Labour MP Lucy Powell today calls for the Children’s Commissioner to be given a wider role in safeguarding vulnerable children living away from home. Speaking as part of the Children and Families Bill Committee examining Government legislation to change the role and functions of the Children’s Commissioner Ms Powell called for the new commissioner to have the ability to put children’s voice centre stage when investigating allegations of abuse.
Currently the Children’s Commissioner can enter residential premises where children are staying and speak to an individual child who raises concerns about abuse. However, Powell wants this function to be strengthened so that the Commissioner can talk to communities of children in a bid to ensure that they all feel safe and protected when living away from home or in residential care.
Powell, laid the amendments after discussions with colleague Tom Watson MP who is investigating incidences of historic and existing child abuse in institutions across the country. The amendments to the Children and Families Bill would give the Children’s Commissioner an explicit focus to their power to enter premises and talk to children. The focus is where there are concerns about the safety and protection of children living away from home but where the concerns do not yet reach the threshold of “at risk of significant harm.” It is primarily a preventive power which would complement the formal child protection system.
Lucy Powell said: “It’s time we put the voice of vulnerable children and young people at the heart of the child protection system. Without explicit attention to the experiences of the residential community of children we continue to place children at risk of abuse. There are real concerns about what happens in some residential and institutional settings, and I know from the holes in the system for independent schools uncovered at Chethams Music School in my own constituency how important it is that communities of children are listened to and protected. The current child protection system is geared to resolve individual children’s experiences and not look at the wider community of children living in a residential establishment. By giving the Children’s Commissioner this explicit function we can go some way towards developing a culture that intervenes early and listens to vulnerable children when there are concerns about abuse.”
Notes to Editors
Tom Watson MP has uncovered a number of cases where widespread abuses have taken place in education and residential establishments.
An example would be the case of an establishment where children have been abused since 2007 but the instances were seen as ad hoc and handled in isolation. Some parents have very actively challenged the investigating authorities and with the help of the media further cases have emerged. Another example was an establishment where there were no explicit indications of it being an abusive environment but now 4 people who had been residents have come forward all of whom have had similar experiences. Both cases have raised concerns about the sufficiency of the child protection system in listening to children.
Description of Amendments
The amendments would deliver a preventive power/intervention which would support the current safeguarding practice which is not designed to intervene sufficiently early. It would also bring to life the Munro expectations set out in her report to Government that children themselves should have their voices heard in relation to child protection.
The first amendment below gives the Commissioner that power, the second sets up how they would do it (the investigation is more of a consultation talking to all the young people to see how safe and protected they feel), the third is a probing amendment which is checking that the commissioner can actually talk to all children in a premises.
Support from the Outgoing Children’s Rights Director
On asking the outgoing Children’s Right’s Director Dr Roger Morgan, who is currently responsible for children living away from home, about the need for an explicit function during the Children and Families Bill Committee Evidence Session Dr Morgan said: ‘In my experience of situations in which there has been abuse in a children’s home, … it is very easy to focus specifically on the incident or the situation, or the child or the staff member involved, without necessarily casting the net wider in terms of the welfare, interests and concerns of the wider group of children.... So my answer is yes’.