The abuse of children and vulnerable adults is not historical. There is a growing view that these are things that happened in the past. It is not historical; it is not reducing; it is widespread. It is, let us not forget, a blot on our claim to be a civilised society.

4.57 pm

Lord Stevenson of Balmacara (Lab): My Lords, I apologise to the House for my earlier attempt to speak. It was purely because of my interest in the subject and my wish to engage in the debate that we have been having. The debate has been a very good one, and our thanks are due to the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, and other speakers for making it so. I should declare an interest as a deputy chair of a special school, the Chiltern Way school, and have had some responsibility for child protection matters in that.

The noble Baroness asked whether we knew enough and whether we were doing enough prevention work. Those are important issues which I want to position next to that raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, who also posed the question of whether the Government have willed the ends of policy but not yet the means. Although it is a very old and hoary saw which is often used in matters affecting government policy and action, it seems particularly relevant today.

This debate is timely as it comes on the day of the first tranche of reports on the predatory actions of Jimmy Savile, which will, as the Secretary of State said in another place, shake our country to its very core.

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The debate comes also during the week when a major new report from the Centre for Social Justice, entitled

Enough is Enough

, reminds us once again of how we are failing so many vulnerable young people. Some of the case studies are shocking and distressing, and they have been reinforced by many other examples which have been raised today. They include the seven year-old boy feeling forced by his mother to steal milk from his baby sibling and then abandoned by social care following his arrest, and a young girl who was severely neglected and physically abused by her mother and repeatedly seen with her siblings searching for food in rubbish bins. As the noble Lord, Lord Bichard, said, these are things that we should not be seeing in a civilised society.

The report is a wake-up call to those, including me, who thought that these crucial child protection issues, identified in the Munro report of 2011—to which I want to return at the end of my remarks—were finally being understood and addressed by the Government. Sadly, we have heard recurrent themes emerge from the comments made today: countless examples of abused, neglected and traumatised children being failed by statutory services; social workers being overwhelmed by the scale of the task and a lack of resources to intervene; a failure to grasp the necessity of early intervention; professionals lacking the skills, training or experience to deal with complex cases; the lessons that were clearly set out in Every Child Matters being lost in short-term expediency and sticking-plaster solutions; an ability of statutory bodies to share information and collaborate effectively being lost; and a disconnect between the valuable work carried out by voluntary agencies and their interfaces with statutory services.

The result is that we are confronted by too many shocking cases hitting the headlines, but also with the knowledge—graphically illustrated by the Savile reports today—that these cases are just a tiny fraction of the abuse and neglect taking place day by day. Arguably, the role of Ofsted in inspecting children’s services is a significant part of the problem. Unlike with schools, the inspections are not routine and rigorous, but rather crisis-driven. Similar arguments can be made for the inspection of adult care services. In 2010, the Government announced the cessation of annual performance assessments, which has resulted in the Care Quality Commission no longer inspecting the commissioning practices of local authorities. Parallel to this move to lighter-touch regulation, we have seen an increasing number of care home scandals.

We should surely all agree that it is essential to have a strong and effective regulator to protect vulnerable adults. This should be a precondition to enable patients to have confidence in the services they receive, and to allow them to exercise informed choice when choosing services. This is why we think it is essential for the CQC to be allowed to proactively inspect and review the commissioning of adult social care services in local authorities.

One issue which has been picked up during this debate, and highlighted by numerous reports, is that reports are not investigated or charges are not brought because victims are often thought to be “not credible”.

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It is surely the job of all of us, across government, to try to tackle a culture which consistently fails to give victims—especially child victims—of abuse the status they deserve in the criminal justice system. One way this could be, in some senses, remedied is to improve sex and relationship education in schools. This week the Prime Minister announced that he would allow the guidance given to schools to be updated to reflect the new pressures resulting from the internet, but this still fails to acknowledge that too few schools are teaching proper sex and relationship education.

Sex and relationship education is not just about challenging the attitudes among victims. It is also about changing attitudes among perpetrators. As the noble Baroness, Lady Howarth, reminded us, we need to remember that most child sexual exploitation is done either by a child’s peer or by a young adult. The NSPCC study already mentioned found that 65% of sexual abuse was conducted by the under-18s, while a Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre sample of 1,200 known perpetrators found that, where the age was known, over half were under 24. Sex education can also be particularly useful in combating new forms of abuse, such as sexting.

As the noble Lord, Lord Bichard, said, the key to protecting children is accurate data sharing between agencies. However, there is concern about the Disclosure and Barring Service, whose job is to stop people who pose a danger to children from working with children. The operation of the DBS has been dramatically changed by the Protection of Freedoms Act 2012, which means that the DBS is barring fewer people. The number of people placed on the barred list in 2009 was over 17,000, and so far this year it is 1,400. Like the noble Lord, Lord Bichard, when the Minister comes to respond I would like to hear from her what the explanation is for this. Perhaps more importantly, the Act dramatically reduced the number of agencies with which the DBS is able to share information. Indeed, in many cases the DBS will be forbidden from sharing intelligence with a school or youth club, even after a DBS check has been requested.

Child protection is an incredibly broad subject, as reflected in today’s contributions. A number of inquiries have taken place, and there are many ongoing. There is an inquiry into Jimmy Savile’s conduct and why action had not been taken by various institutions with which he had a relationship. There is also the Waterhouse inquiry into the North Wales abuse scandal, and the Deputy Children’s Commissioner is in the process of holding an inquiry into the culture of grooming. The NSPCC has conducted a number of excellent pieces of research, as have Barnardo’s and the Children’s Society.

There are so many reports, but all seem to be brought forward in a way which allows those who have commissioned them, or those who have received them, just to leave them and move on to the next one. What we need from these reports is an action plan. As mentioned by other noble Lords, we need either a serious case review which brings together the various inquiries and brings forward clearer recommendations or, as suggested, the sort of qualitative and very narrow investigation prompted by accidents. This type of investigation was referred to by the noble Lord, Lord

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Bichard, in relation to civil aviation. Whatever the type, there is enough information and evidence around to require us to ensure that we have action plans and for them to be implemented.

At the beginning of my remarks, I mentioned the Munro report. The Munro recommendations were, by general accord, an excellent blueprint for action. When the Government responded, the then Children’s Minister, Tim Loughton, wrote:

“There is now a significant opportunity to build a child-centred system that: values professional expertise; shares responsibility for the provision of early help; develops social work expertise and supports effective social work practice; and strengthens accountabilities and promotes learning”.

What happened to those aspirations? All the evidence seems to be that the situation has got worse, not better, under this Government’s watch, and very few operating in the sector have seen a positive drive for change.

We do not need Jimmy Savile and the reports that have come out today and will be coming out over the next few months to remind us that we need to do more, discover more and work harder at prevention. I hope that we can use this useful debate to make progress on all those points.

5.05 pm

Baroness Northover (LD): My Lords, I, too, thank my noble friend for tabling this important topic for debate today. As other noble Lords have said, the fact that the reports on Jimmy Savile’s reign of abuse have been published today shows how extremely timely it is and how we must all be vigilant to ensure that everyone, however old, young or vulnerable, can live free from abuse and neglect. The noble Baroness, Lady Howarth, explained that that often happens in the home or in familiar places with familiar people.

In all respects, we must counter abuse, as my noble friend Lady Walmsley said, through culture change, or legislation, regulation and training. We need to support professionals in this difficult and complex work—I pay tribute to them, as did the noble Baroness, Lady Howarth—but we also need to challenge them and agencies to do the right thing and act quickly when things go wrong. That also means holding people and organisations to account. We also need to be aware of the cultural shifts, such as those manifested and driven by the expansion of the internet, as the noble Baroness, Lady Howe, and others mentioned.

There is a well established legislative framework for social care and support for children set out in the Children Act 1989, including the duties of local authorities in relation to children in need in their area, as well as their child protection duties, but we know that child protection does not always work as effectively as we would want. As the noble Lord, Lord Bichard, noted, continued and repeated serious case reviews and other investigations provide stark reminders that there is much more to be done. He is right about ensuring that we learn from them.

The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Durham noted the long history of abuse in our institutions, whether schools, hospitals, the police or even churches. My honourable friend the Minister of State for Crime

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Prevention, Norman Baker, is leading a national group of experts urgently to address missed opportunities to protect children and vulnerable people. He is assisted by members of the NSPCC, Barnardo’s and Rape Crisis. The group is looking at lessons that could be learnt from recent and current inquiries to see what should be taken forward.

There were noble Lords on either side of the question of holding a public inquiry. I note what the noble Baroness, Lady Howarth, and the noble Lord, Lord Bichard, said, about following through on the reports that we already have, but I also noted what the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Durham said. What it comes down to is that nobody is satisfied with where we have got to; we have to ensure that we do better.

