§ 11.39 a.m.
§ The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Education and Skills (Baroness Ashton of Upholland)
My Lords, I beg to move that the House do now again resolve itself into Committee on this Bill.
§ Moved, That the House do now again resolve itself into Committee.—(Baroness Ashton of Upholland.)
§ On Question, Motion agreed to.
§ House in Committee accordingly.
§ [The CHAIRMAN OF COMMITTEES (Lord Brabazon of Tara) in the Chair.]
Baroness Finlay of Llandaff moved Amendment No. 185:
Before Clause 20, insert the following new clause—
"CHILDREN'S SERVICES IN WALES: PRINCIPLES
In the delivery of Children's Services in Wales. Children's Services' authorities shall have regard to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child.
§ The noble Baroness said: We have already debated the importance of the UN convention. This part of the Bill is concerned with children's services in Wales. The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child is the internationally recognised charter against which countries can compare themselves. It is a minimum set 1442 of standards for countries to measure their treatment of children across the world. The UK Government ratified the UNCRC and reported on their progress to the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child on two occasions.
The UN Committee on the Rights of the Child praised the use of the convention as a framework in the National Assembly for Wales strategy for children and young people. A report of October 2002 from the UN committee stated, under the heading "legislation", that:
the Committee encourages the state party to incorporate into domestic law, the rights, principles and provisions of the UNCRC to ensure compliance of all legislation with the Convention, a more widespread application of the provisions and principles of the Convention in legal and administrative proceedings and a better dissemination and training of the Convention".
Even though the UNCRC was ratified by the UK Government on behalf of the UK as a whole, the National Assembly for Wales also formally debated and adopted the UNCRC on 14 January 2004, with an amendment to a Motion which stated that the National Assembly,
formally adopts the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child as the basis of policy making in this area".
§ The Joint Committee on Human Rights on 20 May this year, which was only last week, issued the Scrutiny of Bills: Fifth Progress Report which covered the Children Bill. It expressed concern that the CRC is fitted into the framework constituted by the five identified outcomes rather than the other way round. The Joint Committee on Human Rights wrote to the Minister for Children on that point and drew the matter to the attention of each House.
§ On the first day of the Bill's Committee stage, the Government agreed to amend the Bill so that the commissioner "must" rather than "may" have regard to the Convention on the Rights of the Child. However, the Government have continued to resist including an express reference to "rights" on the face of the legislation. They also continue to insist that the CRC be fitted into the framework constituted by the five identified outcomes rather than the other way round. The Joint Committee has written to the Minister for Children on that point, and drawn the matter to the attention of each House.
§ I would like to remind the Committee that this amendment concerns Wales and is therefore completely compatible with the request that came from the Assembly and with the Motion that has been passed in the Assembly.
§ I will also speak to the other amendments in this group. Amendment No. 191 has already been debated, but there is a need to highlight how essential it is for there to be co-operation between the different services. I recognise that it may not be appropriate to have Amendment No. 191 on the face of the Bill, but it should be in guidance.
§ Following discussions on the Bill that have already occurred, there has been clarification of the issues behind Amendments Nos. 195 and 196. Therefore I will not be moving those amendments. I beg to move.1443
§ Lord Roberts of Conwy
I speak briefly to Amendment No. 185 in order simply to pose a question to the Minister. What would be the practical implications of accepting Amendment No. 185 which would include the convention in primary legislation as far as Wales is concerned? The noble Baroness will be aware that it is already incorporated in secondary legislation by the National Assembly. Therefore my question is precisely what the practical implications would be of the acceptance of this amendment.
§ 11.45 a.m.
§ Lord Prys-Davies
The Children's Commissioner for Wales Bill was brought forward at the request of the Welsh Assembly. The Assembly placed huge importance on the principles of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child and its implementation in Wales. When the children's commissioner Bill was before the House, in 2001, we spoke in favour of many amendments that would bring the UNCRC on to the face of the Bill, but consistently the Government opposed the amendments. However, it seems to me that the arguments then used by the Government have now been undermined by Clauses 2, 7 and 8 of the Bill. We can now bring the UNCRC on to the face of the Bill.
As the noble Lord, Lord Roberts, said, the National Assembly, to its great credit, ensured through secondary legislation, which was within the framework of primary legislation, that the UNCRC is at the core of the commissioner's work in Wales. But there is no statutory duty on the children's services authorities to work to UNCRC standards. To the best of my knowledge, such a duty cannot be placed on them by secondary legislation. I shall listen to what the Minister has to say about that. If that is the case, then I can foresee problems.
On page 3 of the commissioner's report for 2002–03, it is said that one of his main tasks is to make sure that children know about their rights and the UNCRC. We all want children to know their rights under the UNCRC, but the question is whether those rights will be observed by the children's services in Wales. Well, on page 14 of the commissioner's report, it is announced that, next year, the commissioner will be,
increasing our work on monitoring the UNCRC".However, as I said, nothing in the Bill as it stands places a duty on the children's services authorities to have any regard to the laudable principles of the convention.
The children's charities in Wales and, moreover, I believe the Assembly, believe that it is particularly important that the commission and the children's services authorities should be working to the same principle; otherwise there is the risk of fruitless confusion and some damage. If that is a fair judgment, that does not make for good government in Wales.
§ Baroness Walmsley
I add the support of these Benches to Amendment No. 185. Both of our Welsh spokesmen unfortunately are unavoidably detained 1444 elsewhere, but they have particularly asked me to pass on my support to the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay of Llandaff. Of course the Committee will have heard my comments about the importance of the UNCRC earlier in the Bill's passage. So I think that the Committee can be in no doubt about how I feel about it.
§ Baroness Andrews
The noble Baroness did great justice to her Welsh colleagues in that contribution. I shall speak briefly to Amendment No. 185 and take the other amendments briefly in turn. Noble Lords have spoken about how the Assembly in Wales has already recognised the importance of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. It has formally adopted the convention as the basis for all its work with children and young people. Indeed, it has translated the convention rights into seven core aims, which will act as a basis for setting priorities and measuring the impact of service provision.
The terms of reference of the Assembly's Cabinet Sub-Committee on Children and Young People set out its primary aim as,to oversee the implementation of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child in Wales and the Assembly Government's Seven Core Aims for Children and Young People".That is followed in the partnerships.
The Government are fully aware of the Assembly's enthusiasm to continue to reinforce its commitment to the UN convention, as expressed in the context of the amendment. We are discussing the implications with the Welsh Assembly, but, as noble Lords have already indicated, complex legal issues are involved. Those must be carefully worked through with the Welsh Assembly before we can commit to bring forward an amendment on its behalf on this issue.
I assure noble Lords that the issues are being actively considered. Many of them—for example, the practical effect on those who deliver services, which will be complicated—will be discussed, as indeed will the issues that have been raised by my noble friend in terms of the powers of the Assembly. With that assurance, I hope that the noble Baroness will feel able to withdraw the amendment.
I am also very grateful to her for short-circuiting the debate on her next amendment—Amendrnent No. 191. In order to reinforce the problems that we have with the amendment, I want to say only that prisons and secure training centres have been included in the Bill as partners under Clause 22. That is where they should be—as safeguarding partners. They do not really belong with the children's partnerships because they operate at different levels of functionality. I think that the noble Baroness will probably agree with me on that point.
However, I should also remind the Committee that the Assembly and the Youth Justice Board will shortly bring forward a youth justice strategy. That will underpin a great deal of the progressive work which is being done in Wales.
In relation to Amendment No. 194 tabled by the noble Earl, Lord Howe, again, I can assure him that youth offending teams will play an important role in promoting 1445 co-operation to improve children's well-being. They have links with the authority's relevant partners and it has always been the Assembly Government's intention that they should be involved in the arrangements for promoting co-operation. That is currently provided for in the guidance for young people's partnerships, which are part of the framework partnerships structure.
However, we shall consider further whether the clause as currently drafted is clear enough. I propose to take away the matter and return to it on Report. On that basis, I hope that the noble Earl will not press the amendment. The noble Baroness will kindly not be pressing her further amendments in this group.
§ Lord Roberts of Conwy
Before the noble Baroness sits down, I listened very carefully to what she said about Amendment No. 185. Of course, one realises that the acceptance of this amendment would have extensive implications for a number of authorities. But when the noble Baroness said that the Government were considering this matter, did she mean that she hopes to come back at a later stage and give us some favourable news about accepting the amendment?
§ Baroness Andrews
I can go no further than what I said. Discussions will continue with the Welsh Assembly in order to explore these issues. We shall certainly keep the noble Lord updated as best we can on what we see as the way forward.
§ Baroness Finlay of Llandaff
I am most grateful to the Minister for her reply. I find it very reassuring to know that active, open dialogue is taking place with the Welsh Assembly Government on the issues of the UNCRC. In the light of that, I am happy to withdraw the amendment at this stage.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Clause 20 [Co-operation to improve well-being: Wales]:
§ [Amendments Nos. 186 and 187 not moved.]
Baroness Finlay of Llandaff moved Amendment No. 188:
Page 13, line 43, at end insert—
( ) play and recreation;
§ The noble Baroness said: I am well aware that the issue of play and recreation has already been debated at length. I simply want to emphasise to the Committee that there is a play policy in Wales and a play policy implementation group. In its report, that group's first recommendation is that the Welsh Assembly Government should place a statutory duty upon local authorities to provide for children's play needs to meet national minimum standards. A document, Play in Context—"Better Wales", outlines the importance of play and recreation.
§ My other amendments in this group are probing amendments. I am well aware that, as they are currently drafted, they are not in an acceptable form to be placed on to the face of the Bill. However, through 1446 those amendments I was seeking to explore the issues of the provision of services, the duties and powers, and the consultation and co-ordination of services.
§ I am aware that we cannot make lengthy amendments to the Bill. I have also borne in mind the Minister's very reassuring statement at an earlier stage in the debate that she was giving due consideration to putting play and recreation on to the face of the Bill, and therefore I shall not speak further to the amendment. I beg to move.
§ Baroness Gale
I support this group of amendments and, in particular, the emphasis that they place on children's play. As the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay, said, the Welsh Assembly is committed to encouraging all aspects of play and it has in place a play strategy. I believe that it could be a world leader in having such a strategy. The consideration of play and recreation in children's lives is given priority by the Assembly. I believe that there are many positive things in this group of amendments, and I hope that the Minister will say that she is at least prepared to consider the matter, as it is in line with the work being carried out in Wales.
§ Baroness Byford
Before the Minister responds, I was happy not to move Amendment No. 187. We have talked at great length in this Committee about the need for play and recreation to appear in the Bill. That was my only reason for not moving the amendment. However, from these Benches, I support Amendment No. 188, which concerns an issue that we have argued for throughout the passage of the Bill. I shall not comment on the other amendments because the noble Baroness indicated that she realises that they are too lengthy. But, at this stage, we wish to support Amendment No. 188.
§ Baroness Andrews
I shall go straight to the heart of the matter. Amendments Nos. 187 and 188 would add the words "play and recreation" to the definition of "well-being" in Clause 20. We had a long debate on Clause 6. My noble friend said that we recognised that an issue might arise in this respect, but it is difficult to encompass every aspect of children's lives in detail on the face of the Bill. We are content that there may be a question of how we encompass play and recreation with the notion of economic and social well-being. We shall consider that matter before Report, and it will apply to the Welsh provisions as well.
In relation to Amendments Nos. 197, 209 and 228, the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay, and my noble friend Lady Gale paid tribute to the priority that Wales has given to play in terms of children and young people in its emerging strategies. It is to be congratulated on both those matters.
Admirable though the intention of the amendment is, I do not think that the noble Baroness will be surprised to hear me say that both the local authorities and the Assembly are fully committed and fully competent. The issue of competence is contained, for example, in Section 19 of the Local Government (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 1976, which encompasses play needs within children's provision. That power is supplemented 1447 by the Local Government Act 2000, which, under Section 2, gives power to local authorities to do anything that is likely to achieve the promotion of economic, social or environmental well-being and provides the financial capacity to do that.
That Act creates that very wide discretion based on the assumption that a local authority will know the needs of its inhabitants and how they can best be met. From my own experience in Wales, I do not think that the idea that the Assembly should be able to direct those authorities would sit very happily with local authorities. It would also imply that the Assembly knows children's needs better than local authorities. Given what the Assembly is doing, the existing powers and the fact that the Assembly can specify authority in statutory guidance that will be issued, I would suggest that the play situation in Wales is extremely healthy and likely to get better. I am grateful to those who have spoken and I hope I have reassured them.
§ Lord Roberts of Conwy
In view of the latest Select Committee report on obesity among children, does the Minister not agree that the importance of play and recreation is likely to be heavily emphasised and to affect government policy?
