Children in care homes to get abuse hotline

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The Independent Online
CHILDREN LIVING in care will be encouraged to telephone a new hotline and "blow the whistle" on abusive homes under a tough new system of inspection for social services to be announced by the Government this week.

Frank Dobson, the Secretary of State for Health, will unveil wide-ranging proposals to shake up the regulation of children's homes, old people's homes and fostering agencies tomorrow.

New independent watchdogs will be set up around the country to police the activities of social services. Children's rights officers will also be appointed for the first time in each area with the specific task of ensuring that young people are protected.

The new provisions, to be published in a White Paper, are an admission that the existing system has failed to protect vulnerable people around the country.

There have been a number of high-profile cases involving abuse at children's and old people's homes. Three people were yesterday bailed to appear in court after being charged in connection with allegations of neglect at a residential home for children and vulnerable adults in Essex.

The White Paper, which will be accompanied by a statement in the House of Commons, follows a wide-ranging government review of social services.

Eight regional commissions for care standards will be set up, with wide- ranging powers to inspect local authority homes and services and, if necessary, to close failing institutions.

At the moment, local authorities are responsible for regulating privately run homes but there is no requirement for state-run institutions to be inspected.

Each commission will have its own Children's Rights Officer, charged with ensuring that young people are protected and consulted about the care they are being given.

They will tour the region asking children living in care, or being advised by social workers, whether they are satisfied with the service they are getting.

Hotline numbers will be posted in all children's homes, encouraging the residents to telephone the officer if they have any problems or complaints.

Every allegation or suspicion of abuse will be thoroughly investigated.

"It will not be a question of ringing [the charity] Childline," a government spokesman said. "Children's views will be heard within the system."

Sources said the White Paper would set high standards for social services and attack the "dependency culture" in the current system.

Mr Dobson will say: "Our social services are in desperate need of reform. The new approach will help promote independent inspection, improve the protection of vulnerable people and raise standards right across the country. It underlines our drive to modernise public services adding tough quality targets for social services to those in education and health."