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'because his term-time accommodation is not available to him then'.
'"full-time", "further education", "higher education"'.
'care home or independent hospital'.
'( ) If subsection (1) comes into force before the commencement of section 11 of the Care Standards Act 2000--
(a) until that commencement, the references to a "private children's home" in sections 24(2)(c) and 24C(2)(a) of the 1989 Act as substituted by subsection (1) are to be read as references to a registered children's home; and
'(1A) Every local authority shall make arrangements to ensure that any person qualified under subsection (1) to make representations has access to appropriate independent advice and support to assist him in making such representations.'.
'and in making arrangements under subsection (1A)
Even in Committee, there was quite a lot of understanding of the importance of independence. We certainly believe that looked-after children should have access to independent advice and support if they feel that they must make a complaint about their personal adviser and the services that they are receiving. That was our purpose in tabling amendments Nos. 6 and 7.
I am sure that all hon. Members are all too aware of the poor experience of children in care in trying to obtain access to independent advice. Many children's charities and those who work with children are strong advocates of independent advice being made available to children. We maintain that view; it was our motivation behind tabling the amendments.
Save The Children Fund is even anxious about the over-dependency that might be created in the relationship between the care leaver and the personal adviser. It is concerned about whether the balance in that relationship is right without the existence of independent advisers to whom the care leaver may turn, should that relationship break down. Its uneasiness is easy for us to understand.
In Committee, there was quite a deal of debate about how the complaints procedure--should there be need to make one--would be developed. If, in the course of replying to my speech, the Minister explained a little more about the Government's thinking on that point, we would be greatly illuminated. It remains rather unclear in the Bill.
We have reached an important point in the outworking of a Bill designed to protect children and provide a satisfactory complaints procedure. There has been consultation about the form that the complaints procedure should take, but that has not left me reassured that the complaints procedure will be just and speedy enough to satisfy an unhappy care leaver that the complaint is being dealt with fairly and independently.
The personal adviser is the human face of the corporate parent, as I described it, and therefore represents the corporate parent--the state or the establishment--to the care leaver. It would not be unnatural for the care leaver to feel anxious and even to lodge a complaint about the adviser, who represents the corporate parent with whom the care leaver felt that he or she had fallen out.
Without an independent adviser to whom to turn in such a situation, and unable to see a fair and speedy way to have the complaint investigated, the care leaver might be tempted to swallow the complaint, go to ground, drop out of the agreed pathway plan or become estranged from the local authority, whose duty it would be to keep in touch. Whether or not the complaint was legitimate, the lack of an independent adviser would place the care leaver in a weaker position. For that reason, we have returned to the need for independent advisers.
The charity Action on Aftercare Consortium stresses the importance of developing a complaints procedure that is not unwieldy, bureaucratic or long. As I understand it from the consultation process, the dispute is not about whether independent advisers or advocates should be available to children who have complaints, but about the stage at which independent advisers would be made available. In the consultation document, there are choices to be made about whether that should take place at the first, second or third stage. We should put ourselves in the position of care leavers, for whom the process is likely to seem extremely intimidating; they may have to go through it on their own, possibly opposite a panel that will decide whether the complaint should be upheld. The process may reach the third stage before an independent adviser suddenly pops up out of the woodwork to provide help.
The term "independent adviser" is carefully chosen. The difference between advocacy and independent advice is that an advocate speaks for the complainant, but an independent adviser may be able to bring some objectivity to the process, and that would be extremely helpful.
I shall be interested to hear from the Minister how far the review of the complaints procedure has progressed and the role in that complaints procedure for independent advice, as envisaged in legislation to protect children. We consider it important to recognise in the Bill the need for independent advice, so that a just and speedy way can be found to address a complaint felt keenly by a care leaver, which otherwise may result in his or her being disillusioned with what is made available to help care leavers with their needs. Such disillusion would result in the failures of the system that have unfortunately all too often characterised the experience of care leavers.
Mr. Hutton: Once again, I am grateful to the hon. Lady for her amendment and the way in which she has presented her arguments. There is probably not a great deal of difference between us on the issue. The debate is about whether we want such a provision written into the Bill, or whether we should develop the arguments about advocacy through other means.
In the Standing Committee, I drew the hon. Lady's attention to the fact that we are consulting on the complaints procedure for the entire Children Act 1989. That consultation has included specific questions about the provision of advocacy services. I do not want to second guess the outcome of the consultation, as we want
We have taken significant steps to encourage and support the use of advocacy services. The hon. Lady knows, because she and I have debated the issue extensively, that we have given a firm commitment to making it clear in the statutory guidance that will be issued in support of the Bill that young people should be given access to the services of an advocate if they require it when making a complaint under the complaints procedure.
Once the consultation on the complaints and representation systems is complete, we shall be able to use the powers built into the Bill to describe its complaints procedures, so we can take forward the argument about advocacy at that stage. We do not need new powers in the Bill to do that, as the amendment suggests.
I accept many of the arguments that the hon. Lady put to the House this afternoon about the importance of advocacy services in the arrangements. I do not want her or her hon. Friends to think that we are lukewarm about the importance of advocacy services; we are not. We want to make sure that the revised complaints procedure is capable of addressing as promptly and expeditiously as possible some of the urgent complaints and problems that may arise in future around the operation of the legislation.
There is no point in introducing a complaints procedure that cannot address properly, fairly and squarely the concerns of young people leaving care. We want to make sure that the complaints procedure does that much more effectively in future than it has been able to do in the past. Advocacy services will clearly have an important role to play in that. We have made that position clear and, in the light of the reassurances that I have tried to extend to her, I hope that the hon. Lady and the hon. Member for Runnymede and Weybridge (Mr. Hammond) will not consider it necessary to press the amendment to a Division.