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Too many gaps in the net

The committee's inquiry was specifically into the implementation of the report It's Everyone's Job To Make Sure I'm Alright. Ministers have imposed a three-year deadline, until November next year, to bang heads together among the variety of agencies dealing with children.

A 24-hour national child protection helpline is promised, along with annual audits of practice against new national standards.

While the committee heard reservations that the time-scale was not realistic, its report is adamant that "momentum must not be lost and completion of the reform programme in three years is essential". It adds:

"A culture of continuous change for improvement must be embedded in all relevant institutions."

The education inspectorate has been handed the task of developing a multidisciplinary approach to monitoring children's services and child protection. But the committee expressed its disappointment that this would take until 2009, seven years after the Executive unveiled its reform programme. MSPs want ministers to speed up this timetable.

The reform of child protection is one of the highest personal priorities for Mr Peacock as well as for the Executive, following a series of high-profile failures to protect children which revealed alarming gaps in the system.

Mr Peacock has already taken the unprecedented step of writing jointly with the health and justice ministers to local authority chief executives, chief constables and NHS boards demanding assurances they will work together to make the changes required.

But there remain significant shortcomings, such as the need for linked computer systems to log details of children who come to the attention of different services and the lack of a national database for children.

The Headteachers' Association of Scotland expressed concern that there was not even "a succinct and readily accessible chronology of significant events" in the lives of children at risk. The committee urges "that this simple requirement should be activated as soon as possible".

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