The noble Lord, Lord Stevenson, mentioned Professor Eileen Munro’s review of the child protection system in England and her report in 2011, with all her recommendations. Most of them have been implemented. In the Working Together to Safeguard Children statutory guidance, we have focused more clearly on the core legal requirements that all professionals should follow so that children are kept safe. We have also sought to put the needs of individual children back at the heart of the assessment process by removing the requirement to have separate initial and core assessments.

As noble Lords are clearly well aware, changes to the overarching framework on their own are not sufficient to ensure real improvement on the ground. That is why improvements to social work practice are crucial. For the first time, a Chief Social Worker for Children and Families has been appointed in England to provide independent, expert advice to Ministers on social reform and act as a leader for the profession.

Following Sir Martin Narey’s review, we are taking forward a number of reforms to improve the calibre and confidence of the workforce by improving social work training and developing further the skills of existing social workers via programmes such as Step Up to Social Work and Frontline. The new Ofsted single inspection framework looks at the child’s experience from the point of needing help and protection right through the system. In addition, CQC has also introduced a new programme to inspect local health service arrangements for these groups, and we are planning further improvements, with multiagency inspections due in 2015. By ensuring that serious case reviews are published we are seeking to improve public accountability where there have been failures to keep children safe.

The new children’s social care innovation programme should help us to support the development, testing and sharing of new and effective ways of supporting children who need help from children’s social care services. My noble friend Lady Walmsley rightly emphasised the need for research and practice to be evidence-based, a point that the noble Lord, Lord Bichard, echoed. My noble friend Lady Walmsley commented on the Government’s consultation on the outsourcing of children’s social care functions. Following that consultation, as she noted, we announced last Friday that profit-making organisations would not be able to take on outsourced functions, including those relating to child protection, and draft regulations have been amended accordingly.

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The issue of mandatory reporting was raised by my noble friend Lady Walmsley, the noble Baroness, Lady Hollins, and others. This is one of a number of possible future approaches that the Government are considering. The Government are reviewing the specific case for mandatory reporting in regulated activity and the Home Office is looking across government at options to strengthen the system. I note the comments of the noble Baroness, Lady Howarth, and the noble Lord, Lord Bichard. I hope that the noble Lord will be reassured that we will continue to examine the evidence on this, both nationally and internationally.

My noble friend Lady Walmsley mentioned PSHE and how it could help to protect individuals. We believe that all schools should teach PSHE, drawing on good practice. My noble friend Lord Paddick spoke about victims and survivors and the need to believe them. The Crown Prosecution Service published final guidelines on prosecuting cases of child sex abuse in October 2013, setting out a new approach to dealing with the particular issues that differentiate these cases. Focusing on the credibility of the allegation rather than the credibility of the individual is a significant cultural shift which recognises and addresses the particular vulnerability of some of these potential victims. We published the new victims’ code in December 2013. I hope that my noble friend Lord Paddick has seen it and feels that it is a positive move.

On health services, the Government’s mandate to NHS England sets it an objective of continuing to improve safeguarding of both adults and children in the NHS. One issue that has come up here is making sure that information sharing is done early and systematically. This was emphasised by my noble friends Lady Walmsley and Lady Sharp, the noble Baroness, Lady Hollins, and others. We know that early information is the key to providing effective early help where there are emerging problems. No professional should assume that someone else will pass on information which they think may be critical to keeping someone safe. We have recently rolled out the first wave of sites on the child protection information sharing project. This aims to help health professionals to make clear, timely judgments on potential safeguarding concerns and enable more rapid contact with children’s social care. We have emphasised in statutory guidance, Working Together to Safeguard Children, that effective sharing of information between professionals and local agencies is essential.

For adults at risk of abuse and neglect there needs to be a keen focus on the quality as well as the length of life. I note what my noble friend Lady Browning said about the quality and valuing of staff and about training them so as to ensure that they are looking after people with empathy. We need radical reform of how health and social care are experienced and delivered. The Care Act 2014 starts this process by providing a legal framework placing the well-being principle, prevention and early intervention at its heart. However, we are under no illusion that legislation alone will eradicate the type of behaviour that leaves people feeling distressed, frightened and humiliated. This can be realised only through a change in culture that leaves

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no tolerance of abuse, supports individual and collective responsibility for detecting abuse and challenges corrosive practices.

