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Adequate consideration must be given to the more complex issue of continuing to provide residential care for young people older than 18. Many questions are raised. Will the local authority be required to

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provide a service for these young people between the ages of 18 and 21? How will housing benefit be assessed for the former foster carer and the young person? What will be the required level of support from the local authority? Will former foster carers be entitled to support from a supervising social worker? What allowances will they receive to cover the cost of care for that young person between 18 and 21? Will former foster carers retain their status as foster carers if they are not also fostering others aged under 18? If so, does this mean that they will not have an annual review? Will there be provision for care planning and decision-making? Will independent reviewing officers have a role in reviewing care plans post-18?

We are not calling on the Government to detail specific regulations at this point, as we understand that these would be guided by information from the pilots. As we believe that new regulations will be required to make these important proposals work across the country, we are convinced that the Bill should give the Secretary of State the power to introduce regulations in this area prior to effective rollout but after the pilots have been evaluated. I beg to move.

Baroness Morris of Bolton: These amendments are key parts of the theme of increasing stability for looked-after children. This is especially important during the stage at which a child is making the transition into adult life. Whether for a child going on to higher education or for a child who still needs intensive care, support during the transitional phase can make an enormous difference. There are some supported lodging arrangements that occasionally enable foster carers to provide a placement for a foster child post-18, but these are unregulated. More important, there is no guarantee of support for the foster carer of the young person.

Our amendment in this group would extend the foster carer status to those former foster carers who continue to look after a child post-18. That means that they would be entitled to the training and benefits that come with the status of a foster carer. It would not necessarily mean that they would continue to receive the financial benefits that a particular placement entitled them to—although that would be ideal in a world of infinite resources—but it would allow them to access the more general benefits that come with the status of a foster carer, such as training, support from the local authority or social worker, an annual review and an easier way to continue their legal insurance. We want to avoid the current situation in which children are being cut off from care and support too early, with the risk of reversing what might otherwise have been a successful placement.

The Earl of Listowel: Having listened to a young person who left care at 18 and had access to her foster carer for six hours a week, I can say how valuable she felt it was just to talk on the telephone and spend a little time with her. That brings up the issue of resources for the range of placements that we discussed earlier. Obviously, young people staying in

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their foster carer’s home past the age of 18 could put pressure on the availability of placements. The Minister said that he would reflect on the 2005 report on the cost of foster care and see how the Government have since resourced the requirements laid out there, which were costed at an additional £700 million per annum. I look forward to the Minister’s reply.

Lord Northbourne: I support everything that has been said on the amendment. I have only one small addition to make. It sometimes seems that we address these issues in a terribly clinical way. I want to mention the reality, which is that a genuine affection often develops between a fostered child and the foster parent. That is hugely important to a child who has perhaps grown up in his early youth in unstable situations. This is an argument for ensuring that the foster carer can be put in a position to afford to give some continuing care to the child.

Baroness Butler-Sloss: I apologise for not being here earlier today. I support the amendment. The Government are hugely to be congratulated on wanting to assist children in care through university in their post-care phase. However, to enable them to go back to their foster parents and be part of the foster family, in a similar situation to that of other children with their own parents, would be an added asset to that which the Government are already providing. I hope that they think that this is a good idea; I very much support it.

Lord Adonis: As several noble Lords have said, young people without parental and family support are exposed to greater risks than others are. It is therefore not surprising that care leavers are overrepresented in some of the most vulnerable adult groups, including young parents, prisoners and the homeless. Precisely to tackle this issue, we intend to run the pilots described by the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, which will support arrangements to allow young people to remain with their former foster carers when they are no longer in care. Such arrangements will, in certain circumstances, include support from the local authority in the form of payments to the foster carer. These young people will be able to stay with their carers until they are 21. The intention is to create an environment where young people can move on at a time of their choosing with the right support, in precisely the way described by the noble Earl.

We hope that these pilots will give us a better understanding of the possible practical and financial barriers, including such issues as the tax status of carers and how, if young people are remaining longer with former foster carers, local authorities manage to develop new fostering capacity to offer placements to younger children entering care. The pilot period is intended to give us the time needed to develop practical solutions so that we are able to make it standard practice for young people to leave their final placement in a more gradual way in the future.

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The noble Earl asked about funding for the pilots. We are providing £1.5 million each year for three years to support them. The noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, was particularly concerned about the legal basis for and regulation of the pilots. Carers of 18 to 21 year-olds are not foster carers and are therefore not legally treated as such. We will consider whether and how these carers should be regulated, which will of course be an important issue. It could be achieved through the powers in the Care Standards Act 2000. Extensive amendments are planned to the 2000 Act in the Health and Social Care Bill, which was introduced in another place on 15 November. That Bill would permit registration of carers of 18 to 21 year-olds, or any other particular group of adults, and regulation of their activities by the new Care Quality Commission. There is therefore no need for any additional powers to regulate that type of care.

