HL Deb 03 November 1986 vol 481 cc901-3
Baroness Faithfull

My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question standing in my name on the Order Paper.

The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government what reforms are planned to help children who are victims of cruelty and abuse.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Health and Social Security (Baroness Trumpington)

My Lords, the Government are very concerned about children who are victims of cruelty and abuse and we are engaged in a substantial programme of reform. We are preparing proposals for a major re-casting of child care law which will be published in the White Paper which was announced by my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Social Services on 1st May. Simultaneously, we are continuing our programme to help professionals to raise their standards in child care by encouraging training and issuing guidance on inter-agency working in child abuse cases, on placing a child in care at home and on reviews of children in care, my right honourable friend the Home Secretary has announced he will introduce in the Criminal Justice Bill a provision to permit child victims of sexual or physical assault to give evidence by live video link.

Baroness Faithfull

My Lords, I thank my noble friend for that positive reply which everyone in this country will be glad to hear. Does she agree that, although in law social services departments are responsible for cases, they and they alone cannot carry the full responsibility and must be supported and worked with by education departments, the police, health departments and voluntary organisations? Does my noble friend further agree that the general public both wish and need to help? Would she think it wise for meetings to be held throughout the country, and perhaps in every county, where the general public can be informed of the problem, and can be told where to refer cases and how to help neighbours in trouble and in need?

Baroness Trumpington

My Lords, with regard to the latter part of my noble friend's supplementary question, I entirely agree with her that neighbours and friends can be of great help. We believe that more can be done through both local and national courses and through conferences which are multidisciplinary. My right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Social Services announced on 30th October the setting up of two multidisciplinary (social worker, health visitor, doctor and police) training projects, one at the Department of Psychological Medicine at the Hospital for Sick Children at Great Ormond Street and the other at the National Children's Bureau under the aegis of TAGOSAC, costing £300,000 over the next three years. We believe that this will make a valuable contribution to and will promote multidisciplinary training.

Lord Mellish

My Lords, the noble Baroness will be aware that the vast majority of social welfare workers who are involved with cases of child abuse do a magnificent job and tribute must be paid to them. However, like all organisations and bodies there is the odd one out who does it very badly or not at all and who gets all the publicity. Perhaps the noble Baroness can tell me what action the Government intend to take in certain cases where councils—I shall not name them because they are well-known through press headlines—do not appear to take much action to see that such incidents do riot happen again? Where do the Government stand in this—or do they stand completely aloof?

Baroness Trumpington

My Lords, I cannot possibly comment on particular cases but I am satisfied that, either by the application of child care legislation or with the assistance of police, social workers are able to gain access to any child if necessary. I should like to join with the noble Lord in paying tribute to social workers, who I believe have a raw deal often and who do a magnificent job.

Baroness Elliot of Harwood

My Lords, may I ask the noble Baroness whether much research has been done by the Department of Health and Social Security in monitoring the cases before the courts over the last five years? Is the number increasing and what is the lesson to be learnt from these cases?

Baroness Trumpington

My Lords, with regard to my noble friend's question on monitoring and research, my department published in 1982 Child Abuse, a study of inquiry reports which drew lessons for multidisciplinary policy and practice from 18 major reports. Recent inquiry reports have shown that these lessons are still valid and therefore a further study is not planned. As part of their management responsibilities, local authorities should monitor the implementation of lessons learnt from individual cases. With regard to the number of cases of child abuse, there are no national statistics. We know that more cases, particularly of child sexual abuse, are coming to light because of an increasing awareness of the problem and alertness of professional staff.

Lord Dean of Beswick

My Lords, the Minister must be aware of a report published last week in the city of Leeds indicating that in the first nine months of this year 500 children suffered sexual abuse within the family and that it is believed that such incidents in the city of Leeds average 600 a year? Is she also aware that the officer in charge of the investigation said that Leeds is only mirroring what is happening in every city? If that is correct, is it not appalling that children suffer sexual abuse within the family on such a scale? If there are no provisions in the announcement that the Minister has made today to deal with this situation, may I ask her whether the Government will look into this facet as a matter of urgency?

Baroness Trumpington

My Lords, what the noble Lord's question boils down to is: what more can be done to prevent child abuse? I agree that more can be done. Much is being done. Unfortunately, in the imperfect world in which we live we cannot eliminate child abuse. We must encourage and help parents to care properly for their children and seek help when they need it. More specifically we are encouraging those in contact with children and families, such as neighbours, to be more aware and look for the signs of abuse. But the organisation exists to ensure that help and protection are provided.

The Lord Bishop of Ely

My Lords, is the Minister able to tell us of any help being given by government to family centres and neighbourhood groups which offer informal support to families?

Baroness Trumpington

My Lords, this support is greatly welcomed, and my honourable friend the Under-Secretary of State for Health said when she launched the self-help family centres on 27th October: Self help is an important means of preventing children coming into care and of supporting families under stress. This initiative of 10 development officer posts spread geographically around England will explore a variety of ways of stimulating and supporting self-help in areas of need. A total of £1 million will be spent over three years on self-help family centres".

Lord Ennals

My Lords, having been in another place a member of the Social Services Committee which produced the recommendations to the Government, may I assure the noble Baroness that we shall be looking forward anxiously to the proposals that will be made for changes in legislation? Also will she accept that, as other Members of your Lordships' House have said, it is a matter of great urgency to get the matter right? Does she recognise that I agree with her that it may well be that, although we are now facing a crisis in terms of numbers and horrors of sexual abuse in many areas, things that have been going on unknown for many years are now becoming known?

Baroness Trumpington

My Lords, with regard to the legislative aspect of the noble Lord's question, legislation will be introduced as soon as time can be found in the parliamentary timetable. He will be aware that my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Social Services announced on 13th October grants totalling £400,000 to help combat child sexual abuse, the money to be spent on setting up training projects for professional staff and telephone counselling services, one of which is the Childline programme which has recently been launched.

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