Children and Young Persons Bill [Lords]

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Tim Loughton: It is a disappointment, but not a great surprise. It was a probing amendment. The Minister and all members of the Committee have the same intention. The proof of the pudding will be in the eating, particularly the extra £359 million that is being made available, and whether the provision will provide the sort of appropriate breaks that we know from our constituents are needed.
We have had a useful debate. I think that we all agree that it would be slightly churlish of me—I do not want to be accused again of being churlish by the hon. Member for Stafford—not to beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Clause 25 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 26

Power of Chief Inspector where person is failing to comply with requirement relating to children’s home etc.
Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.
The Chairman: With this it will be convenient to discuss the following: New clause 37—Duty to collect and provide information for inspections
‘In section 22(7) of the 2000 Act (regulation of establishments and agencies) after paragraph (1) insert—
“(m) make provision requiring the person who carries on, or manages, a children’s home to collect statistics on—
(i) instances of children going missing from the home;
(ii) instances of anti-social or violent behaviour by children accommodated at the home of a serious nature; and
(iii) acts of criminal damage perpetrated by such children,
and to provide such information, upon request, to any person authorised by the registration authority to inspect the premises.”’.
New clause 38—Consultation prior to preparation of inspection reports
‘In section 32 of the 2000 Act (inspections: supplementary) after subsection (5) insert—
“(5A) Before preparing a report in relation to the inspection of a children’s home under subsection (5)(a) the registration authority must—
(a) inform the local authorities which have placed children in the children’s home and, if different, the authorities in which children have been placed; and
(b) seek views on the performance of that home from—
(i) the Local Safeguarding Children Board established under the Children Act 2004 (c. 31) by the children’s services authority (within the meaning of that Act) in whose area the home is situated, and
(ii) the person designated under section 20 of the Children and Young Persons Act 2008 at any school attended by children in the home inspected.”’.
New clause 39—Provision of inspection reports
‘In section 32 of the 2000 Act (inspections: supplementary) after subsection (6) insert—
“(6A) The registration authority shall provide copies of any report prepared in relation to a children’s home under subsection (5) to every children’s services authority within the meaning of the Children Act 2004 which has placed a child in the home and to each Local Safeguarding Children Board established by each of those authorities.”’.
Helen Southworth (Warrington, South) (Lab): I was motivated to table the new clauses because of concerns among a number of colleagues about evidence on the outcomes for some young people in care in children’s homes, and the difference between those outcomes and the inspection reports for those homes. We were motivated particularly by the concept, which is becoming commonly held, that parents share responsibility with their children for much of the children’s behaviour, and that parents should be held accountable to a degree when children engage in antisocial or criminal activities. That is because parents have a responsibility to guide and support their children and to ensure that they are aware of different ways of behaving and given chances to learn new and better ways of behaving. Most of all, children should be supported by their parents so that they do not travel down the paths that, unfortunately, far too many children have taken, which lead to criminal records and custodial sentences.
5.30 pm
The purpose of the three new clauses is to get a virtuous circle, rather than a downward spiral, so that the different participants who support a child or young person in a children’s home work together effectively to ensure that the young person gets the support and intervention they need to achieve the sorts of successes that meet their potential.
New clause 37 would require children’s homes to keep records of specific activities that any good and responsible parent would notice, such as incidents of children going missing from the home. The current system of recording the reporting of a child going missing resulted in 23 children’s services departments being unable to tell the parliamentary all-party group for children who run away or go missing how many children in their own care had been reported missing to the police in 2005. Also, a significant number of children’s services departments that could give a response to that question gave a radically different response when asked the same question by their local police force. In many instances, the police forces had recorded a different number of young people who had been reported missing while in the care of the local authority than that local authority had.
When one looks at the pattern of who is responsible within a children’s services department, one will see that it is eminently possible for that sort of information not to be recorded effectively and passed to those who could do something about it. Indeed, one might say that some people have a vested interest in not recording it effectively, because it can draw attention to the fact that they are not parenting particularly effectively.
We need a proper, rigorous system for ensuring that those who are responsible for caring for children, ensuring that they have a safe and comfortable place to go and supporting them in that process are required to record instances when their children are reported missing to the police and make that information available on inspection so that they can be held accountable for it.
Helen Southworth: Absolutely. We have had a number of discussions with the Commission for Social Care Inspection, when it was responsible, and with Ofsted, because in 2002 the Department of Health’s guidance made that an indicator. However, reports have consistently not used it when inspections of the home have been made. In fact, a degree of frustration has been expressed by inspectors because, although they have a duty to do that, they could not do so because people were not required to keep that information and make it available to them.
Angela Watkinson: I am listening carefully to what the hon. Lady is saying and I am very supportive of it. She will know that most children who find themselves in care have experienced feckless parenting or disorganised households. They will not have learned all of the standards that we would expect children to experience during their childhood. Is it not quite shocking that on going into care they do not experience a far greater level of care and have greater values put in front of them? If they are absconding from the home, it indicates that things are failing very badly. That nobody is even recording their disappearance is quite shocking and is something that we must act on.