As for wider changes concerning the rollout of foster care practice beyond the age of 18, it would be premature to legislate around foster carer status further at this stage. We want to be in a position to evaluate the pilots to assess how best to arrange such provision for both carers and care leavers in the future.

Baroness Morris of Bolton: I think that the Minister was having a word with his officials, but one of our concerns was that, if carers do not have that status, that could negate their legal insurance. The Minister must look into that before the pilots are rolled out.

Lord Adonis: I will reply to the noble Baroness on that point when I have taken further advice.

The Earl of Listowel: I thank the Minister for his reply to my question. I am afraid that I may not have been quite clear. Earlier in Committee, I referred to the report The Cost of Foster Care, produced in 2005 by BAAF and the Fostering Network. I apologise for this, but I am not clear whether the Minister said that he would write to me about that report’s figure of an additional £740 million needed each year to ensure a proper range of foster placements. If the Minister would be kind enough to show me in due course how the additional funding since then has met the needs laid out in that report, I would be most grateful.

Baroness Sharp of Guildford: I am extremely grateful to the Minister for his reply. Am I right in interpreting him as saying that, under the Health and Social Care Bill currently being considered in the other place, there is the power to introduce regulations that would enable foster carers to continue to look after young people up to the age of 21?

Lord Adonis: As I understand it, it is not as straightforward as that. The Bill would permit registration of carers of 18 to 21 year-olds or any other particular group of adults. However, that is done by treating them as a separate group, not simply by extending their status as carers of under-18s.

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Lord Elystan-Morgan: Is the situation that, technically, they will not be fosterers but former fosterers? Is it that they are in the position of befriending persons who have been in care but are not in any way in loco parentis in the eyes of the law? Perhaps to regard them as “befrienders” and former fosterers would be more accurate.

Lord Adonis: I am sorry—I am taking further advice. They cannot be categorised as foster carers because the children are not looked after, but they would be subject to regulation as carers. That is the distinction between the status of those caring for over-18s and the status of those caring for under-18s.

Baroness Sharp of Guildford: Therefore, if they are categorised as carers, might there be some provision for payment to them, for example?

Lord Adonis: Yes.

Baroness Sharp of Guildford: In that case, as I said, the power to make regulations in this Bill is unnecessary. This is a mild amendment that would merely give the Government power to introduce such regulations for the appropriate national authority, if necessary. Is the noble Lord really saying that, in fact, regulations will not be necessary because we would already have that power under the Health and Social Care Bill?

Lord Adonis: Yes, I believe that that is what I am saying.

Baroness Sharp of Guildford: Then we will probably not bring this amendment back at Report, although we will perhaps consider these matters a little further. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 19 agreed to.

Clause 20 agreed to.

3.30 pm

Lord Rix moved Amendment No. 85:

The noble Lord said: The amendment would introduce an important safeguard: promoting the safety and well-being of disabled children living away from home. I am grateful to the three Members of the Committee who have added their names to the amendment, thus giving me cross-party support.

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Currently, disabled children in 52-week residential school placements do not have the protection of looked-after status. These are some of the most vulnerable children and young people in society. They are in effect living away from home permanently; they are mostly a long way from their family home and often parents can find it difficult to visit them. We know that disabled children living away from home are more likely than others to be abused, because research shows that, in general, disabled children are more than three times as likely to be abused as other children.

Looked-after status acts as an important safeguard for those children who do not live with their families. It means that a plan is drawn up which considers all of the child’s needs, including arrangements for them to keep in contact with their families wherever possible. There is a legal requirement that a designated social worker visits regularly and formally reviews how the child is getting on at set intervals. That gives an extra level of protection that I am sure we would all want for all children living away from their parents.

Without looked-after status, those safeguards simply do not exist. For disabled children in residential special schools, the law says that the school should review a child’s statement of special educational needs annually. However, research published by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation shows that many local education authorities do not attend these meetings and, when they do, they tend to focus only on the child’s education, not on their other needs. This does not promote the welfare of the whole child, which is what children and young people who are living away from their families need.

Of course, some parents whose disabled children are placed away from home do have the time, resources and capacity to visit their children frequently and regularly. My amendment therefore gives discretion to local authorities so that, when they are certain that a child enjoys ongoing contact with their family, looked-after status is not necessary.

While I welcome the Bill’s new measures outlined in Clause 16, which propose an annual visit to children in residential placements, I am concerned that they will make little practical difference. They are dependent on Sections 85 and 86 of the Children Act 1989, which require home authorities to be informed when children are in long-term health or educational settings. However, government-commissioned research shows that this is not happening. As a minimum, we need guidance to remind health and education services of their notification duties. However, what we really need is for these children to have full looked-after status. After all, is one visit a year enough to protect a vulnerable child with severe learning disabilities and, perhaps, no speech? Why should disabled children have a lesser level of safeguarding protection than other children placed away from home?

