§ The Secretary of State for Health (Mr. Frank Dobson)
The House will know that, last year, after the conviction of people in north Wales for sexual and other crimes against children in their care, the previous Government commissioned Sir William Utting to conduct a review of the adequacy of safeguards against the abuse of children living away from home. They also established a judicial tribunal of inquiry, under the Tribunal of Inquiry (Evidence) Act 1921, into the events that led to those convictions. The north Wales judicial inquiry, chaired by Sir Ronald Waterhouse, continues and is expected to report next summer.
Sir William Utting has now reported to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland and to me. Today, we are publishing his report. A comparable review for Scotland is being published today by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland.
Sir William's review was necessary because of continuing revelations of widespread sexual, physical and emotional abuse of children living away from home—in particular, in children's homes—over the preceding 20 years. In addition to the convictions in north Wales, there are investigations or prosecutions in progress in the north-west, the north-east, south Wales and some home counties.
The report presents a woeful tale of failure at all levels to provide a secure and decent childhood for some of the most vulnerable children. It covers the lives of children whose home circumstances were so bad that those in authority, to use the jargon, took them into care. The report reveals that, in far too many cases, not enough care was then taken. Elementary safeguards were not in place or not enforced. Many children were harmed rather than helped. The review reveals that those failings were not just the fault of individuals—although individuals were at fault. It reveals the failures of a whole system.
The review team found evidence of good work done by many children's homes despite adverse circumstances. It considers that residential care remains an important option for looking after children in trouble, but that staffing is a chronic problem.
The report reveals a list of major faults. Many children are placed in homes unsuited to their particular needs because there is too little choice, too little planning and too little forethought. Some children go through a damaging succession of placements. Children are at risk in small unregistered homes. More than a third of children in residential care are not receiving an education. Children in foster care can be at risk of abuse, and safeguards intended in the Children Act 1989 are not being uniformly implemented.
There is no requirement for residential maintained special schools to be inspected for welfare purposes. Some children abscond from residential care and become homeless, and some remain untraced. In the past, children who ran away and were traced were often returned to the care of the people who were abusing them.
Disabled children, children with emotional and behavioural difficulties and young children are at higher risk of abuse or harm when living away from home. Bullying and sexual abuse by other foster children 328 is encountered. Bullying appeared to be ignored in some children's homes. The mix of fearsome children and vulnerable children amounts to abuse by the system that is supposed to provide protection.
Vetting child care staff and foster parents must be improved. Unacceptable delays arise in checking criminal records. Staff who suspect child abuse can be deterred from coming forward for fear of victimisation by other staff or managers. Some directors of social services say that they are reluctant to dismiss staff, as their decisions can be overturned on appeal.
The criminal justice system is ineffective in deterring offences against children and in securing convictions. Its failures are most marked where the victims are most vulnerable—the very young and the disabled.
Prison Service policy to keep children in separate accommodation is not being achieved. As a result, there is suicide, self-harm and endemic bullying. Boys aged 15 to 16 are still being remanded to prison because there is not enough secure accommodation.
The report concludes that, although there are no grounds for complacency—and, by God, there should not be—the repetition of abuse in children's homes on the scale that has occurred in the past is now unlikely.
The report makes 20 principal recommendations designed to improve safeguards in foster and residential care, in schools and in the penal system to provide more effective safeguards and checks to deter abusers from working with children, more effective avenues of complaint and independent advocates to whom children should have access, more vigilant management, effective disciplinary and criminal procedures and effective systems of communication between agencies about known abusers. The report also calls for changes to ensure that the criminal justice system provides children with better protection from abusers.
I thank those who produced the report. The situation that it describes cannot be allowed to recur or—where it continues—continue any further. It must provide a spur to all concerned to ensure that, in future, children living away from home for long periods get a safe, decent and positive upbringing.
