Education Committee - Children first: the child protection system in EnglandWritten evidence submitted by Dr Roger Morgan OBE, Children’s Rights Director for England

The Office of the Children’s Rights Director

1. The Children’s Rights Director has the statutory duty to ascertain the views of children within a defined remit of those in care, receiving children’s social care services, or living away from home in residential education, to advise on children’s rights and welfare, and to raise policy or individual case issues the Director considers significant to the rights or welfare of children within his remit. The Office of the Children’s Rights Director is hosted by Ofsted, has statutory duties to advise Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector, and carries out consultation and advisory functions at the request of government Ministers and officials.

2. This submission is made by the Children’s Rights Director, based exclusively on consultations carried out with children and young people within his statutory remit and published in children’s views reports, all of which are available on the children’s rights website It gives ascertained children’s views, and not adult, personal or professional views. I know that the Committee have previously found having the input of “straight” children’s views of value.

3. The submission is made independently of Ofsted as the host organisation for the Office of the Children’s Rights Director, and does not necessarily reflect the views of Ofsted.

Rights and Responsibilities for Child Protection

4. In a specific consultation with children on their views and priorities for both children’s rights and children’s responsibilities, the highest scoring children’s right was the right to be protected from abuse. The top scoring responsibility was responsibility for your own behaviour and actions, the fourth was responsibility for your own safety, the fifth was looking after others, and the sixth was looking after yourself.

Feeling Safe

5. Each year we consult children in care, receiving social care services, or living away from home, for the Children’s Care Monitor on the state of social care in England. In 2010, the latest published Monitor report, children felt safest in the building where they lived, next safest at their school or college, next safest in the countryside, and least safe in towns or cities. 94% of the children surveyed felt safe or fairly safe in the buildings in which they lived, and 72% felt safe or fairly safe in towns or cities.

6. The children consulted saw the top five dangers to themselves as being, in descending order, drugs, alcohol, strangers and kidnappers, knives and bullying. Children under 14 were more likely than older children to list strangers and kidnap as dangers, while those over 14 were more likely to list alcohol. Girls were more likely to list alcohol than were boys.

7. The children saw the most likely sources of accident to children their own age as road traffic accident, followed by the results of too much alcohol, followed by injury while being beaten up or fighting, falls, or the results of drug misuse.

8. 36% of children surveyed for the 2010 Monitor reported that they worried a little or a lot about their own safety. This was a reduction from the previous year.

9. In a specific consultation on safeguarding, children and young people advised of the factors that would make them feel safer. The top five were friends and family, police and the law, teachers and carers, keeping themselves away from bullies and gangs, and using their own common sense.

10. In a separate specific consultation with children under 12, these younger children nominated the two top factors keeping young children safe as their carers, and being with a caring adult. Fifth on their list, from 10% of these children under 12, was not talking to strangers.

11. In consultations for the Munro review, children told us that it is important that children and young people are able to discuss child protection issues with a professional in an environment that feels safe and encourages the child to be sufficiently at ease to be able to speak about highly personal issues. Children spoke of the importance of feeling that they can keep some control over what happens next and not lose control of everything to the adults they speak to, of being able to trust the adult involved, and of the adult not doing anything (such as getting their name wrong) to lose that trust. At a very practical level, children spoke of how it is helpful to have something to distract from the conversation when needed—such as something to fiddle with—and to be able to have something to eat or drink to help counter anxiety.

12. Children have also advised that holding consultations relating to personal issues or protection at school, where their peers will be curious, is counterproductive. There is a preference to hold such meetings on separate professional territory or neutral territory away from the child’s usual base.

What can be done to Keep Children Safer?

13. In their consultation for the Munro review, children advised Professor Eileen Munro that keeping children safe is largely down to having responsible adults around children and young people. Criminal Records Bureau checks have an important role to play in ensuring this, but should not be used to the extent that children in care are unable to enjoy normal social contacts such as sleepovers with friends because their parents have not been police checked.

