HC Deb 28 October 1975 vol 898 cc1377-80

'In the Social Work (Scotland) Act 1968 the following section is inserted after section 20—

"Review of case of child in care

20A.—(1) Without prejudice to their general duty under section 20(1) of this Act, it shall be the duty of a local authority who have at any time had a child in their care throughout the preceding six months and have not during that period held a review of his case, to review his case as soon as is practicable after the expiration of that period and, if a supervision requirement is in force with respect to him, the local authority shall consider in the course of the review whether to refer his case to their reporter for review of that requirement by a children's hearing.

(2) The Secretary of State may by regulations—

  1. (a) amend subsection (1) of this section by—
    1. (i) substituting a different period for the period of six months mentioned in that subsection (or for any period which, by previous regulations under this subsection was substituted for that period);
    2. (ii) specifying different periods in respect of the first review under that subsection occurring after a child has been taken into care, and in respect of subsequent such reviews;
  2. (b) make provision as to the manner in which cases are to be reviewed under this section;
  3. (c) make provision as to the considerations to which the local authority are to have regard in reviewing cases under this section.".'.—[Dr. Owen.]

Brought up, and read the First time.

Dr. Owen

I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

With this we may consider Government Amendments Nos. 224 and 242.

7.0 p.m.

Dr. Owen

This amendment introduces a new provision in the Social Work (Scotland) Act 1968 requiring local authorities to review the case of any child in their care not less than six months after the child has come into care or after the previous review. It also empowers the Secretary of State to make regulations regarding the manner in which cases should be reviewed and to vary the minimum interval for reviews by prescribing a different period under regulations.

Local authorities in England and Wales are already under a requirement to carry out six-monthly reviews of children in care by virtue of provisions in the Children and Young Persons Act 1969. In the past, there has been no substantial demand for a similar provision in Scotland, but the matter has been further reviewed in the light of certain discussions at the Commons Committee stage of the Bill, which focussed attention on a number of aspects of child care legislation lying outside the matters dealt with in the Report of the Departmental Committee on Adoption. The Convention of Scottish Local Authorities, the Association of Directors of Social Work and the Scottish Branch of the British Association of Social Workers are equally in agreement that such a provision should be introduced into the Social Work (Scotland) Act 1968.

As for England, the amendment would extend the scope of Section 27 of the Children and Young Persons Act, which places a statutory duty on local authorities to carry out six-monthly reviews. The amendments are tabled to enable regulations to be made to meet undertakings given in Committee, some of which relate to points raised by my hon. Friends when we discussed the child's psychological parent, the question of what parents should be informed of six-monthly reviews, and, where appropriate, that they should be consulted.

The present amendment also takes account of the Committee's views, arising from the discussion of Amendment No. 358, which was opposed by the Government but which was nevertheless accepted by the Committee and added as a new ground for the assumption of parental rights and duties, that the child's emotional needs and development warrant it and that the child's development will be impaired or stunted if he is returned to his parents. We shall have an opportunity to discuss this later. But it is the intention that the need to consider a child's emotional and other needs should be embodied in the regulations to be made under this amendment as one of the aspects of a child's welfare which should be looked at in the course of a six-monthly review of children in care.

The amendment would give effect to a number of proposals included in a consultation paper circulated to local authority associations and all the various other interested bodies. The proposal to use the six-monthly review as a means of embodying the spirit of amendments discussed in Committee has received unanimous approval. The only reservation expressed by the directors of social services was in relation to the proposed power to vary the frequency of reviews. However, the directors were reassured when we explained to them that it was the intention to use this power only to advance the date of the first review to three months after reception in care and not to increase their frequency thereafter.

In the light of that explanation, I hope that the clauses will be accepted by the House.

Mr. Gordon Wilson

It so happens that I am a foster parent of about 18 months' standing, and my experience leads me to believe that although a statutory requirement for the review of a case by the social work committee of the local authority may be made, it may be that, because of the lack of resources, such a review will not be carried out, or it will be done in such a perfunctory manner as to be useless.

In my experience, despite a statutory visit from the social work department to inspect the conditions in which the children were living with me, it took the department 18 months to send someone to see the children concerned, and only then after a little prompting. I must admit that it was a relief not to be bothered with social workers on our doorstep day after day. However, there was a requirement. But if there are insufficient social workers, or if, as happened in Scotland, local government reorganisation should occur, however much we may have legislated for it, a proper review may not be carried out. I should like to know what proposals the Minister has to make this provision workable.

Mr. McElhone

I appreciate the concern of the hon. Member for Dundee. East (Mr. Wilson) and the experience from which he speaks. We are making provision for these visits. The Convention of Scottish Local Authorities, the Association of Directors of Social Work and the Scottish branch of the British Association of Social Workers were in agreement with this clause.

I take the hon. Gentleman's point about the shortage of social workers. But we are concerned in Scotland, as in other parts of the country, that these visits are made. So far as my responsibilities go in Scotland, I can assure the hon. Gentleman that these visits and reviews will be carried out.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause read a Second time, and added to the Bill.

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