§ Baroness Andrews
I could not agree more with the noble Lord. It is interesting that in the Welsh play policy, play, leisure and enrichment make up one of the six themes of the Cymorth grant scheme, which has made available over £42 million in the current year. The Assembly has made open access to play a requirement for all the integrated centres for children supported by lottery funding in Wales. We have a very fine tradition of sport in Wales. The more we can put into investment in these areas, the more we will save in the long term in the health costs of heart disease, cancer and early mortality, and we would all want to see that.
§ Baroness Finlay of Llandaff
I am grateful to the Minister for her reply. It is evident from the replies we have had that the Front Bench are well aware of the importance of play and recreation. I hope that those outside this House are as aware as the Minister demonstrated herself to be. It is important to flag that up at this stage. I shall withdraw the amendment, but I am sure that we need to pursue this issue.
To emphasise that primary legislation can have a huge impact, there is a parallel with youth work in Wales, the gradual erosion of which was reversed by making it mandatory in the Learning and Skills Act. The benefits have been huge. We really do have the opportunity to make an enormous difference and to turn around thinking towards this important developmental aspect of children's lives.
§ Baroness Andrews
I think that much of that will be achieved by putting the children's partnerships on a statutory basis.
§ Lord Prys-Davies
I am sure that the Minister will be mindful of the significance of sport and recreation in 1448 the history of the mining valleys of south Wales. There is hardly a mining village in south Wales without a recreation ground. So we would be building on a very fine tradition established by the mining community.
§ Baroness Finlay of Llandaff
This has been an important and interesting debate. In the light of that, at this stage I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ [Amendment Nos. 189 to 196 not moved.]
§ Clause 20 agreed to.
§ [Amendment No. 197 not moved]
§ Clause 21 [Responsibilitylarfunctions under section 20]
§ [Amendment No. 198 not moved.]
§ Clause 21 agreed to.
§ Clause 22 [Arrangements to safeguard and promote welfare: Wales]:
§ [Amendments Nos. 199 to 208 not moved.]
§ Clause 22 agreed to.
§ [Amendment No. 209 not moved.]
§ Clause 23 [Information sharing: Wales]:
§ [Amendments Nos. 210 to 221A not moved.]
§ Clause 23 agreed to.
§ Clause 24 [Establishment of LSCBs in Wales]:
§ [Amendments Nos. 222 to 227 not moved.]
§ Clause 24 agreed to.
§ [Amendment No. 228 not moved]
§ Clause 25 [Functions and procedure of LSCBs in Wales]:
§ [Amendments Nos. 229 to 231 not moved]
§ Clause 25 agreed to.
§ Clause 26 [Funding of LSCBs in Wales]:
§ [Amendments Nos. 232 to 234 not moved]
§ Clause 26 agreed to.
§ Clause 27 agreed to.
§ [Amendment No. 235 not moved.]
§ Clause 28 agreed to.
§ Clause 29 [Ancillary powers of the Assembly]
Earl Howe moved Amendment No. 236:
Page 20, line 2, at end insert—
( ) The Assembly shall make arrangements to ensure that, as far as is reasonably possible, there is consistency between the exercise of its functions under section 28 and the exercise of equivalent functions in England.
§ The noble Earl said: The Bill confers on the Welsh Assembly the functions carried out by CAFCASS in relation to children who are ordinarily resident in Wales. I have no problem with that idea. Indeed, provided that the resources are there, I believe the change has the potential to benefit children and their families who need to access services. However, two things are clearly desirable.
§ The first is that there should be a consistently high quality of representation for children across England and Wales. This should include the preservation of the 1449 tandem model of representation for the child in public law children cases, which has evolved to meet the very specific needs of child protection work.
§ The second thing to be desired is that there should be a smooth transition from CAFCASS to the new service in Wales. The expectation is that there will be an agreed reallocation of existing cases between CAFCASS officers and Welsh family proceedings officers. What we surely cannot have, as the functions are transferred across, is any discontinuity of representation for children. That would lead to highly unwelcome delay. Continuity should be at the forefront of everyone's mind.
§ I should be grateful if the Minister could comment on those cases with a cross-border element. For example, applications relating to a child living in Wales may be made in a court in England and dealt with by that court. Additionally, children of the same family, who are the subject of Children Act proceedings, may live on different sides of the border. How are those sorts of cases to be handled? I beg to move.
§ Baroness Pitkeathley
I rise to express the support of CAFCASS for the Government's proposals, and declare an interest as its chair. I am very pleased to say that CAFCASS is an organisation growing in competence and I hope in reputation. We now have a skilled and experienced board; a committed and dedicated workforce and arc ready to play a significant part in the development of the wider children's agenda, which the Bill represents.
As regards devolvement to the Assembly, we are entirely supportive and will work with Ministers and officials to ensure the smoothest possible transition and above all, as the noble Earl, Lord Howe, reminded us, to ensure that comparable quality standards exist between Wales and England and that they continue to be assured.
I support the amendment but put forward a couple of notes of caution. CAFCASS has bitter experience of being set up too quickly and with an inadequate budget. I urge Ministers here and in Wales to ensure that that does not happen again. With an issue as important as this, it is just as important to be right as it is to be swift.
We should agree the timetable and the process as soon as practicable. We owe that to our dedicated CAFCASS staff in Wales, who have worked so hard and successfully to eliminate delays in the system. Above all, we owe it to the vulnerable children and their families.
§ Baroness Andrews
I am very grateful to the noble Earl for giving us an opportunity to talk briefly about CAFCASS in Wales and how it will operate. I take the opportunity to thank my noble friend Lady Pitkeathley not only for her remarks and the reassurance that can come only from someone with her experience, but also for the enormous contribution she is making to CAFCASS and to this particular process. It could have no finer champion in improving and developing the service. We are all well aware of the effort she is making.
1450 Perhaps I may address the issues raised by the noble Earl, Lord Howe. The Assembly is extremely aware of the need for continuity. This is a probing amendment, but if it had not been so, we would not have accepted it as we believe that the procedures and processes in place are working very well. I say that not least because CAFCASS in Wales will operate under exactly the same framework of primary legislation and court rules. The responsibilities that the Assembly will take on for the functions in Wales are exactly the same as those of CAFCASS in England.
On the very important cross-border issues raised by the noble Earl, the situation will be exactly the same. CAFCASS in Wales will work with the service in Wales and the service in England. For a child ordinarily resident in England and taken on by the Welsh service, it will ensure that arrangements for co-ordination and continuity are worked through with the professionals on the ground to ensure that in the court proceedings that child is not left in limbo with a family and somehow gets mislaid or that anything discontinuous happens. That will just continue as it is at the moment.
The operational protocols to deal with this on a case-by-case basis are strong because they have been well worked out and because, as the noble Baroness, Lady Pitkeathley, said, this transfer of responsibility to Wales has been enthusiastically welcomed by both sides on the basis of very good working practices in the past.
Of course, a lot of detail is still to be worked out in terms of process before the transfer can be completed, and the timetable is not yet fixed. It is precisely those sorts of discussions that will feed into both the formal and the informal arrangements that will be made for future contact between the Welsh and the English parts of the service.
On resources, once there is agreement on the principles of the transfer—and as soon as the moneys are transferred—funding CAFCASS in Wales will become a statutory responsibility on the Assembly. It will have to fund the service properly in the way that it funds all other services for which it has responsibility. We believe that the evidence suggests that the imposition of the duty in Amendment No. 236 will not therefore be necessary to achieve the outcome.
Furthermore, the service will be underpinned not only by the framework but also by the same values, principles and professional ethics that have determined it so far. Its shared memory and history will be transferred and it will comprise the same staff. The existing workforce will transfer to the Assembly. They will continue to offer the same service. The importance of that smooth transition will be guaranteed in part by the application of TUPE principles. Of course it is up to those who will make those arrangements to decide whether it becomes an executive agency or a division of the Assembly. There is a model for that in the Care Standards Inspectorate, which has the same relationship with the Assembly that this new body will have.
The body will be fully accountable. Indeed, there will be strenuous efforts to maintain and protect independence similar to those established by the Care 1451 Standards Inspectorate. CAFCASS in Wales will have its own identity and accommodation and will operate with freedom from ministerial intervention in its day-to-day functions.
These discussions started many months ago. Given the way in which the decision was initiated, developed and embraced by all the parties involved, I believe that a very sensible approach has been taken, and with a consistency that we all want to see. We take the point in terms of CAFCASS's own history. We are sure that the consistency will be achieved. We would be reluctant to see the Assembly's new-found freedom to develop and adapt constrained by a requirement, no matter how qualified or how benign, to ensure consistency with England. I hope that with those assurances the noble Earl will feel able to withdraw his amendment.
§ 12.15 p.m.
§ Earl Howe
The amendment was intended as a probing amendment. I had not intended to press it in any way, shape or form, but it has been useful to have this short debate and in particular to have the Minister's comments and reassurances on how this important transfer will be managed.
I mentioned the issue of resources somewhat in passing. That is an important point. The noble Baroness, Lady Pitkeathley, referred to it. I very much welcomed her comments and, indeed, her words of warning that it is as important to be right on this as it is to be swift. I think that everyone has taken that point on board. I hope that the service has been fully budgeted for in Wales. That appears to be the case. If one can take that as read, I should like to reiterate my support for this change and I wish the new service in Wales every success. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Clause 29 agreed to.
§ Clauses 30 to 33 agreed to.
§ Schedule 3 agreed to.
§ Clauses 34 and 35 agreed to.
§ Clause 36 [Amendments to notification scheme]:
Baroness Barker moved Amendment No. 236A:
Page 23, line 15, at end insert—
( ) After subsection (1) insert—
- "(1A) It shall be the duty of every local authority to keep a register of individuals in their area suitable to act as private foster parents for children under the age of eleven.
- (1B) A local authority may refuse to register an applicant for registration under subsection (1A) if it is satisfied that the applicant, or any person living in the applicant's household, is not la to be in the proximity of children under the age of eleven.""
§ The noble Baroness said: Yesterday a Member on the Government Front Bench reminded us that it is five years since those of us in what I suppose one would call "the class of '99" entered your Lordships' House. As we come to these amendments, I have to say that for the first time I have stopped feeling like a new girl and feel rather like a veteran. Those of us—for example, the noble Earl, Lord Howe—who spent many happy hours working on the Adoption and 1452 Children Act—a very fine piece of legislation I was proud to be part of—will be familiar with the arguments that I am about to put.
§ One flaw with the Adoption and Children Act is that we did not resolve the long-standing problem of private fostering. There is no need to set out again in great detail all the background to the matter, but I would briefly say that currently there is no registration scheme for children who are privately fostered. There is a requirement that local authorities should be notified of a private fostering arrangement. It is a piece of legislation that is widely ignored and unenforced.
§ Consequently, it is not possible to know how many children are in private fostering arrangements in this country. But work by people such as Sir William Utting in 1997 in his report People Like Us, and Terry Philpot in his work for BAAF, estimate that there are about 8,000 to 10,000 children in private fostering arrangements.
§ We know that many of those arrangements work very well. Equally, we know tragically that some do not. Both Victoria Climbié and Toni-Ann Byfield were privately fostered children and in situations which were inadequate and ultimately dangerous. Consequently, they were not picked up by any authority. In 2001–02 the Department of Health issued a leaflet and guidance to professionals about private fostering. It was a limited campaign. But, so far, the department has resisted repeated calls for a system of registration and inspection.
§ We have believed for a long time that a registration scheme would be beneficial and effective. Many of the arguments deployed dutifully by the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, back in 2002 against such a proposal were based on the Government's belief that registration of childminding would not work. In fact, registration of childminding has turned out to be an enormous success. It is a success for childminders themselves, who have been able not only to raise their standards of care but to prove that they have done so. It has been of enormous benefit to parents, who know that childminders with whom they leave their children are safe.
§ There is no reason to believe that the same would not be true for private fostering. Furthermore, were people to be registered under the scheme proposed in the amendment, they could be registered not simply to foster a particular child, but to foster a number of children. There could be lists of private fosterers. That would be of enormous benefit to parents who for good reason need to have their children looked after by other individuals.
§ In the amendment, we have also dealt with one of the powerful arguments that the noble Lord. Lord Hunt, whom I am glad to see in his place, made during discussion of the Adoption and Children Act 2002. There was concern that older children—for example, children at language schools and so on—would be caught within too wide a net. It also deals effectively with the other matter that has been raised against the proposal, which is that of teenagers—I understand that the current term is sofa kids—who for one reason or another are not getting on with their family and go to live with another relative for a while.1453
§ Those Members of the Committee who have been out canvassing recently—with elections coming up, I am sure that many have—will be familiar with that situation. Often you go to a house and someone says, "He is not here. He is at his nan's. He is living with his nan at the moment". We do not want to intrude into such relationships and private arrangements, but it is essential that there is a system whereby the suitability and safety of such arrangements can be checked for the safety of those children.
