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By LGCnet political correspondent Robert Hedley ...
By LGCnet political correspondent Robert Hedley

A Bill which would compel local authorities to set up independent area child protection committees, comprising senior representatives from all agencies with responsiblities for young people, was supported by senior MPs from all parts of the commons.

Introduced under the Ten Minute Rule by Adrian Bailey, Labour MP for West Bromwich West, the Area Child Protection Committee Bill also has the support of the Association of Directors of Social Services, the Local Government Association and the National Society for the Prevention of Cruely to Children, who assisted in its drafting.

The government has promised action on lessons to be learned from Lord Laming's inquiry into the murder of Victoria Climbie. Mr Bailey's Bill could form the basis for government reforms. It seeks to establish a framework for child protection that would be based on best practice and be uniform throughout the country by blocking loopholes in the Children Act 1989 and the accompanying department of health guidance. These set out the basis for a system whereby all the main agencies involved in child protection should work together in a defined local area using the combined knowledge and expertise to set appropriate procedures and protocols to identify and protect every child at risk from abuse.

Mr Bailey said: 'The key problem lies with the absence in the Children Act of a defined legal obligation for local authorities to set up a committee. It is mentioned in the section and guidance that accompanies the Act, but crucially there is no statutory obligation on the local authority or other agencies involved to fulfil their functions in relation to the committee.

'The wording of sections 27 and 47 of the Act compounds that problem. Neither police nor GPs are named as a necessary part of the ACPC. There is also a 'get out' clause for other agencies. They are required to participate only'.

The two most important problems arising from that were, first, that it reinforced the view that child protection was mainly a social services responsibility and that other agencies involved were marginal, both to the development of child protection policy and consideration of individual cases. That might be reinforced by professional isolationism in some social services departments where partnership working had not been fostered.

Secondly, the gap in legislation permits agencies with a wide range of professional responsibilities to downgrade their child protection role.

The Bill places an obligation on every local authority to establish an ACPC. It also places a statutory responsibility on the council chief executive to appoint an independent ACPC chairman and to agree the appointment with the social services inspectorate.

It defines the agencies to be involved, and would place on them an obligation to be represented by a person of appropriate professional competence and status. It would provide flexible arrangements so that the committees' boundaries could cover more than one local authority where the boundaries of the other agencies involved made that a more suitable basis for organisation.

Mr Bailey concluded: 'As politicians, we should use the legacy of the Victoria Climbie case as a spur to put in place legislation that will do everything possible to prevent a recurrence of such a tragedy. We must accept responsibility for child abuse across all sectors of our society and work together to end it'.

The Bill was given an unopposed first reading. Whether it becomes law depends of the government finding parliamentary time for its progress.

Hansard 21 May 2002: Column 156-158

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