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Baroness Morris of Bolton: My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, for his introduction to the amendments, which pick up on important themes raised in Committee. Especially having looked after my own mother, I am a passionate advocate of the vital role that the extended family, particularly grandparents, plays in bringing up and looking after other family members, both young and old. I was particularly moved at Second Reading by the noble Baroness, Lady Massey of Darwen, who talked about the struggle of grandparents bringing up the children of their drug-dependent children. The significant support that the extended family can give young children was highlighted by our debates on the Children and Adoption Bill.
 
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There can be no doubt that kinship care is an often overlooked issue that deserves more attention. I am incredibly sympathetic to the notions behind these amendments, and we on these Benches want to take the time to look at the idea in much more detail. However, what assessment has the department made of kinship care? How does it intend to recognise its value, particularly the role of grandparents, in helping to tackle so many issues that concern us regarding children and families today?

Baroness Walmsley: My Lords, as I said in Grand Committee, we also believe that grandparents can provide a valuable caring, nurturing and loving situation for young people when parents have to be elsewhere for work, training or even leisure. It is a good idea that they have information, training and advice services available, and we support that so long as it does not involve a great spending commitment. Frankly, I do not think that it would. They could certainly receive the information available to other people and perhaps join groups and courses taking place anyway, so that is not likely to have a great cost. The number of grandparents who will want to take up a lot of advice from the staff of Children Information Services is probably few, but it is good that they should see that they are valued by having such services available to them. It is also good that those who are keen to find out more about child development and how best to look after their grandchildren are able to access that information and so improve what they can do for them. We support the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, as long as there is no large spending commitment.

Baroness Howarth of Breckland: My Lords, I too am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, for raising the issue, simply because it puts on record the huge amount that families, particularly grandparents, do for children. I recognise the difficulty that there might be in placing that in legislation and have something of a qualm about it, because it starts to be a bit "nanny state" if we have absolutely everyone in the legislation. However, I am sure that the noble Lord's intention is that the quality of care that we manage to give children is improved. If the giving of information and training could be extended where possible to families—some local authorities open some of their training courses to families—without huge cost, as the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, said, we would all be encouraged.

The Earl of Listowel: My Lords, I also welcome my noble friend's amendments, particularly because it has been made clear to me that, if children taken into public care or at risk of being so are cared for by one of their extended family, a positive outcome is significantly more likely than if they enter full foster care. However, often the extended family does not receive the support that a foster carer would; that concern has been expressed to me.

Baroness Crawley: My Lords, we have had an interesting debate again on the amendments of the
 
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noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, on kinship care. I very much recognise the care with which he has tabled the amendments and put them into the three categories. I declare an interest as an enthusiastic grandmother, who can be found most Fridays in a certain park in London with a very lively 20 month-old grandson.

Before I deal with the specific issues raised by this group of amendments, I wish to acknowledge and praise the hard work and commitment shown by the many thousands of relatives who undertake caring responsibilities, in particular grandparents. The noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, mentioned the percentage of relatives who carry out that caring work, and it is very much the cement in the system. I commend the Grandparents' Association and, indeed, the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, for their tireless campaigning to ensure that grandparents and other relatives get the recognition and support that they deserve.

Perhaps it would be helpful to set out the current position regarding relatives who provide childcare. As I said in Committee, the definition of childcare in Clause 18 is purely for the purposes of this Bill. It is not a comprehensive definition and it certainly does not prevent anyone else from caring for a child. There is nothing to stop a relative caring for a child, either formally or informally. Indeed, if they care for unrelated children as well, they can also be either registered childminders or approved child carers, provided that they meet the required standards. This is the case now and will continue to be the case once this legislation comes into effect.

These amendments, taken together, have a number of effects. They would bring relatives into the Clause 6 sufficiency duty. This means that, by definition, local authorities would be under a legal duty to take care by relatives into account when securing sufficient childcare. That is not necessary, as the assessment process will already give local authorities an understanding of how much informal childcare is being provided, and that will have an impact on their subsequent plans to secure sufficiency of formal care.

My understanding is that the noble Lord's intentions are, first, to ensure that anyone who cares for a child, whether through local authority fostering arrangements or private fostering arrangements, or, indeed, relatives or parents themselves, has the appropriate support and training to provide childcare and, secondly, to allow relatives voluntarily to register with the Ofsted childcare register, enabling parents to claim tax credits to help with the cost of that care. However, the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, has now explained that he is not interested in the area of tax credits.

