Children and Young Persons Bill [Lords]

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Mr. Kidney: The hon. Gentleman mentioned that there is already a welfare checklist in the 1989 Act, but there is no reference in the new clause to the way in which its checklist would interact with the Act’s checklist. What is his thinking? Why do we need two checklists, with some checks that are the same and some that are different? It would be a recipe for confusion if the situation either was not clarified or was completely different. [Interruption.]
Tim Loughton: Yes. Checklist or checklists. You say tomayto, we say tomato—it’s all the same thing, is it not?
The hon. Gentleman makes an appropriate point, however. I do not want to replicate provisions so that one has to go through two different checklists, but the checklist in new clause 1 is germane to looked-after children. Clearly, the 1989 Act will retain its appropriateness and its sections on the welfare of the child their paramountcy, but we are dealing specifically with children in the care system, whereas the 1989 Act deals with more than just those children. The new clause has its place.
No doubt the Minister will say that she cannot accept the new clause for the reason that the hon. Gentleman just gave—that it causes confusion or it replicates. However, it is a genuine effort to measure whether local authorities are achieving what the legislation wants them to achieve—its spirit. With reference to “have regard to”, they may have been doing less, and not achieving the very best outcome for the child, than they would have done if they had had to measure up to the checklist before us.
Mr. Kidney: The hon. Gentleman’s answer is wrong, and I am sure that his hon. Friend the Member for Crewe and Nantwich, the family law barrister behind him, could tell him that the welfare checklist in the 1989 Act relates to circumstances whenever a court is asked to make a decision. It could take place in private family proceedings or in public care proceedings. It could also take place when a local authority seeks a care order, or when someone wants a variation of an order, wants to bring an end to an order or wants contact with a child who is already in care. So, when the hon. Member for East Worthing and Shoreham says that his welfare checklist relates only to children in the care system, and that the list in the 1989 Act relates to some other children or to children generally, he is just wrong.
Tim Loughton: I am very grateful to the hon. Gentleman for doing the Minister’s job for her. It might be more accurate to say that the new clause relates to children in the care system as set out in the Bill—that all the new factors that the Bill brings in should be measured against the checklist. It is an innovative attempt at being more appropriate to the changes that we all welcome in the legislation, so that local authorities can be properly measured. The welfare checklist—with its vagueness in certain areas, for obvious reasons going back now 20 years—could be tightened up by the more detailed provisions before us. I fully appreciate that competing priorities are a possibility. However, when it comes to judging whether a local authority has done its job in promoting kinship care or sibling care, and in keeping children closer to home, which the Bill will bring about, it is that checklist that will have to be used to see whether local authorities have measured up.
6.15 pm
The hon. Gentleman is right in so far as we are talking about the same pool of children, but we are talking about new legislation and new requirements. If we are serious about wanting to ensure that those requirements make a difference, we need a test against which local authorities should be prepared to be judged, one against which their performance could be found wanting—or found to be fulfilling the real spirit of the legislation that we are all so eager to bring in. On that basis, I am keen that the new clause should be considered by the Committee.
Annette Brooke: I welcome clause 9. I have not yet had the opportunity to express those warm words. It is significant that there is so much common ground among Members. We all agree on the outcomes that we wish to achieve, but it is the mechanisms that will ensure they can be achieved that are under debate.
I speak in support of new clause 27. The payments that might be made to kinship carers vary between local authorities, but they are made at a time when the carers desperately need support. I am aware that some authorities can be more generous with the budget made available to them by social services, and that others are not.
There are all sorts of reasons why a kinship carer may be short of money at times of crisis, and that might put pressure on the relationships that we are talking about—relationships that we want to flourish. I know of an example in my constituency. A grandmother had to pay considerable babysitting fees so that she could keep her one night out every week. That did not seem unreasonable, but I was surprised at how much she had to pay. It ate up the entire sum that she was given by social services. I mention it because a grandparent taking on a 14-year-old girl and not wishing to leave her at home unaccompanied is very worthy but expensive. We need to consider the matter further. I imagine that we will be discussing it again when we reach clause 24, but the new clause fits in well at this stage because of the necessity, when appropriate, of giving all the support that we can for kinship care.
I might also say a few warm words on new clause 1. The principle that the hon. Member for East Worthing and Shoreham is trying to achieve is rather interesting. I am not sure about the exact details, and the title seems to throw things into disarray, but we nevertheless need more in the Bill than what we have now that will give a stronger message to local authorities. Something like new clause 1, perhaps with a different title, might become as significant as the welfare checklist was in the context of the Children Act 1989, not least because the Bill is meant to be another landmark piece of legislation in a highly specialised area.