This is a most serious report, and the Government are taking it most seriously. We have set in train the following action. Her Majesty's chief inspector of prisons has today published a report on young prisoners which reaches many of the same conclusions as Sir William Utting. The Home Office is ensuring that standards to safeguard young people in prison, which are being developed by the Prison Service, incorporate the welfare aims recommended in the report.
My right hon. Friends the Secretaries of State for Education and Employment and for Wales will be making improvements to the welfare safeguards for children in maintained boarding schools and will be working with the education service to achieve that. The chief inspector of social services in England is assessing local authorities' compliance with essential management and staffing safeguards which are supposed to be in place already. The Welsh Office is implementing with determination the Adrienne Jones report on child care and protection.
The Department of Health and the Welsh Office are already committed to two important changes recommended by the report: the creation of a statutory 329 general social care council to regulate standards of conduct and practice by social services personnel, and the statutory regulation and inspection of small children's homes.
We are actively reviewing the way in which the courts treat children and other vulnerable witnesses. We are preparing a White Paper on social services that will set out detailed proposals for improvements in the regulation of social services. With the encouragement of the Prime Minister, we are setting up a ministerial task force—to be led by me—involving Ministers from all relevant Departments and a small number of expert advisers from outside the Government. Its first job will be to prepare the full, comprehensive Government response to the report.
We will be consulting widely and carefully with all the public and voluntary agencies concerned before giving that detailed and comprehensive response. The report acknowledges that the review panel was not able to assess the costs of implementing its recommendations or what the spending levels on children's services should be. It also emphasises that any extra resources must be matched by managerial and professional effort to improve performance.
The recommendations made in the report will be considered as part of the comprehensive spending review, covering the whole range of services for children, including social services, juvenile and criminal justice and education. After careful consideration and consultation, we will put forward a full programme of policy and management changes to deliver the safer environment to which children living away from home are entitled. The programme will be clear, affordable and enforceable. It will ensure that high standards are set and that whatever standards are set will be met.
Finally, I should make it clear that many dedicated people are doing a good job looking after vulnerable children living away from home. It is never an easy task, and they deserve our thanks. We owe it to them and to the children they look after to root out and punish the wrongdoers and to put into place a system that helps rather than hinders their efforts. Vulnerable children living away from home are the responsibility of us all. Many of them have been badly let down. This Government will ensure that in future they are looked after better.
§ Mr. John Maples (Stratford-on-Avon)
I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his statement and for the very prompt publication of Sir William Utting's work. I thank Sir William and his team for the enormous amount of work and effort that must have gone into the report.
The level and extent of child abuse have horrified many us. When stories first started to emerge some years ago, I frankly found it difficult to believe that they were true. There have now been so many such stories that there can be absolutely no doubt about their nature and extent. Sir William Utting's report lists a catalogue of failure in that respect. The problem has to be addressed. The previous Government began that process and set up the inquiry. We shall support the present Government in carrying forward the process.
We are talking about the most vulnerable people in society. They have often already been abused. Their natural family arrangements have broken down, and foster 330 arrangements have often broken down, too. There may be only a few thousand such children, but they are children for whom the state has assumed the role of parent. We owe it to them to do better, protecting them from abuse at the least.
None of that should detract from the fact that many, many dedicated people work with and care for such children. The appalling cases of abuse that too frequently arise should not stop us acknowledging the excellent work that is done. I think that I am right in believing that most abuse takes place in residential care and less in foster care, because it is easier to detect in foster care.
As fostering has, rightly, become more widespread, residential care has declined. There are relatively few people with experience of managing residential care. That presents problems for commissioning and inspection. Perhaps we need to consider commissioning and the provision of care on a regional, or even national, basis. Perhaps inspection should follow a similar pattern. Many county councils do not provide care directly, and children are often placed away from their local authority area, leading to less frequent visits and inspections. In addition to the welcome action that the Secretary of State has announced, will he consider implementing regional arrangements, in an attempt to overcome the problems that some county councils have?
