The Child Protection Register was abolished in April this year following
Lord Laming’s recommendation in the Victoria Climbie Inquiry Report. Child Protection Conferences were the meeting where the decision was made about registration.
These conferences are still held and decisions are made by
a range of professionals about whether or not a child needs a child
protection plan to keep them safe from ongoing risk of abuse. This
conference must consider the needs of all children in the family and
household. Professionals from the child’s school, health services, police
and social workers as well as specialists such as child psychiatrists,
probation officers, drug and alcohol counsellors attend where they have
information or expertise to contribute.
The category or categories of abuse are specified – neglect, physical, emotional or sexual.
Parents and carers as well as young people commonly attend the conference and take a
key part in the plans made to keep the child safe. About 96% of children
subject to child protection investigation remain in the care of their
families so this process is an important means of carefully confronting
the issues and working out how to make sure the child/ren are protected.
Children and parents attending can have an advocate present throughout the
conference. After an initial conference the review conference takes place
after 3 months and subsequently every 6 months until it is decided that
the child/ren are safe or if the protection plans have not worked and
legal safeguards need to be in place.
So what is the difference between a child ‘subject to a plan’ and a child
whose name is on the Register? Superficially it may seem that there is
not much difference. However, the decision to register was always a very
serious one. It was not a legal process but the courts gave a lot of
weight to the decisions made. Professionals knew that placing a child’s
name on the register was a very complex and important decision to take. I
don’t think the same weight will be given to a ‘plan’ and the probability
is that more children will be provided with child protection plans than
previously were registered and the high risk children will be lost amongst
high numbers of less serious cases.
It was sometimes said that parents felt stigmatised by the registration
process. Yet the research focussed mainly on the parents rather than the
children’s views. Confronting and challenging parents is never going to be
an easy process however sensitive and competent the professionals
involved. The researchers needed to ask whether the abused children valued
the process and felt safer as a result.
In the 5 years prior to 2007 the numbers of children’s names on the
register for physical and sexual abuse halved. The government had devised
performance targets for registration. For example, children had to be
visited regularly and reviews take place on time. At a time of staff
shortages the pressure was for managers to reduce the numbers of children
registered in order to more easily meet these targets and get their star
ratings. It was widely known that children’s names were removed if they
were seen to be old enough to look after themselves, were said to be
placing themselves at risk , were abused by people external to the family
or if they were already in care. Therefore some high risk children, who
would in the past have been the subject of registration, were already
being denied the multi agency working provided by the process. Even if a
child is in care there may be risk from an abuser during contact
arrangements and child protection procedures may need to run alongside
those protocols for children in care.
Studies of serious case reviews over the years have shown that very few
children whose names were on the register died or were seriously harmed by
abuse. Most children harmed were those who were not known to the
authorities at all or who were referred by defined as children in need of
services rather than children in need of protection from abusers. There
was no doubt that the Register was an essential part of a system that
protected abused children. Yet, in answer to a parliamentary question, a
government minister recently stated that the register was abolished on the
basis of no research at all. If the ministers had been studying the
findings of hundreds of serious case reviews they would have certainly
retained this essential system which is widely understood and recognised
not only by staff in all agencies but also by the public.
When a child’s name was on the Register an immediate alert went to police
and hospitals if a child came to their notice. These police officers and
doctors would then check with the social worker or the police child abuse
investigation team and make decisions informed by background knowledge.
Since April this alert system is no longer in place throughout the
country, although in London, and possibly in other areas, it has been
retained so that children who are the subject of child protection planning
are still flagged up on the police and hospital systems. Where this is not
in place, instead of an alarm drawing attention to high risk children, the
professionals have to check every single child against the database to see
whether or not they are known to children’s services and then make a call
to see if that child is the subject of a child protection plan. To busy
police and doctors this clearly is unworkable.
State interference with family life has to be justified. After all, most
parents care for their children very well and professionals do not need to
be involved in their lives. When parents abuse a child there is
justification for professional involvement in order to respect and uphold
the child’s right to be safe from harm. The Child Protection Register was
a clear and effective procedure for working with parents to keep their
children safe or for making decisions to take legal safeguards where
children need to be removed from their families. I have no doubt that
children will be less protected as a result of this disastrous change in