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(1) Where a local authority are providing accommodation for a child (C) other than by arrangements under section 22C(6)(d), they must not make such arrangements for C unless they have decided to do so in consequence of a review of Cs case carried out in accordance with regulations made under section 26.
Where a local authority places a child they are looking after in a childrens home provided, equipped and maintained by an appropriate national authority under section 82(5), they must do so on such terms as that national authority may from time to time determine.
(2) Schedule (Children looked after by local authorities: supplementary and consequential provisions) (which makes amendments supplementary to, and consequential on, the provisions of this section, including a power to make regulations about an independent review mechanism for certain decisions in relation to foster parents) has effect.
The noble Baroness said: I shall speak also to Amendment No. 17 which is grouped with Amendment No. 16. Both amendments concern alternative and augmentative communications support. Amendment No. 16 seeks to enable children to make their views known during the review of their care plan if they have a need for such aids and Amendment No. 17 seeks to enable them to make their views known when any significant decision is to be made in relation to their care plan. However, I emphasise that such aids should be available all the time to any child in public care who has a need for them, and not only when there is a statutory duty to take his or her wishes and feelings into account.
These amendments are identical to those that we brought forward in Grand Committee because I want to respond to what the Minister said on that occasion and probe him a little further. On 16 January he laid great weight at the door of the IRO in respect of the provision of augmented and alternative communication aids. That is quite a mouthful so I shall call them AAC aids. He said:
We will ensure through statutory guidance that children with communication difficulties or complex needs are supported either by an IRO with the skills necessary to facilitate care planning and to elicit the views of children with communication difficulties or complex needs, or through an IRO who has access to specialist input from someone who has these skills.
What is going to be done about training IROs in this specialist area? Another aspect is that things move on in this field all the time. New communication aids are constantly becoming available; someone told me recently that a communication aid user had told her that getting to grips with a new piece of kit was like learning a new language. It takes considerable effort to keep up to speed with these very useful communication aids.
Where a communication aid is specified in ... a statement of special educational needs, the local authority is obliged in law to provide it or to ensure its provision.[Official Report, 16/1/08; col. 530.]
My response to that is that there are many cases where such communication aids are provided at school, but the child really needs these pieces of equipment out of school as well. Often, unfortunately, they cannot take them home with them at the end of the day or during holiday time. So we are giving the child a voice during school time but not when it goes home or to whichever place it regards as home. That is a real problem, and I would like some reassurance that something will be done about that. I am pleased that the Minister recognised that provision is not always well managed, but some sort of guidance or directive could say that such communication aids should be provided to the child all the time, not just at these specific points when some statutory obligation or other makes it necessary. That is essential. The child will not have facility with using
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The problem is that there is a relatively low local incidence of any children who can benefit from AAC and an even smaller incidence of looked-after children who can benefit from it. That means there is very little local awareness. Most speech and language therapists have very little training in AAC. They have plenty of training in speech and language therapy, but when a child does not have speech and language the therapists just do not know about such equipment and these difficulties. Teachers, social workers and doctors often have no training at all. That means there is a real problem identifying those children who could benefit in the first place. It would be interesting to know how much training in AAC that, specifically, an IRO would receive, given the Ministers dependence on the role of the IRO in responding to my amendments in Grand Committee.
There are no specific indicators relating to AAC, which means that spending tends to get directed elsewhere that will meet targets. The level of support available is often dependent on whether the area has a particular champion, someone who really knows, cares and does something about it. That is why we have patchy provision. It could well be that we need regional centres of excellence, because there is no critical mass in any one local authority. The Minister might like to think about that idea.
In order to ensure that the childs statutory rights to express his or her wishes and feelings in these specific situations can be fulfilled, there is a need to ensure that the child has such a communication aid all the time and that the IROs and the professionals around them have the necessary awareness, and that the IROs have trainingongoing training, at thatbecause this is a technical field that is moving on very rapidly. I beg to move.
Lord Judd: I rise very warmly to support the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, in her amendment. I hope my noble friend will be able to respond positively. The noble Baroness has put the case as fully and effectively as possible. If we are serious about the best interests, the welfare and the well-being of the child, it is impossible not to take her argument seriously. Otherwise, we have different categories of children: those whose interests are being fully met because they are articulate and able to communicate in normal ways, and the second-class also-rans who are unable to operate on the same level. That is clearly not satisfactory.