Many children are in care because fostering arrangements have broken down. Will the Secretary of State consider giving even more encouragement to greater training and support for fostering in difficult cases, when that might help to keep the fostering arrangement alive? That would keep more children out of residential care.
Strong measures have already been implemented to keep paedophiles out of child care. I am told that they are working, but different blacklists cause a great deal of complexity. Will the Secretary of State see whether there is a way of combining into one list all the different registers that it is incumbent on social services departments to inspect?
Often those under suspicion resign before they are sacked, and criminal charges are not brought. They can often escape being placed on the registers. Can the Secretary of State find a way of ensuring that they go on the registers? Should the registers contain more soft intelligence about suspicions, even when there has been no dismissal or criminal charge?
We all realise that a balance has to be struck between individual rights and the interests of children, but does the Secretary of State think that we should move further in the direction of the protection of the child, even if that means some erosion of people's rights? Perhaps working with children in residential care should be seen as a privilege to be earned rather than a right.
We are at one with the Government in wishing to do everything possible to ensure that those vulnerable children for whom the state has taken on the role of parent are protected from abuse. I assure the Secretary of State that we shall give positive and constructive consideration to any proposals to achieve that which he may bring before the House.
§ Mr. Dobson
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his welcome for the report and our initial response. I share his concern about children being placed in homes of any sort far from their local authority area. The more indirect and 331 distant the location of the children, the more difficult supervision becomes. We are stepping up work on recruiting foster parents and giving them additional training and encouragement. Most foster parents do a good job, but we have to remain eternally vigilant about the possibility of abuse by the vile minority of foster parents.
We are working with the Home Office on an effort to establish a common list of people who should not be employed in any way in the care of children or be involved with them. We intend to include what is euphemistically described as soft information on those lists. However, there is a balance to be struck. It will always be difficult to decide what should be done in such cases, but if a person has been accused of offences against children in a succession of previous locations, but never tried or found guilty, given the weight of evidence, the balance should be in favour of protecting children from them.
§ Mr. Joe Ashton (Bassetlaw)
My right hon. Friend is to be congratulated on the report. Is he aware that, because of the incidents that he has mentioned, some of us have severe doubts about reducing the age of homosexual consent from 18 to 16? I refer to the dangers of boys being abused by persons in positions of trust, care or authority.
Is my right hon. Friend aware that the European Court would rule that we must come into line with the general age of consent at 16 in Europe, but that many European countries have exemptions for young people in positions of trust, care and authority? Is it not time the age of consent was 18 for boys and girls in these circumstances? That might make it more difficult for a carer or a person in authority to make an approach.
Will my right hon. Friend convey what I am saying to the Home Secretary, in addition to what we have told him in private meetings? I am not alleging that homosexuals are paedophiles; far from it. Many of us are not against 16 as the age of homosexual consent, but we are extremely concerned about vulnerable boys and girls.
§ Mr. Dobson
I thank my hon. Friend for that point. Other Ministers and I are indeed considering linking a change in the homosexual age of consent to 16—I would support that—to the introduction of a law that would make sexual activity with young persons by people in authority, heterosexual or homosexual, unlawful and punishable.
There is a great deal of heterosexual abuse in children's homes, and we must use every measure available to us to stop it. We may come up with proposals to bring the age of consent for any sexual activity down to 16, but to raise it for cases involving the exploitation of a position of authority. That goes not just for children's homes but for teachers, football coaches and anyone else.
§ Mr. Paul Burstow (Sutton and Cheam)
In adding my party's welcome for the report and the Minister's statement, I also have a number of questions to ask him. I hope that the message that will go out is that the rehabilitation of residential care is an important element in the whole provision of child care.
In respect of the task force, will the Minister be able to tackle the Berlin walls between education, health and social security—walls that often get in the way—
§ Mr. Burstow
Indeed. Those walls get in the way of dealing with child care services in the right manner.
332 Does the Minister agree that, if Government Departments in Whitehall cannot co-ordinate their activities, we cannot expect town halls to do so?
