We've got the picture now, thanks to a flood of reports from or about the government: children need looking after better than we've managed lately. Yet we're still in a terrible muddle. Like those harrowing photos we always see in Armistice Week, the victims often end up in hospital, jail or dead.

In the past few days we've seen ambitious plans unveiled about women, the family and, from Frank Dobson, the official response to Sir William Utting's report on the kids with whom neither the women, nor the families, can cope for one reason or another: those in care.

The discovery of Ron Davies' brutalised childhood merely underlined the price people pay for failure. So, incidentally, does our painfully slow understanding of dyslexia, another topical theme. It isn't mental illness or handicap. But, as with kids in care, it helps a disproportionate number of victims end up behind bars.

Yet the battle rages on. Rarely can a green paper have been so denounced from all sides as Jack Straw's committee job on the family. Savaged from the right for being sort of even-handed towards gay and single-parent families, likewise savaged from sections of the left for trying to reinforce what they see as the idealised tyranny of family life which has evidently failed.

A bloody ideological battleground. But still standing, still heading across No Person's Land amid the hail of bullets, is Colonel Dobson. Rarely can a Commons statement have had such general and generous support as his post-Utting utterance. Not just from MPs, but from leader-writers and professional sceptics like my Guardian colleague, Simon Hoggart, who was positively effusive...

Decent, efficient, honest... I won't go on. Even Dobbo would blanche at Hoggart's shocking allegation that his speeches are 'not full of cheap oratory and make few party political points'. Across at the Indy, Suzanne (Take No Prisoners) Moore exempted Dobbo from ministers' 'illogical and sanctimonious twaddle' on family life.

The point PhD students of Dobsonia will relish is where the health secretary reports that he told his ministerial task force (government, police, social services etc) to judge whether their proposals 'would have been good enough for them when they were children or... good enough for their own children'.

There was also a harrowing passage about kids who have to leave what we all hope are already better care homes (many of the paedophile cases under investigation are actually old ones) at 16: no home to go to, no shoulder to cry on, no morale-boosting encouragement with homework or that job interview, no father 'to touch for a tenner', Mr Dobson reminded MPs. 'It's simply wrong and we're going to change it.' Easier said than done. But the£375m extra cash is ring-fenced and the Computer Age is finally co-ordinating inter-agency data on dodgy adults who shouldn't be let anywhere near children.

There was one recurring note of dissent. Labour MPs like the Potteries' Llin Golding, Wakefield's David Hinchliffe (chair of the health select committee which has been investigating care) and Lancaster's Hilton Dawson (another ex-social worker) demanded the appointment of a children's rights commissioner - or ombudsman.

In the distant Blunkett era, it used to be Labour policy, Mr Hinchliffe reminded the minister. The Scandinavians have pioneered this approach and Paul Boateng, not quite as distant a memory as Mr Blunkett, was sympathetic, the Wakefield MP later told me. What his committee had advocated was actually a two-fold approach, local and national. At national level, an independent commissioner with the power to cross departments and local authorities as an advocate for children in care. At local level individual volunteers, attached to each such child, to give them an adult 'friend' outside the system. The police are under too much pressure to do it. Likewise social workers, whose commitment to mental health and care in the community has fundamentally changed their role since his day, says Dave Hinchliffe.

Dobbo told MPs he would look at it again as long as they 'don't interpret that as a promise definitely to agree to it'. He even told Bassetlaw MP, Joe Ashton, that the commissioner might have the power to prosecute. That would be handy, since prosecution rates are falling because schools and councils prefer to hush things up.

By coincidence, Mr Ashton is the MP trying to bully ministers into ensuring that, if they do lower the age of gay consent to 16 next year, people in authority (potentially exploitative) over young people, from scout mangers to teachers and social workers, are exempt from its liberalising effect. They've finally said Yes. Quite right, too.