MPs and peers call for a children’s commissioner and a ban on smacking

Two influential groups of MPs have called on the government to
reform human rights for children and improve the protection for
those at risk of abuse.

In reports published this week, both the health select committee
and parliamentary joint committee on human rights have urged the
government to appoint a children’s commissioner for England and
back United Nations recommendations for parents and carers to be
banned from smacking.

The health select committee’s report into the death of Victoria
Climbie comes as the government prepares to publish its own
response in a green paper on the future of children’s services. The
committee’s report re-emphasises failings within the child
protection system, and backs calls from the Association of
Directors of Social Services for an independent, Wanless-style
review of funding for social care.

“We recommend the government should commission an urgent review of
the factors influencing demand for social care, and consider the
adequacy of resources currently available,” it states.

The MPs came up with their recommendations after quizzing Victoria
Climbie Inquiry chairperson Lord Laming following the publication
in January of his findings into Victoria’s death.

They back many of Laming’s recommendations, particularly for the
registration of private fostering, the clarification of guidance on
the application of sections 17 and 47 of the Children Act 1989, and
the establishment of much clearer lines of accountability “from top
to bottom, without doubt or ambiguity about who is responsible at
every level for the well-being of children”.

However, the health select committee rejects Laming’s calls for a
national children and families agency, describing the model as “too

Mirroring concerns raised by the ADSS, the committee said it was
“essential that further structural change and upheaval was not
imposed unnecessarily on local government”. Instead, they are
calling for area child protection committees to take a more
consistent approach.

The report gives qualified backing to Laming’s vision for a
national children’s database for all under-16 year olds but says it
would be a “major practical and technical challenge” and that a
feasibility study would need to be carried out comparing it with
the government’s identification, referral and tracking

Committee chairperson Labour MP David Hinchliffe warned: “With the
number of children coming into the country at any one time…[a
database] wouldn’t necessarily offer a cast iron guarantee.”

Committee members made clear their “desperate disappointment” at
how the press have focused only on the recommendation for removal
of the legal defence of reasonable chastisement. This would outlaw
smacking by parents and carers.

It is a recommendation also made in the tenth report from the joint
committee on human rights on the United Nations Convention on the
Rights of the Child. Last year, the UN highlighted the UK’s poor
human rights record for children but the government refused to ban
the defence, a decision the human rights committee believes is
“incompatible” with the UN convention.

The committee, made up of MPs and peers, also condemns the number
and treatment of children in prison.

Recommendations of the health select committee

  • An independent, Wanless-style review of social care
  • Clarification of guidance for applying section 17 and 47 of
    Children Act 1989.
  • Inclusion in the green paper on children plans for scrapping
    the reasonable chastisement defence from parents and carers.
  • A feasibility study on the national children’s database.
  • The urgent appointment of a children’s rights
  • Registration of private foster carers.
  • Clear lines of responsibility within organisations for the
    well-being of children.

Recommendations of the joint committee on human

  • The inclusion in the forthcoming overarching children’s
    strategy of references to the rights, principles and provisions of
    the convention.
  • The raising of the age of criminal responsibility to 12
  • Consider placing responsibility for the care of under-18s in
    custody with a body outside the prison service and the Home
  • Sufficient council secure accommodation places to allow the
    removal from prison of all girls under 17 from prison.
  • The scrapping of the defence of reasonable chastisement.
  • The government’s withdrawal of its reservation to the
    Convention on the Rights of the Child relating to immigration and

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