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A mentor, a personal adviser, or a young person's adviser, is a strange, precious and rare creature. He or she has to be available--that is, accessible. In some urban authorities, he or she is not difficult to find from local authority personnel. However, in local authorities with a wide geographic area, that may be extremely difficult. It is even more difficult to find someone who is sympathetic to the young person.
Crucial to the plan in the Bill is the development of pathway plans. It is no good having the most splendid, detailed and compellingly convincing pathway plan for a young person if the young person does not think that he or she owns it. It takes great skill to guide a young person into adopting a pathway plan which you, as an adult, think that that young person should adopt. It does not follow that because the Government wish this to be done by local authorities, and even though local authorities are eager and willing to do so, those personnel will be available. They will need training even if they are in post. We have already heard of the shortage of training in the care system--hence a good deal of its trouble--and it is no good passing children from one set of untrained supervision to another.
I have another word of caution for the Minister. My experience in various guises of young children is that when they get into trouble they are almost always in rebellion against authority. Authority is expressed by them through the contemptuous word "them": "They won't let us do it"; "It's all because of them"; and "them" represents a series of concentric circles of authority which may start close to the home and then embrace the teacher, the probation officer, the social worker, the policeman, or any employee of local authority.
The people required who are in post may not be geographically accessible. They will need training; and they will need personal characteristics which are pretty rare to find. At this point I do not feel that I have to apologise for bringing forward again the voluntary sector or for suggesting to the Minister that it may be a good source of trainable or trained mentors. I do not put forward any claim on behalf of the DIVERT Trust. I put forward a claim on behalf of the voluntary sector. There are many others involved in the voluntary sector besides the trust. I ask the Minister to recognise, and to ensure that local authorities recognise, that it is not a source of cut-price personal
There has been a great change in thinking in the past 10 or 12 years, not only by this Government, but also by the previous government. I came into government in 1979. We inherited an assumption that the Government would provide the resources with which the voluntary sector could do things which the government otherwise would be doing. That tide of money ceased. When there was a change of government, there was an expectation--and I must say it tempted noble Lords on these Benches with my inclinations almost to thoughts of disloyalty--that the incoming government would have a different view and that core funding might again become available for the voluntary sector to do things which otherwise government would do. That has not happened except in a few notable cases. I draw your Lordships' attention to that because it is central to the whole of the voluntary sector. The matter needs to be addressed if that sector is not to become moth-eaten and overburdened.
Finally as regards the young people's advisers, the noble Lord, Lord Clement-Jones, referred to a reconciliation service once the relationship has broken down. Of course, once broken it is difficult to restore. However, it is so precious that if the Government have retreated from their view, they should be encouraged to return to it.
As regards the legislation, I note that the Minister has no fewer than 13 order-making powers, all of which have been given a good bill of health by the scrutiny committee. However, I believe that two in particular--those in new Sections 23D and 23E--might with advantage be published in draft before we complete our debates on the Bill, and preferably before Committee stage. The new Section 23E relates to regulations concerning the pathway plan and reviews of the same. They are central to the Bill and to the relationship with the adviser.
Finally, I join the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, in asking what on earth all this is going to cost. Not only is there a new duty to be paid for, but certain incomes which young people would receive as benefits will have to be provided by the local authority. Linked to the questions of what it will cost and how it will be met is the question we so often forget to ask in this House. After the "Bill do now pass" debate, we sit back with a sigh of relief and think that we have done a good job, but no one bothers to ask when the legislation will be implemented. The date of the coming into effect of the Bill is connected to the degree of enthusiasm we can show for it. I hope that the Minister will show that it will not be before the resources are available, but it will not be later than 18 months.
The Earl of Listowel: My Lords, the noble Baroness, Lady David, drew attention to asylum seekers, who are left out of the Bill. I work with asylum seekers and I hope that the Government will consider what it is like for children who know that their parents are being bombed or who have lost members of their family and do not know whether they are alive or dead. That should come into the Government's consideration of their treatment of asylum seekers, particularly those in such situations. A theme of the debate has been the Government's emphasis on corporate parenting. That is an important principle. But we should remember that these children are extraordinary; they are a selected group, as the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, pointed out. They have had the worst of times, so in some ways they are unlike our children and need more help and support for a longer period.
The tenor of this Bill reflects the Government's commitment to the most vulnerable in society. It is widely welcomed by voluntary organisations which interest themselves in the well-being of looked-after children.
