HL Deb 29 November 1994 vol 559 cc541-3

3.10 p.m.

Baroness David asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether, in view of public concern at the levels of violence to and by children and young people, they have any plans for improving co-ordination of research and action to reduce and prevent such violence.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Health (Baroness Cumberlege)

My Lords, Her Majesty's Government share public concern about violence to and by children and young people and remain determined to take concerted action against all crime. The strategy on crime prevention and partnership is being developed on a broad front both at a national and local level and a number of interdepartmental groups are in existence to provide a forum for co-ordination on this matter.

Baroness David

My Lords, I thank the Minister for that Answer. However, is she aware, and are the Government aware, that there is much concern about the operation of the child protection committees, the lack of any statutory basis for them, and the lack of resources to enable them to do preventive work? Are the Government reviewing the status and function of those committees? Does the noble Baroness realise that the most recent report, the 1993 Children Act Report, found that in some local authorities high numbers of children on child protection registers had no social worker allocated to them? Is that not a highly dangerous situation which must not be allowed to persist?

Baroness Cumberlege

My Lords, although area child protection committees are not on a statutory basis, they have been established in all social services departments. There are 108 local committees. They do very good work indeed, and we support them. But we do not necessarily fund them centrally. Often they are funded by the police, the social services department, health authorities and education committees. We believe that that is the good idea because it strengthens their commitment.

With regard to cases not allocated to social workers, we carried out a survey in 1992. We found that 97 per cent. of children on the register had an allocated social worker. But there was an issue in inner London. That is one that we expect social services departments to address.

Baroness Faithfull

My Lords, if the Minister considers that there should be co-ordination of research and action to reduce and prevent such violence, does she agree that that would include almost every ministry, voluntary organisations as well as individuals? For example, every day an enormous number of children in this country are out of school. Young people cannot obtain jobs. The Youth Training Service does not work to the advantage of all young people. The youth service has been cut back and the social services' expenditure reduced. Will such research cover all those aspects?

Baroness Cumberlege

My Lords, yes, we have set up a number of groups. The interdepartmental official group on child abuse supports the ministerial and official group on domestic violence. There is also a new interdepartmental official group for crime prevention. However, with her vast experience of the subject, my noble friend will know that the best results are obtained locally and that it is really up to local organisations, be they voluntary or statutory, to work closely together to tackle that difficult problem.

Baroness Jay of Paddington

My Lords, is the Minister aware of the horrifying statistic produced by the OPCS that children in this country under the age of one are in the age group most vulnerable to being murdered? Is that not such a terrible situation that it calls for national Government action rather than local initiatives?

Baroness Cumberlege

My Lords, we appreciate that children under one year of age are twice as likely as children of other ages to be placed on child protection registers. The number of children who are murdered at that age is four per 100,000, so it is a very small number, although tragic for the families concerned. In trying to prevent that, we work very intensively with families who are at risk. We carry out such activities as pre-birth conferences which we believe go some way to ensuring that it does not happen to more young children.

Lord Rochester

My Lords, following the question asked by the noble Baroness, Lady Faithfull, will the Government consider supplementing the funds available to voluntary youth organisations, in particular in the London boroughs, where it is reported that there has been in real terms a reduction in expenditure of almost 15 per cent. over the past four years? Would not such an investment be money well spent in seeking to reduce criminal and violent behaviour among young people?

Baroness Cumberlege

My Lords, we support voluntary organisations to a large extent. We support Barnardos, the Family Care Unit, the Home Start UK, the National Stepfamily Association, the NCVCCO, and the NSPCC. We also give financial support to Parentline and Childline. We recognise that a range of voluntary organisations are doing sterling work in that field and we support them.