Abuse case children to get more say: Bottomley announces sweeping reforms in wake of Orkney controversy

SWEEPING child-care reforms for Scotland, giving young people a greater say in their future, were announced by the Government yesterday.

The changes, prompted by the Orkney child sex abuse controversy, came on the same day that Virginia Bottomley, Secretary of State for Health, disclosed plans to involve the private sector in the care of dangerous and disturbed children in England and Wales.

Mrs Bottomley, who last week announced reforms to community care, was immediately accused by Labour of avoiding parliamentary scrutiny by announcing important policy issues to the press instead of to MPs.

Child care has been thrust to the top of the agenda not only because of recent abuse scandals, including those in local authority homes, but also because of public concern over persistent juvenile offenders.

In Scotland, the changes come in response to the 400 recommendations from the inquiry into the Orkney case in which children were seized from their homes by social workers and police in dawn raids. The Government's White Paper proposes that a new child protection order is obtained from the courts before a child can be removed from his or her home.

It also recommends an exclusion order, which would allow for the removal of the abuser from the home, and an assessment order which would give social workers access to children considered at risk, when parents were refusing visits. Other proposals include improving the criminal justice system for dealing with young offenders, and improving standards of residential and child care to take account of the children's views.

In London, Mrs Bottomley stressed that, although she was inviting in the private and voluntary sector, local authorities would continue to have an 'essential' role in providing secure accommodation for children considered a risk to themselves and others.

Children's charities and welfare organisations have already added their voice to the widespread opposition to the proposals, indicating that there may be few interested in bidding for contracts.

Currently there are about 300 secure units, with plans to build a further 65. They take about 1,300 children a year, but only about a third of those are children convicted of serious offences; most are in secure care because of severe emotional problems.

Security companies like Group 4 are unlikely to bid to provide the more complex and dedicated care needed by disturbed children because they feel that they lack the necessary expertise.

The move is believed to have been prompted by pressure from the Treasury. It costs about pounds 1,600 a week to keep a child in secure care.

Leading article, page 17

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