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However, we remain of the view that where the local authority is involved in the placement decision and is contributing to the funding of a child placed away from home, the child should normally be looked after. Only in cases where, having undertaken an assessment of need, the local authority is satisfied that there is a high ongoing level of parental support for the child, do we believe that looked-after status should not apply. This position is already set out in guidance, but we intend to set it out further in statutory guidance.

Lord Rix: I thank the Minister for that reply. He said that there would be “regular” visits from representatives of the local authority. Can he qualify that by giving me an idea as to the number of visits? Are two visits “regular”—or three? It is a slightly ambivalent word.

Lord Adonis: We will set this out in guidance, but it will depend on the circumstances of the child and the degree of parental involvement, which is one of the key factors. I am informed that we would expect visits to be, on average, once every six months at least.

Lord Rix: I am not sure that once every six months is sufficient. I would hope that eventually the guidance might say that it should be once every three months. I am grateful for the response that the noble Lord has given. I will consult my many colleagues on whether to come back to this matter on Report, because they have all spoken in support of this amendment. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 21 agreed to.

[Amendments Nos. 86, 87 and 88 not moved.]

Clauses 22 to 25 agreed to.

3.45 pm

Baroness Morris of Bolton moved Amendment No. 89:

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The noble Baroness said: The purpose of our amendment is to broaden the scope of what is taken into account during the inspections of children’s homes. Our amendment changes the provisions of Section 147 of the Education and Inspections Act 2006 that relate to adoption and fostering functions. This seemed like the most logical place to amend that Act, as I assumed that this section’s broad scope would include children’s homes. I ask your Lordships’ forgiveness if I have attempted to amend in error or in the wrong place, but I hope to have support for the spirit and intention of this proposed change.

Essentially the amendment would place a duty on the inspectors to make inspections about more than just the number of beds a children’s home provides and the average cost of meals per child per day. I know that the Minister will say that that is not just what the inspectors do, but there is a fear out there that it is very much a tick-box exercise. Our amendment would obligate inspectors to take a more holistic approach and consider the promotion of the welfare and safety of the child when carrying out inspections. We recognise that inspectors will report on circumstances where children are being harmed or endangered. However, as we understand it, there is no statutory duty to consider the real aims of children’s homes—promoting a child’s well-being—when they are inspected.

I point out that this refers only to the inspection already carried out in the provisions of this Bill. We have no intention of mandating inspections of foster parents’ homes or the like. We intend this amendment to apply to the institutional premises connected with these types of care provision—namely children’s homes. I beg to move.

Lord Ramsbotham: I support the amendment. I am sorry that it is there, but I am not surprised, because when, in the context of the Criminal Justice and Police Bill, we were able to prevent the Government from forming the monster inspectorate of criminal justice, custody and whatever, and allow the retention of independence in inspection of prisons and probation, it was precisely because experience had shown that it was much better to have single-issue inspectorates to focus on particular aspects that could form conglomerates and inspect particular experiences. In speaking on that matter, I was minded of the inspection of safeguarding children, in which I had readily become involved when the then Chief Inspector of Social Services had been charged with doing that. She asked all the associated inspectorates to join her, because they each had a different aspect to bring, and therefore there would be a holistic outcome. Education and prisons inspectorates joined, and so on.

My worry about this monster, the CIECSS, is that actually it is education-based and education-focused. Under its remit, education is the main task of that chief inspector. I am concerned that this amendment refers to something that would have naturally fallen under the Chief Inspector of Social Services, had it been there, and then need not have been seen as necessary. However, it is required, because the current

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arrangements leave people to doubt that the new arrangements allow that focusing on this very important aspect. Indeed, I suspect that, had the old arrangements continued, the current Chief Inspector of Social Services would have been noting with great care the points made throughout our Committee proceedings, many of which he would have felt it incumbent on him to monitor in future. I wonder whether those issues could be monitored by a CIECSS, which would have so many educational distractions from the supervision of all these aspects of care.

Baroness Morris of Bolton: In the interests of time, I edited my notes so much that I have edited that point as to be incomprehensible. So I thank the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, for filling in the gaps that I left.

The Earl of Listowel: I support the amendment and thank my noble friend for the inspirational reports from the joint chief inspectors on safeguarding children. I was particularly grateful for the attention that their last report drew to the situation for children in Yarl’s Wood detention centre, which was extremely helpful.

When the Commission for Social Care Inspection had responsibility for children’s homes, what I heard when visiting several children’s homes at the time was how helpful the inspectorate was to those homes. It was giving advice, for instance, about the key worker role in homes and how key workers should seek to spend one evening or some regular time each week with the child, perhaps doing the washing up together or playing ping pong; doing some sort of informal activity that would help the child to bond with their key worker. That is so important, and is the sort of thing that a good inspectorate could help to expand.

