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Baroness David moved Amendment No. 53:


(" . Local authorities shall secure that independent advocacy services are available to all children in their area who are placed under the provisions of Part II of this Act.").

The noble Baroness said: My Lords, this is the third amendment I have moved. The wording is slightly different from the amendment I moved at the Committee stage but the aim is just the same. It is to secure that independent advocacy services for children placed away from home should be available. This Bill has come into being as a result of an appalling series of scandals arising from the treatment of children living in institutions and other placements away from home. One important safeguard against the abuse of such children is to provide them with advocates who are entirely independent of the services the children receive and whose only function is to listen to the children and to promote their interests.

The need for independent advocacy has been confirmed by the official reports in this area--and there are a lot of them. For example, the Wagner report Residential Care: a positive choice proposed that children in all forms of residential care should have access to an independent advocate. The Scottish review Another Kind of Home recommended that children,

    "should be able to call on someone to act as their advocate".

The report of the Warner inquiry Choosing with Care--as the noble Lord is in his place, perhaps he will support my amendment--said that children in children's homes should,

    "have the support of their own advocates when pursuing serious complaints against staff".

The Utting report People Like Us recommended the use of independent representative services such as those provided by A Voice for the Child in Care.

The safeguard of independent advocacy has been recognised by the Government in their Quality Protects programme under which authorities are encouraged to provide independent advocacy services. But until such services are a statutory requirement children will be dependent on the good will and energy of individuals in the statutory and private sectors. This amendment ensures that the current patchy service of locally-based children's rights advocates and national advocacy services is transformed into comprehensive provision for all children who live away from home.

What happened at Committee stage? The Minister made some excellent remarks about advocacy and the "good work" that was already being done in this field. He said that members of the Committee had suggested that current provision was patchy. It is more than a suggestion: the Government are aware that less than half of local authorities in England and Wales fund

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children's advocacy services. Otherwise, the Minister did not address the amendment except to criticise it on technical grounds. He said that,

    "children living away from home",

covered too broad a group, including for example children on access visits to a separated parent.

Two responses can be made to that objection: first, that, surely, children of separated parents should be considered to have two homes; second, that if such children need the help of advocates the local authority should provide it, because in most cases they will be "children in need" within the terms of the Children Act. I have altered my amendment so that it reads,

    "Local authorities shall secure that independent advocacy services are available to all children in their area who are placed under the provisions of Part II of this Act".

While that would not mean a comprehensive advocacy service for all children living away from home, it would benefit significant numbers of children who at present have no one to turn to for independent help and advocacy.

The amendment has been commended by many different children's associations and organisations. I hope that for once the Minister will give way and accept an amendment which is supported by so many people who speak with such authority. I also hope that my noble friend Lord Warner will speak in support of the amendment. I beg to move.

Lord Northbourne: My Lords, as I do not see the noble Lord, Lord Warner, rising to speak, at this stage I should like to support the amendment. I say nothing further, except that the drafting of this amendment may also be open to criticism. Part II does not appear to refer to the placing of children but deals with the registration of establishments, regulations and standards, national minimum standards, inspection and so on. However, that can easily be overcome by saying,

    "who are placed with establishments registered under the provisions of Part II of this Act".

Baroness Masham of Ilton: My Lords, I too support the amendment. One of the problems highlighted in the tragic cases arising in care homes is that children have not been believed. Children's voices need to be heard. Many children are traumatised and perhaps cannot speak for themselves. This amendment deals with the point, and I hope that the Minister will be helpful.

Lord Warner: My Lords, I cannot resist the blandishments of my noble friend Lady David. I also cannot avoid placing on record that I do not resile in any way from the recommendations in Choosing with Care. Having made those recommendations to the previous government, I can hardly be less forceful in urging them upon the present Government. I strongly support the idea of increasing the availability of advocacy in these circumstances. To some extent matters have moved on, in the sense that a good deal of work has gone into improving the access of children

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in residential settings of one kind or another to external services which can put their point of view and investigate what is going on in these closed institutions.

I believe that there are problems with the terminology of the amendment. However, I encourage my noble friend to be as forthcoming as he can about the way in which the Government wish to pursue the extension of advocacy services in these circumstances. The need is very much there. There is always a danger that young people in those establishments cannot have their voice heard without the support and help of people from outside.

9.15 p.m.

The Earl of Listowel: My Lords, children in care are at a disadvantage. Advocacy is an important means of remedying that disadvantage. Their lower standard of education makes it more difficult for them to marshal their thoughts into an argument. It may be difficult for us who can read and write fluently to appreciate the difficulty they face. However, when helping a young man to write his curriculum vitae, one realises what an immensely powerful tool literacy is and the disadvantage that those who do not possess it suffer.

Furthermore, those in care are more emotionally dependent on their carers than are others. Recently a manager found a case beneath the bed of one of his girls. It was full of birthday cards and Christmas cards from her social care workers accumulated over several years. It was her treasured possession. It emphasises the dependence of such young people on their carers. That dependence makes it harder for them to express their wishes for fear of losing the carers' affection.

About 1 per cent of those children are unaccompanied asylum seekers who may be completely dependent on their carers. They are in a foreign culture. In a hostel I visited over several months was a young Afghan woman who spoke no English. It was difficult to find an Urdu-speaking interpreter of her dialect who could be available frequently enough to serve her needs. It was hard to move her to a new home. The homes found were not right for her. The Muslim parents explained that to live in a household with young men who were not her brothers would compromise a young Muslim woman. There are many difficulties, and on past record some local authorities, sadly, give the minimum attention to the special needs of these young people.

The Minister pointed out that Quality Protects places listening to the child as a priority. However, Quality Protects contains several priorities. It is a temporary arrangement. The Minister mentioned new guidelines. They can be overturned by a new government. Guidelines do not impose a duty on local authorities.

The amendment would be helpful. It would enable children in care forcefully to express their wishes. The service would not cost very much. A Voice for the Child in Care was mentioned earlier. It has arranged a comprehensive service in one county at a cost of

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£100 per child per annum. That includes a fortnightly visit from an advocate. I warmly support the amendment. I look forward to the Minister's reply.

Lord Addington: My Lords, I feel somewhat like tail-end Charlie. It is clear that the House feels that there is a problem and that advocacy in some form would be beneficial. From these Benches we support that aim. If the amendment is not right as drafted, I suggest strongly that the right amendment is tabled.

We are dealing with vulnerable people who do not have the normal support networks. They will often feel resentment towards authority and will be unable to handle authority in a non-confrontational way. They may suffer illiteracy problems. Such people later in life may appear again in the social services system, if not the prison system. If one allows those people to interact with society through the advocacy system, it will prevent a lot of trouble in later life. I strongly urge the Government to bring in some form of advocacy for these groups.

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