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After Clause 6

Amendment made: No. 4, page 5, line 38, leave out clause 7.— [Sarah McCarthy-Fry.]

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Clause 9

Provision of accommodation and maintenance for children who are looked after by a local authority

Amendment made: No. 7, page 8, line 34, at end insert—

‘( ) Until the coming into force of subsection (1), Schedule 2 to the 1989 Act has effect with the modifications specified in Schedule [Transitory modifications of Schedule 2 to the 1989 Act].’.— [ Sarah McCarthy-Fry. ]

Clause 18

Notification to appropriate officer of children in long-term care

Amendments made: No. 8, page 14, line 25, leave out ‘(4)’ and insert ‘(4A)’.

No. 9, in page 14, line 38, at end insert—

‘(4A) After that subsection add—

“(5) For the purposes of subsection (4)(b), if the child is not in the area of the local authority, they must treat him as if he were in that area.”’.— [ Sarah McCarthy-Fry .]

Clause 32

Power of Registrar General to supply information to national authorities

Amendment made: No. 10, page 25, line 23, leave out ‘the death of a’ and insert ‘a deceased’.— [ Sarah McCarthy-Fry .]

New Schedule 1

‘Transitory modifications of Schedule 2 to the 1989 Act

“12A (1) Regulations under section 23(2)(a) may, in particular, also make provision—

(a) for securing that a child is not placed with a local authority foster parent unless that person is for the time being approved as a local authority foster parent by such local authority as may be prescribed;

(b) establishing a procedure under which any person in respect of whom a qualifying determination has been made may apply to the appropriate national authority for a review of that determination by a panel constituted by that national authority.

(2) A determination is a qualifying determination if—

(a) it relates to the issue of whether a person should be approved, or should continue to be approved, as a local authority foster parent; and

(b) it is of a prescribed description.

(3) Regulations made by virtue of sub-paragraph (1)(b) may include provision as to—

(a) the duties and powers of a panel;

(b) the administration and procedures of a panel;

(c) the appointment of members of a panel (including the number, or any limit on the number, of members who may be appointed and any conditions for appointment);

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(d) the payment of fees to members of a panel;

(e) the duties of any person in connection with a review conducted under the regulations;

(f) the monitoring of any such reviews.

(4) Regulations made by virtue of sub-paragraph (3)(e) may impose a duty to pay to the appropriate national authority such sum as that national authority may determine; but such a duty may not be imposed upon a person who has applied for a review of a qualifying determination.

(5) The appropriate national authority must secure that, taking one financial year with another, the aggregate of the sums which become payable to it under regulations made by virtue of sub-paragraph (4) does not exceed the cost to it of performing its independent review functions.

(6) The appropriate national authority may make an arrangement with an organisation under which independent review functions are performed by the organisation on the national authority’s behalf.

(7) If the appropriate national authority makes such an arrangement with an organisation, the organisation is to perform its functions under the arrangement in accordance with any general or special directions given by that national authority.

(8) The arrangement may include provision for payments to be made to the organisation by the appropriate national authority.

(9) Payments made by the appropriate national authority in accordance with such provision shall be taken into account in determining (for the purpose of sub-paragraph (5)) the cost to that national authority of performing its independent review functions.

(10) Where the Welsh Ministers are the appropriate national authority, sub-paragraphs (6) and (8) also apply as if references to an organisation included references to the Secretary of State.

(11) In this paragraph—

“financial year” means a period of twelve months ending with 31st March;

“independent review function” means a function conferred or imposed on a national authority by regulations made by virtue of sub-paragraph (1)(b);

“organisation” includes a public body and a private or voluntary organisation.

Brought up, read the First and Second time, and added to the Bill.

Order for Third Reading read.

6.30 pm

Sarah McCarthy-Fry: I beg to move, That the Bill be now read the Third time.

I thank all the hon. Members who have contributed to the debates on the Bill. We have benefited from an exceptionally high quality of debate, both on Report this afternoon and at the earlier stages. I thank my right hon. Friend the Minister for Children, Young People and Families, who, during my short time at the Department for Children, Schools and Families, has demonstrated her absolute commitment to children and young people; that has also been shown in her work on the Bill.

Once again, I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, West (Kevin Brennan), who did virtually all the work on the Bill—yet I am the one presenting it on Third Reading. I wish him really well in his new post and thank him for his work. I also thank everybody
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who served on the Committee and the two Chairmen. As will be imagined, my bedtime reading has been the Hansard reports of the Committee deliberations. I have seen that the Committee showed great dedication, expertise and diligence in its output.

