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At Last, Children Whose Voices Are Rarely Heard Will Get the Attention They So Desperately Need

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EDWARD TIMPSON
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In these difficult times protecting and promoting the well-being of the most vulnerable children in society must be our absolute priority, now more than ever. The introduction of the Children and Families Bill couldn't have come at a better time - it is an eagerly awaited piece of legislation which is long overdue.

For years, we in the sector have been highlighting the challenges and barriers that prevent the systems designed to support the most disadvantaged children, from working as effectively as they should. A system where red tape and bureaucracy makes frontline professionals jobs harder, a system biased in favour of adults over the needs of children; we have all seen the impact of delays in intervention on the wellbeing of children.

We've struggled with a shortage in foster carers and adopters and we've felt that frustration when the 'system' has got in the way of decisions that are best for the children that we work with. Challenges and barriers that haven't always been given the attention in the Westminster Village that they need.

At last something is being done about it - the Children and Families Bill provides a fantastic opportunity to address these issues. I'm delighted that the Government is focussing on the needs and experiences of the UK's most vulnerable and disadvantaged children.

New figures from Barnardo's annual survey of our specialist sexual exploitation projects show that children in care represented almost 40 per cent of service users. These children are particularly vulnerable to predators and that is why we need to make sure the risk of them being preyed upon is not exacerbated by placing them in homes clustered together in certain areas of the country.

The Children's Minister's announcement of the government's intention to ensure that vulnerable children - including those who go missing from care - should be given the special attention and quality of care that they deserve is heartening. It is important that those children whose voices are rarely heard will finally be getting the attention and the parliamentary time they so desperately need.

But there are some reforms we disagree with, some areas in which the government could do better. The Children's Minister knows this.

For example, we do not believe the way to improve recruitment of prospective adoptive parents is to penalise local authorities by removing them from the equation. An indiscriminate approach to 'compulsory contracting out' of adoption services could potentially create further delays in the system, not less.

The children's sector needs to be part of the solution which is why I was happy to host the unveiling of the Bill today to a host of experts; colleagues with a lifetime of experience in children's services who work with and represent these young people day in, day out.

For all of us, the law is the framework by which we do our job, getting it right is critical, but it is how that is translated into action that will make the difference. This is where we come in - we're part of the solution.

Government must work with us and we must work with the government to make sure that we are in the strongest position possible to do our job. Getting it right and transforming the life of a vulnerable child is hard, but without the right tools it's even harder.

Wednesday marks an important step in the right direction and it is critical that our conversation continues over the forthcoming weeks, months and years, until we truly get it right for vulnerable children and young people. In reforming the system our utmost concern must be the child and as any changes are made we will always fight for their voice to be heard and their needs put first.

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