Having said that, although I will not go on making this point over and again, I am sure the noble Baroness would agree with me once more that this obviously has resource implications and that we therefore have to be tough. I happen to belong to the old school that wishes that, on all these issues, we would snap out of the absolute nonsense that there is something reprehensible about taxation and local
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Baroness Morris of Bolton: The noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, knows that I have every sympathy with her on these amendments. I am afraid, however, she knows that if she were to call this to a vote I would not be able to support her because it involves those very spending commitments of which the noble Lord, Lord Judd, spoke.
We are talking about children at the most complex end of care. These communication aids are simply their lifeline. It is an area that requires some detailed consideration. I hope my honourable friend John Bercows review might be able to shed some light on the problem. In Grand Committee I asked the Minister if the Government would collate figures so that we can understand the scale of the problem. He was not able to respond to me then, and I wonder if he might be able to do so now.
Baroness Howarth of Breckland: I wish to express my disappointment at the comment made by the noble Baroness, Lady Morris. I am sure she is instructed elsewhere to say that she cannot support anything that contains resources implications. This is an area that we should all be seriously supporting. Every child who has a serious communication disability should have the right to the equipment to enable them to communicate. Local authorities have the responsibility to provide aids to people with disabilities to enable them to take part in civil society. Those aids need to be with the child the whole time from the beginning of their communication learning. To say they cannot take them home is to deprive them totally of their social life at home.
Any good educational establishmentand I am sure Ofsted would look at thiswill ensure that not only the child but the parents are helped to understand how to use the communication aids, otherwise when the child goes home they cannot interact with their parents. How do we look across at other legislation on the provision of aids in local authorities that means that any disabled person who needs such a facility should be provided with it? There must be similar provision within education legislation that enables children to communicate because they cannot do so in class. I watch very disabled children using complex equipment while they are being taught, and who are therefore enabled to speak. Otherwise they can make no communication at all.
Baroness Howe of Idlicote: I strongly support both amendments. As someone who has had the benefit of an improved hearing facility in your Lordships House and who has needed hearing aids for 50 years, I can speak with some knowledge about just how unincluded you can feel if you cannot take part in the full range of communications. That is particularly true for children. I could not agree more with the point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, about the need to take home the equipment and to have it with you all the time. That is particularly so
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Baroness Morris of Bolton: I was sorry to disappoint the noble Baroness, Lady Howarth of Breckland, but I spoke on this matter at length in Grand Committee. I would like the Government to look at this problem. There are undoubtedly some special needs children with statements where all that is needed is some discipline and for them to be able to learn to read. If one saved money at that end of the special needs spectrum, one might have more to spend at the more complex end.
Lord Adonis: A statutory duty is placed on local authorities to ascertain, and give due consideration to, the wishes and feelings of children whom they look after before taking any decision that affects them. It is clearly and necessarily implicit in that duty that where the child has a communication impairment, the local authority should ensure that those tasked with consulting the child have the necessary skills to do so and that a child is provided with the necessary aids to make themselves understood.
The noble Baroness asked me about the training that should therefore be provided for independent reviewing officers in relation to communications issues. We are committed to working with government offices and local authorities to develop a training approach that is appropriate to the needs of the children with whom independent reviewing officers are dealing. This will include specialist communication training. As the noble Baroness identified, there may well be a need for specialisms to be developed to take full account of technical developments in this area. We would wish to see that incorporated in the training available to independent reviewing officers.
The provision needed for a child to express themselves appropriately may involve equipment or a preferred method of communication, or both. Consideration will need to be given to the childs communication needs when the IRO is first appointed to ensure that, so far as possible, the IRO has the skills necessary to communicate with the child. The new statutory guidance which will follow the enactment of the Bill will
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As the noble Baroness, Lady Morris, said, we have established a review of the wider issue of communication aids and children with speech, language and communication needs. It will be led by John Bercow and will advise the Government on how best provision can be mirrored in all areas, so that every young person up to 19 years of age gets the support that they need as early as possible. The review will advise on how local services can work closely together to ensure that children get that support. Among the issues that it addresses, it will look at children with communications needs. We may therefore have further proposals to make in this area in due course.
Baroness Walmsley: I thank the Minister for his reply and all other noble Lords who have taken part in the debate. The Minister concentrated on providing the IRO with the skills that they need, but I want to concentrate on providing the child with the voice that they need to communicate, not just with the IRO but with the rest of the world.
At the end of our debate in Grand Committee the Minister was kind enough to say that he hoped that John Bercow would read the debate in Hansard and take into account the points that were raised when he comes to his conclusionsto which we all look forward next month. I hope that John Bercow will also read the additional points made today. I further hope that when he makes his recommendations, which I am sure we will all welcome, the Minister will find that he can use his influence in government to make sure that resources are provided for the improvements which I hope Mr Bercow will recommend in his report. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
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