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Plans to tighten the law to protect children staying in small residential homes were announced today by health secr...
Plans to tighten the law to protect children staying in small residential homes were announced today by health secretary Stephen Dorrell.

Speaking at the annual conference of the Association of Directors of Social Services in Edinburgh today, Mr Dorrell published the Burgner Report on the Regulation and Inspection of Social Services.

He accepted its key recommendations, including the extension of regulation to privately run homes with less than four children which are currently not required to be registered under the 1989 Children Act.

He said: 'I accept Burgner's arguments for extending statutory regulation to small children's homes. We have become increasingly aware of the use being made of these homes. It is anomalous that they should be exempt from registration, particularly in a field where the risks of abuse are well known.'

Mr Dorrell outlined a package of measures designed to improve safeguards for social service users and make the process of regulation and inspection more open and independent. A White Paper containing detailed proposals about social services is due to be published in January.

The secretary of state also launched today a consultation document on standards of professional practice and conduct in social services, describing an action programme the government intends to initiate to improve protection for the public.

The main recommendations of the Burgner Report which have been accepted include:

-- local authority responsibility for inspecting care homes should be moved, after the necessary preparation, from social services to either the chief executive's department or the trading standards department

-- local authority homes should be subject to the same rules as homes run by the voluntary and private sectors

-- new national benchmarks, forming a basis for standards for homes operated by councils and others

-- a careful study of extending regulation to domiciliary care

Charting the growth of social services over the last 25 years, Mr Dorrell said:

'Social services has matured into the fourth arm of the welfare state, spending more than all the family health services provided by the NHS - from just under £900m in today's values in 1970/71 to over £9bn now, if you count in continuing social security expenditure on community care.

'The scale of growth in social services requires us to stand back a bit, look at the process and assumptions underlying that growth and look forward to the next decade. That is why I have signalled the government's intention to publish a White Paper in the New Year covering a wide range of social services issues. Its objective will be to look at the background to the development of social services provision and identify the key policy issues which social services departments now face.'

Introducing the consultation document on standards of professional practice and conduct in social services, Mr Dorrell said:

'We are committed to promoting and defending high standards of professional practice. I recognise that the time is right for further development of practice and conduct standards. We fully recognise the aspirations of all social services staff for formal recognition of those standards, as a hallmark of what they provide. Through this consultation process we are putting in train a programme to make this a reality.'

Turning to the Burgner report, Mr Dorrell stated:

'Tom Burgner's remit was a wide one. We asked him particularly to review the progress which had been made towards achieving essential effectiveness and independence in social services inspection.

'More fundamentally, he had to recognise the enormous changes in the development and delivery of services which had been made over recent years. In consequence, the regulatory structure, while generally performing an important task to protect people made vulnerable by reason of age or condition, was showing signs of strain. Furthermore, there were gaps and anomalies in the system which needed to be addressed.

'Against this complex background Tom Burgner has produced a substantial report which is the outcome of a very wide consultative process. I and my ministerial colleagues are most grateful to him for an extremely thorough and helpful document.

'What I say today about the Burgner findings will represent very much an initial and indeed incomplete response. There are a number of areas where further consideration and indeed further consultation will be necessary.'

-- Copies of the report are available from Department of Health, PO Box 410, Wetherby, LS23 SLN, fax: 01937 845381.

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