§ Amendment No. 236B deals with the fact that the Government's proposal in the Bill is somewhat limited and reactive. I will discuss some of its defects when we reach another group of amendments. From what little we know about private fostering, we know that many children who come to this country to be privately fostered come from particular communities abroad. They come principally from west Africa, the Caribbean and China. They come not because their parents are feckless or shirking their responsibility; they come because in those communities there is a good tradition that when a person for some reason or another has difficulty in dealing with that child, the child becomes the responsibility of the wider community. Problems have occurred when that system comes into contact with our system of child care, which is completely different. The cases of Victoria Climbié and Toni-Ann Byfield show exactly the sort of problems that can occur.
§ The intent behind Amendment No. 236B is to be proactive in those communities abroad through the offices of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office to alert people in those countries to the system over here, so that they can make a more informed decision about the care of their children. That is a proactive measure to safeguard children.
§ Finally, Amendment No. 237A is an attempt to remedy something that is clearly wrong with the current system: there are no teeth, there is no power behind the legislation, so it is largely ignored. The offence makes the proposal complete.
§ I suspect that the Minister may well return to the famous word used by the noble Lord, Lord Hunt—balance—and question whether the proposal sufficiently balances the requirement not to be intrusive into private family life while safeguarding children. We believe that it does and that it will protect children. I beg to move.
§ Earl Howe
I have added my name to Amendments Nos. 236A and 237A and endorse everything that the noble Baroness said in support of them. It is to the Government's credit that they have included in the Bill a more sweeping set of reforms by way of a long-stop for the measures set out in Clause 36. In doing so, they are being open about the possibility that the Clause 36 reforms may not work, but that admission is also rather revealing. Therefore, the first thing that we would like to hear from the Minister is why she thinks that the Clause 36 proposals are worth trying. In that connection, can the Minister tell us the result of the private fostering review announced in January 2002 by Jacqui Smith? I am not sure whether that has been published; if it has, I have not read it.
1454 A duty for each local authority to raise awareness, as proposed by the Bill, is unlikely to result in anything except respectable, middle-class people coming forward to notify themselves as private fosterers. Such private fostering arrangements do not usually give rise to concern. As the noble Baroness said, concerns relate mainly to children such as Victoria Climbié who have been brought into the UK covertly from west Africa and other parts of the world, children who are trafficked as domestic workers and, worryingly, language school students.
That type of fostering takes place unseen and unnoticed. It can be extremely difficult to identify and access such people. It is not straightforward to raise awareness among them. They are unlikely to raise their heads above the parapet if they have entered this country illegally but, as Sir William Utting emphasised in 1997, it is exactly those groups of children who are most open to abuse. It would be helpful to hear from the Minister how the Government intend to tackle the task of raising awareness in that context.
I recognise the drawbacks of a registration system and why the Government may hesitate before introducing one. It would inevitably be bureaucratic. It could well be seen as intrusive on basic freedoms and the privacy of families, but there are a number of advantages in going for a registration system straightaway. The main advantage would be that both parents would have complete confidence that, by choosing registered private fosterers, they were entrusting their child to people who have gained an official seal of approval. That is terribly important.
All things being equal, once such a private fostering arrangement is up and running, there should be little need for a local authority to intervene further as regards that family, other than by offering support where it is needed. Social services could then target their efforts where they are most required, rather than trying to track down illicit private fosterers.
There is an argument that by creating a compulsory registration system we will simply drive unsuitable private fostering arrangements underground. I know that Ministers have had that concern in the past. But the unsuitable private fostering arrangements are already underground. Unless a person takes the initiative and notifies himself as a private fosterer, there is no possibility of checking to see whether he has committed an offence against a child or is otherwise unsuitable. It seems very difficult to justify the half-hearted approach taken in the Bill towards regulating private foster carers, when the legal requirements regulating childminding, a far less onerous responsibility, are so much tougher.
The recent report by the Social Care Institute of Excellence (SCIE) found that childminding registration had succeeded in improving standards. The issue of standards is very important but it does not seem to feature in the enhanced notification system that the Government now propose, unless I have missed something—I probably have; the Minister is indicating to me.
1455 It was interesting to be reminded of the report published in 1997 by the African Family Advisory Service, which noted that most carers were of middle age, some in their 70s; many lived in poor and overcrowded conditions; others had had their own children taken into care; and, in many cases, the payments received for private fostering were essential components of the family income, which casts a question mark over their motivation in taking in privately fostered children. The report also commented that, in the opinion of professionals, many private foster carers offered an inadequate service. The SCIE noted that some private foster carers are either former local authority foster carers or people who have been turned down as local authority foster carers. Many of them have consciously chosen to opt for the autonomy and lack of state involvement in their arrangements. That tells a story in itself.
The most vulnerable children are those under the age of 11. That is where a registration scheme is most needed. With older children, the arguments for compulsory registration with penalties for a breach of the law are perhaps less compelling, and the amendments recognise that.
Amendment No. 236AA is included in this group. Clause 36(6) provides for an officer to be appointed to monitor the local authority's discharge of its private fostering duties. We need to go wider than that. The amendment would make the private fostering officer responsible for co-ordinating the supervision and support of children and their private foster carers; in other words, the delivery of the entire service. In that way private fostering would have a higher profile within local authorities than would appear to be allowed for, or encouraged, in the Bill.
§ Baroness Howe of Idlicote
I support the noble Baroness's amendment. Little more need he said, because the issue was so adequately covered by the noble Baroness and the noble Earl, Lord Howe. Just raising awareness does not go far enough; there is a clear need to have a register for private fostering. It is interesting that the Fostering Network believes that all the responsible existing private foster carers would welcome such a move. The point about childminders has been made, so I shall leave it there.
One does not want too much intrusion into foster families, but we want help to be available when it is required. That gives access both ways. I very much hope that the Minister will be able to accept the amendments.
§ Lord Hylton
I welcome this group of amendments, not so much because they may help to prevent a handful of extreme cases, leading to death, for example, as has been quoted, but rather because they should enable progress to be made on the murky area of smuggling or trafficking children into this country for undesirable purposes of exploitation. The noble Earl, Lord Howe, referred to that.
The resource implications may be quite high in the Government's mind. Will having a cut-off point at age 11, as suggested in Amendment No. 236, help to reduce the 1456 cost of introducing a registration system? Will it also eliminate the need to deal with language schools, which have also been mentioned?
I welcome Amendment No. 237A, which gives teeth and enforcement to the process.
§ Baroness Finlay of Llandaff
I support the amendments, but I question the cut-off at age 11. I am concerned that some very vulnerable children over the age of 11 may, for one reason or another, find themselves in fostering. We could risk creating a two-tier system. My inclination would be to be completely inclusive. If we are really looking at what would be right for children, we must ensure that none is potentially in a position of being exploited or abused in any way.
§ Baroness Ashton of Upholland
This has been an important debate, and I have agreed with much of what Members of the Committee have said. Unlike the noble Baroness, Lady Barker, I am not a veteran of these debates; nor have I had the privilege of hearing my noble friend Lord Hunt on the issues, so I come at them with a fresh eye. That may mean that I reiterate in part what has been said, but I assure the noble Baroness that I have not had the benefit of any briefing on what was said before; therefore my response should be fresh from that perspective. The noble Baroness and other Members of the Committee have laid out the issues and concerns very well, so I shall not repeat them.
Victoria Climbié was privately fostered, but her great-aunt passed herself off as her mother. In that sense, the provision would not have concerned her, as there had been deception, which would have continued. I have asked about Toni-Ann Byfield. We are fairly certain that she was not privately fostered at the time of her death, but I am checking that. In no way is that intended to take away from the importance of the issue, but when referring to high-profile cases, in particular, it is important to check such matters.
I am conscious that, in speaking to the amendments, I am also speaking to the Question on whether the clause shall stand part, because Members of the Committee have quite rightly raised the wider issues, shall try to be brief and succinct in my remarks.
I, too, am grateful for the Social Care Institute for Excellence report, which has been a critical document, not least in showing that we have developed minimum national standards, which are being consulted on. That is probably why the noble Earl will not be as familiar with them. They are currently being worked out. They are a critical part of ensuring that we see movement in this field. That relates directly to the work of childminders—an area for which, as the noble Baroness, Lady Barker, knows, I have had responsibility for the past two years, although no longer—and in ensuring that the same quality issues that have applied for childminders apply through the national minimum standards.
We are very mindful of what the report said about registration and the importance of recognising the impact that registration might have on different groups of 1457 children. I know that that is why the amendment focuses on younger children. In a nutshell, the Government's position is that, if we are to have a registration system, it should be for all privately fostered children up to age 16. That is specifically because, as well as younger children, a very vulnerable group, we are concerned about young people in language schools, a very large group, and about "sofa surfers", the term used to describe teenagers who move between different people. We are concerned to make sure that we have one system, whether that be stronger notification or a registration scheme. It should be consistent for all groups of children.
Therefore, I say to the noble Lord, Lord Hylton, that I do not know whether there will be cost differentials. It may be that the noble Baroness, Lady Barker, has costings for the difference. That would not necessarily be something that the noble Baroness would have done, rightly. If we have a scheme, it should be a complete scheme. Frankly, I would not want to cost whether there would be a difference. I suspect that the difference would be slight, because the setting up of the scheme would be significant.
The noble Baroness pointed me to the question of balance. This is much more about looking at what has happened and trying to see how best to take the issue forward. I will give one example that I have been looking at and I am interested in. Gloucestershire has done work on the notification scheme, and it has had a huge and dramatic impact on the number of people who have come forward to notify about private fostering arrangements. We have been keen to look at how best we can make sure that people tell us about arrangements, so that we can offer the right kind of support and ensure that children are safe. If people do not tell us, or do not register, it is incredibly difficult to ensure that children are well-supported.
To begin with—which is why we have laid out the legislation in the way that we have—we should put the onus on local authorities to go and discover and ensure that people come forward to notify, based on the examples of good practice. As I said, Gloucestershire is a good case in point, where the number of notifications rose from six to 50 in two and a half years, because they had an officer who went out, who was responsible, who got to know the communities, talked to people, and made sure that they came forward.
It is worth looking at and trying out the notification scheme to see if it does what we are all seeking to achieve, rather than putting the onus on the family—when many of these arrangements work well and are informally set up—that they must come forward to register. In the light of what is said in the report, and what noble Lords have said, there are issues and difficulties that might arise. As we recognise the importance of the issue, we have given ourselves a clear timetable in the legislation. If it is clear that that approach does not work, we will introduce a registration scheme.
We are not shying away from a registration scheme; we are not saying that it should not happen. We are saying that when you look at the reports that we have seen—and the Department of Health, which was an 1458 internal report, fed into the report by the Social Care Institute for Excellence, and had similar conclusions—there are big advantages in looking to a registration scheme, but there are also disadvantages. It is important that we test out whether putting the responsibility firmly on local authorities to develop the notification system would enable us to do the job that noble Lords want us to do for all children, including the groups that would not be covered. That is the route that we have chosen, but with a clear indication that if it does not work—and we want that timetable to be firm—we would bring forward a registration scheme.
We sympathise entirely with what the noble Earl is trying to do in Amendment No. 236AA. We have the power by regulations to require local authorities to monitor the way in which they discharge all their duties, including promoting the welfare of privately fostered children, and in particular, as the noble Earl said, to appoint an officer for that purpose. That is covered in regulations, but if the noble Earl has further concerns I am happy to write to him. We have covered that in the monitoring provisions for Clause 36 and the regulations that would follow.
For privately fostered children under the age of 11, my concern is that if we were to go down the route of a private fostering scheme, we should have it for all children and young people that we are concerned about, and not simply for that age group, though I understand entirely the reasons why that has been put forward. We want to see how the notification scheme works out first, on the basis of a greatly enhanced scheme that will ensure that we develop those links appropriately. Ultimately, we do not think that people who are not notifying now would be more likely to comply with something that they saw as a more onerous and bureaucratic scheme, but we will move in that direction if we find that we are unable to achieve what we want to do for the children that I have described.
I also need to speak to Amendment No. 237, which stands in my name. It is a minor and technical amendment. In order to ensure that the new functions are passed on to the Assembly, specific reference to the Transfer of Functions Order is made in Clause 36. Amendment No. 237 would make it clear that all those Secretary of State functions found in the amended Section 67 of the Children Act are Assembly functions in Wales. This is a small, but necessary technical amendment.
