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Earl Howe: I am grateful to the Minister for that reassuring reply and I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 15 not moved.]

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Lord Laming moved Amendment No. 16:

    Page 4, line 8, after first ("child") insert ("or young person").

The noble Lord said: In moving Amendment No. 16 I shall speak also to Amendment No. 17. The amendments are intended to illustrate a concern about the Bill as a whole which I hope the Minister will find a way of addressing. We are talking about young people leaving care and we refer to them throughout the Bill as "children". Bearing in mind that we are hoping that these young people will maintain contact with the local authority through adolescence and beyond, I hope that the Minister might think it wise to find ways, wherever possible, of referring to "a child or young person" in order to encourage young people to recognise that we are not patronising them as children but are recognising that they are in a transitional stage between childhood and adulthood. I beg to move.

Lord Clement-Jones: I strongly support the noble Lord, Lord Laming. The amendments can be treated as consequential amendments on Amendments Nos. 7 and 8, but they also give rise to a useful debate about how we should describe those young people who are the object of the Bill. I wince every time I have to describe the Bill as a Children (Leaving Care) Bill. We are talking about young people, in some cases up to the age of 24. It would be useful if the Government could change the title of the Bill and describe young people in the Bill differently. I recognise that the Children Act is called the Children Act, and in legislation there may be an extended meaning to the word "child". Nevertheless it is increasingly offensive to have to describe people above the age of 16 as children. I beg to move.

Baroness Masham of Ilton: "Children and Young People (Leaving Care) Bill" runs quite well.

Lord Clement-Jones: Perhaps I may abuse Committee procedure and say that those people, by and large, may start having pathway plans prepared for them at 14 and 15. However, those leaving care at 16 are not children but young people. I recognise that there may be a move to compromise but I should like to get rid of "child" and "children" altogether in the Bill.

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: The Bill refers to children as being 16 or 17; and young people are 18 and over. It could therefore be argued that it is consistent with what noble Lords have suggested. I am happy to look at the matter again and write to the noble Lord to clarify it for him. I accept the points raised by noble Lords. Equally, I believe that the terminology used in the Bill relates back to the Children Act and we need to have a measure of consistency. However, I shall be happy to discuss that with the noble Lord.

Lord Laming: I am grateful to the Minister. With that thoughtful reassurance, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 17 not moved.]

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7 p.m.

Earl Howe moved Amendment No. 18:

    Page 4, line 12, at end insert ("save for the following exceptions--

(a) where the relevant child or young person is estranged from his parents, support shall be given by the responsible local authority without reference to the means of either of his parents; and
(b) any award made to the relevant child or young person by the Criminal Injuries Compensation Authority shall be discounted").

The noble Earl said: In moving this amendment I shall speak also to Amendment No. 22. New Section 23B(11) of the Children Act establishes that financial assistance is to be means tested. These amendments would ensure that the means of children and parents are disregarded in certain circumstances in the best interests of the child. The thought that lies behind the first part of these amendments is quite straightforward. It is that any means testing of support where a young person is estranged from his or her family may militate against restoring relationships. It cannot be right that the system that we put in place to support care leavers should contain a provision that stands in the way of something that could be of immeasurable benefit to the child. In the circumstances I have outlined, therefore, it seems right that contributions from parents should be disregarded.

Paragraph (b) of the amendment deals with a different issue. It takes its cue from a number of cases where local authorities have taken into account awards under the Criminal Injuries Compensation Authority when assessing financial support entitlement for care leavers. One example illustrates the point. Susan was subject to a care order and at the age of 14 was sexually abused by a worker in the residential unit where she lived. The abuser was successfully prosecuted and Susan received a substantial payment from the Criminal Injuries Compensation Authority. The payment was placed in trust until Susan was 18. She obtained a university place and asked the local authority for financial assistance but was told that no finances would be forthcoming as she could use the compensation money for this.

It really does seem grossly unfair to treat compensation income in this way. It is also entirely contrary to the purpose of the compensation. As a matter of principle, any awards made by the Criminal Injuries Compensation Authority to a young person should be automatically discounted. I hope the Minister will be sympathetic to both the points that I have raised. I beg to move.

Lord Laming: I support absolutely the noble Earl, Lord Howe. As regards criminal injuries, we need to go to enormous lengths to avoid a situation where children have been awarded compensation for events that have actually taken place while they were in care and that compensation then considered in relation to

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their financial support. I very much hope that the Minister will see the force of the argument behind these two amendments.

Lord Clement-Jones: I rise to support both these amendments. Clearly, I support the issue regarding awards by the Criminal Injuries Compensation Authority. That is quite inequitable. However, what we should feel most strongly about, because it potentially affects the young person's life, is the first limb of the amendment of the noble Earl, Lord Howe. This is in relation to making sure that where a young person is estranged from his family, parents are not asked for contributions. One seems to be on a hiding to nothing there. For the sake of extracting a few pounds from the parents, there is a risk of gravely damaging that relationship and there is little hope of restoring it. I urge the Minister to look at that again.

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: I certainly agree with the sentiments that have been expressed, though I am not convinced that the amendments or changing the law in this way is the right way forward. It is going to be perfectly possible for us in guidance to deal with the issues that both noble Lords have raised. I accept that if a young person has suffered criminal injury and has been awarded compensation as a result, it seems mean spirited if he is then denied support as a result and expected to use compensation for day-to-day living expenses. Similarly, if a young person is estranged from his family, relations can be further strained if the family is then required to contribute to his maintenance. Young people in care are often in a very delicate position regarding their families, and their past and future prospects make it vital that the local authority is sensitive to the complex aspects of their lives.

The Bill does not introduce any changes to the local authority means-tested aspect of support for young people in and leaving care, and we are not convinced that it ought to do so. It seems right that the local authority should be sensitive to the relationships between young people in care and their families and not do anything which would make the difficult relationships worse. Equally, it is right that they should expect some contribution towards the costs of looking after a child in care if the family's means permit. This could even be a way of rebuilding a family relationship by emphasising the responsibilities family members have towards each other.

For this issue and for the question of how to treat awards from the Criminal Injuries Compensation Authority, the Government believe that sensitivity is needed rather than changes to the legislation. Current legislation does not oblige local authorities to require parental contributions for children they are looking after. They may only do so if it is reasonable. Similarly, local authorities are not obliged to seek contributions from families for any assistance they provide under Section 17 for children in need, or Section 24 for aftercare support.

We are applying the same provisions for aftercare assistance to the new arrangements as presently apply to Section 24. These provisions state that, before

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giving any assistance, a local authority is to have regard to the means of the child concerned and to each of his parents, and that no one has to repay an assistance if he is receiving certain social security benefits. We believe that this should be enough but we are happy to look again at the guidance to see whether it needs to be strengthened and, in particular, to ensure that it covers the kind of continuing support which the Bill introduces.

If a child receives an award as compensation for a criminal injury, in our view that money is capital which should not be taken into account when considering day-to-day expenses. We would expect local authorities to be reasonable about what capital might be expected to be used for and to treat each case on its own merits. Again, I am happy to revisit the guidance to make sure that it is adequate to cover the effects of the Bill.

I take the point that these issues have not been handled sensibly by some local authorities. I am not convinced that it is the law that is at fault. I believe it is the management processes and decisions within local authorities and I am happy to advise noble Lords that I will revisit this issue in guidance.

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