I highlight the continuing lack of capacity in many children’s homes. The Government set a target that 80 per cent of staff in children’s homes should have NVQ level 3 in childcare. Level 3 is very basic indeed. Unfortunately, some time ago that target had not been reached. How much progress has been made towards achieving that target? Perhaps it no longer exists; I know that it was a difficult target to reach. That sort of capacity needs to be built. I have been informed by people in this area that they are concerned that the new inspection regime is not permitted to concentrate on giving recommendations rather than saying whether there is a pass or fail.

Baroness Walmsley: I quite understand why the noble Baroness, Lady Morris, has tabled the amendment. I rather suspect that the Minister will reply that all elements of the Every Child Matters agenda have to be inspected for, and that is how it is all covered. I understand that there is a feeling out there that if it is not spelled out they do not inspect for it, and I am sure that this is where the amendment is coming from. I very much support the spirit of the amendment. It is an important aspect of what these places do.

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Lord Adonis: There is no disagreement whatever between the noble Baroness and me. The issue is whether existing legislation achieves the objective that she has set out, and we believe that it does. Section 119(1) of the Education and Inspections Act 2006, read with Section 117(2), sets out the factors to which the chief inspector must have regard in performing her functions. The first item on the list is,

This is a core responsibility of Ofsted and of the chief inspector, and it applies to all the inspection functions carried out by Ofsted, including those mentioned by the noble Baroness. Children’s homes, which the noble Baroness mentioned, are inspected twice a year. The duties of the chief inspector are as I have set out and the chief inspector has a power to inspect more frequently if she has reasons for concern.

In addition, the existing national minimum standards for fostering services, against which fostering services are inspected, already provide a clear framework for safeguarding and promoting the welfare of looked-after children placed with foster carers. Section 4 of those standards focuses specifically on “securing and promoting welfare” and includes detailed standards related, for example, to protecting children from abuse and neglect, promoting their development and health and promoting their educational achievement.

Similarly, Section 2 of the national minimum standards for adoption agencies focuses on,

related, for example, to ensuring that children are placed with suitable and approved adopters who can best meet their needs and keep them safe.

Ofsted, with other inspectorates, also inspects how services for looked-after children contribute to their well-being when undertaking joint area reviews under Section 20 of the Children Act 2004. After the programme of joint area reviews ends in 2008, the Government will continue to inspect services for looked-after children at local authority area level, under arrangements for comprehensive area assessment set out in the October 2006 local government White Paper Strong and Prosperous Communities.

We take the view therefore that the existing duties of the chief inspector meet the concerns raised by the noble Baroness.

The Earl of Listowel: Before the Minister sits down, may I check with him about the role of the inspectorate? Am I mistaken in what I have been told—that it is simply to check that whatever institution is being inspected is meeting the standards required, or is there also a requirement that it should give advice? Should it ask how this can be done better? Have you thought of trying it this way? Have you looked at what so and so is doing? My understanding is that the inspectorate is not required to do that; it is simply told to judge the institution against the standards and say whether it fails or passes. I should appreciate clarification from the Minister on that point.

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Lord Adonis: I shall probably need to come back to the noble Earl with more detail on precisely what happens but this is an inspectorate, not a consultancy. Therefore, he is correct to say that its role is to inspect against standards. But the very nature of the process of inspection means that advice and support will be given. Therefore, I do not think that there is a hard and fast distinction as drawn by the noble Earl. However, I shall write to him with a fuller account of how Ofsted sees the position and I shall encourage the chief inspector to engage directly with him.

Baroness Butler-Sloss: I was given some rather depressing anecdotal information about recent reports on a body that was not doing very well. One report after another had been extremely negative and it would have been very helpful for the organisation to have been told what it might do. When it asked, the inspectorate told it that its job was purely and simply to inspect and that it was not there to tell the organisation how it might do better. Can advice be given to the inspectorate that, without moving into the consultancy area, it could reassure the relevant organisation or at least suggest guidelines on what it might do?

Lord Ramsbotham: Following on from that, when the prisons inspectors were asked to take part in the first inspections of secure training centres we discovered that our approach, which was based on the aim of the inspection being to help the establishment improve its operational efficiency—it was conducted in the form of a free consultancy—was very different from the rather “tick box” approach that was offered. The latter might have produced a result that could then be league-tabled but it did not help the establishment to move forward. We tried very hard to feed our approach into the other inspectorates when they inspected custodial or residential establishments because the staff needed that help. As my noble friend Lord Listowel mentioned, an inspectorate can share its experience of practice in other places or spread good practice. However, the existing structures do not seem to have that procedure built into them.

Lord Adonis: The best response I can give is to draw the chief inspector’s attention to the remarks made in the Committee this afternoon. I am sure that she will be more than ready to engage with noble Lords who raised those concerns.