In summary, it is important to have local authorities actively looking to get proper notification, dealing with minimum standards, which are out for consultation, to assess that scheme as quickly as we can to see if it does what we hope it will do. If we were to go for a registration scheme, it should be for all children who are vulnerable, because of the groups that we have indicated. We have concerns about a registration scheme as it would stand at the moment, in terms of whether it would do what we want it to do. If we were not to be successful in our notification scheme, we have taken the power to move as 1459 quickly as we can to a registration scheme. On that basis, I hope that noble Lords will feel able to withdraw their amendments.
§ Baroness Barker
I thank all noble Lords who have taken part in this important debate. If one goes way back in history—way back to the 1920s—to the history of legislation covering issues such as adoption, fostering and child migration, one finds that the record of Parliament is not good. In fact, in some cases it is pretty shameful. History is littered with promises of regulations and actions to cover and safeguard children in this country and abroad that were never kept. There is a fair amount of cynicism from people who have read that history about the extent to which the good intentions of people—which I am not calling into doubt—that children will ultimately be looked at, will come true. That is part of the motivation for this. I accept the technicalities about the cases of Victoria Climbié and Toni-Ann Byfield. They are evidence that the system is not working and is not right, and that makes the case for improving the system.
I accept what the Minister said about what Gloucestershire has done, but one single approach in one local authority is not something on which you can base legislation. It would be preferable to look at other local authorities and see whether a registration scheme worked in them. I do not take what the noble Baroness said about the onus being on local authorities rather than on families. We are dealing with complex family situations, and until such time as there is widespread cultural understanding—I do not mean culture within countries, I mean across communities—and there is widespread public understanding of the need to do this, it will never work. It has worked with childminding. There has been a cultural change in relation to childminding. I do not see why these children should be left to be more vulnerable than others. On the whole, I am pretty disappointed with the Minister's response.
I do not want to delay us much longer, but the Minister did not address my Amendment No. 236B about raising awareness in other countries. That is one proactive way in which we could begin to deal with many of these problems. I take the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Hylton, about the need to deal as far as we can with the terrible problems of child trafficking. It was refreshing to hear what the Minister said about going up to the age of 16, because the last time I argued this case, the Minister said. "well, if we go to 16 we will have to include all these other children such as children at language schools, and we do not want to do that".
I congratulate the Minister on taking a different stand during her stint at the crease, but she will understand why we decided to try a different tactic. We got the same result.
§ Baroness Ashton of Upholland
I apologise for not answering the question. As I sat down, I realised that I had not dealt with the point. I was merging my notes.
We will examine the matter carefully and consider further what we might do about awareness overseas of private fostering law in this country. It is a valid point, and we will he in discussion with the Immigration 1460 Service and others about how we might do that. I hope that that answers the question. I am delighted that, at least, I have approached it from a different viewpoint; therefore, it is my view.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ [Amendments Nos. 236AA and 236B not moved.]
Baroness Ashton of Upholland moved Amendment No. 237:
Page 23, line 35, at end insert—
( ) The reference to that Act in Schedule 1 to the National Assembly for Wales (Transfer of Functions) Order 1999 (S.I. 1999/ 672) is to be treated as referring to that Act as amended by this section.", amendment agreed to.
§ On Question, amendment agreed to.
§ [Amendment No. 237A not moved.]
§ On Question, Whether Clause 36, as amended, shall stand part of the Bill?
§ Earl Howe
We have debated the content of Clause 36, but we need also to look at it in the context of what comes after. The Government have proposed that, if regulations under Clauses 37 and 38 have not been made within four years of the Bill passing into law, those clauses will cease to have legal effect.
I like sunset clauses, but I am dismayed by this one. For a start, why is it four years? Do the Government really believe that they will be able to reach a rounded view within that period about the success or failure of the enhanced notification scheme? I seriously question that assumption. Even more do I question it when we bear it in mind that we have as yet no clue about when Clause 36 will be brought into force. It could be some long time after Royal Assent, which would mean that the enhanced notification scheme might be up and running for much less than four years. Why say that we are going to close off the alternative option after such a short time? There is nothing in Clause 37 or Clause 38 to indicate what event would trigger a decision by the Government to exercise the powers contained in them. It is entirely discretionary for Ministers. The only certainty in Clause 39 is that the two prior clauses will expire after four years from Royal Assent. That does not seem to make sense.
We need to hear from the Minister why Clause 39 is framed as it is; why the Government think that four years from Royal Assent is enough time in which to test the success or otherwise of the enhanced notification scheme; and what actions they propose to take to ensure that they are in a position either to adopt or to jettison Clauses 37 and 38 with confidence that they are doing the right thing.
§ Baroness Barker
It may be out of order for me to speak to it now, but our amendment, Amendment No. 237C, contains another arbitrary figure—six years—simply to enable us to do what the noble Earl has done, which is to challenge the Government's reluctance. They seem rather half-hearted about the 1461 matter. As I said, that happens a lot with legislation on this subject, and those who see the consequences of it worry about it.
§ Baroness Ashton of Upholland
I suggest to the noble Baroness and the noble Earl that we look at it as an entirely equal and opposite view. We put in a sunset clause to force us to make as quickly as possible the decision about whether the enhanced notification system is working.
My right honourable friend the Minister of State for Children, Young People and Families and my right honourable friend the Secretary of State are keen that we should not hang about and let the scheme drift on and on. As I am trying to say, we were looking to see how best we could address the problem. We have some reservations about moving directly to a registration scheme, but we accept the need to do something in the area and do it properly.
We have considered what some local authorities have achieved and thought, "That's very interesting. It might be the way to approach it". However, we do not want to hang around for years and years without doing something. The four-year period is specifically designed to make us examine the schemes, get them up and running, assess them and then determine, quite quickly, whether they are working. We think that we will know quickly whether they are working. That is the opposite of wanting a clause that we can ignore and do nothing about, so that it all fades away.
With regard to Amendment No. 237C, we thought that the six-year period would give us too much time. We should want to get on with it, get the scheme in place, see whether it works and, if it does not, bring in a registration scheme. That is our commitment with regard to the concern felt by noble Lords and by organisations outside that we should move ahead on the issue.
The noble Earl asked in particular about the criteria. Critically, they include an increase in the number of notifications. We shall look to see whether local authorities have managed to raise local awareness. We shall carry out an annual data collection exercise on notification rates, which we have introduced from April 2004. We will consider the new duties on local authorities to comply with the Children Act and the associated regulations, partly through inspection. We will decide whether we believe, having examined what has happened with notification and having got the evidence from organisations that are deeply involved in the field, that we are moving in the right direction.
It is for those reasons that the clause is drafted as it is. It will keep us focused and require us to do something at speed. It is not, as the opposite view would have it, because it is something that we want to get out of. We think that we cannot wait any longer than specified. If the system works, that will be fantastic; if it does not, we will need a registration scheme.
§ Earl Howe
It is helpful to hear from the Minister that the four-year period is intended as a driver for ministerial 1462 action. That assurance is welcome. At the same time, nothing in the Bill obliges Ministers to take a conscious decision to introduce the provisions of Clauses 37 and 38. If one took the Bill at face value, Ministers could just wait for four years and the provisions would expire.
Taking up the Minister's theme, I would like to see in the Bill some process that would oblige the Government to report to Parliament towards the expiry of the four-year period and tell us what conclusions they have reached. In that way, there would be a process that they would be obliged to follow. Otherwise, the whole thing is left open and could run into the sand. I am encouraged and discouraged at the same time by what we find here.
§ Baroness Finlay of Llandaff
Does the noble Earl recognise that, for the Assembly, it works the other way round. It has a power, but, if it does not use it to do something, it will lose it. As the Minister said, it is a powerful driver for making sure that things happen.
§ Baroness Ashton of Upholland
I shall endeavour to address the point about a mechanism. I am never sure whether it is most appropriate to put such things into a Bill, but I shall write to the noble Earl and the noble Baroness about how we might address the point about keeping Parliament up to speed. I hope that the Committee accepts that we are trying to move the situation forward in good faith.
§ Clause 36, as amended, agreed to.
§ Clause 37 [Power to establish registration scheme in England]:
Baroness Barker moved Amendment No. 237B:
Page 25, line 23, leave out ", without reasonable excuse,
§ The noble Baroness said: This is a probing amendment. It is an attempt to deal with the issue of the guidance that will be given to local authorities for inspecting private fostering arrangements. We have already spoken at some length I—shall not do it again—about the myriad of informal arrangements, family arrangements and so on that could be considered to be private fostering arrangements. As regards someone privately fostering, it is legitimate to ask the Minister what sort of things "without reasonable excuse" would be deemed to cover, so that we have some basis on which local authorities can carry out such duties as they have under this clause. I beg to move.
§ 1 p.m.
§ Baroness Ashton of Upholland
I think that this will answer the noble Baroness's question, but probably not as fully as I would like. Clearly, she is very interested in the broader issues of what one would be looking for in private fostering. We are clear that we would not accept the amendment because we think that there might be appropriate circumstances. I queried that and asked what the circumstances might be. There might be a classic emergency situation: for example, a child's parents returning from abroad might be delayed. They would not be able to look after the child and the carer would be asked to continue to care for the child.
1463 We are nervous about having no exceptions. There are circumstances, which are very much about family relationships, in which it is always important to ensure that people feel confident and therefore we do not have a blanket policy that there is never any excuse. We think that there probably will be an excuse, which may be rare but will certainly occur from time to time. The obvious situation is an emergency, when parents ask a carer to look after a child. That takes us into the world of people thinking about whether they need to register, to notify or whatever. That is when it might not happen.
Because we do not want to prescribe to that extent and because we think that it is right not to have everything ruled out, we would not want to accept the amendment. I think that the noble Baroness, Lady Barker, is also interested in looking at the other side of that coin in order to determine the circumstances. I suggest that I write to the noble Baroness between now and Report stage and lay those circumstances out properly, with a copy placed in the Library, so that the noble Baroness would be able to look at it more fully.
§ Baroness Barker
I thank the noble Baroness for that helpful answer. She will understand that given the somewhat negative architecture of the clause, as we discussed on the previous amendment, it could be read to be yet another watering down of any scheme. I understand what she said and the reality of emergency situations. That is enormously helpful. I therefore beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Clause 37 agreed to.
§ Clause 38 agreed to.
§ Clause 39 [Expiry of powers in sections 37 and 38]:
§ [Amendment No. 237C not moved.]
§ Clause 39 agreed to.
§ Clause 40 agreed to.
§ Schedule 4 [Child minding and day care]:
Baroness Walmsley moved Amendment No. 237D:
Page 39, line 18, at end insert—
After section 71 insert—
"71A Funding of day care services for children in women's refuges
The Secretary of State may make grants to refuge organisations under section 71 for the purpose of providing appropriate day care services for children in need (as defined by section 17(10)) and to enable them to meet the national standards for under 8s day care, and any payments will be subject to such conditions as he considers appropriate.—
§ The noble Baroness said: There is a crisis facing children's services in refuges. Refuge organisations in England provide accommodation for about 23,500 children every year and support services for a great many more than that—about 110,000 children. Usually, they offer a wide range of services, including play sessions, outings, one-to-one support, and, crucially, advocacy and aftercare. That is the only widespread dedicated source of support for children who have experienced domestic violence. Despite that, 1464 that, children's services in refuges were not even mentioned in the consultation papers, Safety and Justice and Every Child Matters.
§ Recent government initiatives have effectively reduced vital support services for children who have experienced domestic violence. Children's services in refuges are starved of funds because the funding provided through the Supporting People funding regime is not intended for children, despite the fact that children make up two-thirds of the refuge population. In addition, the national standards for under-eights' day care have set staffing ratios and minimum space standards that many refuge organisations cannot afford to meet. Some refuge organisations now have had to limit play sessions to fewer than two hours a day in order to comply with the standards.
§ Refuge organisations want to raise the standard of the services that they provide for children. They have welcomed the introduction of the national standards for under-eights' day care. However, many refuge organisations simply do not have enough funding to meet the staffing ratios or to enlarge their playrooms in order to meet the standards.
§ In March 2002, a Women's Aid survey of 130 refuge organisations in England found that only 58 per cent could meet the national standards requirements with regard to staffing ratios; 42 per cent could not meet the minimum space standards. The Government recently acknowledged that nearly three-quarters of children on the at-risk register live in households where domestic violence occurs. The paper, Working Together to Safeguard Children, states that it will often be appropriate for children who have experienced domestic violence to be considered as children in need under the Children Act 1989.
§ However, the need to provide appropriate support and protection for children who have experienced domestic violence is not currently addressed in the Domestic Violence, Crime and Victims Bill, which has already gone through your Lordships' House and is about to go into another place: nor is it in this Bill, which also makes no provision for children who have experienced domestic violence. There is a real danger that those children will fall through the gaps between the two pieces of legislation.
