The child protection system in England requires a complete overhaul because it is failing vulnerable teenagers, an investigation by a group of MPs warns.
Members of the Commons Education Committee found a “worrying picture with regard to the protection and support of older children”, saying that the recent Rochdale grooming case and the Jimmy Savile abuse scandal were examples of how the system had failed older children.
Although the report was prepared well before the Savile allegations had emerged, the MPs said: “The recent review into the Rochdale case of sexual exploitation of young teenage girls and the revelations about the late Sir Jimmy Savile have forcefully reminded us that older children making allegations of abuse are often not believed and are dismisssed by those in authority because of pre-conceptions about their own behaviour or about the standing of the alleged perpetrator.”
The MPs argued that the care of vulnerable children should be taken over by the department for education, and that the regulator, Ofsted, should monitor and report on the provision made for older children; “taking into account the views of the children themselves” should be a standard part of all local authority inspections.
Graham Stuart, the committee chairman, said: “Care for older children is not good enough. They are let down too often, frequently ignored or not listened to, can be pushed out of care too young and insufficiently prepared and supported. This has to change.
“In all cases, these children must be treated as children first, and not just as either criminals or immigration cases.”
Particular concern was raised about the position of children leaving care and the range of accommodation and support provided to them. The MPs said that child care professionals needed to understand that a teenager could be a vulnerable “child in need” just as much as a younger child.
The MPs also heard evidence from practioners who expressed fears that reforms to the NHS could lead to further vulnerable children slipping through the net because they had not received clear guidance from the department of health “as to where child protection would sit in the new health landscape”.
But committee did say that the system was “coping and…is building on a strong base to implement further improvements. One former senior policeman told us that from his experience of having worked in a number of different countries, ‘the systems in the UK are far more advnced than in most other countries in the world’.”
The report also raised ths issue of trafficked children, saying that there was a “tension” between child protection and immigration policies.
Lisa Nandy, Labour spokeswoman for children and young people, said: “The most worrying thing about recent revelations relating to North Wales or Jimmy Savile is the myth that they couldn’t happen again.
“Today’s report, and the horrific sexual abuse of teenage girls in Rochdale, shows that power relationships are still exploited and young people, particularly girls, are too often ignored or disbelieved when they report abuse. It underlines why the Government is wrong to resist a public inquiry into recent allegations.
“The Government needs to set up a single over-arching inquiry to draw together the confusing myriad of investigations now under way into institutional failures over child abuse and set out clear action that is needed.”
Matthew Reed, the chief executive of the Children’s Society, added: “This is a very welcome and important report, which highlights that far too often children are treated as the problem and denied the protection they desperately need and deserve.
“It is crucial children’s needs come first at all times – regardless of how old they are, where they come from or what circumstances they face.
“We also welcome the committee’s recommendation that immigration policy should be reviewed to take into account children’s well-being.
“We know from our own work that immigration restrictions are denying children help, forcing some to sleep on floors and eat out of bins.
“It is vital the Government listens to this report and takes action to protect all vulnerable children.”