Nigel Nelson talks to Tim Loughton MP, “Face to Face”!
Women’s Parliamentary Radio
1st July 2011

Face to Face Encounters: Nigel Nelson talks to Tim Loughton MP, Under Secretary of State for Children and Families

No time to draw breath, Tim Loughton, the MP for East Worthing and Shoreham, has found himself in the hot seat since becoming the Under Secretary of State for Children and Families in the coalition government. A Foster Carers Charter, Adoption Guidance, a £11.2 million grant to the NSPCC for Childline and other help lines, child protection guidance, helping to launch the new National Citizen’s Service, a visit to Rethink, not to mention a web chat with the Youth Parliament and speaking his mind about cut-backs to Sure Start on Twitter too. Phew!

Tim Loughton isn’t frightened of speaking up for his beliefs and championing the causes close to his heart. Here Tim speaks with real passion and conviction about his plans for the future to Nigel Nelson, Political Editor of the People in the second of his series “Face to Face” encounters.

Tim pledges to get to the “heart of the more difficult communities” to help them access Sure Start Centres which he would like to see expand and open for longer in the evening and at weekends too. He is “ambitious” for them to “do more and better for more people!” You can’t improve on that. Thanks Tim! Education and youth training and better care for “looked after” children are also at the top of his “to do list”!

Here’s what Tim told Nigel:
• The fast pace: “It is a busy brief a really wide brief here. There was a lot to do having shadowed this brief for more than seven years, so we hit the ground running, lots to do lots more to do so I want to see it through. “

• Sexual exploitation: “I am not seeking to offend anybody, but at last the headlines are beginning to catch up with the problem. I think there is a really big problem with child sexual exploitation it has been going on out of the media glare for many years, but some of the high profile cases from the Midlands and the North of England earlier this year shows it affects many different communities not just cities, but in towns and rural area across the country too. This is child abuse – and we must absolutely clamp down on it, as vigorously as possible and I don’t care if it is people from ethnic communities or white men it is all child abuse. We are putting together an action plan on this with colleagues in the Home Office, and we are working with Barnado’s and CEOP and the police to make sure everybody knows what to do to clamp down on it. It affects an awful lot of teenagers, and one of the good things that has helped to bring this to light is the soap opera scripts in East Enders. That made a lot of people sit up and pay attention. Some of the charities involved in this think that tens of thousands of children are the victims of this up and down the country. We need to take it more seriously than it has been.”

• Child Abuse: “Anything that gets people’s attention to show this is a problem has to be a good thing. People recognise Baby P and Victoria Climbie as child abuse, people have become used to that and they recognise that as child abuse. I don’t think people really appreciated the magnitude of thousands of our teenage kids falling prey to criminals using them for sexual gratification and for financial profit, in some quite closed communities in some case, but it takes different forms. It maybe grooming on the internet, preying on kids in children’s homes, those using networks to get these kids to do horrible things, it is a really big problem and it has been swept under the carpet in the past. This is criminal activity, it is child abuse and we need to clamp down on it much more heavily than we have. “

• The care system: “One of the biggest concerns I have had has been the appalling outcomes for kids in the care system. We have failed tens of thousands of kids in the care system. The outcomes for these children are absolutely appalling, teenage pregnancies, homelessness, mental health problems, we should have been much tougher about recognising these problems many years ago. I have met a lot of kids in the care system, and there is a huge gap in attainment. We also have more children in care now post Baby Peter, 64,500 kids in care in England. It is really urgent that we get to grips with how we can give them a second chance of a real stable family upbringing and a second chance with catching up with other kids as well.”

• Stability: “The best antidote has to be stability. When you have been abused and you have to leave your birth parents’ that is unsettling, going into foster care and maybe a residential home that is unsettling, and that is worse if that environment keeps changing. It is no wonder those kids fall behind at school, they may go to a series of different schools. We are trying to bring about some stability, so better quality foster carers doing the right thing by them and local authorities allowing them to look after them as if they were their own children without all the rules and regulations. I am being best informed on this by children who have been in care themselves. You just have to listen to them and I am really determined to improve their lot.”

