Examination of Witness (Questions 60-74)|
20 FEBRUARY 2008
Q60 Fiona Mactaggart: I think there
would be much merit in that. We have a problem with ministerial
stocktakes in various fields. I am not saying that is the case
in your Department, but departments stocktake internally and do
not necessarily tell the world the consequences of stocktakes
sometimes. I am thinking of immigration policy, for example.
Kevin Brennan: It is absolutely
vital that that stocktake is properly scrutinised and people have
an opportunity to comment on it and hold us to account.
Q61 Fiona Mactaggart: Let us look
at health. In your opening remarks, you were talking about the
kind of fields in which looked-after children do not thrive as
well as other children, and one of them was health. Do local authorities
and primary care trusts work well enough together in dealing with
the health of looked-after children?
Kevin Brennan: Probably not, historically.
That is why we are introducing the statutory duty that I mentioned
to require, for the first time, health authorities to work in
partnership with local authorities to promote the health of looked-after
children. The revised guidance, which is statutory guidance, will
be published towards the end of this year. There has been improvement
in recent years and there are lots of good signs that there is
more signing-up to making sure that co-operation happens. It is
very welcome that in the newly published operating framework for
the health service, children's health is more clearly indicated
as important. As I said, there is already a duty whereby PCTs
and strategic health authorities should co-operate in relation
to promoting the well-being of children, but what we hope this
duty will do is to make it clear that looked-after children should
be a priority within the duty to co-operate, particularly in relation
to the duty to co-operate with local authorities. What has tended
to happen is that where there is good practice across the country
it works very well, but the reason we think we need the statutory
duty is to make sure that it happens more universally.
Q62 Fiona Mactaggart: As Annette
pointed out, one of the health issues for looked-after children
is mental health. The Chair and I were both members of a panel
on young runaways. We know that looked-after children are more
likely to run away than other young people, and quite often some
of these duties just mean that institutions report that they have
run away, for example. That is one of the reasons why they are
recorded as running away more often. Parents might intervene,
rather than report to the police that a young person has run away,
and recover the young person faster. I am wondering whether all
the duties to co-operate and so on carry the risk that we might
end up back in the situation where there is a slightly box-tickingnot
particularly deliberately; not because people are badmentality
of "Oh, we've co-operated," and people have not actually
used their nous to put young people in a better situation. What
are you doing to avoid that?
Kevin Brennan: On the issue of
runaways, as you know, we commissioned a report from the Children's
Society, and our response to it came out quite recently. We have
set up a cross-departmental working group that is reporting by
the summer on how we can improve performance across the country
in relation to the response to young runaways, and in particular
look at the sort of provision for emergency accommodation when
young people run away from home. We recognise on that particular
issue that there is more to be done to achieve it. You are right:
it is no good just ticking boxes about co-operation between different
institutions; it has to have a practical reality on the ground.
This involves part of the new framework for local authorities
and health in relation to local area agreement and joint commissioning.
Everybody tells us when we go out and talk to people in the system
that good relationships and proper joint commissioning between,
for example, health and local authorities in relation to matters
such as CAMHSChild and Adolescent Mental Health Servicesare
Since 2000, the spending by local authorities
on CAMHS has gone up from £10 million to £91 million.
In the health service, it has gone up from £10 million to
£50 million. There has been a huge investment in this area.
One of the reasons why under the children's plan we announced
a review of CAMHS is that we have had that huge investment but
are we really achieving the right sort of co-ordination that is
needed? Are we looking properly at CAMHS as it relates to things
that are happening in our schools, such as the social and emotional
aspects of learning programme and the other investment we are
making in mental health within schools?
There has been an increase in the number of
child and adolescent mental health services specifically dedicated
to looked-after children. This is clearly an area where there
has been a lot of investment but where we have to look very carefully
to make sure we are getting the impact that is required. Where
you get it right it can have an immensely beneficial impact on
young people. You can see that through the Social and Emotional
Aspects of Learning programme in primary schools.
Q63 Fiona Mactaggart: I agree. I
would ask you in this process to think very carefully not about
what you can do after young people have run away but how you can
The evidence we heard was compelling. Collaboration
between police, health authorities, local authorities and voluntary
organisations in particular, to find out why young people were
unhappy and what they were running away from or to, and putting
in place the kind of intervention that a parent would in these
circumstancesit is not always easy for a parent to do soseemed
to make a massive difference.
One of the things we have to get out of this
Bill is that the state when it is the parent should be like a
parent. I can see that that is the ambition of this but there
is always a risk that bureaucracy is stupid. It does not mean
to be stupid but it is. It says, "Right, we have collaborated.
That is what we are required to do by the Act." It does not
intervene and act and so on.