Lord Northbourne: My Lords, perhaps I may correct the noble Baroness. I should be very interested indeed if we could get tax credits. I just did not think that there was any hope of doing so.

Baroness Crawley: My Lords, I have to say that there is not a meeting of minds between him and the Government on that issue.
 
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While I sympathise with the aims of these amendments, I do not feel that they are appropriate. First, I shall deal with the effect on the duty in Clause 13 to secure information, advice and training for providers. As I explained in Committee, local authorities already have general powers in Section 2(1)(b) of the Local Government Act 2000 that enable them to do anything which they consider is likely to achieve the promotion or improvement of the social or economic well-being of their area. So, local government is already able to provide support and assistance. That includes providing information, advice or training to help family members or other carers who look after children.

In addition, there are specific provisions for those fostering children—noble Lords have raised this matter—either privately or through the local authority. In the case of fostering that takes place through the local authority, private fostering agencies or voluntary organisations, standard 21 of our fostering services national minimum standards of 2000 already requires these organisations to develop strategies to work with and support carers. I hope that that gives some comfort to the noble Earl, who raised the issue. Those strategies should include arrangements for training and development, information and advice and assistance in dealing with other relevant services, such as health and education.

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I accept that, for relatives who are providing informal childcare, this does not equate to an entitlement to information, advice and training, which is being sought in the amendments. However, given that the services that we expect local authorities to secure under Clause 13 are mainly around business support and sustainability and registration processes, I do not think that it would be appropriate to require local authorities to provide such services to kinship carers.

Local authorities are also able to use their Section 17 money—from the Children Act 1989—to provide services or assistance to support any child who is deemed to be in need. This is already happening in Kent, for instance, where the local authority uses Section 17 funding to help grandparents to undertake caring responsibilities.

There has been some misapprehension about what we mean when we refer to parents. The Bill states that "parent" includes anyone who has parental responsibility for a child and anyone who has care of a child. I know that there is concern among noble Lords and those in the voluntary sector that this definition of parents does not include relatives who informally look after a child for longer periods. Let me make it absolutely clear that the services described in Part 1—the early childhood services, the childcare duty, the duty to assess childcare requirements and the information duty—will all be applicable to anyone who has full-time care of a child in place of that child's parents.
 
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As I made clear in Committee, our aim is to improve the outcomes and life chances of children, regardless of their family arrangements. That is why the duties set out in Clauses 1 to 4—to improve outcomes and to secure integrated early childhood services—apply to all children and their carers.

A good example of services reaching out to extended family members is the grandparents' group in the Nunsthorpe and Bradley Sure Start Children's Centre. The group meets on a weekly basis in the community room of the children's centre and has an average attendance of between 10 and 15 grandparents—both grandfathers and grandmothers. The group often invites outside speakers to talk about topics such as diabetes and other health-related matters. Due to demand, the group also has a joint coffee morning every month with the younger parents who use the centre. This helps to integrate the groups and allows centre staff to meet three or four generations of the same family at once, giving every opportunity for important messages to be heard. Staff working at the centre have found that in order to influence mums it can be helpful to filter key information to grandparents and vice versa.

Additionally, in assessing the childcare market, local authorities will have to take relatives into account in two ways. They will do so, first, by assessing how much childcare is provided by relatives so that they can gain a more balanced picture of their local childcare market and, secondly, where a relative is the primary carer of a child in place of that child's parents, by assessing that relative's requirements for childcare in the same way that they would for the natural parent. Equally, anyone who has care of a child will be able to expect that the local authority will, so far as is reasonably practicable, secure sufficient childcare to enable them to work or train.

For clarification, that means that granny, grand-dad, aunt or uncle will be able to expect the same service from their local authority as a natural parent if they are looking after a child on a settled basis. Our guidance to local authorities on all these services will reinforce this message. This commitment to include everyone who has parental or care responsibilities is already evident in our recently published Respect Action Plan, which commits £70 million to support all parents and carers.

In the light of my assurances to the House that relatives and foster carers will be able to have the same expectations as natural parents if they are caring for a child, I ask the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, to withdraw his amendment.


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