Child protection destabilised by cuts, says expert

He accuses the Government of being driven by political dogma, leaving children more vulnerable

Click to follow
The Independent Online

Vulnerable children are now "at greater risk" because the coalition has pared back vital safety measures, according to one of Britain's most experienced child protection officers.

Jim Gamble, former head of the Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre, said "dogma" had driven the decision to get rid of three safeguarding bodies. He said the closure of the National Safeguarding Delivery Unit, the scrapping of the ContactPoint database of children's information and the removal of the Independent Safeguarding Authority (ISA) left children more vulnerable.

"I am in no doubt that some children have been placed at greater risk... If you'd wanted, at a time of doom and gloom, to destabilise those trying to do a good job you couldn't have done it better. There are people who are just driven by dogma, and this government is," he said.

Mr Gamble stood down as head of the child exploitation centre in February, following Theresa May's announcement it would be taken over by the Serious Organised Crime Agency. Last week, he gave evidence to the Commons Education Select Committee about child protection.

He believes the motives for removing the three safeguarding bodies were "more about politics than child protection", adding, "if anything was painted Labour red, it had to be scrapped and painted blue".

The National Safeguarding Delivery Unit was established after Lord Laming's inquiry into the death of 17-month-old Peter Connelly – Baby P – who died after suffering months of neglect in Haringey, north London. It was a multi-agency group designed to scrutinise how all groups – including police, schools and social services – ensured children's protection. Commenting on last year's closure of the unit, Gamble said: "They had joined up government, but they threw it out because it wasn't their idea."

Mr Gamble, a former head of anti-terrorism at the Royal Ulster Constabulary, said the Government was using the scrapping of bureaucracy as an excuse for getting rid of essential services. "They're using austerity and the move to cut away bureaucracy as a smokescreen to hide the fact that this government doesn't do detail. In the future, we'll look back and this government will be shame-faced at some of the things they've done which are more about politics than child protection."

He said charities were cowed into holding back concerns for fear of losing funding. "If the Government creates an environment where people won't tell the king he's got no clothes, it's a problem ... the approach of this government does not encourage constructive criticism or debate."

In August last year, ContactPoint, the controversial database that held information about all children under 18, was switched off. Gamble said it had been instrumental in keeping tabs on children at risk of abuse.

"They [the Government] arbitrarily made the decision to get rid of ContactPoint. They [ministers] didn't wait until there was anything to replace it. I had reservations about it, but when we started to use the database, the benefit outweighed them."

A Department for Education spokeswoman said: "Our approach is driven not by dogma but by a desire to make the child protection system work and make vulnerable children safer... Everything the Government is doing is predicated on freeing up professionals to spend more time on the front line rather than dealing with a bureaucratic system"

The Home Office insisted it is not scrapping the ISA but merging its functions with the Criminal Records Bureau to form the Disclosure and Barring Service.