Children at risk 'must have more say in decisions'

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The Independent Online
A report on the treatment of the nation's most vulnerable children, at risk from abuse or neglect, has called for young people to have a wider role in the decisions over what happens to them, and for courts and social services to take their views into account.

Highlighting inadequacies in the training of professionals dealing with children, the report by the Institute of Public Policy Research, a left- wing think tank, also calls for a national review of the way in which allegations of abuse against children are investigated.

According to the report published yesterday, which coincides with the Independent's campaign to improve the system for children in care, their views have been ignored and many felt they would not be believed. They were also concerned there were no individuals they could trust to represent their views.

Gillian Schofield, a lecturer in social work at the University of East Anglia and co-author of the report, said: "More needs to be done to ensure every child has access to a person they feel they can trust, whether it's a lawyer or a social worker or an independent adult. They are very anxious they won't be believed, and they don't feel what they say will be taken into account."

She added: "Some children feel they are so powerless, having been abused or neglected, they tend to feel blame and find it very hard to speak up for themselves."

There are approximately 35,000 children on the child protection register, and more than 10,000 in care in Britain, because they are at risk from abuse of neglect. Their average age is 14, but many are much younger, and they are often deeply torn over their desire to return to their own families, even when there is abuse, and to be placed with foster parents or in long-term residential care.

Despite the fact many have strong feelings about what they want, a recent revealed last year that only 35 per cent of solicitors had met their child clients, when they were representing them in legal decisions over their futures.

The majority of children above the age of 10 were particularly keen to attend conferences in which their futures are being discussed. One 12- year-old boy said: "They were talking about me and mum and everyone else, so I wanted to hear what they were talking about . . . and whether it was correct or not. It was the meeting that mum and I went to so that they could decide whether or not she was good enough to keep me."

The report, which covers the whole range of children at risk, has been welcomed by child-care experts who are also anxious to see improvements in the system, which give children a bigger part to play in their futures.

David Truan, legal officer for the National Society for the Protection of Cruelty to Children, said: "We fully support recommendations that give the child a voice, and allow them to have more control in the decisions being made, particularly older children."