Should parents, families and communities be the first line of child protection?

Edward Timpson MP, Children's Minister and Sir Merrick Cockell, LGA Chairman

(Left) Edward Timpson MP, Children’s Minister and (Right) Sir Merrick Cockell, LGA Chairman

The Local Government Association (LGA) – the body providing national political leadership to local councils – has just launched its ambitious “Breaking the Taboo” campaign. The LGA aim to not only train the 1.7 million local government employees to be able to protect children, but to also educate the general public so that they have the knowledge to spot child abuse and respond to it.

This presents a clear difference of opinion between the LGA who believe the “key to tackling abuse lies in raising awareness of the problem, how to spot it and how to respond, not just among childcare professionals but among the wider public…” and the Minister for Children and Families, Edward Timpson MP, who believes that child protection is solely the remit of professionals who work with children.

A spokesperson for the Department for Education confirmed that DfE has not produced, and will not be producing, any safeguarding guidance for parents to use. They said, “Last year we issued a step-by-step guide for frontline practitioners on what to do if they think a child is being sexually exploited. Clearly if anyone thinks a child is being harmed they should alert the local police, children’s social services or the NSPCC.” There is some useful guidance out there for parents on safeguarding (such as the NSPCC and parentsprotect guidance), but why does the Minister think that this is all parents need when professionals get much more guidance and, crucially, training.

There are other concerns with Edward Timpson’s words. He says, “More and more perpetrators are being caught, prosecuted and jailed – sending a clear message that those who prey on children will face the full force of the law.” But there is no actual evidence to suggest that increased convictions – such as those detailed every day on ukpaedos-exposed – are leading to less offending.

Mr Timpson goes on to say, “But there is clearly more to be done to establish the nature and scale of the problem.” However, a DfE spokesperson confirmed that what Mr Timpson means is that he wants, “all councils and safeguarding children boards to establish the extent and nature of child sexual exploitation in their areas and to raise awareness with local agencies.Not the kind of decisive Government action many people want to see.

The Minister seems to have misunderstood part of the LGA’s vision entirely when he says, “Everyone who comes in contact with these vulnerable young people has a role to play…” Vulnerable young people are of course in particular need of protection – as Operation Yewtree, Operation Fernbridge, the Islington, Wales and Jersey children’s homes scandals show. But we must work to protect all young people.

And critically, the Minister is ignoring the need for a community response to child abuse. As Liz Davies – Reader in Child Protection at London Metropolitan University – says, “Safeguarding children effectively requires a dual strategy—prevention and protection. The community have an essential role in both. The concepts are not mutually exclusive, as prevention is in itself protective and protection should result in the prevention of further abuse. Both concepts have become constructs to steer child protection policy in politically favoured directions… Effective child protection requires a professional response. If a community network is in place to inform that response, through both appropriate referral and involvement in investigation strategies, children will have an increased chance of protection from all child abusers, not solely those within the family.”

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