I am sorry, Chairman, that this is not really
a question. My real urge is to try to find ways of structuring
guidance around the Bill and what happens as a result of the Bill
to reduce that capacity for stupidity in the state when it is
a parent. Otherwise we will carry on letting down young people
even though our intentions are of the best.
Kevin Brennan: I agree entirely.
Q64 Chairman: It is interesting,
though, Minister, listening to you todayand this is not
a criticismthat when we are wearing our other hat on schools
we are constantly talking about the quality, motivation and training
of the work force, and the way in which we pay and provision it,
because without a highly motivated, well-trained, good-quality
teaching force you are on a loser in terms of providing good education.
The work force issues here are very complexhaving highly
motivated, well-paid and well-trained people right across the
piece. It is difficult and tough working with these children because
the problems are complex and sometimes very hard work. Is the
work force issue one that worries you?
Kevin Brennan: It is a key part
of the reforms, Chairman. That is why there is a lot of work going
on to develop an action plan to engage on that journey of improving
the status, quality, recruitment and retention of the work force,
opening it up to a broader range of peopleperhaps with
more mature people coming inand opening up all those pathways.
Eventually, that leads on to issues of reward and pay and so on.
At this stage in the Comprehensive Spending Review settlement
we have an allocation to take forward that remodelling of the
children's work force and there will be significant announcements
during the course of this year in relation to that.
Q65 Chairman: Given your responsibilities,
in your view how long is a child a child?
Kevin Brennan: We as a Department
have direct responsibility for children up to the age of 19. Legally,
a child is no longer a child when they reach the age of 18, but
the truth is that people develop at different rates. We have to
have a legal age of majority, but when a child is no longer a
child varies according to the individual. We now recognise more
than ever, in relation to children and young peopleas we
refer to themin care, that that responsibility does not
stop at the age of 16 or 18, but continues into adulthood. We,
as a state, have a continuing responsibility to those young people
after they have left care, and we are extending that through the
Q66 Chairman: That is reassuring,
because some worrying comments were made during the debate on
the Education and Skills Bill about the age at which children
cease to be children. I found that worrying because I value the
protection that young people have, especially through to the age
of 18. A recent campaign in my constituency has focused on some
of the real problem cases: the vulnerable childrenusually
girls, but sometimes boyswho are sexually exploited, usually
by ruthless men who get them into prostitution and drug addiction
and so on. You often find that the social services and children's
services are very active until such a child is 16, but they totally
back off after that. The problem does not go away for a young
girl who has been coaxed by a pimp into that kind of life, and
that worries me both as a constituency MP and as Chairman of the
Kevin Brennan: That is exactly
why we have taken powers in the Bill to promote the well-being
of care leavers beyond the age of 16. I am keen to emphasise that
the old idea, which, to be fair, the Children (Leaving Care) Act
2000 did some work on, that children drop off a cliff edge at
the age of 16 is completely wrong, because the responsibility
extends well beyond that.
Q67 Chairman: Will you take that
message back to your colleagues and stand robustly against those
people who say that it is otherwise? I spoke in a debate on that
in the House, and it is an irony that the children of most of
the people taking part will not go into paid employment until
well into their 20s, although we expect children at 16 to go into
work without any training or education. There are still two worlds
for children, and I passionately believe that that is wrong.
Kevin Brennan: The Bill also contains
a clause that will give the Secretary of State the duty to promote
the welfare of children, which I think will be fairly broadly
welcomed, and gives him the power to promote the welfare of young
people beyond the age of 18, which dovetails with the point that
you are making.
Chairman: I brought that point up because
the best evidence about those things can be found in one's own
constituency. I have talked to the police and children's services
across Yorkshire and discovered that there are systematic and
organised gangs preying on looked-after children, especially young
females. They are absolutely organised, and I hope that the Bill
will do something to redress that. Actually, it is the campaigns
by Helen Southworth on runaway children and by Sharon Hodgson
on dyslexia that highlight those issues, so we still have a role
in our constituencies as well.
Q68 Mr. Chaytor: I have just a couple
of quick points for clarification. Is there an existing duty of
co-operation between primary care trusts and local authorities,
or will there be such a duty in the Bill?
Kevin Brennan: There is an existing
duty on local authorities, but it is not a statutory duty on PCTs
and strategic health authorities. However, it will become a statutory
duty as a result not of the Bill, but of the Government issuing
new statutory guidance in relation to the Children Act 2004 by
the end of the year.
Chairman: You have been handed an urgent
piece of paper.
Kevin Brennan: I hope that it
is telling me what I just said, Chairman.
Mr. Chaytor: Let us wait and see if it
does say what you have just said.
Kevin Brennan: It concerns statutory
guidance on how child and adolescent mental health services should
provide dedicated provision. Suddenly, I have received further
divine inspiration during the course of saying that. We intend
to put guidance on promoting the health of looked-after children
on a statutory footing for health services as well as for local
authorities, which is the point I have just made. The detail that
I did not give you was that we will do that under sections 10(8)
and 11(8) of the Children Act 2004. That will cover strategic
health authorities, primary care trusts, NHS trusts, NHS foundation
trusts, and, as is already the case, local authorities.
