Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

Lady Saltoun of Abernethy: I support the noble Lord, Lord Carmichael of Kelvingrove, in this amendment. I believe he and I were both at the same meeting when we heard some of the children—they were no longer children—from Who Cares? telling us of their experiences. In particular, if there was any kind of case of abuse, possibly with the manager involved, who would the child go to? He could not go to a junior member of staff to complain about the manager because the junior member of staff would have to pass it on to the manager. This is very important.

The Earl of Mar and Kellie: This is a very useful amendment which draws its inspiration from the reports of young people who grew up in care. They pointed out how awkward it can be to raise a complaint within the departmental structure. I believe it is necessary to have a system rather similar to that used in prisons and young offenders' institutions, by which I mean the appointment of a visiting committee type of organisation. Independent people with powers to investigate would help to solve difficulties, real or imagined, soon after they arose.

Lord Northbourne: I, too, support the amendment. It seems to me that if such a situation had existed in England over the past two or three decades, we might have avoided some of the distressing things which have gone on in some residential children's homes here.

There is another more positive aspect to the matter. I believe that if a child feels that somebody from outside cares about him or her, that can have a very important therapeutic value.

Baroness Faithfull: I agree with everything that has been said, but I am slightly puzzled about the role of a social worker who is allocated to a child. Every child should have a social worker who knows him or her and the family background. That social worker should, under all our rules of social work, be in constant touch with the child. I am afraid that that does not happen in many

6 Jun 1995 : Column CWH41

social departments, so I understand the need for this provision, but I rather deplore the fact that it is proposed that that role be taken away from the social worker who is responsible for the child and who should act as a parent to the child, visiting the home, taking the child out and getting to know him or her. I would not oppose the amendment, but I do feel slightly worried by it.

The Earl of Balfour: Would it be possible to bring in some sort of junior citizens' advice bureau which could help such children? With reference to Clauses 30 and 31, I feel that the same problem is faced by children being educated in this country whose parents are British citizens overseas or foreign people who send their children to this country to be educated. I am perhaps way ahead of your Lordships in terms of the Marshalled List, but I feel that such young people can sometimes be very lonely and desperately looking for help. They cannot go to the superiors where they are resident. They need to be able to go to somebody independent. From that point of view, I feel that the amendment deserves support—as does a child in the care of a local authority or any other child in the care of anybody else, including his or her own parents.

Lord Fraser of Carmyllie: This has been an interesting debate. A central feature has been that contributors have fixed particularly upon the circumstance where a child is in residential care and where there is a hierarchy of responsibility within the home, be it secure accommodation or elsewhere. Noble Lords have focused on the difficulties there may be in making a complaint because of the nature of the management.

However, what I need to point out immediately is that given the way in which the new clause is framed, it would go far wider than that. Indeed, in the context of the Bill it would mean that where children were still living at home, someone would nevertheless need to be appointed in this independent advisory capacity: if I may take up the noble Baroness's line, I would have very much hoped that in those circumstances in Scotland there would be a social worker who was well aware of his or her responsibilities towards that individual child.

There are many ways in which children in Scotland can get advice and support. The Scottish Child Law Centre has an advice side if it is legal advice which is sought, and Child Line Scotland is also well established. All local authorities should have properly established complaints procedures. Many local authorities in Scotland now have children's rights officers, whose job, as the title would suggest, is specifically to look after the interests of children.

Having said that, I can envisage circumstances where it would make good sense for an independent adviser to be appointed, perhaps for example, to mediate between a difficult child who has particular problems and the staff who have been assigned to look after that child. For staff who are having considerable difficulties in achieving a proper level of communication notwithstanding their best intentions, such an independent intervention might have constructive consequences.

Having accepted that there may be such circumstances, I suggest that the better way forward

6 Jun 1995 : Column CWH42

would be to establish it as a matter of good practice and include that within guidance rather than primary legislation. I am bound to resist the idea that in each and every circumstance where a child—if I go back to my terminology—is looked after, there should be a duty on the local authority to appoint such a person.

I hope that there is real scope for progressing the very laudable aim behind the amendment through good practice and good guidance. I certainly undertake to see that proper attention is given to such guidance and good practice.

Lord Carmichael of Kelvingrove: I am most grateful to the Minister. I believe that the visiting committee idea is too cumbersome for what we are trying to do. If all social workers were like the noble Baroness, Lady Faithfull, I would be only too happy to allow that, but the problem is that for someone living in a residential home the possibility is that the child or young person looks upon many social workers as part of the establishment of that home. Whether or not they are actually employed in the home, the young person will associate them too much and again be slightly scared unless the social worker has established a very good relationship. I am grateful to the Minister for the efforts he has made. I think he is showing great empathy towards the suggestion I am making. I hope we shall hear later the actual words he would suggest. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 18 [Local authority plans for services for children]:

The Earl of Mar and Kellie moved Amendment No. 43:

Page 15, line 22, leave out ("relevant").

The noble Earl said: The aim of the amendment and indeed of Amendment No. 46, which I also wish to discuss as it is consequential, is to ensure that the published plans for children's services are extended beyond the local authority's own services and include services provided by voluntary organisations and health authorities.

As I am very concerned about the difficulties that exist when agencies attempt or, more to the point, fail to co-operate I believe that there should be a sound statutory basis for co-operative effort on the part of all agencies involved with services to children. Only in that way can we ensure that children and their families do not fall through the safety net into neglect or get the run-around from different agencies. While legislation cannot guarantee co-operative effort, it is a good start. I beg to move.

Lord Fraser of Carmyllie: As the noble Earl is aware, this clause is important in the way it relates to the plans that local authorities have to prepare for services for children. I wish to indicate at the outset that I am as keen as the noble Earl to see local authorities plan their services carefully and on a proper strategic basis. If that planning is to be successful, it will have to be very clearly focused. To remove our definition of relevant services—which this amendment would require—would run a very serious risk of allowing the

6 Jun 1995 : Column CWH43

plans to become so diverse and all-embracing as to be virtually incomprehensible.

Our experience with community care plans, for example, shows how easy it is to end up with a document which is very difficult to understand when dealing with the range of services provided by a number of agencies to meet the complex needs of individuals. Community care planning was new and lessons were learned as it developed. In the light of that experience, I am sure that the plans for services for children should be very tightly drawn around the local authority's services relating to social care and welfare, obviously having proper regard to the consultations which authorities are required to carry out with health boards, health service trusts, voluntary organisations, housing associations, and so on. All this is provided for in subsection (4).

We must meet the aims to ensure that plans are comprehensive and also to ensure that they are comprehensible. Removing the word "relevant", I fear, would make it too embracing and, while I entirely share the noble Earl's objective, to delete that word would make it even more difficult to achieve that strategic, comprehensive set of plans that we want to see across Scotland.

The Earl of Mar and Kellie: I thank the noble and learned Lord for that answer. I had interpreted "relevant" as meaning only their own plans and was obviously trying to incorporate a wider group of organisations. The inspiration of that is my own social work experience where I think that my colleagues and I spent a fair amount of time encouraging the housing department, social security and the health boards to do what we considered to be their job. Therefore, one of the themes which runs through some of the amendments is encouraging co-operation between agencies. However, I take the noble and learned Lord's point that if we were to remove the word "relevant" and tried to put every single service that was offered in an area into the document, we would never be finished. On that basis, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

6.15 p.m.

The Earl of Mar and Kellie moved Amendment No. 44:

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page