Will the task force also become a standing committee that can deal with the development, implementation and oversight of a child care strategy? There clearly needs to be monitoring of the implementation of the recommendations.
Will the Minister publish any reasons why the task group might decide not to implement any of the 20 key recommendations?
Can the Minister offer us any reassurance in relation to finding ways of instilling confidence in staff who may suspect a colleague of abusing someone in care? Such people need fast-track access to confidential briefings of managers in which they can raise such matters.
Will the Secretary of State take up the point in Sir William's report that, with only 8,000 places now available in residential care, there is a need for greater choice and a need to address that expansion in a controlled way with quality at its heart? Therefore, will the right hon. Gentleman look urgently at the fact that the Government's funding review will not report until next summer? Urgent action is needed. Next summer is too far away. Will the right hon. Gentleman return to the House with a statement on the release of resources into this area sooner rather than later?
Liberal Democrat Members will do all we can to support the Government in taking forward the recommendations, because we believe that we in the House, those in the town halls, and everyone involved in the care of children, must do better and must do more in future.
§ Mr. Dobson
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his welcome for the report and the Government's initial response. My personal view is that, to some extent, because of the emphasis on the superiority of care in the community, people working in residential care for all sorts of people, not just young people, have felt themselves to be regarded as second best, second rate, and not receiving the attention that they deserve. Some of the things that have happened may well have been a product of that feeling. We must restore morale among the staff.
With regard to Berlin walls, the task force, which I shall lead, will include senior representatives from the various Departments. As the hon. Gentleman says, if we in Whitehall cannot work together, it is difficult to expect people in town halls and county halls to do so in the way that we expect.
We shall report to the House in due course on our full response to the report. We have already taken some action, by way of advice, on helping staff who feel that things are going wrong to report that things are going wrong. I confirm that one of the limitations on local authorities has been the absence of a choice of places, which has, in some cases, led them to send children to places that were quite unsuitable for them.
§ Mrs. Llin Golding (Newcastle-under-Lyme)
I welcome the report, and I am pleased that the Government are committed to doing so much to improve the lives of children who have often been neglected by previous Governments.
333 Will the Government consider implementing the Pigot report which will do so much to remove the stress that children feel when giving evidence in court, enabling them to give evidence outside court rather than face the terrible trauma of having to appear in person?
§ Mr. Dobson
First, I congratulate my hon. Friend on her work over the years on this issue. We are considering the Pigot report carefully, but, in view of the evidence, we may find ourselves in a dilemma. It is possible that the legitimate effort to try to protect child witnesses is reducing their credibility as witnesses or, if carried too far, could reduce their credibility as witnesses. That may be one of the explanations for the decline in the prosecution success rate in recent years.
§ Mr. Nicholas Winterton (Macclesfield)
I congratulate the Secretary of State on his excellent statement, just as I congratulate Sir William Utting, whom I know well, who has tremendous ability and professionalism, on the report that he has produced. General Sir David Ramsbotham, who was mentioned by the Secretary of State, also has tremendous ability and is doing a wonderful job.
When I was involved in a Select Committee that had responsibility in this area, we met many young people who were members of NAYPIC—the National Association of Young People in Care. They made it very clear to the Committee that places in residential homes were vital, yet the number of those places is now down to about 8,000. Will the Secretary of State give an assurance that will be action, not only to sustain the current level of places, but to open a number of new residential homes? Such homes are ideal for many young people who have difficulty and who have been abused in their own homes.
§ Mr. Dobson
I will say that we will do whatever is necessary to ensure that local authorities that have to take children into care and place them have places that are suitable for those children; and I certainly recognise that, for some children, that involves places in residential homes. The residential homes must be suitable, because—to return to my earlier point—some of the children are quite fearsome and difficult to deal with. Such children can be very threatening to children at the other end of the spectrum of vulnerability and to put the two groups together is an abuse by the system rather than of the system.
