Previous Section Home Page

Clause 18

Provision of accommodation for certain children

Amendment proposed : No. 53, in page 15, line 7, leave out subsection (9) and insert--

(9) Subsections (7) and (8) do not apply while any person-- (

(a) in whose favour a residence order is in force with respect to the child ; or

(b) who has care of the child by virtue of an order made in the exercise of the High Court's inherent jurisdiction with respect to children,

agrees to the child being looked after in accommodation provided by or on behalf of the local authority.

Column 1324

(9A) Where there is more than one such person as is mentioned in subsection (9), all of them must agree.'-- [Mr. Mellor.]

1.30 pm

Mr. Hinchliffe : The clause and the amendment deal with a child's removal from voluntary care. I argued in Committee--the argument was supported by the NSPCC--that while the clause places a duty on a local authority to ascertain and consider the child's wishes and feelings before it provides accommodation, there is no comparable duty on a local authority or parent to consider the child's wishes before he or she is removed from the accommodation. I and others said in Committee that the child could be unhappy about leaving at short notice or about the arrangements which have been made. The Bill takes children's well-being and personal wishes a good way forward in law and it is unfortunate that the clause cannot be said to be a full part of that process. I shall be grateful if the Minister will undertake to consider the matter and, if possible, ensure that amendments are tabled in another place.

Mr. Mellor : I shall consider the matter and advise the hon. Gentleman on where we should go from here.

Amendment agreed to.

Clause 19

General duty of local authority in relation to children looked after by them

Amendment made : No. 54, in page 15, line 45, at end insert and linguistic'.-- [Mr. Mellor.]

Clause 20

Provision of accommodation and maintenance by local authority for children whom they are looking after

Amendments made : No. 55, in page 16, line 17, at end insert-- in other respects apart from providing accommodation for him'. No. 56, in page 17, line 3, at end insert--

(5A) Subject to any regulations made by the Secretary of State for the purposes of this subsection, any local authority looking after a child shall make arrangements to enable him to live with-- (

(a) a person falling within subsection (4) ; or

(b) a relative, friend or other person connected with him, unless that would not be reasonably practicable or consistent with his welfare'.-- [Mr. Mellor.]

No. 57, in page 17, line 8, leave out any' and insert the'.-- [Mr. Mellor.]

Clause 21

Advice and assistance for certain children

Mr. Hinchliffe : I beg to move amendment No. 488, in page 17, line 36, at end insert--

(2A) Each local authority shall

(a) keep a register of all persons qualifying for advice and assistance within its area

(b) cause persons on that register to be visited by a person authorised by the authority once every six months.'.

Column 1325

Mr. Deputy Speaker : With this it will be convenient to take the following amendments : No. 455, in page 18, line 15, after assistance', insert--

(6A) In each application for assistance under this section the local authority shall :

(a) decide whether to provide the help which has been asked for ; No. 489, in page 18, line 22, after section', insert

, or whose name is listed on the register kept in accordance with subsection (2A),'.

Mr. Hinchliffe : The amendments deal with the position of children leaving care. In the last few days, a report has emerged that is very critical of the arrangements made by local authorities for young persons leaving care. Those criticisms apply right across London local authorities, regardless of their political control. The year-long study carried out by Lucy Bonnerjea for the London boroughs children's regional panel says that

"there is no local authority which in practice smooths the way out of care for all young people."

I am very concerned--this is a major issue in west Yorkshire--at the fact that, on leaving care, many young people find their way on to the streets, into prostitution and into other undesirable circumstances. I commend the work of the Yorkshire Evening Post, which recently published a series on the teenage vice trap, exposing the way in which young people who have been in care or with difficult family circumstances find their way on to the streets.

Yesterday, during our debate on the guillotine motion, I said that I had spoken earlier this week to a probation officer from the Dewsbury area who had told me about a young client who, because of the Government's benefit changes, has ended up on the streets. That client has had to work as a prostitute to earn money to buy furniture for her flat. Such claimants can no longer get the grants that were previously made available by the Department. We must ask ourselves why young people find themselves in such circumstances.

