Outcry over Hodge delays proposals to reduce child abuse

Andrew Grice Political Editor
Thursday 03 July 2003 00:00

The Government will delay unveiling long-awaited proposals to protect children from abuse because of the controversy around Margaret Hodge, the new minister for Children.

The Green Paper on child protection - the Government's response to the death of Victoria Climbié - was due to be published in February. It was further delayed by founding the post of Children's minister in Tony Blair's reshuffle last month.

Downing Street, which said the report would be published this month, now fears it would be overshadowed by the criticism of Ms Hodge over her handling of a child abuse scandal while leader of Islington council in the early 1990s.

Ms Hodge will launch the report but ministers confirmed last night that there was "a growing feeling" that publication should be delayed until the storm around her had abated. "It is almost certain to be put off," one said.

Yesterday Mr Blair backed Ms Hodge when he was challenged at Prime Minister's Questions over his decision to appoint her. Andrew Rosindell, a Tory MP, asked him: "In view of the White inquiry into Islington child-abuse scandals of the 80s and 90s, which described Islington council as 'a chaotic organisation that breeds the conditions for dangerous and negligent practices in relation to child care', do you really think your appointment of the minister for Children is well advised?"

In his first comments on the controversy, Mr Blair replied that Ms Hodge was the Education minister responsible for "early years" from 1998 to 2001. He listed her achievements: free education for all four-year-olds, and now 88 per cent of all three-year-olds; 647,000 new childcare places, and the development of the Sure Start programme, which helps to provide child care and training for mothers on low incomes. "That is a record of which she and we can be proud," he said.

The Green Paper will give the Government's response to the inquiry by Lord Laming into the death in 2000 of eight-year-old Victoria, who had 128 injuries on her body. Marie-Thérèse Kouao, her great-aunt, and Carl Manning, Kouao's lover, were jailed for life for the murder. The investigation uncovered communication problems between social services, police and NHS staff, who between them missed 12 chances to save her.

The Green Paper is expected to propose better co- ordination at local level through the setting up of local boards to bring together the different agencies and children's trusts to integrate the running of schools, social work and other children's services.

Some ministers, including Paul Boateng, the Chief Secretary to the Treasury, favour forming a national child protection agency, which would downgrade social services departments. But the idea was opposed by the Department of Health. Ms Hodge's new post is based in the Department for Education and Skills, which is now the leading department on child protection. There have been "turf wars" between the the Home Office, Health and Education departments, which the appointment of a Children's minister was intended to end.

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