Children and Young Persons Bill [Lords]

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Kevin Brennan: I have been listening very carefully to what the hon. Gentleman said. It seemed that he was talking about out-of-area placements in relation to clause 18, which is what is covered by clause 9, new section 22C. That deals with out-of-area placements in terms of a new duty to place within an area. Clause 18 concerns placements by education or health, which is a mechanism to involve children’s social services in those placements.
Tim Loughton: I quoted the list of different agencies that this will require. The principle is the same as we discussed in clause 9, that whichever the likely agency dealing with something when it goes wrong should be notified. At the moment, they are just not being notified, either at all or until after a long period of time. The purpose of this probing amendment is to specify that they should be notified and ordinarily, it should be done the following day, or within a day of that child being placed in that area. It may have been more appropriate to have discussed it under clause 9 as well, although I think we touched on it in the debate we had around that. Whether it goes in the Bill or whether it will be tightened up in guidance, it should be the normal practice that a receiving authority is notified about a child from the care system within their area as a matter of course, simultaneously, if not in advance of that child being placed there so that they are aware in case anything goes wrong and they are hauled out all of a sudden to pick up the pieces.
Kevin Brennan: The amendment was designed to further tie down the exiting duties, as modified by the Bill, to notify the director of children’s services of the responsible local authority where a child is provided with accommodation for health or education reasons for more than three months. I am sure we will get into the wider debate about the needs of this group of children and the services they should receive when we debate the new clauses towards the end of the Bill. I know a number of hon. Members are interested in those matters, but for the purposes of the present debate, I shall confine my comments to the subject of this clause and this amendment.
We do accept that some evidence suggests that children’s social care teams are not always notified when children are provided with long-term accommodation by health authorities or education departments. In other cases, accommodating authorities have claimed that the notification was made, but the responsible local authority took no action. We do not have any evidence that effective multi-agency working and appropriate involvement of social service professionals is inhibited by any lack of time limits on these notifications. Whether notifications are made within one working day, or any other particular time, is not really the issue here. The real issue is whether the existing notification mechanism is an effective means of ensuring that children’s services authorities consider the child’s social care needs. The amendment does not address that issue.
As children’s trusts embed further joint working and multi-disciplinary teams become the norm across the country, we would expect problems with notifications to become a thing of the past. In the short term, however, we agree that more needs to be done. That is why we have introduced clause 18, which will help ensure that the notifications are made. It will ensure that they are made specifically to the director of children’s services of the responsible authority. That reflects their importance and will ensure that the responsible authority responds appropriately to the notification.
We are going further in clause 19 by requiring the local authority to take specific action in response to a notification. That means that there is a new duty to visit all such children. We will ensure through regulations that the visit is not a one-off but is regularly repeated to provide an ongoing supervision of placements by the children’s social care team. We have not stopped there. We are working with health colleagues by using the proposed new framework for children with continuing care needs to provide practical guidance to help bodies and local authorities work together to address the social care needs of children who are placed in long-term residential care.
I understand completely the sentiment behind the amendment. It is important that all agencies and all parts of a local authority are involved in and aware of children with complex needs at the right time. However, I do not think that the amendment is necessary. On that basis, I hope the hon. Gentleman will withdraw it.
West Sussex and Kent, the two authorities that I mentioned, still have to estimate roughly the numbers of children who are involved. They should have a much clearer handle on how many children from the care system are placed in their authorities and more importantly, exactly who those children are. The Minister is right that a senior responsible figure, such as the director of children’s services should know who is in his or her area and what requirements or needs they have.
I am happy not to pursue this matter at this stage. However, we will have to see the proof of the pudding in due course. That will be that local authorities are able, when asked, to account for the children in the care system within their authority area. Only when we get to that stage will we have some comfort that the joint and inter-agency working that we all support is happening in practice for the best interests of the child. On that basis, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.
Question put and agreed to.
Clause 18 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 19

Visits to children in long-term care
Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.
Kevin Brennan: Children in long-term residential placements made by health or education authorities are obviously vulnerable. The child’s needs and the involvement of the child’s parents are likely to change over time.
It being One o’clock, The Chairman adjourned the Committee without Question put.
Adjourned till this day at Four o’clock.
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