§ Mr. Robin F. Cook
asked the Secretary of State for Scotland if he will make a statement on the case of Richard Clark.
§ Mr. William Ross
I have arranged for the publication today of the report of the committee of inquiry which I appointed in August last year to inquire into the circumstances in which Richard Clark, a three-year old child, suffered serious injury while living with neighbours of his own family in Perth.
I should like first to express my gratitude to Mr. J. E. Jauncey, QC, as chairman of the committee, and to his two fellow members for the thoroughness with which they carried out their task. The damage done to this child is all the more tragic because, according to the report, it could have been prevented at several points by the action of any one of a number of people. The report provides a clear statement of events and a detailed assessment of where things went wrong, from which a number of 86W useful lessons can be drawn for the future. The report is being sent to local authorities and health boards, and I am sure that it will be widely read by all who are concerned with the health and care of children.
I am glad that the report clears up a certain confusion which seems to have arisen from the publicity which the case received last year. Richard was not, in terms of the Social Work (Scotland) Act 1968, in the care of Perth Town Council at the time when his injuries were sustained. He was, however, the subject of what amounted to a private foster care arrangement with which the burgh's social work department was closely connected and in which it had an express duty to secure the child's welfare. The distinction here should be borne in mind when the town council's rôle is considered.
The report draws attention to the need to provide field social workers with adequate support, both within their departments and otherwise, for the varied and often complex tasks with which they are often faced. Social workers are not unique in having difficult and demanding work, but they can find themselves in a position of special exposure and isolation unless support and diagnostic information from other services are readily available. This should be a matter of immediate concern to all local authorities and health boards in the arrangements they make for families which contain young children at risk.
I am aware that much has already been done to help members of the caring professions to deal promptly and effectively with situations of cruelty and neglect when they are identified. There is nowadays much more public awareness of the problem of child abuse than there was a few years ago. There is greater emphasis on diagnosis and prevention in the professions concerned, and on the development of arrangements for co-operation between individuals and bodies with responsibilities in this field. It is clear, however, from this unhappy case that we still have far to go, and that greater urgency must be imparted to this work. It is for central Government to give the lead in this, and also to ensure that the necessary powers and duties are provided in legislation. I shall deal with each of these matters in turn.87W
The common feature of most situations of child abuse is the need for close and continuing co-operation between social workers, doctors, health visitors, teachers and others who may be involved. I have been considering the need for revised procedures in this area of joint concern and my Department is consulting interested organisations as a matter of urgency on the terms of a draft circular of guidance which has been sent today to these bodies for comment. Subject to these consultations, I propose to issue circulars of guidance, which will take account of the findings of the Richard Clark report, as soon as possible.
In view of the findings of the report my Department is also having urgent consultations with the interests concerned about the need for amending legislation to strengthen some of the existing safeguards for the protection of children at risk of injury. One opportunity for amending legislation is provided by the Children Bill, which received its Second Reading in another place on 21st January. Subject to consultation with the interests concerned, I intend to bring forward proposals for amendment of the Bill at a later stage.