The new clauses deal with two different things, and they need to be approached carefully. I hope that the Minister will pick up on them and not dismiss them entirely.
Beverley Hughes: New clauses 27 and 1 are clearly intended to ensure that, as we discussed earlier, local authorities should better consider the needs of children being cared for by family and friends, and when that is happening we need also to consider the needs of the parents themselves. However, it is important to note that many excellent services are already available in the best local authority areas, whether provided by them or third sector partners. We have to ensure that those services are available no matter which area of the country people live in.
Chapter two of “Care Matters” sets out how we intend to make significant improvements to the support for carers who are either family or friends. In particular it sets out in statutory guidance the expectations of an effective service to those carers. That will address issues that authorities need to consider when they are commissioning services, such as widening support to include financial benefits to which carers may be entitled, and an appropriate assessment process in which the relative is approved as a foster carer. Obviously, we will consult widely as we develop the new framework to ensure that we get it right.
It is important to remember that section 17 of the Children Act 1989 already places a general duty on local authorities to safeguard and promote the welfare of children in need in their area and to promote their upbringing by their families by providing a wide range of services that are appropriate to children’s needs.
As the hon. Member for Mid-Dorset and North Poole mentioned, we are already seeking, through clause 24 of the Bill, to amend section 17(6) which, at the moment, restricts the making of payments to exceptional circumstances. We will no doubt debate that clause when we get there, but the intention is to give local authorities a wider discretion to provide financial support on a longer-term basis if they are satisfied that to do so would safeguard the child’s welfare.
We want to see more relative carers receiving financial and other support from local authorities when it is needed. The serious problem with the amendment is that it would, in effect, remove the discretionary aspect of section 17 for this category of children and family carers and effectively give family carers an entitlement in law that birth parents, who may have similar difficulties, currently do not have.
Turning to new clause 1, there is a great deal to be said for all the principles underpinning the amendment tabled by the hon. Member for East Worthing and Shoreham. In fact, when we looked, they were nearly all included in other pieces of legislation, particularly the Children Act. If they were not, they were included in the Bill. I think that the hon. Gentleman has put forward a very powerful proposition that all such principles should all be brigaded in one place. We all reflect and understand the way in which the welfare check list in the 1989 Act has been readily understood and is on the tips of the tongues of everyone who works with children; they know about all the measures because they are in one place, in a list, and it has had a powerful impact. Although I do not think that we should include this amendment in the Bill because the issues already exist—and I can send the hon. Gentleman the collation that we have done—in other pieces of legislation, the idea of brigading all of the elements together in one place is an excellent one. I assure him that, when we set out the new care planning guidance, I and the Under-Secretary of State will set out a list of key principles, including any that we might have missed that might be elsewhere in legislation.
That will have the same effect as a check list, such as the one in the 1989 Act, although in this case the list will be set out in guidance, given that very specific provisions exist in law already. Brigading those themes in one place will have a powerful effect by setting out very clearly the principles that we think should govern every aspect of social care work practice in relation to looked-after children. Indeed, the list in his new clause underpins the Bill’s four themes—good parenting, stability, the voice of the child and higher aspirations for children. I hope, therefore, that he accepts my assurance that we will set out that list at the beginning of the care planning guidance.
Helen Southworth: Will the Minister also look at proposed new section 22C(6)(d) dealing with placements? According to the explanatory notes, placements
may include, for example, supporting young people to live independently in rented accommodation, residential employment, or in supported lodgings/hostels.”
Will she make explicit whether proposed new subsection (6)(d) will be subject to the Ofsted inspection process? Furthermore, a case was brought to my attention of a 15-year-old girl placed be her local authority in bed and breakfast accommodation. Will she make it clear in guidance that accommodation under the subsection must be suitable and appropriate.
Beverley Hughes: I understand the spirit of my hon. Friend’s interventions. I shall have to write to her on the technical detail, and I shall do so before our next sitting, if she will accept that.
Tim Loughton: Mine was not the lead new clause, but I would still like to reply briefly to the Minister, who gave a very gracious answer. Whatever the mechanics of my proposal, and however it might conflict with provisions elsewhere in legislation, it was a genuine attempt to brigade—as she put it—the key principles, which are appropriate for the children and affected in the Bill. If she is happy to set out such a list in the front of the care planning guidance protocols, I would be delighted, and I look forward to seeing the fruits of our labours.
Question put and agreed to.
Clause 9 ordered to stand part of the Bill.
Schedule 1 agreed to.
Further consideration adjourned—[Mr. Foster.]
Adjourned accordingly at twenty-eight minutes past Six o’clock till Thursday 26 June at Nine o’clock.
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