HL Deb 21 March 2002 vol 632 cc1463-5
Baroness Andrews

asked Her Majesty's Government:

What progress they have made on policy for the Children's Fund.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Education and Skills (Baroness Ashton of Upholland)

My Lords, I am pleased to report that we are making good progress on the Children's Fund. The first wave of areas, which includes some of the most deprived communities in England, is beginning to implement increased and better co-ordinated services for children at risk of social exclusion. Second-wave areas have now submitted their proposals, and we are on course for the Children's Fund to reach all parts of England by 2003–04.

Baroness Andrews

My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for that helpful Answer. It is good to know that the Children's Fund is beginning to reach the children at risk for whom it was intended.

My concern is that services for disadvantaged children must be carefully co-ordinated. I would be grateful if the Minister could say what contribution the Children's Fund is making to a more coherent provision. Is the Children and Young People's Unit beginning to make progress in joining up services?

Baroness Ashton of Upholland

My Lords, the Children and Young People's Unit is leading the development of an overarching strategy for children and young people. The unit has consulted widely on a document setting out, for the first time, our vision for all children in the country. The overarching strategy sets out that vision and the principles that, we believe, should apply to all government services. It proposes six key outcomes: health and well-being; achievement and enjoyment; participation and citizenship; protection; responsibility; and inclusion.

Baroness Walmsley

My Lords, does the Minister agree that children in the age range covered by the Children's Fund—5 to 13—and younger children are most vulnerable to physical abuse? How much of the Children's Fund has gone—and is intended to go—into parenting education, including the teaching of disciplining strategies other than physical abuse, so that the repetitive cycle of abuse can be broken?

Baroness Ashton of Upholland

My Lords, the proposals for the Children's Fund are worked out by local partnerships, as the noble Baroness will know. As for the way in which the money is distributed, it is for local partnerships to come together and build on existing services to develop the strategies that are most applicable to their communities. I cannot give the noble Baroness details of a specific amount of money, but I can point her to the way in which partnerships are developing services to ensure that children are less vulnerable.

The process is geared towards protecting children, by recognising when children are about to be at risk and intervening with children and their families as early as possible, to make sure that they remain safe.

Baroness Blatch

My Lords, does the Minister agree that a great deal of the money—£450 million over three years— is being dissipated by the bureaucracy in the bidding process for securing money at local level? That £450 million is yet more money that is being held back at the centre and not going in at school level.

Baroness Ashton of Upholland

My Lords, the figure that I have is £380 million, available over three years. That money is available to the partnerships, and those partnerships will involve the work that goes on in schools. I disagree with the noble Baroness's claim that the money is being used in a way other than being given to schools.

It is important that the money that is built into the services is used to bring together health, social care and education services. For the children concerned, it is crucial that we have integration, early intervention and early recognition. That is a fundamental part of what the Children's Fund is attempting to do. The money is reaching the partnerships; they are coming forward in three waves, and money has gone out, in order to ensure that we achieve the fund's objectives.

Baroness Pitkeathley

My Lords, can the Minister say what use is made of the Children's Fund by children with disabilities and their families? I am sure that she will agree that they are a particularly disadvantaged group.

Baroness Ashton of Upholland

My Lords, I am happy to do so. Children's Fund partnerships are required to carry out an analysis of the need for and gaps in preventive services for children in their area. It must focus on children who are at risk of social exclusion. I understand that a substantial number has identified children with disabilities as a particular priority group in the development of Children's Fund work. There are examples of that in Bristol, Bradford and Birmingham.

Among the services that are being developed are services that are designed to provide additional support directly in schools—that is also relevant to the question asked by the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch — as well as improving access to leisure and cultural activities, additional family support and information services.

Lord Northbourne

My Lords, I may have missed something, in which case I apologise, but can the Minister say how many partnerships are now in operation and how much money has, so far, been distributed to the partnerships or through them?

Baroness Ashton of Upholland

My Lords, the noble Lord has not missed anything; I had not given those figures. There are 40 partnerships in operation in the first wave. We plan to cover all local authority areas by 2003–04. The average allocation is about £1 million. The largest allocation has been given to Birmingham, which has received about £6 million.

Baroness Massey of Darwen

My Lords, can my noble friend the Minister say whether young people have been consulted, as part of the consultation process for partnerships?

Baroness Ashton of Upholland

My Lords, young people and children have been involved in several ways. Some partnerships have employed participation workers specifically to make sure that they work with children. Other ways have been developed, including fun days for children, festivals, theatre groups and music and talent shows. In some areas, young people are directly involved in steering groups. In some cases, young people have been included in the process of recruiting staff. Young people are involved in various ways.

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