Mencap, the organisation of which I am proud to be president, has a long-standing relationship with Sunfield School, a residential special school in Worcestershire for children with severe and complex

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learning disabilities. The school insists that all children placed there have looked-after status and the regular visits and monitoring of the child that this brings. This is not done to stigmatise the child’s family, but simply to recognise the fact that the child’s family is not there. The child is cared for by the school, not by the parents. Sunfield School feels that, without this, children are more vulnerable because they are far away from home and have little involvement with their families. The school takes the issue very seriously and the amendment would ensure that other schools and local authorities would follow its excellent example.

The amendment is not just about safeguarding, it also tackles the issue of accountability. Residential placements of 52 weeks are expensive. Do you want to spend £100,000 on average each year on a residential placement for a child and not want to be regularly updated about how that child is progressing? In response to my speech at Second Reading, the Minister stated that the issue of looked-after status should depend,

We agree that each child’s individual needs should be paramount. This is why the amendment would give local authorities the freedom to decide on looked-after status based on whether it is in the child’s “best interests”. But the crucial difference, if the amendment were to be accepted, is that looked-after status would automatically be conferred on the disabled child placed away from home, unless their best interests prove that to be unnecessary.

I hope that our shared desire to safeguard and protect some of the most vulnerable children will mean that the Minister is able to offer government support for the amendment. I beg to move.

Baroness Walmsley: I added my name to the amendment in the hope that the Minister will grasp this opportunity to get rid of one of the anomalies regarding disabled children and looked-after status, because it seems a bit daft that a child who is away from home for the whole year does not have looked-after status while sometimes a child on a short break does. These are the most vulnerable children and giving them that status might bring with it rights, such as they are, to advocacy, and would perhaps strengthen the right to have a communication aid, if necessary, because then a duty would be imposed on the local authority to gain the child’s views and feelings. In many cases they cannot do that unless they have a communication aid. For all those reasons, and the many reasons eloquently outlined by the noble Lord, Lord Rix, I support the amendment.

Baroness Morris of Bolton: I, too, support the amendment and, indeed, the noble Lord, Lord Rix, explained it eloquently as he always does. Many parents struggle from one end of the country to the other to visit their children in 52-week residential care. It is important to point out that the amendment does not impose some prescriptive shackle on local authorities’ provision of care, because, where a child

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does have that contact with their family, the local authority is under no obligation to consider the young person as looked after; but, as the noble Lord, Lord Rix, said, too many children have no visits and we must be very mindful of their welfare. So I hope that the Minister can look favourably on the amendment.

Lord Judd: I warmly support the amendment and congratulate noble Lord, Lord Rix, on introducing it. It seems that when we are dealing with the vulnerable and those at risk in our society, we need belt and braces. We cannot allow there to be gaps into which people may possibly fall. I hope that the noble Lord will forgive me for using such a crude phrase, but this amendment is essentially about belt and braces.

Lord Rix: Indeed.

Lord Judd: For that reason I very much support it. I am tempted to make one observation that I hope Members of the Committee will take seriously. I sometimes worry about those in the private sector who are dumped in residential boarding schools and whose parents totally fail to support them in any full sense while they are there, beyond feeling that they are in the school. Perhaps we should look at that area at some time.

Lord Elystan-Morgan: I, too, lend my support most fervently to this amendment. I have beaten the drum on previous occasions for the principle that responsibility for children should never be regarded as a fragmented exercise, but rather as a unified matter. This is an example where the fields of education and social services share a responsibility. In many of the cases that I came across as a judge—and I am sure that the experience of the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss, is much superior to mine—and in criminal jurisdiction, I was shocked by the number that involved disabled children who had been gravely abused and taken advantage of in these situations. Therefore, even if there is an element of double banking of care and concern, the amendment is wholly justified.

Baroness Butler-Sloss: I totally agree with what has been said and very much support the amendment.

Lord Adonis: In determining the appropriate level of support for each child, we should not have a single, automatic response to cover all situations and, in particular, we must be careful not to undermine the voice of the parent in cases where a child is placed away from home. We need a flexible legal framework for the provision of services in a way that is capable of responding to individual need and of being adapted to the particular circumstances of each family. The most effective solution is to strengthen the framework under which local authorities are notified of, monitor and supervise all children who are placed away from home, regardless of whether the placement is for educational, health or other reasons.

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Under Clauses 15 and 16, there will be an improved regime of arrangements for placing authorities to notify the local authority concerned of the placement of a child in long-term residential accommodation. More significantly, they introduce the requirement for the local authority in which the child is ordinarily resident to visit and maintain contact with the child for as long as the placement lasts. This will mean that the child will be subject to regular visits by a representative of the local authority and will ensure that a child’s needs are met, not just at the point of placement but in the event of any change of circumstance during the placement.

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