§ Mr. Fowler
I have today published the Government's response to the report by the Select Committee on social services about children in care. I welcome this helpful report, much of which the Government is in agreement with. In particular, we agree that child care law is now too complex and should be clarified. What we need is to ensure that child law in future will provide the framework for developing the best child care practice and meeting the interest of children and their own families. To do this will mean bringing together parts of several recent Acts of Parliament and provisions which cover several Government Departments. I have therefore decided to set up a working party, with members from my Department, the Home Office, the Lord Chancellor's Department and theLaw Commission, to bring forward proposals as soon as possible on which we can consult widely.
I am also reassured to find that there is broad agreement on many matters affecting children in care. Society must ensure that children are protected if they are at risk or suffer neglect. But we have to strike a balance—as I believe the report did—between the differing interests of the child, the parent, the carer and society. We have already made some important improvements:
- — Bringing new adoption procedures into effect.
- — Giving parents a stronger position in care proceedings.
- — Allowing "Guardians" to be appointed to protect a child's interest in court.
- — Allowing appeals to the courts when parental access is stopped.
- — Providing guidance on access and parental rights.
But there is still more to be done. Later this year I shall be starting a new phase of developments including:
- — New custody orders under the Children's Act.
- — New children's home regulations.
- — Guidance on reviews of children in care.
- — Procedures for child abuse inquiries.
- — Review of guidance and regulations for children boarded out with foster parents.
- — Review of arrangements with pre-school children's day care.