One of the main reasons is the direct responsibility of the Government, who have changed the benefit arrangements for young persons. Vast numbers of people aged 16 and 17 no longer qualify for any benefit. Even though some changes have been made, the problem remains very serious. I note that the hon. Member for Mid-Kent (Mr. Rowe) has tabled an amendment, No. 362, which would require local authorities to pay benefit. I realise that the hon. Gentleman's motives are honourable, but his amendment is yet another example of local authorities being required to pick up the tab and do what the Government used to do, and what they should continue to do, for young people who have left care.

I am especially concerned about the benefits issue. I know that the Government have re-examined their views on the issue of legitimate reasons for a child leaving home, but problems remain. The Government's review of social security did absolutely nothing to help young people under the age of 18 who cannot live at home. They are eligible for income support for 12 weeks if they leave school at Easter or for 16 weeks if they leave school in the summer but thereafter their income support ceases and their case has to be reconsidered by the Minister. That is crazy. There are numerous cases in which such ministerial discretion will be required. Surely it must be wrong to treat vulnerable

Column 1326

young people who are difficult to place more harshly than others who live in the more satisfactory home environment.

Another problem that applies to many young persons is related to the level of personal allowances. Before April 1988, the scale rates for householders on supplementary benefit were the same irrespective of age. Since April last year, however, young people having to live independently receive personal allowance at only 58 per cent. of the full adult rate. By agreeing to pay independent 16 to 17-year-olds the same rate as those aged 18 to 21, the new review raised that proportion to 79 per cent. But the lower rate for the 18 to 21-year-olds is itself based on the proposition that they are not fully independent from their parents. The fact that 16 and 17-year-olds have to demonstrate their independence from their parents to get any benefit makes paying them less than the full adult rate nonsense. Such circumstances are leading young people into taking desperate measures and, in some areas, on to the streets. What about young people who started on YTS but who have dropped out or have been dismissed? Not every young person entering training has had the educational background or security enjoyed by hon. Members' most of who have had reasonable family backgrounds. The current rules allow a bridging allowance of £15 a week for up to eight weeks a year as long as the young person is willing to take another YTS place when it becomes available. The reduction to £15 a week may well act as a salutary lesson for a 17-year-old living at home but if that person is living independently through no fault of his own, he will be required to make up his money in other ways. That is driving young persons into undesirable circumstances. Right hon. and hon. Members will also be familiar with the problems arising from the abolition of board and lodging payments, but we will debate that aspect later. On leaving care, many young persons find themselves in a number of undesirable circumstances. A large proportion of those from my constituency end up in London or in other major cities, well away from the places where they have lived all their lives. They lose contact with their families and their home environment and get into enormous difficulties, and may engage in male or female prostitution.

The amendment requires local authorities to establish a register of young people aged between 16 and 21 who have been in their care and to make contact with them at least twice a year. That would in effect continue the review process that is built into existing law. Such an arrangement will allow young people to receive such assistance and advice as may be necessary. Many young people leaving care will progress satisfactorily and may want nothing to do with social services, but others will welcome being contacted and assisted by a social worker.

That proposal will make further demands on the resources of local authorities, particularly in making contact with social services departments in other parts of the country, as is required by amendment No. 489, in respect of the notification procedure. However, there are good reasons for that requirement. The young person leaving care is at a difficult stage in his or her life. Benefit changes have distinctly worsened the chances of their progressing successfully, and I hope that the Minister will see the sense of the amendment and support it.

Column 1327

Mr. Mellor : There is certainly a role for local authorities, and the Bill imposes one on them. In the guidance issued to local authorities, emphasis will be placed on the need to ensure that young people are made fully aware of the local authority support that is available to them-- particularly in cases where the young person has no other responsible adult to whom he or she can turn.