§ As we have said on other occasions in Committee on this Bill, it is very important to ask children what they want. When asked what children living with domestic violence need, children involved in a recent study "were astonishingly clear and consistent": they most commonly cited a place of safety, which was closely followed by someone to whom they could talk.
§ If children who experience domestic violence are going to have that place of safety and the support for which they are pleading, there is an urgent need to ensure that children's services in refuges can meet the national standards for under-eights' day care. But to do that, they need funding: hence my amendment. I beg to move.
§ Baroness Ashton of Upholland
I am very grateful to the noble Baroness for raising that important group of 1465 children and to allow me to pay tribute to the work of the Women's Aid Federation of England and the work in refuges. Amendment No. 237D seeks to give the Secretary of State a power to fund childcare services in women's refuges. The Secretary of State already has the power, under Section 14 of the Education Act, to give financial assistance to any person for purposes related to education or childcare.
In raising that issue, I know that the noble Baroness has raised some broader points that I shall briefly address. I am fully aware of the issues concerning refuges. I was very pleased to meet with Women's Aid and to assist in the setting up of the protocol with Ofsted, to which I shall turn. As the noble Baroness indicated, there are three specifically relevant issues about which they are concerned.
The first issue is space. It is my understanding that the Supporting People initiative, which is capital based—an issue for some of the refuges—is able to support refuges in terms of providing space. In a sense, space is a capital issue. Secondly, when I met the Women's Aid Federation, I was aware of what it really described as the catch-22 situation of wanting to be registered and provide high-quality care, but by the nature of its work, finds it difficult to get the right levels of training in order to get that registration.
That meeting led to the protocol, a copy of which I have for the noble Baroness if she has not had the opportunity to see it, which sets out the flexibility. The purpose behind the flexibility was to allow Ofsted to move towards registration, or indeed to register, while its staff are able to move towards the levels of qualification. That meant that it could access the resources which, currently, in terms of General Sure Start Grant, is about £1.2 billion, which is allocated to local authorities to enable them to get the training. In other words, it got them beyond the catch-22 situation, which said, "If you are not registered you cannot access the funding". They could become registered and then access the funding for training.
We are of the view that we should continue with the relationship based around local authorities rather than move to centrally based provision. I undertake to look at this again in order to ensure that those arrangements are working well on the ground. Recently we asked Women's Aid Federation England for the figures, and of the 119 refuges which responded to the survey, 25 per cent are registered with Ofsted, 11 per cent are applying for registration and 25 per cent are considering registration. The remainder are not doing so because they offer specialist services and this is not appropriate for them.
We are fairly confident that, between the powers of the Secretary of State, the protocol that we have established with Ofsted, the capital resource available through the Supporting People initiative, and the amazing work being done through Sure Start where working with children and families who have experienced domestic violence is an absolutely critical element—one that I have been seeking to make sure operates in every Sure Start programme—we have in place the planks on which to build what we hope will be a very positive relationship.
1466 I understand the broader points about funding made by Women's Aid, but in these particular circumstances I believe that we have put in place the right protocols and support. On that basis, I hope that the noble Baroness will feel able to withdraw her amendment.
§ Baroness Byford
Perhaps I may put one or two questions to the Minister. This is an extremely interesting debate and I am grateful for it. The Minister referred to the Sure Start programme. How sure is she—I am sorry, that was a pun—how convinced is she that we will not lose out here? I thought that the Sure Start programme was much more for individuals. I accept that people in women's refuges are treated as individuals when they are there, but how convinced is she that they will not lose out? The figures cited by the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, are worrying. Is she correct to say that at present only 58 per cent of refuges meet the staffing standards, and 42 per cent the space standards? The Minister also quoted a series of figures. I should be grateful for clarification.
My first query concerns the position of the Sure Start programme. As a lay person in this field, it is worrying that people may fall between two different programmes, which none of us would wish to see. Secondly, have the Government undertaken any research into how many women's aid organisations may fail in the long term to achieve the aims being laid down, thus putting women who need to use those refuges at risk? Thirdly, the noble Baroness mentioned funding. Is she convinced that if women's aid organisations are not able to access funding from this source, they will be able to do so from another one? The organisations do a tremendous amount of good out there by providing a very necessary bolthole in the first instance, often before people move on to receive other forms of help and support over the longer term. These are fairly basic questions.
§ Baroness Ashton of Upholland
The questions put by the noble Baroness may be basic, but they are important and I shall try to respond to them. I do not want to confuse the programme offered by Sure Start with the programmes available in refuges. The point I sought to make with regard to Sure Start is that when families end up in refuges, in a sense that is the last resort. Much of the work we are trying to do within the Sure Start programme and elsewhere—we have been talking about awareness raising in schools and so forth in the inter-ministerial group—is to ensure that the point is not reached where someone has to go to a refuge because they need a place of safety. The problem must be tackled in other ways. My personal view is that it would be better if families could stay where they are and the perpetrator should move out, but I appreciate that for many reasons that cannot always be achieved.
The point of Sure Start programmes, when we know that 30 per cent of domestic violence cases begin in pregnancy, is that they deal with women who have just become pregnant. They are able to identify those women who are at risk of suffering domestic violence and put in place support immediately either to prevent the problem escalating or to deal with it before it 1467 reaches the point where someone has to go to a refuge or, indeed, to help them move into one. The approach is not one of "either/or", but of "both/and" in terms of opportunity and provision. We want the programmes to be widely supportive, and we continue to look at this area.
I am sure that the noble Baroness quoted the correct figures regarding space in refuges. I do not have them with me, but I know that she would have done so. In my response I wanted to make it clear that we are looking at the issue and that I am keen to ensure that the resources are available, albeit that they are resources that people must access, thus inevitably raising issues about priorities and so forth. On the space question, because the Supporting People initiative is capital based, it is a source that refuges can look to in order to access help in terms of providing space, which I know is a major issue.
On qualifications and the work being undertaken in that area, Women's Aid is in discussions with Ofsted and the protocol was drawn up specifically to help refuges understand that we do not seek to prevent them carrying on with their excellent work by putting them into the Catch 22 situation I described earlier. We are enabling them to become registered and thus able to access the local authority funding we have put in place to support staff training and so forth. The protocol is beginning to work, and the proof of that is in the increased number of registrations now coming through.
I cannot answer the question put by the noble Baroness on whether on assessment some refuges might fail, but I know that Women's Aid is looking at this carefully and will join in with discussions between ourselves and Ofsted to see what more needs to be done. However, I am encouraged to see that the work seems to be going well thus far. Moreover, I am sure that when representatives of Women's Aid read this exchange, if there are any problems they will be round to see us, which is absolutely right.
I hope that I have answered all the questions put to me by the noble Baroness.
§ 1.15 p.m.
§ Baroness Walmsley
I am grateful to the noble Baroness for her reply, and in particular for pointing out that the Secretary of State already has the power to give money to refuges for these purposes. Perhaps we should use this debate to encourage him to do that. Although it is welcome to hear from the noble Baroness that capital funding is coming forward, which will help with problems regarding space, the other issue is that of staffing ratios.
The difficulty faced by refuges on staffing ratios is that they have to be enormously flexible. They never know what they need to provide and thus they cannot plan. They do not know how many children may come to them tomorrow in an emergency. They will always need to maintain an overly generous staffing relationship in order to take account of sudden needs for their services.
1468 I shall withdraw my amendment if the noble Baroness will promise to have a word with her right honourable friend the Secretary of State and ask him to come up with a hit more money.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Schedule 4 agreed to.
Baroness Sharp of Guildford moved Amendment No. 238:
Before Clause 41, insert the following new clause—
"DUTY OF SCHOOL GOVERNING BODY TO PROMOTE EDUCATIONAL ACHIEVEMENT
The governing body of each maintained school, and the proprietors of each academy, city college and non-maintained special school shall promote the educational achievement of every child looked after by a local authority who is on the roll of the school.
§ The noble Baroness said: The purpose of this amendment is to emphasise the fact that the duty to promote educational achievement lies not only with the local education authority, as set out in Clause 43, but also with school governing bodies and that looked-after children have a special reason for such support.
§ Clause 43 places a specific duty on local authorities to promote the educational achievement of looked-after children, but in practice the local authority will have to rely on schools to fulfil that function. The record is not good. Children in public care achieve poorly at school. The Government Social Exclusion Unit report, A Better Education for Children in Care, published in 2001, showed that children in care have particularly low levels of attainment. Only 8 per cent of 16 year-olds who had spent at least one year in care achieved five GCSE at grades A to C compared with half of other young people.
§ The key performance indicator for the DfES is to narrow substantially the gap between educational achievement and participation of children in care and that of their peers by 2006. It is interesting to note that in the department's annual report, the words "not yet assessed" appear on page 20 against the entry for the latest development towards that achievement. Perhaps the words "not yet assessed" need to apply to the current provisions of the Bill, which do not place any such duty on schools.
§ As a society, we need to make it absolutely clear that we expect schools to do their utmost to promote the educational achievement of this group of young people whose lives have been disrupted through no fault of their own and who, without support during this important stage in their lives, will find it difficult to develop and become successful adults. In these days of performance indicators and league tables, too many schools attempt to duck such responsibilities if they can. Only a minority do so, but the temptation is there.
§ The Minister assured the Committee last Thursday, on the general issue of school involvement in Every child Matters, that the LEA guidance to schools would secure their engagement. This may be the case for the "general" 1469 involvement of schools but the amendment concerns the "particular" involvement of all schools with this group of vulnerable children. I beg to move.
§ Baroness Byford
We have much sympathy with the amendment and agree that it is worrying that children in care tend to be the under-achievers of this world. Certainly it is important for them to have a new start in life, and obtaining some kind of qualifications will lead to better openings for them in future. The noble Baroness has raised a very important point and I welcome the opportunity to say a few words about the matter. The second amendment in the group concerns the educational needs of such children and requires that schools should appoint a governor to be specifically responsible for them.
My concern is that the Bill should reflect the aspirations that we have for "all" children. It may appear that I am slightly downplaying the amendment—I hope that the noble Baroness will take this in the spirit in which it is meant—but education is crucial to every single child. Whether or not children come from so-called better settled families or better educated families is, in some ways, irrelevant to the wish that we all have that every child should have opportunities at the right time.
While we have great sympathy with the amendment, the concern I am trying to express is that, whatever we do with the Bill, we must make sure that we do not jeopardise the chances of all children.
§ Baroness Sharp of Guildford
I should point out to the noble Baroness that the reason for bringing forward the amendment is that Clause 43 deals with looked after children. We are anxious to point out that although the clause refers to local education authorities, the duty should be as much with the schools because they have the day-to-day contact.
§ Baroness Byford
I accept what the noble Baroness says. I do not disagree with that at all—we are indeed looking at the clause in that light—but the fear I am trying to express is that, should the Government accept the amendment, they will still need to bear in mind that we have to deal with all children equally at every stage through school.
I accept that many children have difficult starts and that that is why the noble Baroness has brought forward this important amendment, but we have to strike a balance. On previous amendments we have debated whether or not we want to lay down specific guidelines or give encouragement; we believe that all children should have an equal start.
§ The Earl of Listowel
I rise to speak to Amendment No. 243B, which stands in my name. Before I do so, however, I should point out that I have had the matter of timing drawn to my attention.
I support the amendment so eloquently moved by the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp of Guildford. With the personal educational plans and designated teachers in schools for children in care, the Government have 1470 introduced important new tools. However, I think the Minister will acknowledge that they are not used as consistently and effectively as they should be. We need to consider the issue of leadership in schools and whether these new tools would work more effectively if it was brought fully to bear on the matter.
My amendment seeks to ensure that school governing bodies should have a designated governor with special responsibility for the promotion of the educational achievement of children in public care. The noble Baroness, Lady Sharp of Guildford, alluded to the Social Exclusion Unit report A better education for children in care and its comments on the role of governors. In section 10.9 it states:Governing bodies should be informed about the number and overall attainment levels of children in care in their schools…Local authorities, in their role as corporate parents, could also expect LEA governors to act as 'designated governors' in schools and nursery schools to champion and promote the needs of children in care and monitor educational outcomes. This should not detract from other governors, who might otherwise be well placed to support children in care, from taking on this role".In Appendix C, paragraph 13 of the Government recommendations for local action provides for,LEA governors to act as 'designated governors' in schools and nurseries".I hope, therefore, that the Government will feel sympathetic towards the amendment standing in my name as it seems to be very close to what the Social Exclusion Unit recommends.
One of the assistants to a Member of the other House, who grew up in Tottenham in North London, is, I believe, the head governor of a primary school in a tough area, where she had been burgled three times in the past year. She was very pleased when last we spoke because the school had been inspected by Ofsted and the governors had been particularly commended for their work in the school. She put the governors' achievements down to the fact that the decision had been taken to designate each governor with a particular function in the school. This supports the amendment. I look forward to the Minister's response. I hope that she will be sympathetic towards this modest proposal.
