue of the 120,000, trying to calculate, based on macro and micro-economic changes to spending, tax and benefits, whether the number is likely to increase or not, given the Government’s plans, which I will be happy to share with the Committee when it is ready.

Q481 Ian Mearns: Where we have just come from is interesting, and Damien’s question has prompted something in my mind, because in my neck of the woods in the north-east of England some health professionals just this weekend have accused some expectant mothers of inflicting damage on their own children before they are born through foetal alcohol damage, but also through smoking, which is well documented. Unfortunately, the north-east of England apparently has a higher prevalence of that than anywhere else in England.

Phillip, the NSPCC’s written submission calls for consideration to be given to whether the protection system places too much importance on the rights of parents over those of the child. When the Children Act was published, I remember some professionals whom I was working with at the time saying that it should be called the Parent Act, because as it went through the parliamentary process-this is going back some time-in the view of many professionals, the importance and prominence of the interests of the parents came more to the fore than those of the child. Does the NSPCC stand by the view that was given in the submission? What do the rest of you think about that?

Phillip Noyes: The context was decision making around admission to care and that, in our experience, professionals sometimes, especially in relation to neglect, were leaving the decisions too long and were too optimistic. They were looking to see the best in people, rather than identifying parents and rather than identifying the impact of time-duration-on the child’s development. That is where we were coming from, and we will stand by that.

Q482 Chair: What do you think of that, Kate? Would you agree with that insight?

Kate Wallace: Yes, we would agree with that. We have seen some of that.

Q483 Chair: Enver?

Enver Solomon: Yes, there has been a tendency for professionals-it is about interpretation-to see their role as balancing the parental rights and the child’s rights. The legislation is very clear about the best interests of the child needing to be at the forefront of decisions.

Phillip Noyes: May I say that one of the changes in social work practice over the last 10 or 20 years has been a much greater consideration of the need to talk to, listen to and work with the child directly? As a reflection on the legislation, that is highly desirable, too.

Enver Solomon: I think Munro’s fundamental point about the system having to work with the child’s interests at the heart of it is absolutely key, because that has a lot of implications for working practice and working cultures. It actually means that social workers need to see children, particularly older children, as active participants and not just passive recipients.

Q484 Ian Mearns: So given that emphasis-the clear emphasis that I agree with, that the interests of the child should be predominant in the decision-making process-should thresholds for taking children into care be recast to place greater emphasis on intervention when children are young?

Kate Wallace: I just go back to the point I made about needing more research around parents’ ability and capacity to change, and more research like the Loughborough one, which had very small numbers and was very hard to generalise. That has to form part of the thinking, because what Loughborough was saying, as Phillip mentioned as well, was that for some parents, if they had not made the change before the child was six months old, they were not going to make that change. More research to get more numbers about that would be helpful.

Phillip Noyes: It may have already changed but we do not quite know-I am thinking about neglect cases-because the wisdom hitherto was that to get a case to court, you needed to do more than demonstrate significant harm. It was significant harm plus-some extra seriousness that the court needed to be convinced about. Given the passage of care proceedings on neglect cases recently, perhaps that has already changed. What feels important is simply to keep the child’s interests paramount, and I would reflect how easily we all can get pulled off course, deliberately and accidentally, when we try to do that.

Q485 Ian Mearns: It has also been suggested to us by some people that the system takes the wrong children into care. Do you think there is any evidence that authorities have applied for care orders in cases that did not warrant them, and if so, do you think that is widespread?

Enver Solomon: I have not come across evidence that it is widespread. There will always be questions and individual cases that might be challenged, because these are difficult judgments and scope for human error, but I have not come across consistent, widespread evidence of that. If I might just add: I do not think that there is a right or wrong answer for the number of children who should be in care; I think it is about getting the decision right and having the paramountcy principle at the heart of it.

I do not think we know yet what has driven the massive increase in the number of care applications that CAFCASS has reported-an increase of 97% in applications just in the period of April to July 2011, compared to the same period in 2008-09. It is not clear yet whether that is a result of a real need for protection-I think it probably does reflect that-or previously unmet need, rather than a change in thresholds. It is not clear what is happening there. I think it would be difficult to draw some firm conclusions from that, but Phillip’s point that practice might be changing is important to take into account.

Phillip Noyes: There might be a question of whether social workers, as time goes on, are clear whether the right child is in care or not. There is quite good literature on decision making about sending children home from care where there is a high incidence of repeat abuse-some 46% in Elaine Farmer’s research-when the child goes home. Some 37% of those children go back into care within two years. So there might be a lack of clear case management and planning and certainly a lack of good assessment of the home family before children go home.

Kate Wallace: There have been cases the other way round, where children have taken the local authority to the European Court, saying that they should have been taken into care earlier.

Q486 Lisa Nandy: Ministers currently have a strong focus on adoption. Martin Narey, who is conducting the review, gave evidence to our Committee. He recently argued for a radical increase in the number of children who are adopted. Is this the right focus or should the focus be on investing in stable foster care placements, particularly being mindful of the evidence that you gave about older young people?

Kate Wallace: Certainly, for older young people adoption is far less common, but I would go back to the point that I made about flexibility of placements within the system and a whole-system approach that is working well-not just seeing adoption as a holding option.

Q487 Lisa Nandy: What would you like to see as the outcome of the Government’s review?

Enver Solomon: Personally, I think there is a clear case to improve the speed and timeliness of decision making in adoption cases. There is no doubt, from our practice experience, that the persistent requests for expert witness evidence, and the fact that often those in and around the courts who are not from social care backgrounds have less of an understanding and training in child development needs, mean that decisions are not being taken in a timely fashion. I think that, from our perspective, the critical outcome is improving the timeliness of decision making, and from that a number of factors will flow.

It is important to recognise, overall, that even if the outcome of Martin Narey’s review is an increase in adoptions, we are going to be talking about thousands, not tens of thousands; as a proportion of looked-after children, the vast majority will always be in foster placements and will not be adopted. There is a real issue to ensure that we keep a focus on that, just as much as on adoption and the quality of those placements and the stability.

Kate Wallace: And we have a shortage of foster carers to look after older children as well, so that needs to be addressed.

Chair: Can I thank the three of you very much for giving evidence to us this morning? Please write, as you have suggested you will, on a couple of issues. Think about the recommendations that you would hope we would make in our report and make sure that you have given us your suggestions for that final report.

Prepared 6th February 2012