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Child protection system is failing older children, MPs warn

Date:8 NOV 2012

Teenager/ istockphotoThe child protection system is not meeting the needs of older children and must be reviewed urgently  according to a report from the House of Commons Education Select Committee.

The Committee said that more children who are at risk should be put into care and calls for changes to ensure that all children are treated as children and that their interests are put first. The report examines three key themes: neglect, older children and thresholds for intervention, taking children into care and adoption.

Launching the report, the Education Committee Chair Graham Stuart MP said:  "Our report is the culmination of a year-long inquiry. The recent revelations concerning the BBC and other institutions underline how important it is to get child protection right. 

"We've seen real improvement among professionals and think the direction of travel championed by the Munro Review is the right one. But there is a lot more to do and risks to the progress made.

"Care for older children is not good enough. They are let down too often, frequently ignored or not listened to and can be pushed out of care too young and insufficiently prepared and supported. This has to change."

The Committee also raised concerns about trafficked and asylum-seeking children. The reports calls for the responsibility for all children, including those involved in immigration cases, to be transferred to the Department for Education. "We also want the Government to review the impact of immigration policy upon child protection. As the report says, it would be outrageous if destitution were to be used as a weapon against children because of their immigration status", Mr Stuart added.

On neglect, the Committee found evidence that children are left too long in harmful situation. To encourage earlier intervention, it calls for better training for all front-line professionals in child development and the long-term consequences of neglect.

On older children, the MPs say that practitioners must demonstrate greater willingness to look beyond behavioural problems and recognise signs of neglect and abuse in teenagers.  The report calls on the College of Social Work to co-ordinate and promote awareness of CPD training in specialised forms of abuse. It also recommends that local authorities nominate a specialised child abuse practitioner to lead in their area. 

On thresholds, the Committee makes a number of recommendations to ensure that the referrals process makes better use of intelligence from teachers and doctors and to improve co-ordination between agencies, including multi-agency training and greater clarity in guidance over data-sharing.

Lisa Harker, NSPCC head of strategy, said: "Too often the child protection system fails older teenagers. Though some may look more like adults they are still children and it can't be assumed they can take care of themselves or know who to ask for help.

"The Committee's focus on child neglect is welcome as we know it is the main reason why children are subject to child protection plans. And often professionals see teenagers as more resilient so they can be left in neglectful situations for too long."