As has been pointed out, currently children are being forced out of care prematurely. They are often unsupported and some 25 per cent become homeless within two years. One quarter of looked-after girls have had a baby by 16 and half are mothers within two years of leaving, compared with one in 25 of the population at that age. The system has failed them and has left a legacy of unhappiness for the next generation.
In beginning to remedy this, the introduction of more support for longer and of an allocated young person's assistant to oversee that support is most welcome. The pathway plan, a strategy for the future formulated by the young person and his advisers, is also an innovation to be applauded.
Similar plans are used in foyers for young people who have been homeless. Their use is well-established good practice and has the effect of making clear to the young person his rights and responsibilities. They encourage independence and make clear the help available to achieve it.
The Bill is a good start in addressing very serious problems, but, in common with the noble Lords, Lord Northbourne and Lord Elton, I feel that it needs to be more realistic. The consultation document, Me, Survive Out There? states:
My researches suggest that while the children concerned have been consulted and those who have left care have been involved in informing policy, neither the Government nor the Civil Service have spent time going into a residential home on a regular basis, developing relationships with cared-for children and learning first hand the particular challenges they face. It may not be the custom so to do, but the failures of the system indicate the consequences of those formulating policy being too far removed from the experience of those for whom they legislate.
I have that experience. I have not worked in residential care, but I have worked in an intermediate treatment centre--an establishment for young people with behavioural problems--and with young people in a psychiatric unit. Many of the young homeless people with whom I have worked during the past year have spent time in care. In addition, I have reflected on my experience and consulted with those who have studied the development of children and sought to heal those who have been damaged.
Therefore, I urge the Government to reach further than the Bill stipulates. As many speakers have said today, there needs to be a clear and explicit commitment to extend the full duty to assess and meet the needs of all care leavers up to and including the age of 21 rather than the age of 18 as provided in the Bill as it stands. Indeed, this is only what the Government were minded to do in their response to the recommendations in Sir William Utting's Children's Safeguards Review. That would recapture some of the lost sheep--those who become disillusioned with premature independence--and realise their need for support. It would also ensure that others do not become lost.
I ask the Government also to consider giving local authorities discretion to assist care leavers beyond the age of 24. A wanderer, drug addict, rough sleeper or criminal may come to realise that he is wasting his life. Local authorities should be able to consider aiding him to return to education, to take up training, to find proper accommodation or to begin a course of counselling. A good parent exists not to prevent a lazy child from taking responsibility for his actions but to welcome a child, however old, who is ready to mend his ways. The noble Lord, Lord Laming, conveyed that point extremely clearly.
Over the next few months I shall be spending a couple of hours weekly working in a residential home for looked-after children. I should warmly welcome the company of advisers to the Minister and of Members of your Lordships' House. I should so like them to be able to tell me that my concerns are unfounded or to join me in calling for the Government to go even further than they are at present in meeting the real needs of children in care.
Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, we have had a wide-ranging and, if I may say so, very encouraging debate on the Bill. It has been a real pleasure to debate a piece of legislation where everyone agrees about what we are trying to achieve. That is consistent with the consultation on Me, Survive Out There?, where well over 80 per cent of the responses received supported the overall thrust of the Government's policy. However, since the process of working out the policy there has of course been a great deal of interest in the details of implementation, as we have heard this afternoon.
I should like first to respond to the noble Earl, Lord Listowel, who has so much important first-hand knowledge of the experience of vulnerable young people. I fully accept that we must ensure that, as far as possible, we have a system that enables us to engage with people who, in the words of the noble Lord, Lord Elton, regard the system and the state very much as "them" and not "us". The noble Earl, Lord Rosslyn, was also much to the point when he talked about young people as the victims of crime and as offenders. He made a connection between young people in such situations and failure at school, exclusion from school, unwanted parenthood and failure to gain employment skills, which links back to the whole issue of support, or lack of it, for so many children in care over the past few years.
Because the noble Earl raised that point, it is important to stress that the Bill must be seen in the wider context of enabling us to give greater support to those troubled young people. Last year, the Government's response to many of those issues set out a range of practical measures to address the issues originally raised in the Utting report.
In particular, to tackle the defects of the care system, we established the Quality Protects programme, which was launched in September last year. It is a three-year programme of radical overhaul of children's services which concentrates especially on the public care system and covers all aspects of the service: attitudes, management, standards, service delivery, training and value for money. It sets a series of new objectives for children's services as well as covering the protection of children and suitable secure placements. Its provisions include ensuring that children looked after gain maximum life chances from educational opportunities, health care and social care. Therefore, the Bill must be considered in the context of our overall approach in those areas.