With services, people must be held to account for the quality of care that they provide. We are taking measures to ensure that company directors who are complicit in, or turn a blind eye to, poor care will be liable to prosecution. In future, they and provider organisations could face unlimited fines if found guilty. This could provide additional incentives for the effective management and support of staff—and those staff must be properly valued, as the noble Baroness, Lady Hollins, and others have argued.

Systems and processes are already in place to provide public assurance, including the Care Quality Commission registration requirements and the Disclosure and Barring Service. I note what my noble friend Lady Walmsley and the noble Lord, Lord Bichard, have said about the falling numbers of people barred from working with children. We note that, and the Government are currently reviewing the position. When we conclude, I am sure that noble Lords will be interested in what we have found. However, those processes alone do not go far enough. That is why, following the publication of the Francis report into the failings of Mid Staffordshire, we asked Camilla Cavendish to review how healthcare assistants and support workers in health and care settings were valued and supported. We are also considering the proposals in the Law Commission’s review very carefully.

My noble friend Lord Eden and others will be interested to know that the introduction of a certificate of fundamental care, the care certificate, will, we hope, give clear evidence to employers, patients and service users that the person in front of them has been trained to a specific set of standards and knows how to act with compassion and respect. Health Education England, working alongside key partners, has already begun piloting this across England. Subject to evaluation, there will soon be a standard national approach to training on the skills and values needed to be an effective healthcare assistant or social care support worker. It is planned to roll this out in March 2015.

As with children’s social care, we recognise that the system of regulation and inspection for adults needs to improve; I hear what my noble friend Lady Sharp said. The CQC is currently introducing a new system of inspection of social care providers, based on much tougher fundamental standards of care, which places the individual at its heart. It will be structured around five key questions that matter most to people: are services safe, caring, effective, well led and responsive to people’s needs?

New measures in the Care Act make clear the responsibilities of local authorities and key partners, such as clinical commissioning groups and local police, in safeguarding adults. This is vital in ensuring clear accountability, roles and responsibilities for helping and protecting adults who are experiencing, or at risk of, abuse and neglect. The Department of Health is working with the College of Social Work, the Social Care Institute for Excellence, the College of Policing, Health Education England, Skills for Care and others

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to ensure an integrated approach to adult safeguarding that is reflected in the training that different staff receive.

In response to my noble friend Lord Eden, who made an important point about the contribution that carers make, the Care Act 2014 gives carers parity with those using services. I also mention to the noble Baroness, Lady Howarth, and my noble friend Lord Thomas that a review was recently conducted looking at ways in which to reduce the distress to victims of sexual violence in trials. The Crown Prosecution Service has set up a network of specialist prosecutors, and only advocates from that panel can be used to prosecute child sexual abuse cases. All judges receive training that includes the treatment of vulnerable witnesses, and no judge involved in a serious sexual offence case, whether the child is a victim or a witness, can do so without being specially authorised to do so by the senior judge. I listened with care to what my noble friend Lord Thomas said about sexual offences right across the age range.

Finally, on the point of child sexual exploitation, we have established a national group that seeks ways to prevent sexual abuse happening in the first place. In relation to the report from Barnardo’s, we remain committed to ensuring that all necessary legislation is in place to tackle child sexual abuse. We welcome the recent inquiry and we are reassured by the conclusion that there is no evidence to show that justice could not be served due to a lack of a specific child sexual exploitation offence. We are considering its findings

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and wider recommendations and deciding how they can inform the national group’s ongoing work.

There have been many important contributions in this very thoughtful debate and I will make sure that this debate is flagged to my colleagues both in the Department of Health and the Department for Education. I will also write to noble Lords on specific points that I have not covered here. These are very important and interlinked issues but, in essence, it is indeed, as was mentioned before, about how civilised we are. It is about how even the most vulnerable in our society should feel safe and cared for and, as my noble friend Lord Eden put it, we must be more aware of our common humanity.

5.20 pm

Baroness Walmsley: My Lords, I thank my noble friend the Minister and all noble Lords who have taken part in this debate. It has been wide-ranging, interesting and thoughtful. I thank noble Lords who have supported the things that I have been calling for. I also thank noble Lords who have disagreed with me. When you have experienced and thoughtful people who all want to achieve the same end disagreeing about the correct means to achieve it, that supports the call that the noble Lord, Lord Bichard, and I have been making for more research on specific ways of addressing these issues. I hope these things will be taken forward.

Motion agreed.

House adjourned at 5.22 pm.