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The Earl of Mar and Kellie moved Amendment No. 52:

Page 16, line 25, at beginning insert:
("(A1) A local authority shall—
(a) safeguard and promote the welfare of children in their area; and
(b) so far as is consistent with that duty, promote the upbringing of such children by their families,
by providing a range and level of services appropriate to the children's needs.").

The noble Earl said: In speaking to Amendment No. 52 I would also like to speak to Amendment No. 53. The amendment springs from the concern that has evolved about the possible misuse of the category "child in need". There is a danger that local authorities will develop child service plans for this group of children and families which will leave them stigmatised. The local authority's plans may become disjointed with lack of a comprehensive range of services for children. The merit of the amendment is that it will ensure that the local authority focuses on providing a broad range of services to all families, not just an isolated group who, as I said before, may become resented.

For example, while it is current practice for disabled children to be integrated and schooled alongside their able-bodied counterparts, the Bill might lead a local authority to develop plans and services which actually militate against such good practice. Similarly, a local authority might misunderstand its duty to children and plan only for the tiny minority. I beg to move.

6 Jun 1995 : Column CWH51

Lord Northbourne: Perhaps the Minister can tell me when replying whether there is any definition of the phrase "children in need" within the Bill and if not whether it is left to the judgment of the local authority or to a matter of opinion. In particular I wonder whether there is not a danger that the phrase will be used to restrict the category to children with special needs. Perhaps he can also tell me whether it would be likely to include children who are not in need at the time but who, unless something is done, are likely to become children in need.

Lord Fraser of Carmyllie: Perhaps I may respond first to that request. Yes, indeed, there is a definition of "in need". It is to be found in Clause 84. Of greater relevance is an amendment we have yet to reach, Amendment No. 201, a government amendment, which re-defines what "in need" means. I understand that that amendment has been welcomed by those who have an interest in ensuring that children in need are properly covered and that the extent of the definition is seen as being wide enough.

The amendments we are discussing now would require a local authority to safeguard and promote the welfare of children in their area. The qualification in the clause as originally drafted that the children should be in need has been lost. Part II of the Bill is essentially about public intervention in the lives of children and their families. I believe that we need a suitable trigger. We do not want a local authority to have carte blanche to intervene when it is not necessary. Some assessment of need is surely appropriate and we cannot expect local authorities to promote the welfare of children where such action is not required, and, perhaps more importantly, where it is not desired by the child's family. The noble Earl seeks to keep families together and I agree that that is a desirable aim. The clause as drafted already reflects the need to take the child's and the parents' views into account where the local authority is making any decision. I have no doubt that if families wish to stay together, that will be arranged, if possible.

While I do not believe that it would be appropriate to move away from the concept that the children should be able to trigger access to the services, we have, as I have already indicated, extended our definition of "in need" in Clause 84. I hope that that will be of sufficient encouragement to the noble Earl.

The Earl of Mar and Kellie: I am grateful to the noble and learned Lord. As he will no doubt have guessed, in some respects this amendment is the first to protest against the description "child in need". We have been concerned that that sounds as though it has too narrow a focus, but this may be another of the semantic arguments in which we have already indulged this afternoon, so I do not wish to pursue it. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn

[Amendments Nos. 53 to 55 not moved.]

6.45 p.m.

Lord Fraser of Carmyllie moved Amendment No. 56:

Page 16, line 31, at end insert—

6 Jun 1995 : Column CWH52

("() In providing services under subsection (1) above, a local authority shall have regard so far as practicable to each child's religious persuasion, racial origin and cultural and linguistic background.").

The noble and learned Lord said: Amendment No. 55 (proposed by the noble Earl, Lord Mar and Kellie) and the Government's alternative amendment, Amendment No. 56, seek to achieve the same objective. The aim is to ensure that when local authorities are considering the provision of services to safeguard and promote the welfare of children in need, proper regard should be paid to children's backgrounds. We have already acknowledged elsewhere in the Bill the great relevance of a child's religious persuasion, racial origin and cultural and linguistic background.

The government amendment represents the preferred form of drafting and since it will achieve the result desired by the noble Earl, I invite him to withdraw his amendment in favour of the Government's. I beg to move.

The Earl of Mar and Kellie: I think that that has already happened. I congratulate the Minister on tabling such an excellent amendment.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

The Earl of Mar and Kellie moved Amendment No. 57:

Page 16, line 31, at end insert—
("( ) Where it appears to a local authority that a child within their area is in need, the authority may assess his need for services for the purposes of this Act at the same time as any assessment of his needs is made under—
(a) the Chronically Sick and Disabled Persons Act 1970;
(b) the Education (Scotland) Act 1980;
(c) the Disabled Persons (Services, Consultation and Representation) Act 1986;
(d) section 21(3) of this Act; or
(e) any other enactment.").

The noble Earl said: The purpose of this amendment is to ensure that a comprehensive approach is taken when any child's needs are being assessed. Many potential users of services will not be aware of the full range of services available to them. It would therefore be useful if an assessment could focus on the full range of unmet needs and not just on the aspect which may have provoked the inquiry. That will have the merit of causing all the agencies to take a co-operative view of what is required and to begin planning their combined approach right from the start. I beg to move.

Lord Fraser of Carmyllie: I have no doubt about the good intention which lies behind Amendment No. 57. It seeks to promote arrangements for the assessment of children under various enactments which are as non-intrusive as possible by providing the means whereby assessments under different enactments may be carried out at the same time. I note that the enactments referred to in the amendment are concerned with persons with disabilities. It may therefore have been better to add the proposed new subsection to Clause 21. Even then, however, I think on balance that it would introduce into the Bill considerable detail which would in turn undermine our intention to keep this important clause as simple and as focused as possible.

6 Jun 1995 : Column CWH53

I would not want the noble Earl to feel that I am in any way in favour of multiple or repeated assessments where they can be avoided. I can therefore assure your Lordships that we shall bring the essential and important intention of the amendment into the guidance which we shall be preparing for local authorities. With that clear assurance, I hope that the noble Earl will feel able to withdraw Amendment No. 57.

The Earl of Mar and Kellie: I thank the Minister for that reply. He is quite right that multiple assessments must be avoided and that when an assessment is done it should be as comprehensive as possible. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

The Earl of Mar and Kellie moved Amendment No. 58:

Page 16, line 40, at end insert—
("( ) the services mentioned in that subsection shall include respite services, and the Secretary of State shall make regulations for such provisions; and
( ) for the purposes of this Part—
"respite services" are arrangements whereby children affected by disability or at risk of family breakdown are provided with a break from their primary carers for a short period.").

The noble Earl said: This is an important amendment which will assist a broad range of families. Respite care has been a useful development in recent years, enabling families to continue looking after their children and at the same time knowing that there will be a break coming up every so often.

The provision of respite services needs to be mentioned in the legislation because it does not match the concept of children in need of accommodation. The parents of a child who would benefit from respite services are, of course, able to provide accommodation.

I believe that local authorities are in a quandary about the statutory nature of respite care. The inclusion in the Bill of a subsection specifically dealing with it would wipe away those doubts. The consequence would be that the new social work authorities would be able to plan for respite care provision, confident that they were acting statutorily.

The rather varied levels of provision of respite care at present in Scotland could then be brought up to a higher and more beneficial standard. I beg to move.

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