Helen Southworth: The hon. Lady raises something that has caused me a great deal of concern, especially when I tabled new clause 37. I felt that it was an unambitious new clause. I would have been far happier tabling a new clause requiring children’s homes to record and make available for inspection occasions of positive achievement by young people. It could have included how many young people are achieving high-quality GCSEs and A-levels and how many children are participating in school theatres of bands.
I found it very disappointing to put forward a requirement to record instances of children going missing, instances of antisocial or violent behaviour by children and acts of criminal damage perpetrated by children. That should not be what we are talking about. That is not what we expect for our children and these are our children. However, there comes a time when a baseline must be put down. We must say that these children have the right to expect minimum standards. These things should be included in those minimum standards.
The all-party group on runaway and missing children held evidence sessions towards the end of last year. Some very effective evidence was given to us by the police forces for Lancashire and Leicester, which had been doing intensive work in tracking why reports of missing children had been made to them. They looked at what had happened to the children and what the outcomes were. They used a very child-centred approach which was very effective.
That information is quite shocking when we consider our ambitions for supporting young people going into higher education and whether we can extend that to children who are going into apprenticeships or further education. Through failure, we can spend £78,000 in police time on not supporting effectively a young person in a local authority home. Local authority care homes should have to record these things and be accountable for the management of them. They must be open to intervention and support so that they can be more effective parents, rather than wait until the young people face the negative outcomes of being out on the street where they are subject to certain predators and likely to get involved in certain activities.
Leicester police said that the top 10 missing people for 2005 were responsible for 6 per cent. of the missing person reports for their police force. All of them were missing more than 10 times up to a maximum of 53. The top 10 had been the victims of 20 offences that were reported to the police and a total of 82 offences were linked to them, including 28 assaults and a variety of offences including burglary, theft and damage. They also commented that 70 per cent. of those offences were committed in the care home. They speculated whether, if those children had been in their homes rather than care homes, the police would have been involved, or whether proper intervention and decent parenting would have ensured that the children understood their actions and did not offend again. The purpose of new clause 37 is to ensure not that we record a downward spiral for young people but that we identify where early interventions are necessary in children’s homes to ensure effective support to give children in care a better outcome, not a worse one.
The virtuous circle involved in new clause 38 would ensure that the stakeholders responsible for the best interest of the child or young person placed in a children’s home are consulted and involved when an inspection report is being prepared. The designated teacher in the young person’s school, for example, would be able to give input on whether the relevant person from the home was attending parent-teacher meetings, whether the young person was getting help with their homework and bringing it in on time and whether they were attending school and participating effectively in school activities. Those are the kinds of thing that depend on parental support, or, in this case, the support of the person acting in loco parentis. Children and young people should not be expected to manage their own schooling, homework and environment.
The purpose of new clause 39 is to ensure that inspection reports return to the person with the most interest in ensuring that the child or young person has positive outcomes from their experience as a looked-after child. At the moment, Ofsted has no duty to provide reports to key stakeholders such as schools and agencies responsible for tackling crime and disorder. Reports are always sent to the registered individual as well as the registered manager, but that is it.
A placing authority, particularly if it is out of area, will not have the information that it needs to know whether a child or young person is having a positive experience in the home or whether they have absconded or run away—whatever word one wants to use; I do not like “absconding” very much—78 times in a year. That is absolutely essential information. None of us would allow our children to leave home if we did not know where they were going, what the reputation of the place was or how it was performing. We need to ensure that those reports are made available to the one person with that young person’s best interest at heart and the determining power over whether that young person remains in the placement or is given something more effective.
Mr. Kidney: I agree with all that my hon. Friend has said, but I want to ask her a question. In Staffordshire, the county council, the police and the Crown Prosecution Service have an inter-agency protocol designed to reduce the number of looked-after children who become involved in the criminal justice system. The partners have said to me that they are concerned that when children arrive in Staffordshire from another authority and are placed in the independent sector, the partners do not necessarily receive sufficient information to be able to work their protocol and give the same level of service to those children. Would anything in the new clause help those partners in the work that they want to do?
5.45 pm
Helen Southworth: There are two things that I can say to that. One is that my own children’s services department has said something similar to me: “We don’t know what we don’t know.” That is crucial. We must ensure that they have the necessary information to carry out their roles, particularly when they are trying to do so effectively.
The new clauses do not directly affect that requirement, but they place a requirement on Ofsted to contact a placing authority if it is different from the authority in which the home is situated, and to give feedback to the placing authority whether the child is placed in it or not. If it were effectively followed through, that process should be able to identify children placed out of area in children’s homes, but not those who are fostered out of area. However, I am sure that the Minister in his response will address how he will consider the minimum care standards review, and what it will contain. Along with my hon. Friend the Member for Stafford, I have heard some sad cases—a couple have been tragic—of young people who have been placed out of area, and the local authorities within which they have been placed have discovered them only when dreadful events have brought them to the attention of the accident and emergency department or the police. I agree that that perhaps should have been addressed in new clause 37, and we need to hear from the Minister how he will resolve that issue, with the support of his Department.
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