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More children should be taken into care, says Gove

By Richard Johnstone | 19 November 2012

Education Secretary Michael Gove has urged local authorities to take more at-risk children into care, saying an increase in young people being looked after by councils was not a cause for concern. 

In a speech calling for ‘a fresh start’ in the child protection regime in England, Gove said too many children were ‘allowed to stay too long with parents whose behaviour is unacceptable’.

The current number of children in care, around 67,000, was lower than the number in 1981, he said. ‘There is, in any case, no such thing as a right number overall – only a right solution for every child in need.

‘I want social workers to be more assertive with dysfunctional parents, courts to be less indulgent of poor parents, and the care system to expand to deal with the consequences,’ he told an event at the Institute for Public Policy Research.

Gove was speaking on Friday after two reports into child protection in Doncaster Metropolitan Borough Council were published. Watchdog Ofsted rated the council’s child protection regime ‘inadequate’, while Lord Carlile, after investigating previous failures, said authorities should be ‘much more assertive’ in taking children into care.

Responding to the reports, Gove said the state was ‘currently failing in its duty' to keep children safe.

‘We are not asking the tough questions, and taking the necessary actions, to prevent thousands of children growing up in squalor, enduring neglect in their infancy, witnessing violence throughout their lives and being exposed to emotional, physical and sexual abuse during the years which should be their happiest.’

He urged town halls to improve their child protection standards. After 160 Ofsted inspections, less than 40% were rated ‘good’ and only 3% were considered ‘outstanding’.

‘Too many local authorities are failing to meet acceptable standards for child safeguarding,’ Gove said. He added that having 45% of councils rated ‘adequate’ was ‘not good enough and requires improvement’.

Ofsted’s report on Doncaster, he said, showed that the council had ‘slipped back’ after making initial improvements after serious child protection failures.

He said he had taken a particular interest in child protection there because ‘I, like many, was horrified by the events a few years ago in Edlington, a village within the Doncaster local authority area, which resulted in two innocent children being horrifically abused by other children who were themselves the victims of parental abuse and neglect.’

Lord Carlile was asked by the government to investigate what lessons could be learnt following these failures.

Gove said he would respond to the report in due course, but added that the peer’s call to be more proactive in taking at-risk children out of homes was ‘compelling’.

Responding to Gove’s speech, the Association of Directors of Children’s Services said councils were part of a national effort to share expertise and help all children wherever they live.

President Debbie Jones said: ‘We strongly welcome Lord Carlile’s recognition that safeguarding is everybody’s business and that early intervention from a number of agencies is crucial to preventing problems from developing into crises.’

Children’s services departments ‘require the political and professional support of the council’s leadership and the co-operation of other council services in sharing information and in providing support for families’, she added.

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