The noble Earl, Lord Howe, opened his remarks by stressing that, for the programme to work, it is essential that young people have ownership of the process. I agree with him. That is what makes the role of the young person's adviser so crucial. The noble Lord, Lord Elton, and the noble Baroness, Lady Masham, particularly stressed that point. It is a crucial role. The young person's advisers will have to give support when it is needed. They will have to ensure that the multi-agency assessment and pathway planning process is comprehensive and properly conducted. They will have to represent the young person's wishes and negotiate an agreed pathway plan between the local authority and the young person.
One can see that that will be an important and skilled job. I assure the noble Baroness, Lady Masham, that such people will be vetted for their suitability. The young person's adviser must be a person whom the young person may trust. They must be committed, readily accessible and prepared for intensive contact with the young person should a crisis arise. I accept the points made by the noble Earl, Lord Rosslyn, and my noble friend Lady David about the crucial importance of the training and development of those people. I assure noble Lords that we shall be discussing that issue with the Local Government Association and the Association of Directors of Social Services and issuing guidance to local authorities in that area.
Furthermore, training and development must be considered also in the context of a Bill that we shall shortly be debating on the development of a general social care council which is in itself designed to raise the professional and training standards for the million-strong social care workforce. A number of questions were asked by the noble Lord, Lord Clement-Jones, and the noble Lord, Lord Elton, about where the young person's advisers will come from. Of course some will be directly employed by the local authority from its existing workforce; perhaps from some of its current care-leaver teams. It is worth making the point
However, it might well be of advantage and local authorities may well wish to employ experienced foster parents in such a role. I certainly agree with the noble Lord, Lord Elton, that people from the voluntary sector will be well placed to be appointed to such posts. I assure him that in the guidance that we give to local authorities we shall encourage a diverse approach to the employment of the right people to do the job.
The noble Earl, Lord Howe, asked whether our guidance would make mention also of the specific needs of disabled young people. I assure him that that will be the case. Many comments were made by noble Lords, particularly by my noble friend Lord Murray, about the issue of troubled young people who run away from local authorities. We perhaps must assume that, even with the new arrangements in place, such young people will find it difficult to keep in touch with the support arrangements that we wish to implement. Clearly, we must ensure that there is emergency provision to pick up such young people and a support system flexible enough to encourage them back on terms which they can accept. I must say to the noble Earl, Lord Listowel, that I do not have figures on the estimated numbers that I can give to him--it is extremely difficult to calculate--but if I can dig up any more information, I shall certainly do so and write to the noble Earl.
In relation to emergencies, as I said in my opening remarks, those young people will still be eligible for emergency help from any local authority in whose area they arrive. As happens now, they may turn up at refuges, such as Centrepoint, or at night shelters. The emergency provision should see them through the short time it takes to re-establish contact with the responsible authority.
Our new arrangements are designed to be as responsive as possible to the young person who is disaffected with his local authority for whatever reason. We believe that those arrangements will make it easier for the young people to remain within the support arrangements. For example, if a young person breaks off the relationship with his local authority, he need do no more than keep in touch with his young person's adviser in order to be supported anywhere in the country. Under this system, money, resources and support truly follow the young person wherever he may be in a way which, I believe, did not happen in the health service.
The other point I wish to make on this matter is that, as I said earlier, the young person's adviser is crucial. If a young person loses confidence in his adviser, the option and ability exist to change the adviser. I hope that that will be helpful also in overcoming the problem of disengagement.
That brings us to the issue of the availability of money to young people. I very much accept the point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Hanham, that part of the process is to help young people with money management skills. I believe that the pathway plan, with its revisions, allows people to move along that pathway at different speeds. Therefore, some young people will be able to be given a budget and will be independent. Others might start with pocket money but with everything else managed for them. There then might be stages which move the young person along the pathway plan towards independence. On that basis, it is not appropriate to standardise levels of support because the circumstances of each young person will be very different.
All of that presupposes that local authorities are up to the task. I believe we all accept that there is enormous variation in the performance of local authorities in this area. However, as I said earlier, the foundation on which we are building is that some local authorities have made a very good contribution. In terms of performance management, which is crucial to this issue, the Social Services Inspectorate has a key role to play in monitoring the introduction of new arrangements to the system for the performance assessment of social service authorities. The evaluation of policy will be part of an evaluation package for the Quality Protects programme which is currently being developed. We shall use inspections and research, and we shall scrutinise authorities' reports and their management action plans. At the end of the day, if we are not happy with the performance of local authorities, we can intervene and set targets.
