The All Party Parliamentary Group for Children held three meetings in July:
- Monday 10 July: Information Sharing and Assessment. With a ministerial update from Rt Hon Beverley Hughes MP, Minister for Children and Young People, and presentations by two information sharing trailblazers.
- Tuesday 11 July: Children’s Commissioner for England and AGM: with a presentation by Sir Al Aynsley-Green, the Children’s Commissioner for England.
- Wednesday 12 July: Refugee Children in Detention: Joint meeting with the APPG for Refugees to mark the launch of a report on alternatives to detention.
Monday 10 July – Information Sharing and Assessment
This meeting was an opportunity to hear an update on the implementation of information sharing and assessment (ISA) systems, a key element of the Every Child Matters programme and legislated for in the Children Act 2004. The Rt. Hon Beverley Hughes MP, Minister for Children and Young People, gave a ministerial update, after which two ISA trailblazers brought the Group up to date on the implementation of the programme in Sheffield and East Sussex.
Rt Hon Beverley Hughes MP said that the Information Sharing Index, along with other measures to promote integrated services, is part of a carefully considered architecture underlying the Every Child Matters programme. She said that a National Index will be an important tool for all practitioners, as sharing information is vital for early and effective intervention. Trailblazers have shown the Index’s potential not just as an instrumental mechanism to support joint working, but also as a means of changing attitudes and culture.
The Minister then made a number of key points on the Index and outlined the timescale for future activity. There will be a record for each child with the child’s basic information (such as date of birth and gender), details of professionals involved with the child, and an indication as to whether a common assessment has been completed. Access will be restricted to authorised practitioners, who have been through appropriate training and Criminal Records Bureau checks.
Future activity includes a readiness assessment process for local authorities over the summer, results of the data matching trials in August, and a public consultation during summer/autumn on draft regulations to govern the operation of the Index, to come into force in 2007. In late spring/early summer of 2007, the initial records for every child in England will be created, and the Index will be deployed to the first wave of local authorities by summer 2007, with progressive rollout until the end of 2008.
Des Charles (Sheffield ISA Trailblazer) and Sharon Paine (East Sussex ISA Trailblazer) outlined work achieved in their respective authorities. They said that an Index is NOT an early warning system, a case management system, or somewhere to record a concern. It IS: a ‘Telephone directory’, a record of all children 0-18 years, a process about which all families are informed, accessed via Internet, with a password required for entry, and allowed to include information about additional services, but only with consent.
The ongoing challenges still facing the ISA trailblazers include the size and complexity of the task and the diversity of the children’s workforce. The trailblazers must also deal with a number of practical issues, such as delivering the training and building professionals’ confidence in sharing information. However, Des and Sharon said that this is achievable, there is little or no opposition from families or practitioners, and their local authorities are already seeing the benefits of the Index both in terms of efficiency and children’s outcomes.
Tuesday 11 July – Children’s Commissioner for England and AGM
Before the meeting began, the APPGC held its Annual General Meeting, in which all Officers were re-elected, and Baroness Morris of Bolton was elected as a new Vice-Chair. (Helen Goodman MP was subsequently co-opted as another Vice-Chair.)
This meeting was an opportunity to find out about the implementation of the role of the Children’s Commissioner for England and its functions. England’s first Children’s Commissioner, Sir Al Aynsley-Green, has been in post for one year, and laid his annual report before Parliament on Monday 10 July (available at www.childrenscommissioner.org/annualreport.htm).
Sir Al began with a brief outline of the functions of the Children’s Commissioner for England and his own aspirations for the role. In his first year, the Office of the Children’s Commissioner (OCC) has been established, its operating processes set up, and its staff recruited. It has been developing positive working relationship with key stakeholders, and has worked to raise awareness of its existence.
The Children’s Commissioner’s mission is to:
be the voice for all children and young people in England;
use its independence and dedication to look after the interests of children and young people in matters that affect them;
protect and improve children and young people’s lives by working with and influencing society, the media, parents and carers, politicians and those who work with children and young people; and
promote debate on changing the world children live in.
Its vision is a society where all children and young people:
- are encouraged, nurtured and safeguarded;
- have their views actively sought, listened to and acted upon;
- have their rights upheld; and
- are truly at the centre of policy and practice.
Sir Al outlined work in 2006-07 relating to the OCC’s eight priority themes, which are:
- children and young people in society;
- tackling discrimination; youth justice and anti-social behaviour;
- asylum seeking children and immigration;
- vulnerable children;
- disabled children and young people;
- health and well-being of children and young people.
The OCC’s overriding priority for 2006-7 will be the establishment of meaningful, consistent and representative processes that ensure the voices and views of children and young people are embedded in all aspects of its work.
In conclusion, Sir Al said that being the first Children’s Commissioner for England has given him feelings of exhilaration, despair and fright, – exhilaration, because he has been working with compassionate and articulate children and young people across the country; anger, because of the plight of children and young people who are not benefiting from society; and fright when he thinks about the huge challenges that the OCC now faces. However, he is determined to tackle these challenges, and he looks forward to building on this year’s foundation.
Wednesday 12 July – Refugee Children in Detention
The APPG for Children and the APPG for Refugees are supporting the No Place For A Child coalition (www.noplaceforachild.org.uk) to end the detention of children for immigration purposes. This event marked the launch of a discussion paper on the alternatives to detention, authored by John Bercow MP, Lord Dubs and Evan Harris MP.
The meeting also heard from women who had been detained and who shared their and their children’s experiences of detention.
There are no meetings of the All Party Parliamentary Group for Children during Parliament’s summer recess (25 July – 9 October). The Group’s programme for the next Parliamentary year will include:
- A series of meetings to assess how the Every Child Matters programme is feeding into a number of other sectors that affect children and young people,
- Following up on 2005/06 meetings and legislation,
- Meetings to discuss new legislation as it arises,
- Joint meetings requested by other All Party Parliamentary Groups.
- To be added to the email mailing list to receive minutes and invitations to meetings
- For copies of minutes from any of the meetings
- For any further information about the group