Susan Young reports on a wide-ranging effort to protect children. Teachers and schools have a vital role in detecting and preventing child abuse, according to a far-reaching new report.
All teacher training, it says, should include ways of identifying signs of potential or actual child abuse. Action should be taken to reduce bullying, and parenting education must be introduced to break the cycle of abuse and neglect.
Set up in the wake of national scandals such as the murder of toddler Jamie Bulger, the National Commission of Inquiry into the Prevention of Child Abuse has taken evidence from more than 10,000 organisations and individuals, including survivors of abuse.
It was set up by the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children with members drawn from the education, health and social work fields. Chaired by Lord Williams of Mostyn, who led the inquiry into ill-treatment at the Ty Mawr children's home in Wales, members included Sir Peter Newsam, former director of the Institute of Education.
Christopher Cloke, secretary to the commission, said: "Teachers have a greater role to play. We have received a lot of evidence which shows people have many expectations of teachers, and certainly the guidance they get from the Department for Education and Employment in the main is very good. The problem is that it is not always put into operation."
Teachers were often very good at reporting concerns to their heads, said Mr Cloke, adding: "What we are saying is that there needs to be much more emphasis on putting a child protection system in place."
Ironically, developments in school management had sometimes made it more difficult to help children at risk. "There has been this fragmentation of services in health and education. Under local management of schools it becomes more difficult for a school to budget for child abuse."
The massive report of the commission contains some 80 recommendations ranging throughout governmental, legal, health, social, education and other fields. It envisages setting up a child surveillance system which would begin with the doctor and health visitor for babies and toddlers, moving on to nursery and school teachers who would be expected to watch out for anything suspicious.
The recommendations include suggestions that data on the condition of children should be systematically collected, published annually and presented to Parliament either through a children's commissioner or an agency set up for this function. This would include information on poverty, health, and children "in need".
Government departments would be asked to develop a business plan for children designed to shift investment to a preventive approach to child abuse while maintaining proper protection of those most at risk.
The Health Secretary should become the Secretary of State for Health and Children, and the minister with specific responsibility for children should be upgraded. The minister should report on the operation of UK legislation and developments relating to the implementation of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child.
The minister should chair a committee co-ordinating policies affecting children at which all relevant departments would be represented; and publicly present children's issues and promote the "listening to children approach".
The Government should commission an independent review of the effects on multi-agency children's services planning of LMS and similar financial arrangements in health and social services. "Government departments should take a national view of the need to recruit able people to children's services and develop a strategy to attract and retain skilled practitioners," it says.
It suggests that voluntary agencies should put proposals for school and post-school parenting education to the School Curriculum and Assessment Authority and the Department of Health, inviting them to co-ordinate responses from bodies including the Department for Education and Employment and the local education authorities.
Planning for children's services should mean social services, education and health authorities aiming for greater integration - particularly for those with special needs - through joint budgets, joint provision, a single assessment procedure for determining children's needs, and joint commissioning.
Central government should establish a fully integrated system to record information about those working with children. This would include records of convictions or the outcome of formal disciplinary action for anything which involved assault or putting children at risk. It should be accessible to employers and voluntary organisations.
Applicants for work involving children should be obliged to make a personal statement on their criminal or disciplinary record with regard to children.
False statements should be grounds for dismissal and legal action, which employers should be obliged to act upon.
The commission also says the Government should support the setting up of professional regulatory bodies for all disciplines dealing with children. It wants the law changed so that children have the same protection against assault as adults.
THE REPORT RECOMMENDS
* a national register of people employed in children's services with a record of assault or serious misdemeanour with children; *joint planning of children's services across social services, education and health agencies; * clearer guidance on child protection; * high quality parenting education and strategies to develop "child-friendly communities"; * a minister for children; * the appointment of children's commissioners for England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland