National Care Standards Commission (Children's Rights Director) Regulations 2002

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Mr. Dawson: I welcome everything that my hon. Friend says; I heartily agree. However, given the tremendous work that is being done on advocacy, surely it is not inconsistent to say that the children's rights director, acting as a back-stop in the system and the person of last resort to whom young people in care can turn in the event of real difficulty with their local system, should also have a powerful advocacy role.

Jacqui Smith: To the extent that the children's rights director will outline the concerns of children in regulated services and to the extent that he has a direct responsibility for the national minimum standards for those regulated children's services, which spell out that children must have access to and be informed about complaints procedures, there is an important role. I do not disagree with my hon. Friend, but it would be insufficient to have a national figure, however powerful, if we did not also ensure that individual children had access to advocacy.

As those of us who spent many happy weeks serving on the Committee that considered the Adoption and Children Bill know, we are making a number of changes to the complaints procedure, including the introduction of an informal resolution stage and an extension of the Children Act 1989 procedure beyond those part III services to which it is currently confined. We are introducing a range of measures to strengthen care planning and reviews, including the requirement to appoint a reviewing officer to review the case and to oversee the implementation of the care plan in the interests of the child. We also recognise that children and young people who are being looked after can be especially vulnerable when they want to raise problems or concerns.

We have made it clear that we want to strengthen the safeguards surrounding looked-after and other vulnerable children when they make a complaint under section 26 of the Children Act 1989. We are consulting on how to make that a reality—including introducing a joint system between children's social services complaints and the creation of independent complaints advocacy services for people who wish to

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complain about the service or treatment they have received from the NHS.

The hon. Member for East Worthing and Shoreham mentioned the review of the ombudsman structure in England. I cannot give him an answer about the time scale for that review, but it should ensure that the system is widely understood by the public, including children and young people, thereby widening the scope for complaints.

Mr. Burstow: There is one matter that the Minister has not yet touched on, but I hope that she will do so briefly. Does the commission, or the children's rights director, have the power to take part in, or support children in taking, legal action? In addition, is there a power to give financial aid?

Jacqui Smith: I do not believe that the children's rights director or the commission has that power, but in the case of individual children, as I suggested earlier, access to an advocate might be more powerful in ensuring that progress is made.

I hope that I have reassured hon. Members about the strength and importance of the role of the children's rights director, and about the broader work that the Government are undertaking to ensure that vulnerable children are protected, their voices are

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at the heart of Government policy, and the robust complaints and advocacy procedures that they need are in place.

11.1 am

Mr. Burstow: The Minister is right to surmise that I have sought not to divide the Committee, but to facilitate an airing of the issues. This has been a useful and illuminating debate, but it raises a number of questions about the full range of powers that should be available to the director. I hope that, if the Minister does not listen to Opposition Members, she will reflect on the many representations that she has heard in favour of a children's commissioner. I hope that there will be a proper process to evaluate the added value that a children's rights director brings in England, and a similar exercise for Wales, so that at some point in the not too distant future, the House can give further consideration to the evidence and case for such a commissioner.

Question put and agreed to.


    That the Committee has considered the National Care Standards Commission (Children's Rights Director) Regulations (S.I. 2002, No. 1250).

Committee rose at two minutes past Eleven o'clock.

The following Members attended the Committee:
Begg, Miss Anne (Chairman)
Bottomley, Virginia
Burstow, Mr.
Clwyd, Ann
Fitzpatrick, Jim
Green, Matthew
Kidney, Mr.
Loughton, Tim
Love, Mr.
Luke, Mr.
Smith, Jacqui
Vaz, Keith
Wilshire, Mr.
Wood, Mr.

The following also attended, pursuant to Standing Order No. 118(2):
Dawson, Mr. Hilton (Lancaster and Wyre)

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