§ Baroness Howe of Idlicote
A number of noble Lords feel particularly strongly about looked after children and have raised the matter on a number of occasions, not only when debating the Bill. The very poor educational attainment of looked after children brings to mind how important it will be for their futures—and for all our futures—that they should be paid special attention.
I disagree with the noble Baroness, Lady Byford, because I do not think that what is being proposed is positive discrimination in the sense of equal opportunities and so on; I believe it gives proper attention to the group.
As to governors having a special responsibility in this area, I take the point of my noble friend Lord Listowel about one particular governor. Years ago, when I headed an inquiry into local authority residential homes, we made the same kind of suggestion that a member of the local authority should have personal responsibility, and in this way he could go in and out of such establishments at any time.
1471 I hope the Minister will support the amendment because it relates to a very important group of children.
§ Baroness Ashton of Upholland
I say "Hear, hear!" to the fact that this is a very important group of children. I am grateful that these issues have been raised.
The report of the Social Exclusion Unit specifically looked at and underlined the reasons why this group of children has such unacceptable levels of educational achievement. It referred to five factors: instability; time spent out of school; lack of extra help with education; insufficient support and encouragement from home; and poor emotional, physical and mental health.
We believe that those five key findings indicate that we need to place a duty on the corporate parent. I am not ruling out the importance of schools, but all five key findings lead to the local authority. The local authority, as corporate parent, can deal with the issues of instability, time out of school, lack of extra help, insufficient support and health.
We are very committed to implementing that report, which specifically led us to the responsibility that we have undertaken in Clause 43. From what noble Lords have said, I think there is a great deal of support for that. But that is why the focus is there and not on schools, which is important.
Although we recognise the important role that schools play, when I talk to people about what they are asking of schools, they quite often discuss admissions rather than what happens in the school. The admissions forums are charged with seeing this group of children as their number one priority.
Issues of admission, which I know the noble Earl feels very strongly about, would not be resolved through the amendment that would put a duty on schools, because it would apply only to the children already in the schools. The issues of concern, such as why children do not achieve, are best addressed through the corporate parent.
I have some sympathy with the noble Baroness, Lady Byford; I have said consistently throughout the proceedings on the Bill that I am doing everything I can to avoid lists. I recognise the problem, but we think that addressing it by giving the duty to the corporate parent, not the school, is the way forward. For that reason, I will resist the amendment.
I hope the noble Earl will not mind my saying that there is an impracticality built into the amendment concerning school governing bodies. With 25,000 schools and 60,000 looked-after children, many schools will have maybe a handful of children, others none, and so on. We do not think the way forward is to have a specific duty under the Bill. However, we are not against the idea of a governor taking responsibility for looked-after children—in fact, it is a very good idea. That might be a logical conclusion with regard to local authority governors because of the duty we have placed on them.
1472 We are committed to publishing new guidance for local authorities on fulfilling their duties under Clause 43.I am happy to give the Committee an undertaking that the guidance will address the issue of a designated governor, alongside enhancing and enforcing the designated teacher, which we already have. I hope that the noble Earl will feel content that this is an issue for guidance.
§ Baroness Sharp of Guildford
I am very grateful to the Minister for her response and to other noble Lords who have spoken in support of the amendment. I take on board the points that she has made and the reasoning behind why the Bill gives local authorities this responsibility rather than schools.
I have a great deal of sympathy with the amendment of the noble Earl, Lord Listowel. It is probably a way forward.
§ The Earl of Listowel
I thank the noble Baroness for giving way. I very much appreciate the Minister's helpful response and hope she will not think it churlish of me to respond briefly at this point. Is she satisfied that the personal education plans are made as much use of in schools as they could be? They carry with them—or can do—additional funding for children who benefit from them. The Minister also said how the role of designated teachers would be reinforced by the guidance. Will she acknowledge that they are not being used as well as they should be? Does she feel that these two areas are being pushed as hard as they should be?
§ Baroness Ashton of Upholland
I think IEPs and personal plans are very important. There is nothing to suggest that they are not being used well. My understanding is that designated teachers are working well, but we want to make sure that we strengthen that role because, as the noble Earl indicates, it is critical for children. We will be looking again to make sure that the guidance reflects that. I hope that that will give the kind of impetus that the noble Earl is looking for, together with what I have said about guidance.
§ Baroness Sharp of Guildford
I thank the Minister for her clarification. Working through governors is probably the way forward on this issue. Nevertheless, one reason for raising this point was to clarify the fact that schools have a part to play. It goes back to our discussions on partnership and the need for schools to be partners alongside others within the framework of the children's services authority. With that, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Clause 41 [Intervention]:
Baroness Sharp of Guildford moved Amendment No. 238A:
Page 27, line 22, leave out "(for all purposes)
§ The noble Baroness said: In moving Amendment No. 238A, I shall also speak to Amendments No. 239, 239A and 239C. These are all probing amendments which seek to clarify the Secretary of State's powers of intervention under Clause 41. 1473 Amendment No. 238A seeks clarification about what "for all purposes" means in Clause 41. If the local authorities are to be held to account, with the possibility of intervention, for their relevant functions in relation to children's services, it is important that the precise implications of those three words are made clear, either in the Bill or in the guidance. I should be grateful for the Minister's clarification.
§ Amendments Nos. 239 and 239A deal with the power of the Secretary of State to intervene and seek to make it absolutely clear that the intervention, as a result of poorly performing social service functions, does not give the Secretary of State power to intervene in educational functions unless these functions, too, are being carried out poorly.
§ Section 497A of the Education Act 1996, as amended by the School Standards and Framework Act 1998 and the Education Act 2002, already confers powers on the Secretary of State and the National Assembly for Wales to intervene where the Secretary of State is satisfied that an LEA is failing in any respect to perform any of the functions as an LEA.
§ Section 60 of the Education Act 2002 amended this section of the 1996 Act to allow the Secretary of State or the Assembly to act in respect of all LEA functions, not just those relating to the provision of education for persons of compulsory school age or education of registered pupils of any age at schools maintained by the authority.
Ofsted has highlighted the progress made by authorities in its report Local Education Authorities and School Improvement 1996–2001. The report stated that recent inspections had increasingly found LEAs to be satisfactory or good. It states:
Overall inspection has shown that LEAs have improved. Furthermore, it has shown that they have the capacity to improve further, mainly as a result of their refocusing of work, their improved project management and their better use of management information to plan tasks".
§ The chief inspector's annual report for 2002–03 confirmed that the work of LEAs continued to improve. The report stated that recent inspections have increasingly found LEAs to be satisfactory or good. We are anxious that such progress should not be interrupted or damaged because of a breakdown of other functions. In that respect, the LEA functions should not be interrupted by a need to intervene in relation to social service functions.
§ Amendment No. 239C seeks to probe the Government in relation to the outcomes of inspection and the Secretary of State's powers of intervention. It intends that the trigger for intervention is two inspections of a children's service authority's functions. The Government's proposals signal major changes to LEAs and their education departments. We argue that the radical restructuring involved will take time to bed down, and that too violent a transition could endanger expert education teams in successful LEAs and destabilise those LEAs which are struggling to become effective.
§ The examples of successful service integration in Every Child Matters need to be viewed with some caution. Hertfordshire, for example, is a long-established, effective 1474 and highly rated authority which has pursued the integrated services route on its own initiative rather than under government direction or imposition. Even so, it is too early to judge its sustainability or success. Many senior officers in LEAs have grave reservations about whether all LEAs are in a position to make the same radical changes that they are being required to make, even within the extended timetable that is outlined, without risking major institutional failure.
§ In order for the LEAs to be able to undertake the functions set out in Every Child Matters, they need both resources and experienced and expert personnel who are able to support schools at all stages of the provision of children's services. The amendment would allow local authorities time and any additional support necessary to come up with and implement strategies for improvement, prior to being deemed as failing. I beg to move.
§ Earl Howe
Amendment No. 240 is in this group. As the Minister has made clear, Clause 41 of the Bill permits the Secretary of State to intervene when local authorities are failing to discharge functions relating to children's services. It extends existing powers of intervention in line with those relating to education services, including social services functions relating to children and to children leaving care.
I have no difficulty with ministerial default powers which are there to be used when absolutely necessary. However, an active intervention of this kind into the affairs of a democratically elected local authority should be very much a last resort. It is also important that the scale of the intervention is proportionate to the mischief, if I can use that term. There needs to be a clear focus on precisely which elements of the service require improvement rather than deeming the whole of an authority's children's services to be failing and weighing in across the board. The partnership arrangements underpinning the delivery of services to children and families are very complex. If that fact is not sufficiently recognised there is a danger that, when an intervention does occur, services will become dislocated from local partners, with regrettable results.
It would be helpful to hear from the Minister why these extended powers—over and above those already—available are thought to be necessary. I very much hope that there will be no difference between us on the substance of the amendment and that she can provide some robust reassurances to make the amendment unnecessary.
§ Baroness Ashton of Upholland
I shall certainly try to do that for the noble Earl. The purpose behind what we are doing is to provide the type of integration that we want for children and to recognise that that has implications for local authorities. I was pleased that the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp of Guildford, used Hertfordshire as her example. Although I played only a peripheral role there as chair of the health authority, it has been an interesting experience to watch. As the noble Baroness said—and I agree—these are not easy things to do. Managers and staff must work differently. Therefore it is right that we think carefully about how successful they are being and so forth.
1475 There is little between us, but I will endeavour to explain precisely what is meant and allay the concerns of the noble Earl.
The phrase "for all purposes" is included in Clause 41(6) because it clarifies that the Secretary of State can, in a single direction, include education and children's social services functions when expedient to ensure consistency and improvements across the integrated services. On Amendments Nos. 239, 238A and 239A, we see the use of statutory powers as a last resort, but an important measure to include in Clause 41(6) where necessary. As noble Lords know, it allows directions to cover a group of functions wherever that will secure improvement in integrated services as a whole.
I understand what noble Lords are looking for in their amendments, but they would limit the flexibility. For example, when failings are identified at senior management level, the ability to group functions within a direction must be available to address any weakness across a local authority's children's services. To take the example of an integrated service in which the senior management team is weak, which sadly might happen, and identification through inspection reveals a problem, one must be able to consider its role across all the services for which it is responsible.
Similarly, to take an example pertinent to this afternoon's discussion about looked-after children, we want to be able to respond flexibly to develop solutions across the whole of an integrated service. I identified the five areas that young people themselves felt needed to be addressed and which were identified in research by the Social Exclusion Unit. Those five areas are across a range of different services—mental and physical health, education and so forth. Therefore, one must be able to think about an integrated approach if there seems to be a failing. There is no intention to label as failing a whole authority when only some services are found to be failing. Nor do we intend to use the powers of intervention across a broad range of functions in all instances of failure.
The amendment moved by the noble Earl. Lord Howe, would establish a different threshold for the use of intervention powers with respect to children's social services and education functions. In education, the statutory powers have been used only 12 times in respect of nine local authorities. In all those cases, Ofsted commented favourably on the results. The remaining 21 "formal" intervention cases have not involved the use of statutory powers.
In social services, the vast majority of intervention work has not involved the use of statutory powers. Solutions have included better monitored performance management plans and developing management capacity through the type of expert teams that noble Lords mentioned. The use of statutory powers will be considered where we have independent evidence of serious failure which, for example, could lead to services that fail to secure the safety and 1476 welfare of children. The powers of direction will be invoked only in proportion to the extent and nature of the failure identified. The most extreme forms of intervention, directing the outsourcing of services in particular, will only be used—if ever—when there is compelling evidence of serious failure and the inability of the authority concerned to tackle that failure within a reasonable timescale.
Let us be clear; the powers of intervention under Section 497A of the Education Act 1996 and in the Bill can be used only with regard to education functions and those functions set out in subsection (2) of Clause 41; not to any other functions of a local authority, or indeed to the functions of any other body. When failings are found in the arrangements for co-operation, safeguarding and promoting welfare, any intervention will be concerned with improving those arrangements only, not with intervening in the services delivered through these arrangements which are not education or social services functions. For example, the intervention powers do not extend to health functions, but the principle of what I said stands. We need to work within the framework.
The overall framework for engagement and intervention in children's services is being discussed, and will continue to be discussed with key stakeholders and practitioners before being finalised. I recognise the concerns that have been raised. We see the power as a last resort. It must be proportionate to the nature and extent of the failure identified with due regard to local arrangements and the views of national and local partners. On that basis, I hope that noble Lords will feel reassured that this is a proportionate power to be worked out with our key stakeholders recognising the need to support integrated services.