14. In the same consultation, children advised that if a professional is monitoring the safety of a child, that professional should regularly phone that child in private to check their safety, using mobile phone contact as necessary and frequently—even hourly—if needs be.

15. These children stressed the importance of making children and young people themselves aware of risks and boundaries. Knowledge and awareness are keys to keeping yourself safe. They advised that this should not just be a matter of telling children what to do or not to do, as children and young people will often do things they are told not to do. It should give children the awareness of dangers to help set their own safety boundaries for themselves.

16. Children have previously told us that realistic, even if frightening, information about the nature and risks of abuse can help children to protect themselves—even if this means giving younger children information that distresses them in order that they are motivated to avoid taking dangerous risks.

17. Children in our consultations for Munro have advised that adults working with children need to be more aware of the risks to children with disabilities.

18. These children also advised that in their personal experience, action taken if a child is being harmed needs to be quicker, smoother and more efficient.

19. They also advised that in each case a careful assessment needs to be made on whether someone harming a child can be removed from the home, or whether involvement of someone from the council will be a sufficient protection for the child, or whether it is still necessary to “remove the child from the risk”. The cost to the child’s life of taking them away from their existing life also needs to be assessed in making such decisions.

20. Children consulted for the Munro report were concerned about situations where there is insufficient evidence for formal action to be taken to protect a child. In such cases, children advised that the situation should still be closely monitored, especially if the child has disclosed harm. “Don’t just think because nothing was proved that it’s OK for the child to be at home”.

21. The children were also concerned that when abuse is suspected for one child, other children (including siblings) in the same home or establishment may be at risk too—but a different and separate assessment needs to be made for each one of them, and may lead to different actions for different children.

22. Children have stated to us that it is important that the child is consulted when action following a disclosure of abuse is being decided, and that their views, wishes, concerns and feelings are taken into account. Children have however also recognised that for many the adult professional needs to take charge and make decisions, having heard and considered the child’s views.

23. We also heard that children may be put off disclosing abuse or safety concerns to a professional adult because of lack of knowledge of what would happen next, being scared of some professional adults, fear of not being believed, or fear that the person they tell will pass the information on too widely, beyond strict need-to-know limits.

24. Children also expressed concern that professionals tend to believe adult accounts more than they believe accounts from children, which can be dangerous. They counselled that all sides of the story, including what children say alongside what adults say, should be fully looked into.

25. Children further advised that a child or young person will sometimes wait until abuse is over before telling about it, and may need a long time to think about it before they tell anybody. For some this means that nothing is said while abuse is actually happening, and when the child eventually feels able to tell someone, it is too late and probably nothing can be proven.

26. Consultees recommended that there should be a range of different ways for a child to relay concerns about abuse, including electronic means, as many find it easier to leave such messages rather than confronting a questioning adult directly with their account. Some will leave hints and hope that adults will pick these up for themselves.

27. In other consultations, children have identified safeguarding as overriding usual rules of seeking children’s permission before sharing information about them. However, children have advised that even so there should be significant limiting factors: information should only be shared on a strictly need to know basis and confidentiality otherwise preserved, children should if possible be told about information being shared about them, and information should only be shared if that sharing is judged to be more than likely to prevent sufficiently significant future harm to the child or another child or young person.

28. In early consultations on child protection, children and young people have advised that professionals and the public tend to think first of younger vulnerable children when thinking of child protection. However, older teenagers and young adults such as care leavers can be particularly vulnerable too, and child protection systems need to recognise and counter risks to these older young people.

29. Children consulted have countered the professional assumption that a child should not be required to retell their story to different people in child protection processes. Children’s advice on this has been that it depends on the child: some only wish to tell their story once, others wish to retain control of their story and retell it themselves if necessary rather than allow it to be eroded by others passing it on.

30. On physical restraint, children have advised of risks of injury through particular types of restraint or its use by inexperienced or untrained staff.

31. Many consulted in secure units have told us that they fear for their own safety on leaving security and returning to peer group pressures and risks.

