Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

The Earl of Listowel moved Amendment No. 18:


"( ) the need to provide adequately trained and supported carers for disabled persons where this is necessary to promote equality of opportunity between disabled persons and other persons;
( ) the need to provide adequately trained and supported carers for disabled persons where this is necessary to eliminate harassment that is unlawful under this Act;
( ) the need to provide adequately trained and supported carers for disabled persons where this is necessary to eliminate discrimination that is unlawful under this Act; and
( ) the need to provide adequately trained and supported carers for disabled persons where this is necessary to address the need to take account of a disabled person's disabilities."

The noble Earl said: The purpose of the amendment is to find out from the Government whether, if someone who has a disability and experiences unsatisfactory or inappropriate care, as a result of which he experiences harassment and discrimination or is unable to access education, obtain work or sustain employment, he would, under the clause, have a case to take forward. I move this amendment very tentatively, given my lack of specific knowledge in this area. I am slightly overawed, as I was on Second Reading, to be speaking in this company, given its depth of knowledge.

Some 68 per cent of children who are in local authority residential care, in children's homes, have a psychiatric disorder, according to the Office for National Statistics. So a large number of these children will have a disability, whether it is identified or not. I am talking about children in residential care, but I think that there is a wider point to be made.

I have met many of the practitioners working with these children and know that they are hugely committed. They do an immensely difficult task, yet broader society fails to recognise how difficult it is. Sixty per cent of these children have experienced abuse or neglect. A further 10 per cent experienced family breakdown before going into care. We also know that in this country there has been a long and very sad history of sexual abuse of children in residential care.

In 1998, 60 per cent to 70 per cent of the workforce had no relevant qualification for working with these children. They had such extreme needs, yet were being cared for by people who were simply not trained up to meet those needs.
 
13 Jan 2005 : Column GC96
 

5.30 p.m.

The Government are taking action and I shall come to that. Reference has been made today to the Radio 4 "Today" programme and an item on residential care for children in Brighton. A large number of small, private providers appear not to be doing their job sufficiently well and the children are not being properly managed and contained in those institutions.

In practice, there are difficulties. There are 20,000 children with disabilities in residential care. There are also many elderly people in care homes and it is disturbing to think of the quality of care which many of them receive. In the past, the response to the difficulty has been the closure of children's homes. In the 1980s, many children's homes were closed. The problem is that a group of children need residential care and it appears that a number of unscrupulous private providers, seeing the market opportunity, have put children in environments where staff are poorly trained. That, too, was documented in the recent Channel Four programme "Dispatches" on "Profiting from kids in care".

Many elderly people whose faculties are declining and are suffering from disabilities are also cared for by people who are not adequately trained and supported to meet their needs. I recently listened to a report from the National Institute for Clinical Excellence on mental health and elderly people and I was most stuck by the strong parallels, the lack of support for staff, the isolation of the homes and the inability to work with other services because staff are so poorly trained. That was all very familiar to me.

The professionalism of staff working in such an environment with looked-after children is beginning to improve with the introduction of a National Vocational Qualification for childcare for a large proportion of them. However, it is a basic qualification.

On the continent, most children in care are not fostered but are in residential childcare. They are cared for by pedagogues and social educators who have two to three years professional training equivalent to that of teachers or nurses. I recently visited the Scottish Institute for Residential Childcare whose expert on continental childcare told me that he could not think of any history of sexual abuse of children in care on the continent.

I also recently spoke with a German practitioner when he was visiting this country. He is a pedagogue, has worked in a children's home for two years and is a researcher at the University of Lunenburg. He was so surprised by the history and by the fact that a residential childcare worker is not allowed to share a car with a child in care because of concerns of further abuse. It was quite bizarre for him.

I hope that I am not straying too far off the subject. I suspect that I may be and I apologise if I am. But one wants to ensure that children and elderly and vulnerable people in residential care, or care in other settings, are not harassed within them or when they go out. We talked about the stigma of people with disabilities, the number of attacks made on them and difficulties in the workplace. Unless they are cared for
 
13 Jan 2005 : Column GC97
 
well in their home settings, they will not have the resilience and confidence to deal with the outside world.

I look forward to discovering from the Minister whether this group of children, and more generally those disabled people with carers, are caught by this clause. I want to emphasise the need for those working with disabled people always to encourage them to feel that they can participate and be involved and that their voices are important and are heard. We must ensure that carers have good interpersonal skills at a highly sophisticated level so that they can work with vulnerable people and those with disabilities. They must be effective practitioners, stand back from what they are doing and consider and develop their practice.

I apologise if I am off the mark. I do not intend to speak on any other amendments on the Bill and I apologise for the time I have taken now. I also apologise for not having given the Minister warning of the details of my concerns, but I look forward to her response. I beg to move.

Baroness Masham of Ilton: What are the safeguards for disabled people who have to rely on carers? There was a recent case of terrible abuse to disabled people living in a care home in Hull.

Secondly, why do we not take advantage of the good qualification of pedagogues? I have seen them in operation with disabled people and children in Germany and we might as well take advantage of Europe now that we are part of it. We have to put up with so many ridiculous regulations from Europe—for instance, the registration of horses, with which I am involved—but we do not take on the useful registration of people looking after disabled children and adults, as pedagogues do. I believe that there is a three-year training course, combining teacher, nurse and social worker.

Baroness Hollis of Heigham: The amendment would set out on the face of the Bill a duty on public bodies to have due regard to the need to provide adequately trained and supported carers where this would be necessary to eliminate discrimination and harassment, and to promote equality of opportunity for disabled people.

I greatly respect the concern of the noble Earl, Lord Listowel, about the wellbeing of children in residential care. However, he acknowledged that his contribution was on the wider issues—I in no sense dispute much of what he said—on the wellbeing of looked-after children. We need only look at the history of the past 10 of 15 years to see how too often society has failed most of its vulnerable children. There is no difference between us in that regard. However, the noble Earl seeks to do something different. He raised and registered his concerns, which I am sure that many Members of the Committee will share, and talked about the need of society to respond.

The Government's view is that the duty as drafted already requires bodies to give due regard to care need, the way it is delivered, the way in which it is delivered and who is delivering it. As part of that, they must also think about how carers are trained and supported.
 
13 Jan 2005 : Column GC98
 

When a local authority has care for disabled children perhaps with mental health problems, physical disabilities or psychiatric conditions, it will be under a duty to promote equality for them as an intrinsic part of providing their care. That will apply to all aspects of their care and affect all aspects of their lives. That broader duty therefore is indeed enshrined in the Bill. However, the noble Earl will understand that DDA legislation is not the right place to start laying qualifications for the training of carers in residential homes. That is a matter for other departments, other consultation documents and other developments with local authorities and the like.

I assure the noble Earl that we recognise that by placing the duty to promote equality on local authorities within that context, the right way to pursue that may be through social services' activity and so forth. The duty exists and will, I hope, make an appropriate contribution to ensuring that looked-after children has at least as effective a claim on the rights, responsibilities and resources of society as all other children.


Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page