Comment and analysis on the Laming report

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Though there is much to be welcomed in Lord Laming’s
long-awaited report, the question in the back of everyone’s mind is
just how many of his recommendations will find their way into the
government’s green paper, promised for this spring,
writes Janet Snell.

In particular his assertion that the current statutory framework
for child protection, set out in the 1989 Children Act, is
basically sound, appeared to be given rather short shrift by health
secretary Alan Milburn, who told the House of Commons he took
“little comfort” from the claim.

The idea of a separate national agency for child protection is
known to have strong support in some quarters of government. But
Lord Laming stresses in his report that he is convinced that
‘structures’ are not at the heart of the problem, but that effort
must focus on boosting staff skills.

“I conclude that it is neither practical nor desirable to try to
separate the support services for children and families from that
of the service designed to investigate and protect children from
deliberate harm,” he says.

Chris Hanvey, UK director of operations for children’s charity
Barnardos, predicts there will be mounting speculation in the lead
up to the publication of the green paper over whether the
government will press ahead regardless with plans to strip local
authority social services departments of responsibility for child

Barnardos has lobbied vehemently against the idea. Said Hanvey
“The underlying assumption that local government can’t do it, but
central government can is not born out by the examples of the Child
Support Agency and the Criminal Records Bureau which are both a

The Association of Directors of Social Services also opposes the
move. Its president David Behan hopes the Laming report has
virtually killed off the idea. “I think he has kicked the proposal
into the long grass and over the hill. He was unequivocable in his
rejection of the idea and I think it would be very difficult for
the government to introduce it now.”

The Laming report runs to 400 pages and in general its 108
recommendations have been welcomed. Though it rejects wholesale
structural reorganisation it does suggest a number of changes
including the scrapping of area child protection committees and
their replacement with local management boards for services to
children and families. The report also suggests the creation of a
new government ‘Children and Families Board’. This
would be chaired by a cabinet minister and include representatives
at ministerial level from each of the relevant government

The hope is that this will promote, in the government’s
favourite phrase, a “joined up” approach to initiatives for
children’s services.

Under the Laming blueprint the government board will be serviced
by a new strategic ‘National Agency for Children and
Families’ headed up by a chief executive whose role could
equate to that of a children’s commissioner for England.

This would, through a regional structure, oversee the work of
local committees of members for children and families, established
by local authorities to which the local management boards would

Children’s charities have backed the idea though there is some
concern that the proposed commissioner-style role for England would
have less power than the Welsh commissioner and those proposed for
Scotland and Northern Ireland. They also want the new body to have
powers to investigate and provide an effective means of redress for
children and young people in the child protection system.

The Children’s Society believes a children’s rights commissioner
will provide a focus and act as a champion on behalf of

“But to succeed we need to turn our culture on its head to put
children and children’s rights at the heart of our society so they
are not just seen, they are also heard,” said chief executive Bob

Felicity Collier, chief executive of BAAF Adoption and
Fostering, added “We applaud Lord Laming’s recommendation that a
commissioner could oversee national standards for children’s
services, as well as being an advocate for children at the heart of
the policy making process.”

So the initial response to the report has been broadly
favourable though there are dissenting voices. Jim Wild, senior
lecturer at Nottingham Trent University, said he felt an
opportunity had been missed. “What we have is another line of
overbearing management structure in a vastly under-resourced
service. The report fails to give any sense of optimism to stressed
out grass roots workers wanting radical modernisation of the child
protection system.

“This was probably the best chance we had to transform child
protection services and Laming blew it.”

It is not a view being voiced by many at this stage. Most see
Laming’s report as a genuine and even-handed attempt to grapple
with a hugely complex issue. But this is not the first child death
inquiry that has tried to do that and his predecessors’ reports
have ended up on shelves gathering dust.

Lord Laming says his aim was to devise a system “which allows us
all to put our heads on our pillows and know that children are
being properly assessed and properly protected.” Only time will
tell whether he has been successful in that aim.

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