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The Earl of Listowel: I thank the Minister for his helpful and full reply, which I shall take away and reflect upon. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Earl Howe moved Amendment No. 4:

The noble Earl said: In moving the amendment, I shall speak also to Amendment No. 6. I tabled these amendments, because, amidst all the worthy aspirations embodied in the Bill, we must on no account forget that the Bill depends on trained people to make it all work. Untrained social workers or personal advisers, who lack a proper understanding of how children and young people behave and react, are the last individuals we should allow to undertake the responsibilities outlined in Clause 1. Child development is not a subject taught on social work courses but without that primary knowledge it must be well nigh impossible for a social worker to fulfil statutory responsibilities under the Children Act. For example, Section 31(10) of the Children Act states:

    "Where the question of whether harm suffered by a child is significant turns on the child's health or development, his health or development shall be compared with that which could reasonably be expected of a similar child".

How would any of us fare if we were let loose as a social worker for a child in care and asked to assess the child's health or development in the context of that clause? If a social worker lacks the detailed knowledge of the stages of development and the types of behaviour that a child can display in a variety of situations, especially unhappy situations, it is not surprising if early signals of abuse are missed, as they may well have been missed in a number of tragic cases.

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Specialist courses include a module covering the study of child development. However, it is essential that every social worker who claims to be qualified to assess a child in care, prepare a pathway plan for him or act as his personal adviser, should have a working knowledge of child development. It is a basic tool for promoting the wellbeing of all children in care or at risk. I beg to move.

Lord Laming: I support the amendment moved by the noble Earl, Lord Howe. Had we had the opportunity to discuss it, I might have tried to persuade the noble Earl to add a working knowledge of the legislation also, because, I regret to say, specialist workers in this field are not even conversant with the legislation and all that goes with it in terms of good practice, guidance and standards. The main thrust of the amendment is to ensure that the objectives of the Bill, which are laudable, are achieved. I therefore support the amendment.

Baroness Masham of Ilton: In supporting the amendment, perhaps I may ask the Minister whether there are plans to update the training of the social workers to make them well-equipped for this new legislation. What training will the mentors--the supporters or the advisers of the young people--receive?

5 p.m.

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My noble friend refers to advisers. There are two points here. The first is the general point about training and preparation for the people involved in the introduction of this legislation. That applies both to social workers, who will probably take a primary role in relation to assessments, and to the young persons' advisers who have a crucial role to ensure that the measure works and that young people receive the support they need. The second issue relates specifically to child development but it is important to reflect on the arrangements for training, and so on.

Perhaps I may refer particularly to young person's advisers. I believe that they have a crucial role to play in ensuring the success of the new arrangements. The consultation paper, Me, Survive Out There?, made it clear that this would be a demanding role. The young people's advisers will need to provide continuity of relationships with young people, and those relationships may often be characterised by disruption. They will need to be accessible at all times of the day and at other times in the event of crisis. They will need to have the ability to liaise with a wide range of other agencies and they will need the trust of the young people who they seek to help. They will need a very high level of knowledge and skill, which is why the issue of training is so important.

Many young people's advisers--especially in the early years of the new arrangements--will be recruited from those already working with young people in and leaving care. They might include members of current leaving care teams, and it is worth making the point that, although the record of local government generally in this area has been disappointing, there are

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some local authorities which have done first-rate work, and that much of what is contained in the Bill is based on good practice in those local authorities.

Young people's advisers could be social workers, residential care staff, voluntary sector workers and, in some cases, foster carers. Many of these people will have a professional qualification or some other form of training, or be qualified in part by their experience in dealing with young people.

However, all young people's advisers will need to be trained in the provisions of the new legislation, and most--especially those with little previous experience in dealing with young people--will need a broader and more ambitious training programme to ensure they have the necessary skills to carry out this crucial new role effectively. We are committed to ensuring that all individuals who become young people's advisers are fully and properly trained and to securing the necessary resources to make this happen.

The issue of training for people concerned must also be considered in the context of the development of the general social care council which we are currently debating in the Care Standards Bill. This new body will set standards of conduct and practice for the whole million-strong social care workforce and is due to be established in April 2001. In time, we expect that those charged with responsibility for successfully implementing the provisions of the Bill will fall under the new body's powers.

I now turn to the question of child development. The noble Earl, Lord Howe, raised an interesting point. I take this to be a requirement for all those involved in assessing and reviewing young people's progress. Last year the Department of Health issued a consultation paper on a framework for assessing children in need and their families. The paper made it clear that the framework is based on a requirement to gain a thorough understanding of the developmental needs of children. We hope to issue the assessment framework as statutory guidance very shortly and it will make clear that the assessment and pathway planning for care leavers should accord with the framework. At the same time, we shall be issuing practice guidance and a training pack to assist the introduction and implementation of the new framework.

I accept that there has been some criticism that child development has not been adequately covered in social work training courses. Of course, the development of the general social care council and other initiatives will allow us to review that issue.

I conclude by saying that I have sympathy with the noble Earl. I am not at all convinced that placing that requirement on the face of the Bill is the right approach, but I hope I have convinced the Committee that we are committed to ensuring that the people who have to carry out these responsible jobs are properly trained. Of course, that will be the responsibility of individual local authorities. I want also to assure the Committee that the much stronger performance management and framework that we are now placing in local authority social services departments will

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enable us to monitor local authorities' responsibilities in this area, and to draw to their attention problems if we encounter them.

Baroness Masham of Ilton: Perhaps I may ask a question. Social workers seem to go on leave and on courses a lot. If there is a young person who is very much at risk and needs his young person's adviser, will there be a substitute?

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: The noble Baroness raises an important question, and clearly we shall need to ensure that there are arrangements so that if the young person's adviser is on holiday or on a training course, the young person will have access to advice. It is very important that at a time of crisis, for instance, there is always someone available. Obviously these are matters that local authorities will need themselves to resolve, but it is an important point.

Earl Russell: The noble Lord, Lord Laming, has said enough about the importance of this amendment and need not add any more; but of course training has costs. When the noble Lord was on his feet I started looking at the Explanatory Notes. The section entitled "Effects of the Bill on Public Sector Finances" says:

    "It is intended to implement the Bill by drawing together into a single budget head current expenditure by local authorities",

under several different heads. It is a laudable and a sensible ambition. However, I take it that the Minister will agree that this can be, as current terminology has it, only an "aspiration". There is a large conjectural element in setting out to fulfil what is a perfectly reasonable ambition. I imagine that somebody in the course of preparation of this Bill has given some attention to the question of what happens if these calculations turn out not to be precise? Is there any prospect of any additional help? Is the commitment to doing what the Bill sets out to do a primary commitment, or is the primary commitment to remain within an existing budget?

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