Health professionals fear child protection shortcomings, says MPs' report


According to a report by the Commons education committee, Britain's child protection system should be rebuilt to ensure vulnerable adolescents are taken seriously when alleging abuse.

The MPs argue that child protection authorities are failing to heed abuse victims, instead treating them as "criminals or immigration cases".

The report says sexual exploitation allegations showed how teenagers' claims were too often improperly investigated by child protection services.

Teachers and social workers are failing to recognise the signs of abuse and understand its long-term impact. The report adds that professionals' attention is too frequently drawn to truanting, drug-taking or other disruptive but occasional behaviour by at-risk adolescents.

"Older children making allegations of abuse are often not believed and are dismissed by those in authority because of preconceptions about their own behaviour or about the standing of the alleged perpetrator," the report continues.

Pressing the government to look more closely at teenagers' protection, committee chairman Graham Stuart, MP for Beverley and Holderness, stressed that older children are too often let down.

"They are frequently ignored or not listened to, can be pushed out of care too young and are insufficiently prepared and supported," Mr Stuart said. "This has to change."

The report quotes Ofsted's findings that, other than babies, adolescents of 14 or over are most prone to abuse and were involved in 25% of all serious case reviews in the 4 years to 2011. Many teenagers hesitate to report abuse due to mistrust of authorities or potential shame and embarrassment. Others are unaware of any abuse.

The report also notes government shortcomings over the treatment of asylum-seeking or trafficked children. According to children's charities, this group of children is at risk of destitution due to government immigration policies.

"It would be outrageous if destitution were to be used as a weapon against children because of their immigration status," the report says.

Graham Stuart said such individuals should in the first instance be treated as children, not as criminals or immigration cases. "To ensure this happens, we want the Department for Education to take responsibility for the welfare of all children. We also want the government to review the impact of immigration policy upon child protection."

The report adds that some forms of abuse, such as forced marriage, trafficking, ritual abuse, female genital mutilation and 'honour crimes' are too frequently perceived as immigration or community integration problems.

"Casting them as something other than child abuse can mean child victims are stigmatised or even criminalised and not afforded the protection that the system should offer them," the report says.

The committee acknowledged local council worries that cuts to youth services could affect how help might be obtained by young people. Questions were also raised about the effect of current health reforms on the NHS's capacity to protect younger patients, with the report adding: "There is a real and urgent fear among health professionals in child protection and their partners about the place and priority of child protection in the reformed NHS."

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