§ 9. Mr. Corbyn
asked the Secretary of State for Social Services what plans he has to seek to reduce the need to receive children into care.
§ The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Health and Social Security (Mr. John Patten)
We support the growing emphasis on preventive measures and policies in child care. Indeed, the number of children in local authority care has been decreasing. It is for local authorities to provide services for children in need, whether to keep them with their families or, in the interests of the children, to provide alternative arrangements for their care.
§ Mr. Corbyn
Is the Minister aware that every year 500 children are received into care by local authority social service departments because of homelessness? Will he accept that the policy of selling council houses and cutting back on the construction of new council houses makes this problem far worse, and is likely to increase the number of children taken into care due to homelessness? Does he not think that he ought to give the House a statement on what he intends to do to improve the housing stock of the worst-off people in the country, so that children are not brought into care?
§ Mr. Patten
As you say, Mr. Speaker, it is well beyond my responsibilities. I recognise the hon. Gentleman's views about homelessness, because in Islington there is a considerable amount of homelessness. I also recognise that in Islington there are a considerable number of children in care. However, the numbers of children in care have been decreasing nationally. Most children go into care for a range of reasons. Homelessness might be one of the reasons that cause children to go into care.
§ Mr. Hayes
Despite welcome modifications in the law brought in by my hon. Friend, does he accept that there is still a long way to go to achieve a balance between, on the one hand, of protecting the child who needs protection, and on the other of looking after the interests and rights of the parents?
§ Mr. Patten
It is a difficult balance to strike, and social workers have a difficult job in trying to strike that balance. I pay tribute to the work they do. In any case where a child is placed into care, it is the welfare of the child that has to be paramount, and the future of the child that has to be considered above all else.
§ Ms. Harman
Does the Minister recognise that children in care are largely the children of the poor, and that high levels of unemployment, his Government's policies of undermining wages councils and planned cuts in benefits—which mean that more families will not be 162 able to make ends meet—will result in more children being split apart from their families and having to be fostered, adopted or put into children's homes? Is this not the very opposite of being the party of the family, in that the Government are providing for the splitting apart of families?
§ Mr. Patten
Once again some of the hon. Lady's questions go beyond my departmental responsibilities. The numbers of children in care are reducing. Those who look after children in care have a responsible and difficult job. That is why I hope that the hon. Lady, who has been uncharacteristically silent for some time about problems affecting children's homes in her constituency in the London borough of Southwark, will back me at the meeting of the London borough of Southwark's full council tomorrow in a call for a full investigation of all homes over which doubts have been cast.