On Amendment No. 239C, when inspection identifies deteriorating services, we must be able to intervene as appropriate and not have to wait until a second joint area review. As I have already stated, the use of statutory powers will be a last resort, but they must be available to deal with serious failure immediately and effectively where necessary. We must not allow any such situation to continue. Intervention powers can be deployed as a result of other evidence—such as annual judgments of local authorities' social services, which have provided the basis for a great deal of effective engagement, focussed on supporting and building capacity within an organisation. That programme has also allowed for the identification of deteriorating services year on year, rather than waiting for more infrequent points within an inspection cycle.
On the basis that this is a last resort, proportionate and about integrated services and recognising the role of working with our key stakeholders, I hope that I have provided reassurance to noble Lords and that they will not press their amendments.
§ Baroness Sharp of Guildford
I thank the Minister for her reply. As I emphasised at the beginning, the amendments were probing amendments, and it has been useful to get clarification from the Minister. As she also emphasised, this is a matter of time. At the moment, much is still in the melting pot. We will see whether the powers are proportionate over the course 1477 of time. Only time will tell on these issues. We may need to return to them. However, for the moment, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ [Amendments Nos. 239 to 239A not moved.]
Baroness Sharp of Guildford moved Amendment No. 239B:
Page 27, line 23, at end insert—
( ) For the purpose of the operation of section 497A of that Act in relation to the functions mentioned in subsection (2) above, the conditions specified by the Secretary of State in relation to any person or persons performing functions on behalf of the authority in accordance with any direction given under that section shall include a condition that that person, being a body, shall not derive any profit from the performance of those functions for distribution to members of that body corporate whether by way of dividend on shares or otherwise.
§ The noble Baroness said: In speaking to Amendment No. 239B I shall also speak to Amendment No. 239D. The purpose of these two amendments is to probe the Government's intentions in relation to the provision of children's services and the powers of intervention given to the Secretary of State under Clause 41. This is a slightly different tack on the issue that we spoke about in the last set of amendments.
§ Amendment No. 239B seeks to probe how far it is envisaged that the private sector should contribute to the provision of privately funded children's services. It has been six years since the School Standards and Framework Act 1998 expanded the powers of intervention to allow private sector provision in education in the maintained sector. The NUT has been monitoring this and the evidence that it has collected has shown that the vast majority of LEAs that received Ofsted reports highlighting serious weaknesses have now been categorised as satisfactory or above.
§ LEAs have achieved dramatic improvements without intervention and have achieved higher standards than many of those with private sector partners. LEAs that have been required by the Government to adopt private sector support and intervention have not improved as much as authorities where interventions involved non-private sector and non-profit making strategies. In these authorities, improvement has been, at best, patchy and, at worst, has gone into reverse. For example, the private firm running Islington's schools has been fined more than £500,000 for failing to hit key education performance targets. Serco, operating under the name Education Bradford, failed to meet its education performance targets for 2002. Nord Anglia's contract was not renewed and Hackney education is now run by Hackney Education Trust, an independent body chaired by Mike Tomlinson, the former Chief Inspector of Schools. Hackney's third Ofsted inspection report, published in January 2004, stated that the Learning Trust, under Mike Tomlinson, had been making rapid progress and that the impact of the trust's work was beginning to come through.
§ By contrast, partnership models with other LEAs have proved rather more effective and cost-efficient in improving LEA services compared with the 1478 outsourcing involved with the private sector. The partnership approach with other LEAs adopted by Liverpool and Rochdale or the partnership board model of Leicester and Bristol are, on the evidence collected by the NUT, far more successful. These approaches are much more likely to provide long-term, sustainable change circumstances, develop a public sector ethos and avoid the charges of profit making and privatisation.
§ The Amendment seeks to steer any such interventions under Section 247A of the 1996 Act towards the non-profit partnership model and away from the private enterprise model. I beg to move.
§ Baroness Ashton of Upholland
We believe, as I believe the noble Baroness believes, that high standards are critical if we are to deliver high quality services to our children and young people and the new arrangements are designed to help to secure that. Providers of care services have to comply with a range of regulatory requirements and standards and this will remain the case whether or not local authorities are subject to intervention.
As I have already stated, the use of statutory powers will be a last resort and outsourcing is only one of the options that might be considered in tailoring solutions to service failure. The private "for profit" sector is not the only option, as the noble Baroness has indicated that she is well aware, for the outsourcing of local authority functions; public, voluntary and not-for-profit bodies could also be used, separately, in partnership with each other, or, indeed, with a private organisation.
The number, size and type of organisations that have the capacity and expertise to work with authorities to turn round failing services will vary greatly and there will be a number of different ways in which they may be involved. Our view is that where private organisations are able to deliver better services that offer better value for money, there should not be artificial barriers to engaging with that sector. We will seek to implement the most effective and appropriate solution to the problems an authority is facing, regardless of which sector potential partners might operate in.
Where it is deemed necessary to outsource local authority functions, a competitive tendering process is entered into to provide the services in question. That is open to organisations from all sectors. Authorities are directed to enter into contractual arrangements only where the proposed services offer value for money and effective solutions. The performance of the partner organisation is tightly managed through the contract. Where the body is a profit making one, the level of profit can be capped as necessary in the terms of the agreement.
We understand that Ofsted has so far commented favourably in all outsourcing cases on the work carried out by private sector contractors in education. Private sector partners have been involved in securing expertise with successful performance action teams, which have supported local authorities' social services departments.
1479 Our belief is that limiting the range of partners that authorities could work with in intervention cases would restrict our ability to draw on the kind of expertise to effect the right kind of solutions for children as quickly as possible. I hope that on that basis the noble Baroness will feel able to withdraw her amendment.
§ Baroness Sharp of Guildford
I am grateful for the Minister's response. Our concern is that there have been occasions when the Government have seemed to prefer private sector contractors to public sector partnership arrangements. I am glad to have her assurance that they always look to the most effective partner. There is a great deal of evidence to show that quite a lot of partnership arrangements where there have been two local education authorities working in conjunction with each other have worked very well. I would disagree with her somewhat as I think that Ofsted has not always found the private sector partners to be totally satisfactory. There have been a number of relatively well publicised occasions when things have not worked out all that well. However, I am grateful to her for the assurances that she has given and in light of them, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ [Amendments Nos. 239C and 239D not moved.]
§ Clause 41 agreed to.
§ [Amendment No. 240 not moved.]
§ 2 p.m.
Baroness Barker moved Amendment No. 240A:
After Clause 41, insert the following new clause—
"LOCAL AUTHORITY SUPPORT FOR CHILDREN AND FAMILIES
In Schedule 2 to the Children Act 1989 (c. 41) (local authority support for children and families), after paragraph 12(b) insert—
(bb) as to the minimum payments to be made by local authorities for the maintenance of children placed with local authority foster parents;".
§ The noble Baroness said: We return to another piece of business that is a follow-on from the Adoption and Children Act. The issue of support for people who adopt and foster children was an ongoing part of our deliberations in this House during the passage of that legislation. One of the consequences of that Act has been the increased recognition by local authorities that they have a duty to assess, but the provision of support to people who adopt and foster children is somewhat patchy.
§ This amendment specifically addresses the issue of allowances paid to foster carers. Within the past two weeks, we have seen reports that show what people who work in this field have known for a very long time, which is that there is a crisis within the fostering service. It is a service and a very valuable one. In Every Child Matters the Government recognised that there are 7,000 to 8,000 fewer foster carers than are needed. It is quite clear that there are many different reasons for that: different working patterns are certainly one of them. However, one of the key reasons that has 1480 emerged time and time again in surveys of foster carers is that of finance. It is not cheap to look after children well. Financial considerations apply, just as they do for birth parents.
§ Through talking extensively to foster carers, the Fostering Network discovered that a great disparity applies throughout the country with different local authorities paying completely different rates to foster parents. The rates vary arbitrarily and quite extensively. Neighbouring authorities may pay rates that differ by up to £100 per week. Further, from April 2004, foster carers in some authorities are paid a minimum allowance ranging from £56 per week for a child aged nought to seven to £72 per week for a child aged 13 to 15, when the Fostering Network recommends that the minimum rates be £108 and £154 respectively. It is not a case of foster carers profiting in any way from having children within their care, but of being able to meet the basic living needs of those children.
§ The results of a survey published in 2003 based on figures from the Centre for Economics and Business Research and drawing on the Government's own expenditure and food survey of 2001–02 found that in a household where one parent works full-time and another part-time, the average cost of looking after a child is £129 a week. We should compare that with the sums being paid by some local authorities. The Fostering Network talked to foster parents who provided many graphic expressions of what it is like trying to deal with this matter on a day-to-day basis. A foster carer talked movingly of the cost of buying trainers and of how the fostering allowance did not cover that expenditure, never mind luxury items.
§ During the passage of the Adoption and Children Act your Lordships recognised that fostering is strategically a very, very important service in terms of looking after children. Although it is sometimes but not always of a temporary nature, that care in a family situation can be of major importance to children who by definition have suffered from some disruption in their lives. Having fostering placements that are sustainable is important. Plenty of research is available that demonstrates clearly that every time a child is moved to a different care setting, there is some negative impact on that child's life. If we do not recognise that fostering services are important, need to be sustained and are under great strain at the moment, by definition we shall eventually subject children who need stability more than anything else to a future of uncertainty and of being moved between different agencies. We know from all the research on adoption and fostering that in so doing we shall severely limit their life chances in the longer term.
§ Being a foster carer is a tremendous responsibility. In many ways we are sometimes rather patronising about foster carers. We see them as people who do a marvellous job and have hearts of gold. They do but they face practical realities too. The amendment seeks to recognise that foster caring is a service and that in 1481 many cases foster carers need support and training to help them to deal with difficult children. That is important. I beg to move.
§ Baroness Howe of Idlicote
I strongly support the amendment to which I have added my name. I hope that the Government will feel able to accept it.
As we have heard, Fostering Fortnight ended a few days ago. Its aim was to encourage more people to put themselves forward as potential foster carers. I believe that the estimated shortage of places is about 8,000. That takes account of the fact that there are also currently 37,000 foster families in the UK. However, that gap is particularly worrying when we are all trying to ensure that as many children as possible are brought up in family homes rather than within local authority children's homes.
Surely it is time to ensure that all local authorities pay at least the basic minimum cost to these dedicated citizens who are prepared to undertake this important and challenging work. The fact that some 53 per cent of authorities are paying less than that is an appalling comment on their priorities.
Not only would proper remuneration for foster families make it more likely that more families would volunteer for this role, but with more families prepared to do so, the likelihood of getting a better match for each individual child, and, indeed, of not splitting up families, would be much greater.
I refer specifically to the role of grandparents. We are all getting older but we are all getting older at a later stage and, as I said only a couple of days ago, we are all rather more active than older people used to be in previous generations. With proper financial and, I stress, practical, support, many more grandparents and other members of the family could undertake this important role. That would provide not just an essential family background in which those children could grow up, but also the added benefit of growing up with part of their own family. This is a crucially important matter. I hope that the Government will give the amendment sympathetic support.
§ Earl Howe
This is, indeed, a very important issue and I support all that both noble Baronesses have said about it.
I do not think that we need be concerned today to fix the precise amount of money appropriate for a minimum fostering allowance. The important issue is to agree that there should be such a minimum. There is a major point of principle at the heart of this concern. Becoming a foster parent is not something you do in order to line your own pockets; you do it for other more idealistic reasons. But in looking after a foster child, you are nevertheless relieving the state of a burden which it would otherwise have to carry at a very considerable financial cost. It is not reasonable to expect foster carers to shoulder the costs of a child's keep without some meaningful contribution from the public purse. There is currently a serious national shortage of suitable foster carers: something has to be done to address that.
1482 As the noble Baroness, Lady Barker, said, the postcode lottery in fostering allowances is quite blatant. More than half of all local authorities pay below the Fostering Network's minimum rates, but there is no rhyme or reason to this variation beyond stretched local authority budgets. The national minimum standards are in place and they are good news, but one has to ask whether they are really enough if they are not having the desired effect on allowances.
I am aware of some examples of very low allowances being paid. There is a slight caution on these figures as some of them date from last year, but they are not, I think, far out. Against a recommended minimum of around £108 a week for a child up to the age of seven, in Bolton the rate is £56.44. In Oldham it is two pounds less. In Sheffield it is around the recommended minimum—it is £105.74. In Hounslow the weekly payment is £246.22. In Barnet it is no less than £310. That is a near six-fold variation between the highest and the lowest.
Local authorities paying low rates have been criticised for so doing by the National Care Standards Commission, but there is nothing that the commission or its successor can do if the criticism is ignored. There can be no justification for not paying a minimum allowance if we are really committed to improving the life chances of our most disadvantaged children. There is no doubt that many people are put off applying to become foster carers because they simply cannot afford it.
