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Children try to protect each other

Helen Ward reports on thousands of ideas from youngsters to prevent a repeat of the Victoria Climbie tragedy

Three thousand youngsters have responded to the Government's proposals to change children's services following the death of Victoria Climbie.

Among their suggestions are state-funded counselling for families facing difficult times, more police - and longer playtimes.

Every Child Matters, the consultation paper, sets out various ways for education, health and social services professionals to work more closely together to protect children.

It was published in two formats: as a standard government document and as a questionnaire for young people. The paper prompted 4,500 responses, two-thirds of which came from children.

Pupils at St George's Church of England primary, Telford, were among those who took part in the consultation process.

Their suggestions on what services they would like in school ranged from crazy golf and tango lessons to a creche and classes for adults.

The 68 Year 6 children were also asked when they thought schools, police and doctors should be allowed to discuss together about a child, without a child knowing.

Pupils agreed that in some situations, such as when a child was being threatened, teachers should inform police or social services. But they were less certain about the case for doctors sharing medical information with a school.

Shaun Tyas, head of the 530-pupil Shropshire school, said: "We were very positive about our pupils being involved. The more involved children are in decision-making the better those decisions are going to be."

The National Children's Bureau, which works to promote the well-being of children, has supported the overall aims of the paper but disagrees with the Government's view that the proposals will cost little extra. It also says that some of the timescales in the paper are "unrealistically ambitious".

Teachers' unions have also warned about rushing through structural changes.

Next month, Margaret Hodge, children's minister, will publish a report setting out the way forward for children's services. A Bill is due to be published in March. It will include proposals to tighten up private adoptions, a requirement for all authorities to appoint both a director of children's services and a lead council member for children and freedom for authorities to share information about suspicions of abuse or neglect.

Every Child Matters was published after an inquiry into the murder of eight-year-old Victoria Climbie, tortured to death by her carers. The inquiry found she could have been saved on 12 occasions and highlighted the failure of professionals to share information. The Government wants to define clearly who is responsible for child protection and improve links between children's services.

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