Review of the year – the headlines from 2003

The year 2003 started with the Victoria Climbié
report and ended with a government commitment to radically alter
the shape and direction of children’s services. Natalie
Valios, Ruth Winchester and Anabel Unity Sale


The Victoria Climbié report is published. Inquiry
chairperson Lord Laming slams the agencies involved with the
eight-year-old girl as a “disgrace” and recommends a radical
overhaul of the child protection system.

The start of the year sees the government getting tough with
asylum seekers. Under section 55 of the Nationality, Immigration
and Asylum Act 2002, those who don’t apply for asylum “as
soon as reasonably practicable” after arriving in the country will
not be eligible to apply for support from the National Asylum
Support Service.

Former nursery nurses Dawn Reed and Christopher Lillie win their
libel case after being wrongly accused of child abuse at
Shieldfield nursery in Newcastle upon Tyne in 1993.

Broadcaster and London assembly chairperson Trevor Phillips is
appointed head of the Commission for Racial Equality.

Consultation on the national alcohol harm reduction strategy


Health service ombudsman Ann Abrahams sets the ball rolling for
those with dementia or chronic illnesses and disabled people to be
reimbursed by the NHS, after upholding complaints by four older
people that they were wrongly forced to pay for their long-term
care costs.

The Sexual Offences Bill is published to protect children and
vulnerable people. Controversy surrounds section 33 under which
sexual activity with a person with a learning difficulty could be
punishable by life imprisonment. Service users fear they will have
to undergo a test to see whether they can consent to sex.

Plans to fine social services for delayed discharges are put on
hold until October.

Homelessness minister Barbara Roche announces plans for
legislation banning councils from housing families with children in
bed and breakfast accommodation for longer than six weeks.

Alexander Ness, father of 11-week-old Caleb, admits killing his
son by squeezing and shaking him at the high court, Edinburgh. The
decision to allow Caleb home was taken at a social work case
conference, although a hospital nurse warned he should be taken
into care.

A care home fees row is blamed after 88-year-old Violet Townsend
died shortly after she and seven other residents were moved from
Magdalen House by Gloucester Charities Trust after Gloucestershire
Council refused to pay extra fees.

The merger between the New Opportunities Fund and the Community
Fund is confirmed, leading to fears from the voluntary sector that
less money will go to charities whose activities do not relate to
government objectives.


The Health and Social Care (Community Health and Standards) Bill
is published, outlining the duties of the new regulatory body the
Commission for Social Care Inspection, which will replace the
National Care Standards Commission.

Care home owners in Scotland reject an offer on fees from the
Scottish executive and the Convention of Scottish Local

The high court rules that people with learning difficulties
should receive the same medical treatment as everyone else. Judge
Dame Elizabeth Butler-Sloss says a hospital was wrong to deny
life-saving medical treatment to an autistic teenager with kidney

Scottish parliament passes the Homelessness (Scotland) Bill
committing the assembly to end homelessness within 10 years.

Welsh children’s commissioner Peter Clarke reveals
“worrying inadequacies” in Welsh social services departments
systems for safeguarding children.


Forty-five local authorities put in bids to run pilot
children’s trusts.

The Antisocial Behaviour Bill is published with plans to extend
fixed penalty notices to 16 year olds and to give police powers to
disperse groups of youths.

Fines for delayed discharges are delayed again. Councils are
given time to prepare while charging will only operate in shadow

The government waters down educational targets for children in
care after figures from the Office of National Statistics reveal
that only 41 per cent passed one GCSE or GNVQ.

The British Association of Social Workers urges the social work
profession to take a stand against the war in Iraq.


Community Care launches its Right to Refuge campaign to achieve
a fair deal for asylum seekers and refugees.

Anthony Sheehan, chief executive of the National Institute for
Mental Health, admits that the NHS suffered from institutional
racism in his evidence to the independent inquiry into the
treatment of David Bennett, who died after being restrained by
psychiatric staff.

The Criminal Records Bureau comes under scrutiny by MPs during a
Commons debate as Paul Burstow, Liberal Democrat spokesperson for
older people, lists its faults. And Capita is forced to pay back
almost £2 million for its role in the CRB fiasco.

Just 5 per cent of the children put forward by the national
adoption register are successfully adopted in its first year.

Experts in child welfare paint a depressing picture of a service
in crisis in evidence to the inquiry into the work of Cafcass, the
Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service.

Local elections see Labour lose six seats in the Scottish
parliament. Meanwhile, Labour wins 30 of the 60 Welsh assembly
seats and, in England, Labour loses control of five councils.

Community Care scoops the magazine of the year 2003 award at the
Periodical Publishers Association; as well as Reed Business
Information’s magazine of the year and editorial team of the
year awards.


Margaret Hodge is appointed children’s minister, a role
based at the Department for Education and Skills. Meanwhile, John
Reid takes over as health secretary after Alan Milburn’s
surprise resignation. And Stephen Ladyman replaces Jacqui Smith as
community care minister.

An e-mail from deputy chief inspector of the Social Services
Inspectorate Averil Nottage leaked to Community Care reveals how
she is “appalled” at plans by NHS chief executive Nigel Crisp to
cut social care jobs within the Department of Health by

The government announces criminal records checks for all home
care workers from October, alongside a hike in the cost.

