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CHILD PROTECTION: CALL FOR MORE EFFECTIVE JOINT TRAINING AND CO-OPERATION BETWEEN AGENCIES

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Children must be given the chance to speak with confidence to ...
Children must be given the chance to speak with confidence to

professionals. They must be listened to intently when they speak about

their lives. And they must be given as much attention and credibility by

all professionals and agencies concerned with their welfare as is given

to other groups in society.

According to a wide range of statutory and voluntary organisations who

have given evidence to the Victoria Climbie inquiry, 'the whole child

care system must pull together much more effectively to prioritise child

care and child protection. A clear message to this effect must be given

from top and senior management in all relevant organisations. Every

agency must commit itself to meeting children's needs, and protecting

them when necessary.

'Police services must maintain the high profile which they now afford

child protection, regardless of competing priorities. The welfare needs

of children must be as important to education departments as their

attainment in SATs and GCSEs. And social services need to ensure that

designated senior managers liaise effectively with chief executives and

councillors in order to keep child protection high on the departments'

agendas.

'Meanwhile, throughout all local authorities, children must have as high

a profile as balancing budgets and setting the council tax, while the

health service must devote as much attention to child protection as it

gives to reducing waiting lists, delayed discharges and cancer care.

'It is totally unacceptable for any profession or agency to do anything

less than make their services so sensitive to the realities of childhood

and child care that child protection is given the highest importance,'

the groups says.

In addition, the group is also calling on the government to provide

child protection services with the resources they require in order to

keep all children safe from harm.

The list of agencies and professional associations includes The

Metropolitan Police, The Association of Directors of Social Services,

the Local Government Association, Barnardo's, The NHS Confederation, The

NSPCC, the Society of Education Officers, NCH, and the National

Children's Bureau*

Other areas in which the signatories agree include:

- ALL participants should insist that staff should listen to children

and encourage them to have the confidence to talk about the reality of

their day to day lives. 'This must be at the heart of any assessment

undertaken by those working with children and their families.'

- STRONG, universal services are the best means of providing protection

to children and supporting their families. Government initiatives to

combat child poverty and to launch new preventative initiatives

(Children's Fund, Sure Start, Connexions) are welcomed and supported.

But 'ensuring that children have ready access to universal and

preventative services from birth throughout their childhood will be a

more effective means of protection than any system of identification and

intervention when things go wrong,' the group says.

- THE role of Area Child Protection Committees (ACPCs) should be

strengthened, and they should be placed on a statutory footing, jointly

funded, which will help oversee national policies for protecting

children.

There should be also be:

- SHARED outcomes for children which are developed nationally with

linked performance indicators to which each agency will contribute,

- INSPECTIONS to determine how well all the agencies are working

together to safeguard children in a local area, carried out jointly by

the inspectorates of all the relevant agencies,

- ROBUST emphasis on enabling groups of staff 'to work alongside each

other, share workplaces when necessary or create virtual teams to share

information and work as a unit. Professional accountability, though,

should be retained by individual agencies.'

All the agencies concentrated on closer integration of professionals on

the front line, more effective joint training, the need for clearer

guidance on when information can and should be shared between agencies

as well as more efficient sharing of information as vital ingredients of

rigorous child protection procedures. Equally, agencies need compatible

information technology which will allow the secure and rapid transfer

of information when families and children move.

They argued that 'this will require renewed priority to be given to the

levels of knowledge, skill and supervision of some front line workers.

It will require them to receive discerning support and supervision from

experienced and confident managers, and it will require local systems

of communication and arrangements for collaborative work to operate

effectively.'

They did not recommend wholesale, potentially destabilising, large scale

reorganisation of departments as a solution to child protection

dilemmas.

The group was particularly keen on recommending a national curriculum

for the training of all professionals in all relevant agencies involved

in child protection and child welfare. They stressed the importance of

increased opportunities for multi disciplinary training, and the need to

offer effective support and supervision to staff undertaking this

difficult, demanding and complex work.

According to ADSS president Mike Leadbetter: 'All of the organisations

who have agreed this statement have done so fully aware of the

importance of Victoria's life, and the significance of her death. We

shall all await Lord Laming's report. But meanwhile, the vital task goes

ahead of making sure that the protection of children is so important to

all our agencies that we will minimise the risk of such a tragedy ever

happening again.

'We must recognise the impact this tragedy has had on staff, and

agencies must act robustly to ensure that they stay engaged with the

pain and turmoil that working with children and families in distress can

bring.'

John Ransford, LGA education and social policy director said:

'We must ensure that our entire service

response really meets children's needs and protects them where

necessary. This is best achieved by having clear standards and giving

frontline staff the support and resources they require. Widespread

organisational change would simply make this more difficult.'

Deputy assistant commissioner Carole Howlett, Metropolitan Police

Service, said: 'The MPS is totally committed to ensuring as far as

possible, that such an appalling tragedy cannot happen again. Even

before Victoria Climbie's tragic death we recognised that changes in our

child protection structures and procedures were necessary.

'An enormous amount of work has since been done in order to improve our

systems, including a major review of our child protection teams. We

continue to develop and improve to ensure that with our partners we make

the most of every opportunity to intervene at the earliest opportunity

to protect all our children in London.'

Mary Marsh, chief executive for the NSPCC said: 'Children must be at the

centre of every agency's contribution to child protection. I welcome our

joint recognition of the need for us to work effectively together,

including sharing access to multi-disciplinary

training in child protection.'

Roger Singleton, chief executive, Barnardo's said: 'Equipping front line

staff with the necessary knowledge, skills and supervision is the only

effective way to improve the safety of children at risk'

Paul Ennals, chief executive, National Children's Bureau, said: 'The

Victoria Climbie inquiry confirms once again that the most effective way

of protecting children is by listening to what they have to say. We need

to strengthen this principle, not only within the child protection

system, but within the culture of all service providers if we are to

ensure that a tragedy of this kind can never happen again.'

Deborah Lightfoot, assistant director of operations at NCH, said: 'The

voluntary sector plays a massive role in all aspects of family support,

child protection, education and adoption and fostering. Our joint

experience, knowledge and expertise lead us to these conclusions and our

final sixth submission to the Laming Inquiry into the death of Victoria

Climbie.'

David Hall, president of the Royal College of Paediatrics and

Child Health, said: 'our aim must be to prevent the abuse of children

in every way we can and, when we fail in prevention, to recognise the

warning signs early and intervene promptly. The college is working

closely with the NSPCC to improve the training in child protection of

all doctors who work with children.'

Chris Waterman, general secretary of the Society of Education Officers

said: 'The Society of Education Officers is committed to the holistic

welfare of children and young people. We welcome any opportunity for

multi-agency working. The education service has a crucial role to play

in meeting children's needs, protecting them where necessary and sharing

information where appropriate with other agencies working in the complex

arena of child protection.'

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