§ Mr. Andrew Bowden
To ask the Secretary of State for Health what guidance his Department is issuing to local authorities in connection with the Children Act 1989; and whether this guidance will include any details on grandparents' access to their grandchildren.
§ Mr. Dorrell
A number of documents have already been issued to local authorities including "An Introduction to the Children Act", a training curriculum produced by the London boroughs training committee, and "The Care of Children—Principles and Practice in Regulations and Guidance", copies of which are available in the Library.
Earlier this month over 20,000 copies of the first volume of guidance and regulations, on court orders, were distributed free of charge. Some 16,000 free copies were sent to directors of social services, and copies were also sent to chief education officers and chief executives. Volume 2 "Family Support, Day Care and Educational Provision for Young Children" was launched last week and will be distributed shortly; copies of both volumes are available in the Library. Volume 3 on family placements is being prepared and will be launched next month, and further volumes will follow, copies of which will be placed in the Library.
Volume 1 includes guidance on the new section 8 contact orders, which are available in private law proceedings and for which grandparents may apply provided that they have first obtained leave of court to do so. This volume also contains guidance on the new provisions as to contact with children who are the subject of a care order.
§ Mr. Andrew Bowden
To ask the Secretary of State for Health what changes to grandparents' access to their grandchildren will arise from the implementation of the Children Act 1989 on 14 October.
§ Mr. Dorrell
The Children Act 1989 makes new provisions regarding contact with children who are the subject of a care order. The Act provides that any person who has obtained the leave of the court to do so may apply for an order determining the contact which is to be allowed between the child and that person.
It is anticipated that this provision will enable people with whom the child has previously had a close relationship but who are not automatically entitled to reasonable contact with the child—such as, in many cases, grandparents—to keep in touch with that child while he is in the care of the local authority. If the grandparent was the beneficiary of a residence order made under section 8 367W of the Act immediately prior to the care order being made, he will be one of those automatically entitled to reasonable contact.
Where a child is being looked after by a local authority on a voluntary basis, contact is a matter for agreement between parents, foster parents and the authority. The authority will have a duty to promote reasonable contact between the child and his relatives—including a grandparent—where this is consistent with the child's welfare.
In addition, the Act makes changes to the private law. It introduces a range of orders under section 8 which will be available to the court in private law proceedings. One of these, the contact order, requires the person with whom a child is living to allow the child to visit or stay with the person named in the order, and for that person and the child to have contact with each other. Anyone who has the leave of the court to do so may apply for a contact order.
Where grandparents have maintained a close relationship with the child, obtaining the permission of the court is unlikely to be much more than a formality.
For a limited number of cases, grandparents still have the right to apply for a section 8 contact order without first obtaining the court's leave. Broadly, these are where the child has lived with the grandparents for three years or more, or the grandparent has the consent of the person in whose favour there is a residence order in force—or the local authority where the child is in care—or, in any other case, the consent of those having parental responsibility for the child.