The amendment goes too far, because it amounts to imposing a much greater duty, by requiring a local authority to satisfy itself as to whether every young person up to the age of 21 needs to be advised or befriended. The hon. Gentleman is rightly concerned always about imposing extra burdens on local authorities, but his proposal would impose too great a burden. Provided that the local authority makes available information about its services, there is no harm in making the young person responsible for seeking assistance.

The hon. Gentleman's other arguments are primarily points for the Department of Social Security, and I shall ensure that his comments about benefit arrangements are brought to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Minister for Social Security.

Amendment negatived.

Mr. Mellor : I beg to move amendment No. 58, in page 18, line 16, leave out this section' and insert subsections (1) to (6)'.

Mr. Deputy Speaker : With this it will be convenient to debate Government amendments Nos. 59, 375, 60 and 61.

Mr. Mellor : These amendments are important because they reflect my commitment in Committee to introduce a specific power to enable a local authority to provide financial assistance to those who have left its care and are seeking or are engaged in employment, or are receiving education or training.

The Child Care Act 1980 contains such a power, but we have taken the oportunity to extend its scope and application. The new power will apply to all young people qualifying for advice and assistance, as defined in subsection (2).

Paragraph (a) of the proposed new subsection will enable local authorities to provide young people with financial assistance to help them to meet the cost of accommodation when it is associated with employment or the seeking of employment, or with receiving education or training. Paragraph (b) enables grants to be made to meet expenses associated with education and training--for example, to purchase books and other educational materials, or tools, in the case of those learning a trade. As from July this year, that form of financial assistance will no longer affect the level of income support that a young person may receive.

This is another of the issues on which the Opposition will inevitably feel that we have not gone far enough. I feel, however, that it is a significant step forward, and I hope that--even if they do not agree with every material particular in this highly contentious sphere--Opposition Members will at least feel that it is worth endorsing.

Mr. Rowe : The Government have moved a considerable distance from their original position, and I am grateful for that. What I had in mind was to challenge slightly the definition of "exceptional circumstances". I believe that, in a number of ways, many young people

Column 1328

leaving local authority care lag behind their contemporaries from a more stable and settled background. They will be less mature, and often less confident in their ability to establish personal relationships. Failure to retain a place on a youth training scheme or in a job, for instance, may well have much more to do with that than with any malice aforethought or deliberate incompetence. If we are to stick to the idea that the local authority is really acting as a parent, we must be sure that ability to provide financial assistance is not interpreted too narrowly.

I fully understand that it is much easier for a hard-pressed social worker to hand out money than to go through the difficult and time-consuming business of ensuring that a young person is not merely regarding him as a soft touch, but is busily engaged in trying to grow up. Nevertheless, I hope that the Government will consider carefully what is meant by "exceptional circumstances".

Amendment agreed to.

Amendments made : No. 59, in page 18, line 17, at end insert-- (7A) A local authority may give assistance to any person who qualifies for advice and assistance by virtue of subsection (2)(a) by--

(a) contributing to expenses incurred by him in living near the place where he is, or will be--

(i) employed or seeking employment ; or

(ii) receiving education or training ; or

(b) making a grant to enable him to meet expenses connected with his education or training.'.

No. 375, in page 18, line 17, at end insert--

(7B) Where a local authority are assisting the person under subsection (7A) by making a contribution or grant with respect to a course of education or training, they may--

(a) continue to do so even though he reaches the age of twenty-one before completing the course ; and

(b) disregard any interruption in his attendance on the course if he resumes it as soon as is reasonably practicable.'.

No 60, in page 18, line 19, after section', insert

(otherwise than under subsection (7A))'.

No. 61, in page 18, line 22, after section', insert

, as a person qualifying for advice and assistance,'.-- [Mr. Mellor.]

Clause 22

Use of accommodation for restricting liberty

Amendments made : No. 62, in page 18, line 45, after suffer', insert significant'.

No. 63, in page 19, line 21, leave out subsection (6).

No. 64, in page 19, line 25, leave out from beginning to having' in line 29.-- [Mr. Mellor.]