§ Mr. Hilton Dawson (Lancaster and Wyre)
I speak as someone who, before coming to the House, spent 15 years as a child care social worker and the past eight years as a manager of residential and foster care. During that work, I managed and worked with many excellent residential social workers, who gave selflessly of their time and ability and all their experience to aid and assist children and young people in care. The same can be said of foster carers.
Some of the best times of my recent experience came from working in care groups with young people who—despite, in many cases, having the most atrocious background—can be articulate and strong and show a real commitment towards improving good practice in residential care and in ensuring the welfare of other young people in care.
334 I hope that the task force to consider the report, which needs to work across all departmental boundaries, will set children's rights at the heart of its work. I hope that it will give a statutory basis to the need to provide local in-care groups to involve young people in policy formulation at local level. I hope that it will set up a new national organisation for young people in care, because NAYPIC is sadly defunct. I hope that it will give real and fresh consideration to the idea of a children's rights commissioner to implement the United Nations convention on children's rights across the country
We need to change the culture of this country. We need to make this country child-centred. We cannot discuss the most vulnerable children in our society only when reports such as this come out. Children need to be at the forefront of our concern constantly. I hope that every hon. Member will contribute to that debate and I hope that many hon. Members will join the all-party group for children and young people in care, which I am aiming to set up—
§ Madam Speaker
Order. I have to call the hon. Gentleman to order. Before the Secretary of State responds, I remind hon. Members—especially new ones—that when a Secretary of State makes a statement, it is for Back Benchers to question that statement, not to make a speech or a statement on the statement. I know that the hon. Member for Lancaster and Wyre (Mr. Dawson) gained a great deal of experience relating to this issue before coming to the House and it is a pleasure to hear him. I simply remind the House of these conventions. There is a great deal of unanimity, so I ask for brisk questions and I am sure that the Secretary of State will oblige in his responses.
§ Madam Speaker
I have just looked up the hon. Gentleman's background and, because I am so soft and sentimental, I shall allow him a couple of quick questions, so that he can show the rest of us how it should be done.
§ Mr. Dawson
Will my right hon. Friend address the issue of pay in residential care and qualifications in residential care? That is the only way that the esteem, standing and competence of residential care will be increased, to the benefit of all children.
§ Mr. Dobson
I shall answer my hon. Friend's two final questions together. We will do whatever is necessary to ensure that the staff of residential homes are good-quality staff who really care for the children. I congratulate my hon. Friend on the help that he has been giving to the Department. He went so far as to bring some of the children into the Department; some of those who are having to respond to the report have met some of them. That is a good step forward. My hon. Friend has been giving a great deal of help to the Under-Secretary of State for Health, my hon. Friend the Member for Brent, South (Mr. Boateng). We are involving some of those children in our response to the convention.
§ Mrs. Virginia Bottomley (South-West Surrey)
Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that there has been tremendous success in the substantial fall in the number of children in care over the past couple of decades or 335 more? Sir William Utting, Sir Herbert Laming and many others have been committed to improving children's services. However, the children left in residential care are often the most troubled and troublesome, and the most complex and costly.
Will the right hon. Gentleman look carefully at the point that has been alluded to about the way in which children are shunted between special education, mental health services, social services for children and prison institutions? There is a danger that those difficult children will be passed from one agency to the next. The right hon. Gentleman may feel that progress has been made by the appointment of Norman Warner, who did so much to improve children's social services, as the special adviser to the Home Secretary. I believe that it is an encouraging step.
Will the right hon. Gentleman go into more detail about how he plans to see training improved? Too often, people have had work experience in residential settings in order to pursue their career in the community and elsewhere. Until we reverse the hierarchy of status and rewards, these children will not receive the continuity, care and supervision that they deserve.
§ Mr. Dobson
On the last point, we are looking at improving the general training of people involved in social services departments. We are concentrating attention on those involved in residential care, because, as I have said, that has not been the first priority for anyone in the system for quite a long time. I share the hon. Lady's view about the problem of young people, who may have been troublesome at some time, being passed from agency to agency. As a standing condemnation of all of us, not just those working in the child care system, it is a salutary thought that 22 per cent. of people in prison were formerly in care.