Members on both sides have been generous with their time and wisdom and I am happy to say that that has improved the Bill and sharpened the Government’s thinking on a wide range of issues. Looked-after children will benefit from the improvements, and that is a goal that we all share. The Bill strengthens the framework for the support given to looked-after children, reflecting our high ambitions for such children and young people to enable them to achieve the potential that we all know they have. As a result of the Bill, children in care will benefit from greater stability in their lives and experiences of care. Their voices will be heard more clearly by their corporate parents, and, crucially, their views and wishes will be more systematically taken into account in decisions that affect them.

However, let me be absolutely clear that the passage of the Bill does not signal the end of our efforts to improve the lives of those children; it is the beginning of the journey. Legislation, on its own, will not change practice. We must continue to drive change and improvements at every level in the care system because we know that doing better for vulnerable children is difficult. It requires dedication, patience, persistence and a commitment to make the difference.

To improve practice at every level requires effort and better parenting from everyone in the system: those working with children and young people directly; social workers and carers, who clearly have a crucial role; independent reviewing officers; visitors; teachers; GPs; nurses; dentists; and all those who affect children’s lives. There are also those who lead and manage the system: lead members in local authorities, chief executives and managers in all the organisations that play a role in supporting these most vulnerable children and young people as they go through the care system and when they leave care.

We all need to become advocates for children in care. We do not have to be designated teachers to care about the performance of looked-after children. We do not have to be looked-after children’s nurses to care about their health. It is the job of all of us to do better.

In the next year we will be implementing this Bill—putting it into practice through regulations, statutory guidance and the inspection and performance frameworks for local authorities and others providing care. We will also continue to innovate and improve practice through our pilots and through work with the sector to support improvement right across the country. The Bill provides the right framework to drive improvement, but we will be working closely with our partners locally to ensure that everyone can make the most of opportunities that it provides to do better for children in care.

Helen Southworth: The Bill that my hon. Friend describes is radical and revolutionary for children in care, and we all truly appreciate what has been done to achieve it. Will she assure us that young people who are leaving care and in transition will get the same consideration in regulations and in practice improvements over the next months and years?

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Sarah McCarthy-Fry: I thank my hon. Friend for her intervention. In the short time that I have been at the Department, she has demonstrated her commitment to that particular group of people, who she has been diligent in bringing to my attention. I can assure her that we will continue to keep them in mind, along with all the other looked-after children.

This is not a single-year initiative or a quick fix. We need to keep working together to do better, and this Government will review progress every year in an annual ministerial stock-take. I am sure that all Members of this House will continue to work together constructively for the benefit of all children, but particularly for children in care. We will celebrate the successes of those already working so hard for children in care, and the successes and achievements of children and young people themselves, but we will be clear about where we need to push harder to improve and do better, and we will report progress to Parliament each year.

6.36 pm

Tim Loughton: I am happy, on behalf of the Opposition, to add my support to the Bill, as we have done all along. I congratulate the Minister on carrying it off as if she had been part of the Bill’s passage right from the beginning rather than for a matter of hours. She acquitted herself exceedingly well having been thrown in at the deep end with very little notice.

I want to say one negative thing and then a few positive things. The negative comment carries on from our interrupted debate on the private fostering registration scheme. Given that the measures in the Bill have had widespread support and that other amendments have been taken on board constructively by the Government, in principle if not in word, it is unfortunate that that scheme, for which many of us, in all earnestness and genuineness, have called over many years, was turfed out with no credible idea of when the Government might at long last invoke it, having given it one more chance to work back in 2004. It is a cop-out to say that the data are not available. It was not clear by the end of the Minister’s comments, which took us almost up to 6 o’clock, whether it is purely a shortage of data that is preventing the scheme from going ahead or, as I fear, the Minister’s failure to come to terms with its principle. As Utting knew, Laming knew, and most children’s organisations knew, this scheme is well overdue, but for some reason the Government, having blamed local authorities and the last Conservative Government, simply will not bring it in. I am afraid that we have no confidence that after another four years—not that they will be in a position to do it then—they would say, “Now the data are in and at last we will let children have the protection of this scheme.”

Let me turn to the positives. This is an important Bill. It has been long in coming and it contains many measures that many Members on both sides of the House have called for over many years to protect this most vulnerable group of children for whom outcomes have been absolutely scandalous for far too many years under successive Governments. On every outcome applicable to children in the care system—be it on educational outcomes, health outcomes, homelessness outcomes, or ending up in the justice system—those children get a very raw deal, and it shames us all still to have to debate some of the statistics. I hope that, as the Minister rightly said,
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although the Bill is not a panacea that will solve all the problems, it is the start of a journey towards changing attitudes and priorities.

We very much welcome the serious measures taken in the Bill to give greater stability to children in the care system by trying, where possible, to keep them closer to home, in familiar environments, with familiar people and in association with their siblings, and to provide consistency with regard to the people looking after them and the places where they go to school. It places greater responsibilities on authorities to assure the well-being of people in the care system.

