Child Safeguarding Practice Review Panel

Part of Children and Social Work Bill [Lords] – in a Public Bill Committee am 12:00 pm ar 15 Rhagfyr 2016.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

Photo of Edward Timpson Edward Timpson Minister of State (Education) 12:00, 15 Rhagfyr 2016

Clause 12 requires the Secretary of State to establish a child safeguarding practice review panel. The clause will add new section 16A to the Children Act 2004. The Government first announced their intention to centralise the serious case review process in December 2015. The background to their decision to legislate to introduce such a panel was set out in their response to Alan Wood’s review of the role and functions of local safeguarding children boards. I remind the Committee that Alan Wood is a former director of children’s services at Hackney. His review demonstrates that the Department is more than willing to ask people from the profession to advise and assist it in its decision making. The panel is being established in response to his recommendation that the Government should

“establish an independent body at national level to oversee a new national learning framework for inquiries into child deaths and cases where children have experienced serious harm.”

He suggested that the body that supported a centralised review process should be

“one that is independent of government and the key agencies, and operates in a transparent and objective fashion to ensure learning is the key element of all inquiries.”

The Government agree entirely with that recommendation.

I should add that we intend to establish the panel as an expert committee. I expect its chair’s appointment to be subject at least to a full, open Cabinet Office public appointments process. I envisage that panel members will come from various backgrounds, including social care, and have the relevant expertise and experience to fulfil the role. I expect the number of panel members to be sufficient to enable the panel’s effective operation, and the chair to be able to draw on the expertise that he or she considers necessary for effective decisions and recommendations to be made about cases.

The Secretary of State will be responsible for removing panel members if he or she is satisfied that they are no longer able to fulfil their duties, for example due to a long-term or serious health condition, or if they have behaved in a way that is incompatible with their role, such as by releasing confidential information that is provided to the panel or making use of such information for their own purposes. Those are usual conditions, and while such action is extremely unlikely to occur, it is right to make provision for the removal of panel members should the need arise.

The clause will also allow the Secretary of State to provide whatever assistance is required to enable the panel to carry out its functions, including staff and office facilities. The Secretary of State may pay remuneration or expenses to the chair and members of the panel, and make further arrangements to support the panel’s functioning, including, for example, the production of an annual report.

The establishment of a strong national panel is an essential component of the Government’s plans to develop better understanding of the factors leading up to serious cases, for the reasons that the hon. Member for South Shields set out, to inform policy and practice nationally, and to support local agencies in improving the quality of the services that they provide to vulnerable children and families. The new panel will be independent of the Government.

The hon. Lady quite rightly raised the need to ensure that local learning is not lost. To some extent, there are clear benefits in ensuring that we have a flexible approach, and I assure her that we will increase local flexibility at the same time as creating a national panel. Centralising review decisions will enable the new panel to identify national trends and issues that may benefit from a single national review. At the same time, the bulk of reviews will be local and will address cases that raise issues of local importance and relate to local safeguarding partnerships; that will increase local flexibility. We anticipate that the number of national reviews will be relatively small and the majority of reviews will take place locally. Most importantly, we must not just look at what happens when things go wrong but understand why and spread that understanding much better. I will go into more detail as we discuss clause 13 on how we will go about achieving that.

On that basis, I ask that the clause stand part of the Bill.