Who Children would go to for Help

32. In the 2010 Monitor children reported that the top four people they would go to for help if they were unsafe or at risk were a friend (58% stating they would go to a friend), the police (57%), a parent (51%) and a teacher (50%). Girls were more likely than boys to go to a friend, boys were more likely than girls to go to a parent. Children under 14 were more likely than older children to go to a parent or teacher.

33. That going to a friend for help if a child feels at risk is so likely carries a major importance for child protection systems. Children themselves are likely recipients of disclosures of concern about safety from other children. There is a strong case for ensuring that children themselves are aware of what to do if another child discloses a child protection issue to them, and for child protection systems to be sensitive and accessible for children receiving disclosures of concern from other children.

34. In consultation to secure children’s input to the recent Munro review, those consulted reported that children in care can be scared to relate concerns to their social worker because they fear these will be relayed to their carer, and they fear the consequences of that happening. Although it is contrary to current Regulations, many children in care still report that their visiting and monitoring social worker does not speak to them alone when asking about their welfare and concerns.


35. In the 2010 Monitor survey, 8% of children in the Children’s Rights Director’s remit reported being bullied often or always, and 76% being hardly ever or never bullied. Disabled children reported being more likely to be bullied than children generally.

36. Overall, 79% of reported bullying was teasing or name calling, 33% was bullying by being threatened, and 28% was by being hit or physically hurt.

37. 67% of bullying was reported as being by children in the same age group and 34% by older children or young people.

38. 16% of children in care responding to the 2010 Monitor survey reported being bullied specifically because they were in care.

39. Children were slightly more likely to worry about bullying than they were to be bullied. 12% reported often or always worrying about being bullied (compared with 8% reporting often or always actually being bullied). This is a consistent finding over successive consultations.

Complaints Systems

40. Effective complaints systems are an important protection against abuse. 60% of the children in the 2010 Monitor survey who reported having made a complaint in the past year reported that their complaint was sorted out fairly, but 19% stated that they had not been told the outcome of their complaint. 56% of those in the Children’s Rights Director’s remit reported knowing how to get an advocate (although this is a right for those making a complaint).

Staying Safe on the Internet

41. In a consultation with children aged under 12, children were asked what would keep them safe from dangers on the internet. 27% stated being supervised by adults when using the internet, 23% stated only using safe sites, and 16% stated use of blocks and filters.

42. These younger children also nominated measures they should take themselves to stay safe when accessing the internet: 18% stated not talking to strangers on social networking sites, and 14% stated not giving personal information or putting photographs of themselves on the internet. One in 10 under 12s in this consultation stated that the best way to keep safe from dangers to children on the internet was not to use the internet at all.

43. In another consultation, children and young people advised that children need to be made fully aware of privacy settings on the internet, and of the importance of clearing your internet history to reduce the risks of being tracked.

44. In yet another consultation, on past government proposals for a database of children, children and young people stated two key views on electronic safety. Firstly, that even complex and high technology safeguards will in time be eroded by the carelessness of professional adults using them—such as workers passing on passwords and code keys to others to access information for them. Secondly, children advised that all electronic systems containing information about children were vulnerable to determined and eventually successful hacking by paedophiles.

Keeping Children in Care Safe

45. In consultation for a Ministerial Stocktake of care in 2009, children in care reported that out of the then Every Child Matters outcomes for children, councils were doing best at keeping children in care safe, with 53% of children reporting their councils to be doing well or very well at this and 16% reporting their councils as doing poorly or very poorly.

46. Consultation with children in care have identified changing placement to stay with strangers without adequate preparation, information and familiarisation as making children feel unsafe.

47. Consulting children about running away from care has identified running away as sometimes a response to feeling unsafe in a placement, although more often as a wish to be somewhere else or for enjoyment. Once on the run however, running away is also highly risky, and children are then extremely vulnerable to abuse and worse. Protection of children who have run away from care is a major challenge to the child protection system.

October 2011

Prepared 16th November 2012