§ Ann Clwyd (Cynon Valley)
I welcome my right hon. Friend's statement and the quick action that he has taken in response to the recommendations; if only that had been the case 20 years ago when the north Wales tribunal evidence first came to light. It was known to the authorities, but no action was taken. I remind my right hon. Friend that some of my constituents who were abused in those north Wales homes have given evidence to the tribunal. It has been a considerable ordeal for them, particularly as the perpetrators of some of the abuse against them are still at large.
Some names have been mentioned during the tribunal. They have not been made public, but they will be published at the end of the tribunal. May we have an assurance that, in all future investigations of this kind, when names are named, they will be investigated by the police and that prosecutions will be taken out against them if the evidence is there?
§ Mr. Dobson
I sympathise with my hon. Friend's concern, but I do not think that I can give a blanket guarantee that every inquiry will automatically release names. There may be circumstances in which it would be wrong to do so; it would depend on the circumstances. My general view is that there needs to be a cogent reason for not disclosing names, but there may occasionally be such a reason.
§ Rev. Martin Smyth (Belfast, South)
I welcome the statement. I am puzzled by the fact that there is to be one 336 for Scotland as well, but that there is no mention of Northern Ireland. We live in a kingdom where people move back and forward, and there are problems at each stage.
I support the general thrust of the report. Sir William Utting previously gave us a fine report recommending the setting up of a general social services council. No mention has been made of that. How far down the road are we towards that, or must we wait several more years before it comes into being?
On the subject of abuse, is it not important that, when people have been found guilty in a court of law of paedophilia, they should not be appointed to posts where they can continue to abuse children? When questions are asked, is it a sufficient answer that the person who made the reappointment took advice on it? Surely there should be greater protection for children who have been abused when in care.
§ Mr. Dobson
I thank the hon. Gentleman. We expect to publish the details of our proposals for a general social care council fairly early next year, and to proceed as quickly as possible to get that through.
On the appointment of people to posts when they have been found guilty of abuse, we have made changes in the law already. Clearly, some change in practice is also required.
§ Mr. David Hinchliffe (Wakefield)
As I also worked in the child protection system for many years, may I welcome the report and my right hon. Friend's response to it?
With reference to the general social services council, is it not a fact that the social work profession pressed the previous Government over many years to bring in a proper regulatory framework? It is disgraceful that the previous Government did not act on that issue, when there was a consensus in the social work profession that it was a key element in protecting children and young people in care.
May I raise with my right hon. Friend a point that has not been mentioned so far? The league tables for school performance were published yesterday. Will he, together with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education and Employment, examine the impact of the emphasis on school performance on youngsters who are in care? It is a simple fact of life that many head teachers are glad to see the back of youngsters in care because they affect the school's performance and position in league tables.
Bearing in mind the fact that, when children end up in care, it is a sign of some failure in the care system itself, will my right hon. Friend look at the preventive elements of the Children Act 1989 and consider how we can ensure that those elements work more effectively, to prevent youngsters from ending up in care?
§ Mr. Dobson
On my hon. Friend's last point, we are looking at what can be done. On school performance, again we are looking with the Department for Education and Employment at the impact of exclusions from school of children who may be extremely troublesome and disruptive, or may simply disrupt the exam tables. We need to examine that carefully. 337 There is clear evidence, particularly among younger children, that if they move from school to school, their education suffers desperately. Some of the children who are not getting a fair deal in a residential home are not getting anything like a fair deal at the various schools to which they are sent. We want to do something about that.
I do not want to go roaming over what has gone wrong in the past 20 years, but it is clear that, if we demand higher standards of performance from staff in social services departments, we should make it clear what we expect of them, and put in place a regulatory framework that enables them to do their jobs properly.
