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Lords committee to investigate child vulnerability

The House of Lords Select Committee on Public Services has launched an inquiry into the role of public services in addressing child vulnerability.

The inquiry follows its first report, ‘A critical juncture for public services: lessons from COVID-19’, published in November which included a number of findings on children and public services and will focus on public services for children, parents, guardians and families in England.

It found a historical lack of support for early intervention and preventative services has widened the education attainment gap for disadvantaged children and led many families who were struggling with addiction, domestic violence and mental health to “crisis point”.
Inadequate integration between public services has meant that vulnerable children do not receive the support that they need. Many are “invisible” to public services. Public services working with children and families are often unwilling or unable to share data, and struggle to understand the legal basis for sharing information about vulnerable children.

During the COVID-19 pandemic the crisis in child vulnerability accelerated, and the number of vulnerable children “invisible” to services increased significantly.

The committee’s second inquiry into the role of public services in addressing child vulnerability will follow up on these concerns and ask whether reforming public services can address the growing problem of child vulnerability. The inquiry will cover how public services support mothers and families during pregnancy, and how they support children in their early years and school years.

“The inquiry will focus on public services for children, parents, guardians and families in England. In Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales, responsibility for many public services rests with the devolved administrations, and it is the role of the devolved parliaments to scrutinise public services there. However, the Committee hopes to learn from best practice in the devolved jurisdictions, both to draw comparisons and apply lessons learnt,” said a statement from the committee.

The committee recognises that child vulnerability comes in many forms, and their focus includes, but is not limited to:

- Children with special educational needs, disabilities and poor mental or physical health

- Young carers

- Children at risk of or experiencing neglect or abuse

- Children at risk of or experiencing one or more components of the toxic trio – domestic abuse, substance misuse or parental mental ill health

- Children living in deprivation

- Children unable to access technology

- Children in care

- Children at risk of or experiencing criminal exploitation, such as gang involvement or county lines

- Children experiencing homelessness or poor housing conditions;

- Children at risk of any other serious harm.

The inquiry will consider public services in the broadest possible sense and will explore community-level initiatives and the role of the private, voluntary and charitable sectors in the delivery of services to children and families. The Committee is especially interested in collaboration, or lack thereof, between local authorities, social services, the voluntary sector, the NHS, the education sector, the police and other public services working with children and families.

The committee is making a call for evidence and is seeking views around the following questions:

How is child vulnerability best defined?

How well do public services address underlying causes of child vulnerability within families, such as domestic abuse, mental ill health and addiction?

How should central government coordinate public services to support vulnerable children to recover from the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic?

How well does central government coordinate the activities of the various government departments working with vulnerable children, parents, guardians and families?

How should central government work with public service providers to integrate public services to meet the needs of vulnerable children, parents, guardians and families?

Do vulnerable children, parents, guardians and families receive sufficient support from early intervention and preventative services? If not, how might such support be improved?

Can early intervention and prevention deliver more efficient and effective public services?

At the local level, where does responsibility rest for addressing cross-cutting issues that affect children’s vulnerability, such as parental mental health, addiction and domestic abuse issues?

At the local level, where does responsibility rest for addressing cross-cutting issues that affect children’s vulnerability, such as parental mental health, addiction and domestic abuse issues?

How are those who are responsible for such issues held to account, and how might such accountability be improved?

What practical steps can the government and providers of public services take to encourage different agencies – such as NHS bodies, councils, schools and the police – to share data that helps keep vulnerable children safe, and to support early intervention and preventative services?

How effectively do statutory services collaborate with the voluntary sector and community groups to support vulnerable children and their families? Could such collaboration be improved?

The government has stated its ambition to ‘level-up’ under-performing regions. How could the government’s ‘leveling-up’ agenda address regional and local disparities in children’s education, health and wellbeing outcomes?

The committee is interested in hearing about policy responses to the problems facing vulnerable children, parents, guardians and families. Please include practical solutions to the issues that you identify in your written evidence.

The questions are intended to provide a framework for those who wish to offer their views but respondents do not need to answer all of the questions, just those that are relevant.

Anyone wanting to respond can contact the committee team at HLPUBLICSERVICES@parliament.uk.


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