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Baroness Scotland of Asthal: My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness and the noble Lord for their comments. It is clear that the purpose of the amendments is to ensure that residential placements, if made, are made appropriately. Before going into the detail, I should say that the noble Lord is right in his reference to Clause 21(4). That provision is already made. However, I shall go back and deal with some of the earlier issues and come to that matter in its proper place.
The amendments tabled by the noble Baroness would remove the power of the courts to require a parent to attend a residential course as part of a parenting order. From what the noble Baroness said, I take it that she is not suggesting that this may not be an appropriate tool; she wants to know how it will work. I shall approach my response on that basis.
The clauses allow a residential course to be included only when a court is satisfied, on the balance of probability, that it is likely to be more effective than a non-residential course and that any interference with family life is proportionate. The usual rule about "he who usurps must prove" will apply, so an evidential burden will be placed on the authority that seeks a parenting order to satisfy the court of each and every one of those elements that I have mentioned. The residential approach would enable parents to be taken to a structured setting so that more sustained counselling and guidance work can be carried out. That will be appropriate for troubled families, for whom a non-residential approach will be insufficient.
The noble Baroness will know that many of the families who regrettably find themselves in this category are likely to have been on the cusp of being considered for local authority intervention. We have put together a structure including parenting contracts and multi-agency work. That work should have been undertaken before the parenting order stage is reached. The agencies should have a clear picture of the issues surrounding a child and his or her family regarding failure to meet educational or other milestones and/or appropriate school attendance. The noble Baroness will know that it does not inure to the advantage of a child not to attend school consistently. There may also be behavioural issues to be considered. If I may speak colloquially, we are talking about children and families at the sharp end of the spectrumthe children who are rightly the concern of the noble Baroness and the Sharp list.
As I say, courses will be tailored to meet specific circumstances. Intensive residential work with families can be highly effective in tackling persistent unacceptable behaviour. As I have mentioned on other occasions, children could attend the residential course on a voluntary basis thus enabling work to take place involving the whole family. Where children do not attend, proper arrangements for their care will be absolutely crucial.
I agree with what the noble Lord, Lord Elton, said in relation to taking children into care even if temporarily. I respectfully agree with him that that is likely to be the least attractive model although I do not rule out the possibility of it happening in the odd case if all the parties deem it the most appropriate. The noble Lord will know that, in taking into account the proportionality of that step, the court would have to assess whether it was a reasonable step, whether there were other family members who could help and what other assistance was offered to the family. It is impossible to say with certainty what those steps would be in each individual case because, by the nature of the problems which many of these families face, it is unlikely that the identical situation would occur more than once; it just does not happen that way.
It is right therefore that programmes delivered as a result of parenting orders should have the flexibility to consist of or include residential work with parents where that would be both more effective and proportionate to any interference with family life.
We are consulting with providers of residential parenting. The funding provided by the anti-social behaviour action plan will be £1.5 million to bolster the parenting programmes this year. The youth offending teams have funding for parenting support and they will be tasked to find residential places. Local education authorities will be responsible for education related orders although a school will be able to pay if it requests a parenting order.
The noble Baroness raised the issue of the capacity to deliver. The capacity and quality will be promoted through various means. I have said already that residential courses will be piloted on a voluntary basis and the specification can be developed in that way. But the courses will be delivered by a range of providers subject to all relevant standards and statutory requirements. Youth offending teams and local education authorities will pay for attendance at residential courses. The provision of parenting programmes nationally was boosted by the announcement made by my right honourable friend
Under the Children Act 1989, family centre attendance is required, not by statute but with the lever of care proceedings. It is not dissimilar. In the case that we are dealing with it is more about the behaviour of the child being seen as the trigger as opposed to the disintegration of the family itself. That is why the assessment is made by the youth offending team and not by the social services.
Draft guidance on the education parenting orders has now been issued. Page 24, paragraph 150, of the relevant document covers the assessment for education-related parenting orders. I invite the attention of noble Lords to that. I am confident that they will find it of use.
The noble Baroness asked about the issues arising out of Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights, and the right to respect for private and family life, and Articles 3 and 9 of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, as regards the child's best interest and separation from the parents as well as the test of the child's best interests under the Children Act. As the noble Baroness rightly said, I wrote to the noble Earl, Lord Listowel, on these matters and a copy of the letter has been placed in the Library. I would be happy to recite the body of what I said there.
Criminal and anti-social behaviour and poor attendance and behaviour at school can prevent children from realising their potential and lead to very adverse outcomes for them. A residential course within a parenting order would only be required in order to support parents so that they are better able to influence their child and prevent such behaviour. The residential requirement serves the main purpose of the parenting order itself, which is to prevent a repetition of the kind of behaviour which led to the making of the order.
There are two additional conditions in the Bill which also have to be met before a residential requirement is imposed. Given all these safeguards such a requirement will be compliant with the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, the Children Act and the European Convention on Human Rights as enacted by the Human Rights Act.
Turning to Article 9 of the UN Convention on the Rights of a Child, a child cannot be separated from his or her parents against their will unless the separation is necessary for the best interests of that child. As I have already said, children may accompany their parents to a residential course voluntarily. We expect children in nearly all cases to be invited to attend.
The kind of circumstances where a child might not be invited to attend would be where the parents need respite to benefit from the course. In such a case appropriate childcare arrangements, as we discussed earlier in this debate, would be made. We hope that the course would help the parents by improving parenting
By making residential placement available to the court, if it deems it appropriate, we are seeking to give the court a full opportunity to intervene in a way that may make a material difference and advantage the child and the family so that there is an enhanced chance of the family staying together.
Noble Lords will know that research indicates that it is better for a child to remain within his natural family if he can safely so remain than to be removed and placed with a substitute family. If we get this right, we will give these children, who are so desperately in need of our care and attention, a better chance.
I invite the noble Baroness not to press the amendment. I have every confidence that she and a number of those who have expressed their concerns have the best interests of children at heart and that they would not like to see the court disabled from doing that which will be most advantageous to them.
Lord Elton: My Lords, the Companion permits me a short, elucidatory question before she sits down and this is it. Is she aware that I share her view that the job is to sustain families particularly at the edge of economic extinction? My question about payment was not directed to who will pay the local authorities but to who will pay a father who has to give up his paid work for however long in order to look after the other three children when the mother has gone to the compulsory course.
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