Q69 Mr. Chaytor: That is even more
useful, because my second question is whether this simply leads
one to reiterate the concerns that Fiona Mactaggart expressed
earlier about people in different organisations passing memos
to each other? Surely, the service is going in a direction where
front-line responsibility will not necessarily lie with the local
authority if independent social care providers take on a larger
share of the work. What duties will be placed on independent social
care providers to co-operate?
Secondly, what are the implications of practice-based
commissioning for PCTs? My concern is that it is all well and
good to put the duty to co-operate between PCTs and local authorities
in a particular subsection, but if, in reality, the front-line
day to day responsibility lies with the GPs, and they are now
commissioning the service at practice level, or with independent
social care providers, they are the people who ought to be co-operating,
and yet no statutory duty covers that.
Kevin Brennan: We believe that
it would be wrong to tinker too directly at that level within
the health service. There needs to be sufficient flexibility for
local commissioning. With regard to the relationships of social
work practices, as I said earlier, the local authority remains
the corporate parent in that sense, so that obligation is applicable
to the social work practice. In designing the model contracts
for these new relationships, with which our Department will be
closely involved, those factors will be taken into account. If
a social work practice was not following that sort of conduct,
the council would want to terminate its contract with them.
Q70 Mr. Chaytor: Following on from
your comments about GPs, is there not a risk that the Government
could find themselves in the same position as they are with Academies?
Because Academies are not defined as maintained schools and are
therefore outside the legislation, you subsequently have to legislate
to bring them in if the Academy or individual GP is not following
good and reasonable practice. Is it not better to bring them in
from the start so that the ground rules are clear from day one?
Kevin Brennan: We follow the general
principle of not legislating unless we have to. There are probably
good, long-established reasons for doing that. If your fears were
realised, we would have to look at the matter in detail. Members
of the Committee might be interested to know that, although I
did not have the opportunity to use them, I have the statistics
on looked-after children for each of their local authority areas.
You may already have those, but if not, you may find them helpful.
Chairman: That would be most useful.
Annette Brooke has a tail-end question.
Q71 Annette Brooke: I wanted to ask
a little more about private providers, particularly when children's
homes are located some way away from the area from which the young
person comes. I appreciate that the Bill will try to overcome
such placements, but it will not happen overnight. One problem
that has been reported to me is that a local authority will not
necessarily notify another local authority of a child who is moving
into its area. Another is that Ofsted might do an inspection of
a home but not communicate with the host local authority, and,
of course, the local youth offending team might want to know more
about the child. I am sure that I can throw health into the pot
here as well. We have spoken a lot about making everything more
joined up, but what about those children who are not in their
original areaare we convinced that we have enough measures
in place now, while hopefully we move to a different situation
over time? I can see that we must have at least 10 more years
Kevin Brennan: We are doing more
to try to join that up, in particular in relation to inspection.
For example, if the inspection shows that there is a problem in
a particular children's home it will become the duty of the inspector
to inform every local authority in the country of that problem.
Q72 Annette Brooke: Did you say "become"?
Is that not the case now?
Kevin Brennan: That is correct.
I think that I am right in saying that we are creating a new duty
in the inspection system to ensure that every local authority
in the country is informed if there is a problem in a particular
children's home. In addition, we are introducing new powersinspectors
will be able to put a freeze on new entries into a children's
home, for example. If they think it would be wrong to close a
home down, and create the kind of instability that we have talked
about for those young people, they may issue a notice for improvement
and give the home time in which to improve. In the meantime, if
they have concerns they can impose a freeze on new entries, as
an extra lever in relation to improving the quality of care in
that home. That again would be notified to every local authority.
Q73 Annette Brooke: Is there a duty
on the home, local authority, PCT, etc. to notify the host authorities?
Kevin Brennan: Of the presence
of that child in their area?
Annette Brooke: Yes. Is there that duty
now? It appears not to be happeningI have quite a few examples.
Kevin Brennan: I think that there
is a duty and it would be a breach of the regulations if that
did not happen. I am fairly sure that that is the case, Chairman;
I will confirm to you if it is not. I think that a local authority
already has a duty to inform the local authority in which the
home is located. That is the point that I think is being made.
Q74 Chairman: How many homes are
there roughly, around the country?
Kevin Brennan: I do not know the
number. All I do know is that 13% of the 60,000 young people in
care are in residential accommodation of that kind. I can certainly
write to you with the exact figures.
Chairman: Minister, it has been an informative
session and an excellent start for our look at the Bill. Thank
you for your attendance and for being on the ball after the very
late night we all had.
Kevin Brennan: Thank you.
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