Community Care writes to Conservative leader Iain Duncan Smith
urging him to publicly apologise for the “pejorative” language used
by his MPs when referring to asylum seekers and refugees.

Under new regulations on adoption support services, councils are
obliged to regularly assess adopters, adopted children and birth
relatives of adopted children for their financial and
service-related support needs.

The health select committee and the parliamentary joint
committee on human rights urge the government to appoint a
children’s commissioner for England and reform human rights
for children.


Margaret Hodge comes under intense pressure to resign as
children’s minister following allegations about her
leadership of Islington Council during a child abuse scandal more
than a decade ago. The long-awaited green paper on children at risk
is delayed until the autumn following the debacle.

The Scottish executive comes under fire for “punitive” measures
proposed in a consultation document on tackling antisocial
behaviour – including electronic tagging, fixed penalty notices and
parenting orders. South of the border, children’s charities
claim the government’s Antisocial Behaviour Bill could
contravene children’s human rights and the Children Act

Increasing demand for care could overwhelm service providers in
Wales without significant modernisation and investment, the Welsh
assembly is told following a review of health and social care by
Derek Wanless.

Thirty-five councils are accepted as children’s trust
pathfinders, each receiving between £60,000 and

A Commission for Racial Equality report into the murder of an
Asian man, Zahid Mubarek, by his racist cellmate describes a
“shocking catalogue of failure” in the management of Feltham Young
Offenders Institution.

The government allocates £300 million to compensate people
who have fallen foul of the continuing care fiasco – where
patients with health care needs are unlawfully forced to pay for
their care. The amount is thought to be half that needed.


A Unicef report reveals that there may be thousands of children
being trafficked into Britain for labour, benefit fraud, forced
marriages, adoption and sexual exploitation.

The row over guardians’ body Cafcass deepens as chief
executive Jonathan Tross defends board members described by a
parliamentary inquiry as “determined to bury their heads in the
sand and pretend there is nothing wrong”.

Homelessness charities react with outrage to news that
Westminster Council intends to remove services for homeless people
living on the street, while Stoke-on-Trent unveils plans to pipe
music into a car park in the town centre to deter rough sleepers
from congregating there.

Care home owners demand an increase in fees following the
announcement that an extra £50 million has been given to
councils to pay delayed discharge fines.

Social work organisations raise the alarm over plans to allow
children to sue professionals who wrongly accuse parents or carers
of abuse, following test cases against Kirklees Council.

ADSS president David Behan is named as the chief inspector of
the new Commission for Social Care Inspection. He takes up the post
in November 2003.


The government publishes the children’s green paper ‘Every
Child Matters’, hailed as the biggest shake up to children’s
services since the Children Act 1989. It proposes every local
authority appoint a children’s director responsible for
children’s social services and education, all
children’s services be brought together under
children’s trusts by 2006 and England to have its own
children’s commissioner.

All looked-after children are to be set an individual education
target by local authorities as the government attempts to improve
their educational attainment.

The country’s first joint social services director and
primary care trust chief executive role is dismantled as Barking
and Dagenham Council’s Julia Ross resigns from her role of
running Barking and Dagenham PCT but remains as head of the
council’s social services.


The delayed discharge system comes into shadow effect. Social
services departments have until January 2004 before they are fined
for failing to provide care packages to older people leaving

The first tranche of students start the new three-year social
work degree.

New regulations require local authorities to provide a range of
post-adoption support for adopters and adopted children.

Social workers not registered with the General Social Care
Council by April 2005 cannot legally describe themselves as

Seventy people attend the meeting of the first ever disabled
people’s parliament, far fewer than the British Council of
Disabled People had anticipated.

Tom Jeffery is appointed first director general for children and
families at the Department for Education and Skills.


Bill introducing new laws on antisocial behaviour, sexual
offences and health and social care services inspection make it on
to the statute book.

Children’s minister Margaret Hodge fights to save her
ministerial career over comments she made about a victim of child

Performance star ratings are published – 41 social
services departments improve and six deteriorate.

Cafcass holds talks with the Department for Constitutional
Affairs about the extra £5 million it needs to cover this
year’s overspend.

The Youth Justice Board is criticised for reducing the number of
beds it commissions in council secure children’s homes in
favour of privately run secure training centres.

Community Care’s Right to Refuge campaign ends following
an early day motion in Parliament and 3,000-strong petition calling
for a fair deal for asylum seekers.

Children of failed asylum seekers who refuse to return home may
be taken into care, warns immigration minister Beverley Hughes.

The government allocates an extra £100 million for councils
to improve their child protection work.


The Home Office confirms that disruptive young people in Stoke
Heath Young Offenders Institution are sometimes placed in special
cells without clothes, furniture or a toilet.

The Queen’s Speech fails to include the controversial
mental incapacity legislation.

A further asylum and immigration bill proposes electronic
tagging for monitoring asylum seekers.

The board of beleaguered Cafcass is ordered to resign by the

Ian Huntley was convicted of the murder of Holly Wells and
Jessica Chapman and given two life sentences. Maxine Carr was
convicted of conspiring to pervert the course of justice.

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