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Act now to save children at risk

All teachers and paraprofessionals in schools should take part in child protection training with social workers, health agencies and police officers, an education director insists.

Growing numbers of children are living in drug-abusing families and school staff are the one constant in their lives, according to Bruce Robertson, Highland's director and education representative on the Scottish Executive's national steering group on protection.

Teachers and others need to have the confidence to identify difficulties and share information, Mr Robertson says.

On Monday, he stressed the significance of inter-agency training for all teachers as Jack McConnell, the First Minister, ratcheted up the pace of child protection reform by unveiling a children's charter and a standards framework for local authorities and children's agencies.

Mr McConnell pledged tough action against authorities that failed to put in place structures to share information between agencies and produce better services for children at risk. He highlighted the plight of more than 40,000 children of drug-abusing parents.

"If we have to find new people to run the system, we will find them.

Children come ahead of the providers of the system," Mr McConnell said at the launch in Edinburgh.

Mr Robertson said that his own authority was beginning the training he envisaged but so far only headteachers are involved. Class teachers and classroom assistants and auxiliaries also had to be involved, perhaps over a three-year programme.

"Through the training, teachers should gain the confidence to deal with a very complex set of issues from the point of view of the professionals and youngsters. The other issue is sharing information and unfortunately in the sad occasions where we have seen youngsters die - and that includes Danielle Reid in Inverness - sharing has not been as good as it should have been," he said.

Danielle was said to have moved to Manchester but her body had been dumped in a weighted suitcase in the Caledonian Canal. She was a pupil at Crown primary. Highland now has a policy of contacting social work services if the receiving school a child has moved to has not contacted it within 10 days.

Mr Robertson said: "We need health, education and social work systems to speak to each other so that we have an overall picture of a youngster. Of all the young people, the ones we need to keep an eye on are those living in families of drug-dependent parents. That is the one common denominator in some of the tragic deaths across Scotland over the past few years and we need to ensure young people are protected."

He wants local child protection committees to focus on inter-agency training but believes new money is needed from the Scottish Executive. He says all teachers should be trained in protection before they enter the classroom.

Mr McConnell has so far only announced pound;600,000 of funding to train 300 social workers, particularly those who work with parents who abuse alcohol and drugs.

Adults "should be listening, reliable and available". Agencies had to talk among themselves and with children. "These do not seem to be demands that are asking an awful lot of us but sometimes ask more of us than has sometimes been the case in the past," the First Minister said.

Backed by two cabinet ministers and one junior minister, Mr McConnell said that the charter - written from a child's perspective - followed the Executive report in November 2002, It's everyone's job to make sure I'm alright. Mr McConnell subsequently launched a five-point action plan and a three-year reform programme. The charter was an important first step, he said.

Other measures include ways to develop good local practice, multi-agency inspections to assess standards and a 24-hour child protection helpline by next year. A team of experts will monitor reforms.

Responding to the announcements, Fiona Hyslop, the SNP's shadow education minister, highlighted a lack of resources and the length of time it would take to implement "welcome" changes.

"Executive officials on Wednesday of last week gave evidence that currently one in 56 births in Scotland is to a parent with a drug abuse problem, with no guarantee that each of them is assigned a social worker," Ms Hyslop said.

"Scotland already has a huge shortage of social workers and the Executive must work towards filling these employment gaps so that we can really make a difference to the children who are crying out for help."

Charter for change

The charter comprises 13 statements drawn from the consultation with children and young people

* Get to know us

* Speak with us

* Listen to us

* Take us seriously

* Involve us

* Respect our privacy

* Be responsible to us

* Think about our lives as a whole

* Think carefully about how you use information about us

* Put us in touch with the right people

* Use your power to help

* Make things happen when they should

* Help us be safe

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