§ Mr. Andrew Lansley (South Cambridgeshire)
I welcome the Secretary of State's statement. He will be aware that the circumstances described in the Utting report will continue to be of great concern to people in Cambridgeshire, in the light of the Laverack case and similar circumstances associated with that.
Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that the sense of impermanence in management in residential homes is a feature of the problem? Management is often short-lived, and staff move between residential homes, as do many of the residents on short-term placements.
Does the Secretary of State agree that part of the process of dealing with such movement and of raising the morale and status of residential social workers is to give support to managers and staff to take longer-term placements as part of a structure for their career? Does the right hon. Gentleman also agree with me that, while there must be no compromise in the scrutiny of staff in residential homes for their appropriateness for the task, that should be positively presented as a process of giving the assurance that residential social workers are not the object of suspicion but are treated as professional staff in whom we can have greater confidence in future?
§ Mr. Dobson
As for the hon. Gentleman's last point, we live in a world that is full of dilemmas; one example is that we want to give encouragement to people who are doing a good job and extra encouragement to those who are doing an average job, but want to come down like a ton of bricks on those who are doing a bad job. There are always dilemmas.
The hon. Gentleman talked about the impermanence of staff and management. We want to ensure that staff stay far longer in the homes where they are working. Those of us who were fortunate to grow up in a home with our own parents had the exclusive commitment, love and support of just two people. That is what happens if we are really lucky. We are faced with children who have the exclusive love and support of no one. There is a turnover of people for whom they may have developed some affection and trust. We shall never be able to substitute for an ordinary, well-working family, but we should try much harder.
§ Mr. Jonathan Shaw (Chatham and Aylesford)
As the third former social worker on the Government Benches to ask a question of my right hon. Friend, I shall be brief.
I welcome the report, but does my right hon. Friend agree with the section that highlights the need for better regulations for private fostering agencies? Is my right hon. Friend aware of the increasing number of private fostering 338 agencies in north Kent that are primarily serving London boroughs that find it difficult to recruit fostering? Will he ensure that greater regulation is brought to bear on those agencies?
§ Mr. Dobson
I certainly agree with the point that my hon. Friend is making. As I have said, it is clear that problems arise when children are away from the area in which they have grown up and from the local authority that is responsible for them. The further they are away from the direct responsibility of the local authority, the more that applies. That is not an attack on any agencies. However, the minute that there are boundaries between the local authority and the group of people who are responsible, more difficulties will inevitably arise.
§ Dr. Jenny Tonge (Richmond Park)
As a former chair of social services in a London borough, I welcome the Secretary of State's statement and all its good intentions to protect children in care. I welcome especially the commitment to keep residential care going, and to provide adequate training and pay for the staff. Will the right hon. Gentleman, together with his Cabinet colleagues, ensure that this year's local government settlement will reflect his good intentions? Will he also ensure that local authority social services departments have enough money to carry them all out?
§ Mr. Dobson
We will do our best, but it is not all a matter of resources. It must be recognised that some well-run homes are cheaper to maintain than some homes that are badly run. Child abusers used to get paid; they were not doing it for free. We will provide whatever resources we believe to be necessary to provide a stable home life for these vulnerable children, in the way of buildings and properly qualified staff. It will, of course, take time to recruit the necessary staff and give them the training that is required.
§ Mrs. Joan Humble (Blackpool, North and Fleetwood)
As another former chair of social services I, too, welcome the report and the Government's response to it.
My right hon. Friend will be aware that one of the common threads through many child abuse cases in recent years is that the young people did not know to whom they could complain, or were not believed when they complained. What action will he take to ensure that young people in care, especially now that so many of them are in foster homes and are isolated, know to whom they can turn if they have a concern, and ensure that their concerns will be taken seriously?
§ Mr. Dobson
I can give my hon. Friend the assurance that she requires. We want a system in which children can complain and, if they are telling, be believed.
§ Madam Speaker
Order. I am bringing this to a close. No doubt we shall come back to this issue in a number of ways.