I welcomed the much more constructive tone in Committee, where the welfare checklist we introduced was taken positively on board by the then Minister of State, who said that she would consider incorporating a version of it in the regulations that will follow the Bill. We welcome the greater recognition—not quite as categorical in the Bill as we might have liked—of the importance of kinship care and sibling contact. We welcome the care breaks for disabled children, which the Secretary of State was largely responsible for initiating in the Every Disabled Child Matters campaign some time ago. We welcome the innovation of social worker practices, which did not feature in discussions on Report, but which are a radical, bold move. The findings from the initial pilots will be eagerly awaited.

We need innovation in this aspect of public service because, at the end of the day, it is not the ownership of the provision of service that matters, but the welfare of the children and the advancement and results we are achieving for the most vulnerable. I know that we all agree that that must be our most important objective. It is a shame that there is not to be an immediate private foster carers registration scheme. It is a shame that our idea of a chief social worker, which we proposed in Committee, will have to wait a few more months. It is a shame that a foster carers charter is not to be included, and that the extra protection for children in the custody system, which we recommended, is not to be incorporated. However, Ministers made positive responses, which demonstrated an appreciation of the principles and intention behind some of those proposals.

In closing, I thank my colleagues on the Committee. The hon. Member for Crewe and Nantwich (Mr. Timpson) is no longer a Committee virgin: he was plunged in at the deep end and proved his expertise and knowledge on the subject of the family legal system and children in the care system. As a very new and fresh Member, he acquitted himself exceedingly well. My hon. Friend the Member for Isle of Wight (Mr. Turner) again brought to bear his expertise in this area, as did my hon. Friend the Member for Bromsgrove (Miss Kirkbride), who has been involved in many debates on children’s legislation before. We were ably whipped by a loquacious Whip, in the form of my hon. Friend the Member for Upminster (Angela Watkinson). We have had a good team. In fact, I think it is the first Public Bill Committee on which I have served where just about every Labour Back Bencher made good contributions—they were not there just to be Lobby fodder. I pass on my thanks to the Clerks, who helped us considerably in getting the terminology of our amendments right so that not many were turfed out because they failed to pass muster.

We wish the Bill well. We have wished for many of the intentions and proposals in it for many years, and at last they have become a reality. At last, we can say with
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some confidence that a serious attempt has been made to address and attack the scandal that is the outcome for the most vulnerable young people—those who find themselves in the care system through no fault of their own.

6.43 pm

Helen Southworth: I would like to say once again how effective the Bill is, how effective the process has been and how positive future outcomes should be for young people in care and those leaving care. I would not be speaking in this debate if I were not prepared to say that I want to make sure we get those outcomes. We have been around for a little while now, and we know that sometimes, despite our best intentions, delivery for young people is not what we would always want it to be. I therefore ask Ministers again, in the next few months when regulations are being prepared to support the measure, to give particular consideration to the young people whom we have identified as especially vulnerable—those who leave care too early. The Bill will reduce the number of those young people, but we must monitor the situation to ensure that that happens, and that effective support is provided in the transitional stages for those who leave care before the age of 18.

I hope that Ministers will do significant work on the outcomes for young people in custody. As hon. Members know, there is a young offenders institution in my constituency. For 11 years I have worked closely with the officers and support staff there, and have been incredibly impressed by some of the measures that they have put in place to help vulnerable young people change their lives. They have been ably assisted by social work support at the institution. It is important that the Bill and the provision for visitors do not undermine but support and add to the concept of having an embedded social worker in a young offenders institution. I hope that the regulations will show that that will take place.

In our earlier debates it was said that, when a young person is preparing to leave a young offenders institution, it is important for an effective and experienced social worker, if not an independent reviewing officer—that remains my preference—to be involved. Someone who has the skills, experience and abilities commensurate with being an independent reviewing officer should determine whether the young person needs to return to looked-after status, and what accommodation is suitable, and ensure that the pathways are effective and established to support those young people once they have completed a custodial sentence.

Again, I press for support up to the age of 21 for young people who leave care. Supported accommodation is essential for young people. It is essential for everybody to have access to help, support and information when they first try to live independently, pay bills and manage a tenancy. We need to ensure in the regulations that young people who leave care are properly supported, and make it clear that there are statutory requirements, which will be monitored to ensure that the changes are put in place.

Those things sound prescriptive—they are—but I know that Ministers and other hon. Members want them to happen. We are at the stage of moving on to
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expect local authorities to deliver for us. We need to be clear about our expectations of the monitoring process and of the way in which inspections are carried out, to ensure that the objectives are delivered for young people.

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