• Foster care: “The biggest cost and waste of money is when it goes
wrong. If you don’t get the appropriate place in the first place, usually in foster care, and that placement breaks down and then they have to go into a residential home which costs up to £125,000 a year that is a big outlay. Socially that is a big disaster as well. It is much better to get the good quality appropriate placement in the first place. If you don’t there is a slippery slope that ends up in a huge social impact to the child and huge financial cost coming back to the local authority as well.”

• Evil people: “You will never stop the Victoria Climbie cases of this World happening. There are evil people who do unspeakable things to vulnerable children and we will never stamp that out altogether. What I am determined to do is to make the opportunities for these people to commit violence and abuse against these children much less, to make sure they are on the radar sooner and professionals are able to step in as early as possible and to take children out of danger sooner. We need a proper system. The regulation has become the problem. We now have professionals spending 80 per cent of their time in front of a computer screen and not out on the street. They are not going where the action is and that is what will make the difference not the number of forms filled in, and that is why we are going to completely overhaul it and that is why the Monro Review on child protection was so important. I fear there will always be Baby P type cases. We don’t hear about the many hundred of other child deaths happening every year, they don’t all hit the headlines. We have got to make sure that Baby P and Victoria Climbie are the exception and we are reducing the opportunity for people to do these evil things as much as possible.”

• Money NSPCC: We have given a grant over four years of 11.2 million to help them run Childline, it is a fantastic resource and most young people understand what it is and more are using it. I think it is better we use a voluntary organisation that is held in great respect and let them run the helpline, we don’t tell them how to run it, they have to put a business case to us. I see some of the reports they produce, let them get on with it, the NSPCC know more than most how to do it.”

• Rethink: “The State can’t and shouldn’t do everything. I took the Mental Health Bill through Parliament and I have always said mental health is the Cinderella service of the NHS. It is an area where unless you intervene early it is a false economy and those conditions will worsen and you are then looking at the need for more severe interventions later on which is financially very costly. We are doing a better job on Mental Health, my colleagues have produced the recent Paper “There is no Health Without Mental Health” which is a very important message that mental health is no different from physical health. We are determined it should be treated as an equal partner with all physical health, not just relying on drugs, as happened, and better CBT counselling too. 1 in 10 school age children will have some form of mental illness at some stage.”

• “A greater percentage of the NHS cake is going into funding mental health. In the past we haven’t had enough counsellors and CBT therapists available, and GPs have had to put people on long waiting lists or prescribe quite powerful drugs for them. That is not always the most appropriate course of action, and we are beginning to get a more flexible mental health service.”

• The National Youth Parliament: “Some of my best advice and ideas comes from young people, that is why I set up various groups of young people who come and advice me. That is why I spend a lot of my time going out meeting youth projects around the Country. The Youth Parliament is a fantastic organisation, 400 kids come and sit in the House of Commons, the standard of debate is a lot better, they have good stuff to say and politicians ignore them at their peril. I want to spend as much time out of the office with young people as possible and that might improve the solutions we come up with.”

• Sure Start Centres: “We have never been all over the place on Sure Start, we supported Sure Start Children’s Centres when they came in all the way through the years of opposition. We said they were a great resource and we supported their expansion and absolutely we made it clear we wanted that network of 3,500 to continue and we made sure there was enough money in the Early Intervention Grant to fund them. We want them to do more, I want them to be open longer, to be open in the evenings and at the weekends and I want them to access the more difficult to access communities. If there has been a failing they have been used well by the middle classes but we haven’t sought out those people who really do need to be using them who we need to engage with better. We want to get to the heart of some of the more difficult communities to ensure everybody is using them. We are really ambitious for them to do more and better for more people.”

• Youth unemployment, disengagement, and housing: “It is a tough time to be a young person it is a tough time to be growing up. At the moment with all the pressures on the economy getting a job and getting into training is a real challenge. We have to make sure there are training opportunities and the expansion in apprenticeships is a really important part of what we are doing. We have to make sure we get as many people going on to appropriate higher and further education as possible, and that is why we are upping the participation age to 18 by 2015. The figures just out show there has been a reduction in NEETS and more people are staying on, this is one of our biggest challenges. We must not forget about it as those kids come from childhoods into adulthood at one of the most challenging times. It would be a false economy not to be doing as much as we can about it and we are.”

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