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Baroness Thornton: I thank my noble friend for that response; I cannot say that it surprised me terribly
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much. In real life it seems likely that a parent who is not making child support payments regularly may well seek financial compensation in some way. Although no one ever said that life was fair, as my mother told me, it is the Government's job to make it a trifle fairer if possible. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
"SUPERVISION OF AND SUPPORT FOR CONTACT ORDERS
After section 9 of the Children Act 1989 (c. 41) (restrictions on making section 8 orders) insert
"SUPERVISION OF AND SUPPORT FOR CONTACT ORDERS
In deciding whether to make a contact order under section 8(1), the court must take into account the ability of the relevant local authority to provide adequate supervision of and support for the contact between parent and child.""
The noble Earl said: The amendment would introduce a duty on the courts to ensure that they are confident that the relevant local authority would be able to provide adequate supervision of and support for the contact between parent and child. I apologise if the amendment is somewhat opaque; its intention is to gather more information from the Government on issues around supervision of contact orders and of support for contact orders. This follows concerns raised at Second Reading. I am looking for information about the future funding of supervision and support for contact orders. I am aware of plans only for the coming two years and it would be helpful to have an idea of what will happen after that. I have not given the Minister notice of the question so perhaps he could write to me.
I would also be interested in hearing about the responsibilities for local authorities in this area. As yet, I do not believe they have any responsibility to provide these services. Are the Government considering introducing that requirement? If not, what other means will be developed to ensure that there is adequate resourcing and capacity for supervision and supported contact? How will the courts assure themselves that an order for supervision of a contact will be properly and professionally supervised?
What is its importance to the Bill? If the Bill is to work effectively for families and improve outcomes for children, it is crucial that we are assured that there will be continued development of the capacity for supervised and supported contact.
I visited the Coram Family Child Contact Service in Holborn. It is a centre of excellence which provides very high level services and supervised contact. Its guidance, A Guide to Best Practice in Supervised Child Contact, says:
"All too often, it seems that contact is seen as an end in itself, as somehow intrinsically beneficial. It is not, of course, it is beneficial only if it serves to foster the physical, psychological, social and emotional development of the child. In circumstances where there are serious concerns for the welfare of the child, supervisors of contact have a crucial and potentially life-impacting role in determining what is good quality contact, and what is and who are responsible for poor quality contact".
I have spoken to women who have experienced domestic violence and they have been keen that their child should have contact with the non-resident parent, but only where such contact is very well supervised.
The Accord Centre in Kilburn, which I visited, has provided an excellent service since the 1990s, but it has a hand-to-mouth existence. It has had the bailiffs in; it has had offers of government funding, with expectations raised and then disappointed. It does not advertise its services; it tries to keep a low profile because it is afraid of being swamped by applications. There is a great demand for this sort of support and the Bill may well incur further obligations on these services. We need to be assured that adequate work is being done to develop capacity.
In his letter to me, the Minister described the increased investment in this area in recent years. About £1 million a year has been invested over the past five years; in the coming two years, that figure will rise to £4 million each year, which is very welcome. However, the committee appointed by the Department for Constitutional Affairs and led by Beverley Brooks, the chief executive of the National Association of Child Contact Centres, found that £8 million a year would be appropriate for this area. So any assurance that the Minister can provide about future funding and development would be very helpful. I beg to move.
Baroness Howarth of Breckland: Would I be right in assuming that when this is implemented, CAFCASS would be the organisation expected to supervise contact orders, not the local authority? If so, and picking up the points of the noble Earl, Lord Listowel, there is an issue about the timing of the implementation. There is a serious problem about the availability of individual and group contact. The noble Earl has visited one or two of the centres that exist, but they are few. I presume that, were this implemented, there would be a period in which to commission services so that they can be developed. I presume that they would be linked, to some extent, to the family assistance orders and the whole attempt to hold the family together at this tertiary stage. It is a preventive time; it is a time when things are difficult but a real impact can be made. Where CAFCASS has been working intensively with families under Section 9(1), it has found that those families did not need to come
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back to court because of the measure of work that could be put into the contact work. Am I right in making that assumption?
Baroness Thornton: I am very interested in my noble friend's answer to the questions raised by the noble Earl, Lord Listowel. It is not the first time that this issue has been raised in the context of children's safety. We have heard in the past of insufficient and inadequate supervision which has led to children not being safe in contact centres. It is almost always due to lack of investment; there are not enough of them and they are not staffed adequately. I would like the Government's assurance that that situation will be remedied as a result of the Bill.
Baroness Morris of Bolton: I should like to pick up on the comments of the noble Baroness, Lady Howarth, about who will supervise the contact orders in these centres. Local authorities are concerned that if it falls on them, they will have a problem unless they have extra resources.
Lord Adonis: I can provide the assurance that CAFCASS will be responsible, not local authorities. As we were trying to work out the reason behind the amendmentbecause I rightly divined that the noble Earl would raise the issue of contact centresI assumed that he was being exceptionally ingenious and was seeking to put the obligation to sustain and develop more contact centres on local government. He thought that that, area by area, would be a way of ensuring that their funding was more secure than simply being dependent on the centre. I thought this was a very ingenious way of seeking to make contact centres a part of maintained local authority provision, even though they are entirely run by the voluntary sector. It is, of course, a part of their great strength that they engage fully with the commitment of the many voluntary associations that are engaged in their provision and which come together in the National Association of Child Contact Centres, which does excellent work in this area and is keen to do more. But it would not be appropriate to make that a local authority responsibility.
The noble Earl was actually seeking some assurances from the Government about the future of the centres. In the first instance, let me say that we have made a significant commitment to developing additional centres. The noble Earl stole my best line because he quoted the figure; £4 million is a very substantial figure for investment. In fact, it is £3.5 million next year, rising to £4.5 million in 2007 and 2008. It is more than my life is worth to make commitments as to what will come out of the next comprehensive spending review. All I can say is that the baselines going into spending reviews are a very good position to bat from in securing resources thereafter, and that will be the baseline for the provision for additional contact centres. The commitment from the Department for Constitutional Affairs is in seeing that there are proper andI stresssupervised contact centres where that is appropriate to ensure the safety of the children and
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parents concerned. Our commitment to that is absolute, and we will see that there are resources in the spending review to meet that commitment.
The figure of £3 million rising to £4.5 million in 200708, to which I referred, enables a very substantial improvement to take place in supervised contact centres. It enables us to provide significant funding to 14 such centres, the funding in each case rising to £250,000in the case of the new supervised contact centre in Bristol, we are providing £265,000so significant resources are at stake. That has enabled 14 supervised contact centres to be established; we believe that that provides a good infrastructure for delivering the requirements under the Bill, but of course there is room for further improvement, and we are mindful that further improvement will be needed in due course.
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