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Baroness Hayman: My Lords, in his last point the noble Lord raises an important area. We must carefully work out the methods of implementation and the implications particularly for the voluntary sector which, as he points out, is extremely important. That is one of the issues now being considered by the inter-departmental working group, led by the Home Office, on preventing unsuitable people from working with children. We will need to consider that matter when the group reports. But I am aware of the wider concerns than simply those relating to people in paid employment. We are all aware of cases where abuse has taken place in settings other than paid employment.
The noble Lord rightly points out that the messages about joined-up government, inter-agency working, partnership--whatever it is called--have emerged from every one of the tragic inquiry reports. We do not under-estimate the difficulties arising from a whole range of specific policies and duties, for example, ensuring that a local authority looks at its total responsibility for the child, not simply the social services department. The joint planning guidance given to the National Health Service and to local authorities in which children are a priority is an example of trying to turn that into a reality. As to child protection, we shall be issuing further guidance next spring in relation to inter-agency and inter-departmental working. Therefore, the noble Lord is right to say that it is not something that is simple to put right. We must put in place the structures to facilitate it rather than stand in its way.
The noble Lord rightly said that the Government could take certain steps but could not ensure that there was compassion or love. However, the framework that my right honourable friend has set for the work of the inter-ministerial group in terms of looking at how any of us would feel as parents and trying to replicate, however inadequately, in a statutory and non-parental framework those kinds of values is the best way of beginning to ensure that non-family-based services have some of the qualities that we hope the family-based care of children also provides.
Lord Laming: My Lords, despite being one of the most junior Members of your Lordships' House, I hope that I, too, may welcome the Minister's Statement. It is a powerful and heart-warming Statement. I do not recall key Ministers from all the departments with responsibility for this matter, several of which are represented here today, coming together to produce an action plan committing them to take such detailed action.
Does the Minister agree that the responsibility given to local authorities to care for children, many of whom have been damaged in early life and who have had a poor start, is one of the most serious placed upon them? Does she further agree that the report outlines a great deal of detail which local authorities should be addressing without waiting for legislation? There are many recommendations in the report which local authorities can immediately put into practice.
If children cannot be helped entirely to overcome some of their experiences during the first years of life, at least they can be safeguarded from further abuse or exploitation. Will the Minister give an assurance that steps will be taken forthwith to ensure that all local authorities, not only the best, operate to the standards set out in this very heart-warming document?
Baroness Hayman: My Lords, the noble Lord may be a junior Member of this House, but he is not junior in terms of his contributions in this particular area where his knowledge and achievements are well known. He makes a very important point. Although there are elements in respect of which we need to take legislative action, there are elements where we need to refine the fine detail as regards the key requirement of asking local authorities to set out Quality Protects action plans and implement them over the next three years. There are things that can be done and must be done immediately and the financing will be available. We are making very clear the criteria against which we shall judge those plans. As the noble Lord said, we must look not only to those who are leaders in good practice in this area, but ensure that we raise the standard of those local authorities which do not have a good record. There is no reason whatever for any delay.
Earl Russell: My Lords, perhaps the Minister remembers answering a Question of mine on 21st October about the provision of refuges for under-16 runaways under Section 51 of the Children Act. She then said that
In reply to the Front Benchers, the Minister referred to the inadequacy of many services provided locally. Will she consider the possibility that in some cases the adequacy of those services may have been proportional to the adequacy of the standard spending assessment? Does she agree that in the concern for the funding of education, which I share, there is a risk that social services might become the poor relation and that that risk needs watching?
Baroness Hayman: My Lords, I do not believe that any Minister ever forgets an occasion when the noble Earl asks him or her a Question. I do indeed recall his Question on children's refuges. The report refers to the importance of refuges and of national government working with local government and the voluntary sector to strengthen its role and financial basis. I do not recall my exact words, but the spirit in which I answered was that the response to the Utting Report was important in terms of improving the standards of care in order to prevent the need for refuges in the first place. I hope that we have a comprehensive plan which will enable us to provide a system from which fewer children feel the need to run away and therefore need the breakdown service which a refuge provides.
As regards the inadequacy of some local services, I hear what the noble Earl says about the resource background of some of the areas which have failed. However, it is not a simple equation between the amount of money that is allocated and spent and the quality of the available services. It is also a matter of commitment and the rigorous monitoring of the quality of the services. There is also a special responsibility on local authority members which the Quality Protects initiative is keen to foster and improve.
Baroness David: My Lords, I, too, give a warm welcome to the Statement to which we have been looking forward for some time. I welcome in particular what is said about 16 year-olds and over who may be thrown out of local authority care with no support. That does not always happen, but it can happen and we try to do something about it. Indeed, Lady Faithfull was keen to do something about it when the Children Act was being debated in 1989. We really wanted to do something about 16 year-olds but it was not possible. Therefore, I particularly welcome that recommendation.
Perhaps I may make one other point about training. Workers in local authority homes are often ill trained or may have no training. Can we have a reassurance that there will be proper training and that properly qualified people will work in children's homes? Can we be assured that training will be given not only before they enter the homes, but that there will be ongoing training and retraining as time goes by?
Baroness Hayman: My Lords, I recognise the point made by my noble friend. It is important that we resource improvements in post-qualifying training, in the take-up of vocational training and in management
I am grateful for my noble friend's welcome of the improved services for over 16 year-olds. Although in terms of legislation that may take time, we have made it clear that in the Quality Protects initiative local authorities must take action now to improve the services which they offer to care leaders, in particular in relation to young children who are thrown out into the world and, if I say, often "fail to thrive", it would be an understatement.
Lord Jenkin of Roding: My Lords, I wish to follow on the remarks made by my noble friend Lord Elton and the Minister's remarks about love and compassion. Does not that lie at the heart of good childcare? One can have all the action plans, targets and so forth, but if in the end there is not at least one person on this earth who is totally committed to the well-being of the child the service can never approach what has been widely welcomed--care comparable to that of our own children.
Furthermore, does the Minister accept that there is bound to be a "tug" between the desire to protect the child in a climate of child protection, with all the formality required to support it, and the circumstances in which positive childcare can flourish? Is the Minister aware that in my former constituency there is a splendid children's home in which the professional involved was involved in the Kincora study in Northern Ireland and reached the conclusion that the whole climate of fear in the childcare system, bolstered by regulations, legislation and departmental procedures, made positive, creative childcare almost impossible?
Baroness Hayman: My Lords, I listened with great care to what the noble Lord said. I certainly share his aspiration for the quality of service he was describing. I should not wish there to be anything in place which detracted from that creativity and the affection and concern he described which accompanies that.
We do not start from a position where even fundamental protection has been given to many of those children. Unfortunately, it is not a matter of increasing the level of compassion for some children who have been through the care system. Rather, it is taking fundamental steps to stop the dreadful abuse to which they have been subjected. I am afraid that that is why there is emphasis on areas of regulation which are absolutely inevitable, given the history of what has gone on before in this field.
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