A number of points were made about the financial arrangements. First, I refer to ring-fencing. I understand the concerns of noble Lords that ring-fencing takes away the discretion of local authorities. However, I believe that that is entirely justified in developing policy such as this. The intention is that ring-fencing will last for one Comprehensive Spending Programme. The Act is expected to come into force in 2001. Therefore, it will last for one year of the current CSR and for another three years. It is a four-year programme. At the end of that period we would expect the ring-fencing element to be taken away. By that time, the system should be up and running and we shall have been able to satisfy ourselves that local authorities are performing in the way we want.
I have been asked about the figures. I am a little reluctant to say too much because it has been very difficult to estimate the figures. However, essentially we are talking of something in the order of £250 million, £200 million of which will come from the existing budget that local authorities spend in this area; another £30 million from the Quality Protects programme; and we believe that the transfer of funds from DSS will provide another £20 million. Clearly, how we allocate budgets to local authorities will be most important. We are concerned that the allocations will be sensitive to local needs. We shall seek the views of the Local
The noble Earl, Lord Howe, asked about the situation in relation to Scotland. The current law does not allow authorities across the Border to transfer funds. Therefore, the financial regime cannot follow a young person across the Border. But the young person's adviser should still keep in touch. Of course, our hope is that Scotland will legislate in a similar way to us. Certainly, constructive discussions have taken place between the officials of the relevant departments. However, the Bill allows for a transitional arrangement if there is a gap between the enactment of this Bill and any Bill in Scotland.
Noble Lords asked about the pathway plan and in particular when it will come into play. As the Bill states, it comes into play when the young person reaches the age of 16. However, there is no reason why preparations and discussion cannot take place in the preceding period. I very much take the point of noble Lords who suggest that a long period of preparation is needed so that when the young person reaches 16, the plan does not come as a shock to them; they know what is going to happen; it has been agreed and they have ownership of it.
So far as concerns keeping in touch, the noble Lord, Lord Laming, and my noble friend Lady David referred to the issue of people moving across the country. We do not believe that that should present a problem. With the definition of a responsible authority, we know that that authority will remain responsible for a young person wherever that young person lives. The authority retains its duties to keep in touch, to carry out the needs assessment, to ensure that the pathway plan is effected, to have a personal adviser in place and to provide the necessary support. I accept that, if someone comes from the North of England to London, there may well be advantages in an arrangement between their local authority and a local authority in London whereby the young person's adviser remains in close contact with that person. There is no reason at all why local authorities should not come to co-operative arrangements to that effect.
The noble Lord, Lord Laming, asked whether "keeping in touch" was rather too loose and light a term. We regard keeping in touch as being an extremely important responsibility. We shall make it clear to local authorities that keeping in touch should embrace a robust process so that as far as possible we do not allow people to disappear or slip through the net.
My noble friend Lady David asked a number of points about the 13-week prescribed period to qualify as a relevant or eligible child. The reason for that provision is that we do not want to draw into the new system young people who are looked after as children and who happen to return to care briefly, say, at the age of 16. The new arrangements are intended to help those who need them and not to interfere in the lives of those who settle elsewhere.
I understand that a number of points in relation to that qualification need to be teased out. No doubt we shall do that in Committee. But we shall try to frame regulations which seek to ensure that people do not slip through the net and, as with other regulations, they will be subject to extensive consultation.
The issue of unaccompanied asylum-seeking children was raised. Where local authorities take asylum seekers into care, those children will be fully entitled to the benefits of the new arrangements. In addition, under the Children Act, local authorities have a responsibility to provide services for children in need in their area.
I turn now to the issue of 18 to 21 year-olds. I understand the points being made in that regard. Indeed, the Government have made it clear that they are committed to that principle when funding permits. That remains the situation. We have put in place the legal framework so that, when finances permit, that could be brought into play. However, I must make it clear that, if that were to happen, it would be a top-up on benefit availability, because 18 to 21 year-olds would retain their benefits in contrast with 16 and 17 year-olds, whose benefit entitlement is essentially being transferred from the DSS to the DoH.
I believe that in the time available, I have answered most of the points raised. If I have missed any, I shall be happy to write to noble Lords. I conclude by saying that this has been an extremely encouraging and constructive debate. I welcome the contributions made by many noble Lords. I know that there are many points of detail which we shall need to debate in Committee but I am encouraged by the support which noble Lords have given to the principles of the Bill. I therefore ask the House to give the Bill a Second Reading.