IICSA’s final report was published at noon on 20 October 2022. There has been a great deal of commentary in the weeks since then, not least our detailed blogs in which we have reviewed various recommendations including reform of the limitation legislation and the creation of a national redress scheme.
Once the report had been published the Inquiry’s work was done. The process of dismantling the machinery of the Inquiry had begun immediately thereafter. Apart from a prepared video statement, which was issued as their final report was published, we had not heard anything from the IICSA panel.
However, on 30 November 2022 two panel members, Professor Alexis Jay and Drusilla Sharpling, together with the secretary to the Inquiry, John O’Brien, appeared as witnesses before the Home Affairs Select Committee.
Throughout an intense two-hour session, the three witnesses were subjected to robust and incisive questioning which vividly illustrated how difficult it will be for IICSA’s main recommendations to be implemented.
The interrogation was led by Tim Loughton MP, whose extensive experience in this area should be noted. From 2003-10 Mr Loughton was the shadow minister for health and children. From 2010-12 he was parliamentary under-secretary of state for children and families, a position commonly known as children's minister. During that time he had been part of a ministerial working group tasked with revising the Children Act 1989.
The session was broadly split into three sections:
- The Child Protection Authority (CPA) recommendation
- The mandatory reporting recommendation
- Miscellaneous questions and action points
In today's blog we comment on the CPA recommendation and look at the other two tomorrow.
The CPA recommendation
Mr Loughton MP dismissed out of hand the need for a CPA. What was the point in another institution with oversight but without any regulatory or enforcement powers? Following the Climbié inquiry extensive rules and regulations were introduced which had actually impeded professionals rather than support them. IICSA had fallen into the same trap.
The CPA was not the proverbial silver bullet. Government does not need another new body with more rules, regulations, legislation, resource and cost. Mr Loughton explained that the government was currently considering the extension of the remit and powers of existing bodies. For example, there was no reason why the present children’s commissioner could not have a wider remit that would incorporate the activity that is being allocated to the CPA. All that was required was a redefined mandate.
In response, Professor Jay and Ms Sharpling argued that leadership of child protection had been diffused. The CPA would provide leadership in all aspects of child protection, including multi-agency operations. Responsibilities were presently spread across six government departments and vulnerable children were being let down by the system. Child protection was not regarded as a priority. For example, in the view of the police, child criminal exploitation (involving modern slavery and similar conduct) had now superseded child sexual exploitation.
A new culture was required, to be driven by a children’s minister who would be a member of Cabinet with the political heft to maintain child protection as a priority. Ms Sharpling was highly critical of the police in this context. In her opinion, the police often considered children not worthy of belief and had an unhelpful cultural attitude towards children. In addition, they did not record adequately - or at all - the sort of information that would enable proper investigation into whether a CSE gang or paedophile ring was in operation. Only effective management and leadership by individuals who understood child protection would bring about a change in culture.
The panel admitted that they had not thought about widening the children’s commissioner role because they did not think it was appropriate, due to the commissioner’s distinctive function of raising matters in the public domain (which is very different to being operationally involved). The panel also admitted that despite extensive research they had not found an equivalent to the CPA in any other jurisdiction. The CPA was IICSA’s own creation to address gaps in policy and process.
Further, in response to a question from the committee chair, Rt Hon Dame Diana Johnson MP, there was some confusion in the explanation of how the CPA would operate. Comments were made about a lack of field expertise and a skills gap in direct work. There was a real need for role models who advocated good practice and called out poor practice. However, the oversight role of the CPA seems to be at least one step removed from those issues, as it will intervene when there are weaknesses in the inspection itself.
How those weaknesses might be identified was not addressed.