Baroness Morris of Bolton: I am most grateful to the Minister for answering the amendment so fully. I am also grateful to all Members of the Committee who participated in the debate. The noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, is absolutely right—it is the fear of simply a tick-box exercise that concerns people. The comments of the noble Earl, Lord Listowel, and the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss, about sharing best practice are hugely useful. I am most grateful to the Minister for his commitment to draw the chief inspector’s attention to this matter because there are concerns in this area. Indeed, it is because there is concern about the quality of inspection of

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some of our children’s homes that we raised this matter in the first place. Many are excellent but others leave a great deal to be desired. That concern is exacerbated by the number of homes that have recently closed, as was highlighted recently in the Children & Young People Now magazine.

There are clusters of homes in some of our seaside towns where the children cause much anxiety in the community and almost literally run riot. We heard earlier in Grand Committee about the depressing number of children who go missing from local authority care. Therefore, we must do all we can to ensure that inspectors paint a true picture and flag up issues of concern about the welfare of these vulnerable children, and that they are properly in tune with what we want our children’s homes to do. But for now I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 26 agreed to.

Clause 27 agreed to.

4 pm

Lord Adonis moved Amendment No. 90:

(a) to the Secretary of State, or(b) to the Welsh Ministers,for research purposes.(a) to any other person if the disclosure is for research purposes; and(b) to a Local Safeguarding Children Board for the purposes of its functions.(a) is kept by the Registrar General under any provision made by or under an enactment; and(b) relates to the death of a person who was or may have been under the age of 18 at the time of death.

The noble Lord said: This government amendment relates to the powers of the Registrar-General to supply information about child deaths to the Secretary of State or Welsh Ministers as appropriate. It complements provisions in the previous clause about registrars supplying information to local safeguarding children boards. Boards in England already have a duty under Regulation 6 of the LSCB Regulations SI 2006/90 to review the deaths of all children normally resident in their area and, where appropriate, to undertake serious case reviews under Regulation 5 of those regulations. Arrangements for reviews in Wales are currently under consideration. In order to fulfil their responsibilities effectively, local safeguarding children boards require as much information as possible about child deaths. That information can be obtained from a number of

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sources, including registrars and the Registrar-General. Under Clause 27, we require registrars to supply information about child deaths to local safeguarding children boards in a timely manner. Under Clause 27A, we are providing the Registrar-General with a power to supply to the Secretary of State or Welsh Ministers information he receives under any enactment about the death of a person who was or may have been under the age of 18 years at the time of death.

Providing a power rather than a duty will enable the Registrar-General to exercise his discretion about when to send the information to the Secretary of State or Welsh Ministers and about the format he sees fit to use. Information provided by the Registrar-General to the Secretary of State or Welsh Ministers is intended to be able to be shared with local safeguarding children boards to ensure that boards receive information about all deaths registered in England and Wales or, where a certificate is issued to the effect that a death is not required to be registered in England and Wales, in relation to persons who were, or may have been, under the age of 18 at the time of death. That includes those deaths of children that occur abroad that are not registered in England or Wales and where the fact of death is known to the Registrar-General. I beg to move.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Clause 28 [Research etc. into matters connected with certain statutory functions]:

Lord Adonis moved Amendment No. 91:

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Clause 28 agreed to.

[Amendments Nos. 92 and 93 not moved.]

Baroness Walmsley moved Amendment No. 94:

“(e) is a foster parent;”.”

The noble Baroness said: In moving Amendment No. 94, I shall also speak to Amendments Nos. 96, 97 and 98. Amendment No. 96 is tabled in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Morris of Bolton, and I am grateful to her for agreeing to group it with my amendments, not only because it will help us to save time but because without her amendment, to which I have added my name, Amendment No. 98 would not be quite so possible.

Amendment No. 94 relates to the registration of foster carers. Foster carers have long called for the introduction of a national registration scheme for them through the General Social Care Council, as is available for many other members of the children’s workforce. Registration would provide a major boost to the status of foster carers and improve the respect and treatment that they receive from other workers. Registration would also allow for the introduction of

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a code of conduct, for expectations regarding continuing professional development and improving the safeguarding of children, and for increased portability of approval within the children’s workforce. Taken all round, it would be a good measure. The GSCC is very willing to have this additional group of members, and it would improve the professionalisation of foster carers, which we would all like to see.

Amendment No. 97 is about responsibility delegated to foster carers by the local authority. The 2002 fostering regulations require all fostering services to enter into a foster placement agreement, which should include the circumstances in which it is necessary to obtain in advance the approval of the responsible authority for the child to take part in school trips or to stay overnight away from the foster parent’s home, but not for other everyday issues.

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