Clause 23

Review of cases and inquiries into representations

Mr. Mellor : I beg to move amendment No. 65, in page 21, line 22, leave out this subsection' and insert

regulating the procedure to be followed'.

Mr. Deputy Speaker : With this we may take the following amendments :

No. 485, in page 21, line 43, at end insert--

(9) Every local authority shall designate a named officer responsible for informing and advising any child in its care about his or her rights to make any representations (including any complaint), about the local authority's procedures for considering any representations (including any complaint)

Column 1329

and to provide assistance and support to any child (entitled to do so) who makes any representations (including any complaint) to the local authority.'.

No. 486, in page 21, line 43, at end insert--

(10) The designated officer, as provided for by subsection (9) above, shall also advise and inform any person who can show reasonable cause to be acting on behalf of any child mentioned in that subsection about the local authority's procedures for considering any representations (including any complaint) and shall facilitate their participation within those procedures.'.

Mr. Mellor : This is a clarifying amendment prompted by a speech in the other place by Lord Simon of Glaisdale. We are grateful to him for picking up a point that we are happy to correct in the amendment.

Amendment agreed to.

Clause 25

Consultation with local education authorities

Amendment made : No. 66, in page 22, line 31, leave out from first falls' to ; or' in line 33.-- [Mr. Mellor.]

Clause 26

Recoupment of cost of providing services etc.

Amendment made : No. 67, in page 23, line 15, leave out when' and insert immediately before'.

No. 68, in page 23, line 17, after authority', insert any reasonable'.

No. 69, in page 23, line 18, at end insert and maintaining him'. No. 70, in page 23, line 18, at end insert--

(7A) Where a local authority provide accommodation under section ( Provision of accommodation for children in police protection or detention or on remand, etc. )(1) or (2)(a) or (b) for a child who is ordinarily resident within the area of another local authority and they are not maintaining him in

(a) a community home provided by them ;

(b) a controlled community home ; or

(c) a hospital vested in the Secretary of State,

they may recover from that other authority any reasonable expenses incurred by them in providing the accommodation and maintaining him.'.-- [Mr. Mellor.]

Schedule 2

Local authority support for children and families

Amendments made : No. 171, in page 90, line 5, at end insert-- Provision of accommodation in order to protect child 4A.--(1) Where--

(a) it appears to a local authority that a child who is living on particular premises is suffering, or is likely to suffer, ill treatment at the hands of another person who is living on those premises ; and

(b) that other person proposes to move from the premises, the authority may assist that other person to obtain alternative accommodation.

(2) Assistance given under this paragraph may be in cash. (3) Subsections (7) to (9) of section 15 shall apply in relation to assistance given under this paragraph as they apply in relation to assistance given under that section.'.

No. 172, in page 91, line 8, leave out from take' to end of line 10 and insert

such steps as are reasonably practicable, where any child within their area who is in need and whom they are not looking after is living apart from his family--'.

Column 1330

No. 407, in page 91, line 14, at end insert --

Duty to consider racial groups to which children in need belong

9A. Every local authority shall, in making any arrangements-- (

(a) for the provision of day care within their area ; or (

(b) designed to encourage persons to act as local authority foster parents,

have regard to the different racial groups to which children within their area who are in need belong.'.

No. 173, in page 93, line 22, after person' insert

who is not a parent of his but'.

No. 174, in page 93, line 35, leave out from been' to end of line and insert infrequent'.

No. 175, in page 93, line 39, leave out from beginning to end of line 40 and insert

and that it would be in the child's best interests for an independent person to be appointed to be his visitor for the purposes of this paragraph, they shall appoint such a visitor.'.

No. 408, in page 93, line 44, leave out expenses reasonably incurred' and insert reasonable expenses incurred'.

No. 176, in page 94, line 7, at end insert--

(4A) Where a local authority propose to appoint a visitor for a child under this paragraph, the appointment shall not be made if-- ((a) the child objects to it ; and

Next Section

  Home Page