The direct consequence of having such a restricted pool of foster carers, as we now have, is that foster children will be moved more often, sometimes away from their communities, causing them even more disruption. Disruption, as we know, is highly damaging to a child's development. One then finds that previously difficult children become even more difficult; foster carers become disillusioned and some leave the service altogether. It is a vicious spiral which a measure of strategic financial underpinning might well ameliorate significantly. I very much hope that the Minister will consider the amendment in a positive spirit.
§ The Earl of Listowel
I support all that has been said. Perhaps I might add that one in four looked-after children is placed out of their local authority as a consequence of there being a lack of choice among foster carers in their own local authority area. That is very much against those children's interests, because we do wish them to be reunited, and certainly to keep in touch, with their families. One in seven of those children experience more than three placements each year. Again, it has much to do with not having the right choice of foster carers. While only 10 per cent have any involvement with the criminal justice system before entering care, half of children in custody and a quarter of the adult prison population have been through care. We are not doing enough to intervene effectively with these people and it is crucial that foster carers are properly supported in this job.
§ Baroness Andrews
Noble Lords have been extremely eloquent in describing the situation in foster care and the invaluable contribution that foster carers make, the challenges they face and some of the issues that are now 1483 arising about recruitment and retention. It is for that reason that we are very much aware of the difficulties in recruiting and retaining more foster carers. That is precisely why we have begun by developing the Choice Protects programme which has a specific emphasis on fostering services. We are putting £113 million into that over the next three years, which will be ring-fenced to help local authorities improve services for all looked-after children living away from home.
In the current year we have asked local authorities to use that funding to ensure compliance with the national minimum standards for fostering services and to support good quality planning and commissioning of services. Many local authorities have used the Choice Protects funding to enhance the allowances and fees they pay to their foster carers. It is true, as the noble Earl. Lord Howe, pointed out graphically, as did other noble Lords, that allowances vary considerably across the country. In part, that reflects the cost of living and partly reflects the availability of foster carers. That tends to be a vicious circle and we recognise, as do local authorities, that when they fail to recognise the costs of caring it is more difficult to recruit and retain.
The national minimum standards for fostering services make it clear that foster carers should receive an allowance and agreed expenses which cover the full cost of caring for each child or young person placed with them. It is vital that no foster carer is penalised financially as a result of caring for a child. The answer to the noble Earl is that that should not be at the expense of the family.
Recruiting and retaining is not simply about money, it is also about training and support, and we know that foster carers have felt isolated over the years. That is precisely why the Choice Protects money is going into developing support networks that they know about and can use. We are well aware of the current campaign to introduce a standard national allowance for foster carers. This raises complex issues and we are giving them careful consideration. I have listened very closely to the arguments of noble Lords and we will reflect on them. We will also think further on the important issues being raised by those who are campaigning on these issues. With those assurances, I hope that the noble Baroness will withdraw the amendment at this stage.
§ 2.15 p.m.
§ Baroness Barker
I thank the Minister for her reply and I am heartened by it. There are parallels to adoption allowances as well and we know from many years of data that those local authorities which refused point blank—and there is still one—to pay adoption allowances saw that reflected in the numbers of children adopted. I hear what the Minister says about the availability of support, and we can return to those arguments. I am heartened that she will look at this question of costs, because for every bus that one sees around London with appeals for people to become foster carers I suspect that there are many people who are looking at those adverts and responding to them, only to be put off by this particular issue. That is a 1484 terrible waste of everyone's time and talent. However, on the basis of the Minister's comments I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ [Amendment No. 241 had been withdrawn from the Marshalled List.]
§ The Deputy Chairman of Committees (Lord Haskel)
There is a slight error on the groupings list. Amendment No. 242 has been withdrawn, so the next group will be Amendments Nos. 243 and 243B.
§ [Amendment No. 242 had been withdrawn from the Marshalled List.]
§ Clause 42 agreed to.
§ Clause 43 [Duty of local authorities to promote educational achievement]:
The Earl of Listowel moved Amendment No. 243:
Page 27, line 41, at end insert "and emotional wellbeing
§ The noble Earl said: The purpose of the amendment is to ensure that, together with improving the duty to improve the educational attainment of children in care, there is attached an additional duty to improve their emotional well-being. There is such a close interconnection between those two aspects of the life of a child in care. If a child in care's schooling fails, if he loses his school place and is excluded, it becomes far more difficult to sustain the foster placement. One only needs to think of the position that the foster carer is in with that child at home for most of the day; there is the risk of that foster placement collapsing, and that will contribute to his worsening emotional state and make it harder for him to succeed in school again.
§ As a young care leaver recently said to us at a meeting attended by the Minister, the noble Baroness, Lady Ashton of Upholland, he found it so hard to concentrate on his studies, he had so much on his mind that he could not engage with education, because his emotional needs were not being addressed. Those matters are so closely interlinked.
§ As an illustration of that, the achievement rate at GCSE level at a children's home in south London that I visited recently was, I think, 67 per cent of children receiving five or more GCSEs at A-G grade. For children's homes in 2001 the achievement was 7 per cent. That is an immense difference. That was very much because there was close co-operation on the educational and emotional sides of the work done there and a close partnership with the local Child and Adolescent Mental Health Service (CAMHS). The local mental health practitioners would go and sit in the children's home and have lunch with the children, so that they could be easily approached by the children, and looking for help was not seen as stigmatising. The practitioners met with the staff each week to discuss the children's cases and the impact that working with such difficult children had on the staff.
§ They were there at the end of a telephone at any time. If there was a crisis, the staff could pick up a telephone and talk to the mental health professionals. 1485 The members of staff were all trained in the Webster-Stratton model of parenting. That is a standard parenting model that has proved so effective and they were trained on it by the local CAMHS team.
§ Then on the other side, with the educational team, there was a teacher who was there to tutor the children, but also to act as their advocate, to help them get into mainstream schooling. The charity took a very positive stance in ensuring that the children got access to mainstream schooling and it would always start the legal process if a child was not taken back into school within 20 days. This joint method was so effective in that particular case.
§ I recognise that the Government may say that this amendment is otiose, given what is already available on welfare in the Children Act. Although I will look carefully at what the Government say on this matter, one could equally use the same arguments underlying the amendments to which this amendment is linked. Surely the educational attainment of children in care is equally a matter of their welfare, yet the Government have stated that on the front of the Bill. I will look at that and listen with interest to the Minister's response, but there is an opportunity here to make such a difference to the lives of these children.
§ The Government have appointed regional development officers for child and adolescent mental health across the country. I spoke recently with a regional development officer who said that partnership between child and adolescent mental health and frontline workers is improving, but there is still an awful long way to go. There is a huge cultural change to make. By putting this amendment on the face of the Bill—or something similar to this amendment—one can really contribute to changing the culture and improving better partnership working in this crucial area for these children. I look forward to the Minister's response on those points.
§ Perhaps I can also speak to Amendment No. 243B on the "duty of local authorities to provide child assistance". The purpose of this amendment is to allow the child to have the option of making use of an advocate when he is first taken into care, when the crucial decisions about his care plan are being formulated, and to provide for future reviews of the care plan when the child will again have access to an advocate.
§ This amendment is modelled on an amendment to the Children Act, brought in as Section 119 of the Adoption and Children Act 2002, which allows a child in care or a care leaver the right to an advocate when he has a complaint to make.
In the introduction to the Government's guidance, Get it Sorted, it is made plain that representations "which are not complaints" are also covered. It states:
For example, children and young people should be able to secure the support of an advocate in putting forward representations for a change to be made in the service they receive, or the establishment they live in, without this having to be framed first as a specific complaint".
The helpful guidance also points out in section 3.10:
The advocate's role is to help the child at the earliest possible stage. Successful early involvement could prevent young people having to use a complaints procedure at all".
§ I hope that that is helpful in seeing that it may be helpful for a child to have the option of bringing in an advocate not simply when a complaint needs to be made, but when those crucial decisions are made about the care plan.
§ There is also a human rights case to make here. Mr Justice Munby, in a recent lecture to the National Youth Advisory Service, described that case under Article 8. Given the time this afternoon, I shall not go into detail on that particular decision.
§ The Government may be concerned about the numbers of professionals we are bringing into contact with children in care. I recognise that, but one must also appreciate that when the child first arrives in care, the social worker present at that first care plan meeting will also have been involved in the decision, or made the decision, whether to take that child into care. So the child may be somewhat suspicious of the social worker. I am not saying that that point of view is at all justified, but it puts the child in a difficult position, and it is very important to obtain the wishes and feelings of the child in that first meeting.
§ The Government have also recently brought forward the independent reviewing officer. He may have an interesting role in this area. I think that his chief function is implementation of the care plan. Therefore there is room for both the advocate and the independent reviewing officer.
§ In conclusion, it is just so vital to get these early decisions right. I know that the noble Baroness will listen carefully to what has been said and I look forward to her response. I beg to move.
§ Baroness Andrews
I am grateful to the noble Earl for speaking to both his amendments in the group; I think that my comments will make more sense in that context. I know how strongly he feels about the need to support emotional literacy and emotional well-being, and I know how disappointed he will be to hear me say that, as he anticipated, we feel these amendments are unnecessary. We are not saying that they are in any way unimportant. Indeed, the Social Exclusion Unit report has established a very close connection between children's emotional wellbeing, health and educational achievement.
Section 22(3)(a) of the Children Act states:It shall be the duty of a local authority looking after any child…to safeguard and promote his welfare";and that includes his or her emotional well-being. How could it be otherwise? One of the best measures we have in addressing the trauma and range of problems those children face is our ability to see how they can flourish and grow emotionally and how they relate not only to adults but to people of their own age.
The requirement is reinforced by Section 27(1) of the same Act, which entitles the local authority to ask another body such as the PCT or the strategic health authority to help with that function. That is where the mental health facilities come into play. I know how 1487 concerned the noble Earl is that we should have the strongest and most accessible child and adolescent mental health services possible.
As the noble Earl has raised the issue, I say to him that front-line services are what make the real difference in the quality and effect of the services provided. This is not about legislation but about proper training, resources going to key workers and care workers and enabling those workers to recognise and take steps towards supporting emotional resilience in children.
I hope that the noble Earl will agree with some of the steps we have taken—such as issuing guidance requiring local authorities to set up arrangements to ensure the assessment of the health needs of every looked-after child on entering care and the regular review of health plans that include their mental health needs. The Department of Health and the Department for Education and Skills are working in partnership with the National Children's Bureau. All of that is helping to build up the purpose and collective knowledge of emotional well-being. I hope that that will reassure the noble Earl.
Turning to the noble Earl's other amendments, I know how concerned he is about the voice of the child and the need to provide appropriate advocacy. In our debates on the Adoption and Children Act 2002 we spent many hours discussing advocacy arrangements. Perhaps I may explain how we have strengthened the current provision. Section 22 of the Children Act 1989 established the original duty. However, we have always known that, on other occasions, other advocacy arrangements are necessary. Therefore, as the noble Earl knows, we changed that duty in Section 26A of the 2002 Act.
As the provision came into effect only in April it is too early to say how it is working. However, it places on local authorities the duty to make arrangements to provide assistance, including representation of children in need who are intending to make representations. I know that linking that to complaints is not, as the noble Earl would see it, sufficient. We have also issued guidance setting out what is expected in terms of those services and the roles of the professionals. We have worked with the Who Cares Trust to make that guidance very much more available.
The noble Earl has already mentioned the independent reviewing officer. The role of the IRO is not retrospective; it is very much a formative role in relation to care planning. The IRO must recognise the importance of involving a looked-after child in the planning and review process. Again, that is set out in the guidance. Perhaps I may write to the noble Earl to explain how we see that role evolving.
One problem relating to the noble Earl's amendment is that it would require every decision involving a child to be accompanied by advocacy arrangements. I cannot believe that that is what the noble Earl intended because it would be neither practical nor helpful. I know he agrees that one issue raised by those young people is that too many people are involved with them. They want consistency, sustained relationships and people whom they can trust and rely on to be there. That is why it is extremely important 1488 that, rather than having recourse to advocacy, the young people should have recourse to the continuity of a proper key worker who takes a keen interest in them.
I understand why the noble Earl tabled the amendments. I do not think that he will be satisfied with my explanation, but I hope that he will have some sympathy with what the Government are trying to do in response.
§ The Earl of Listowel
I thank the Minister for her very helpful and full response to the concerns raised in both my amendments. I shall read very carefully what she said. I also thank her for the helpful conversation that we had this morning. The more information that we have in this area, the more useful work we can do together in taking the matter forward. I acknowledge the many important steps that the Government have taken to ensure that the voice of the child is heard and that children in care are better looked after. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Moved accordingly, and, on Question. Motion agreed to.
§ House resumed.