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During the passage of the Bill, we discussed the possibility of local child protection agencies and others being made to conduct a census in their own area to try to discover how many such children there are, about whom we know nothing. They are not in the care of the social services or on any book. This must be wrong. So my one concern is that, during the period of working on the new Bill and taking it through, the momentum generated by this Bill should not be lost and the movement to conduct censuses of that kind should not be stopped until the new Bill has laid the duty on various authorities. Will the Minister comment on that?
Lord Elystan-Morgan: My Lords, I do not know whether the Minister remembers the proverb in Welsh, Nid da lle ellir gwell, which means, Nothing is good that can be improved upon. That is exactly what has happened with this Bill, which was a good, gallant and noble Bill when it first came to this House but has been greatly improved. I, too, join in congratulating the noble Baroness, Lady Morris of Bolton, on her sterling efforts in that connection.
Without going into detail, I am very conscious that the improvements contained in these amendments show a greater sense of trusteeship and commitment on the part of the Government towards children in need. The reaction has been imaginative; the duty at every possible opportunity to seek out and identify need is at the heart, core and kernel of the answer to this problem. Whatever our efforts are, even our noblest efforts will fall short of the needs of these children, but a great deal of progress has been made and a great deal of further progress set in train by this amendment.
The Earl of Listowel: My Lords, on the specific matter of parity of treatment of children in the Immigration Service and other children in this country, I express my gratitude to noble Lords on the Front Benches for pushing so hard and consistently on this matter. I thank the Minister for the Governments helpful and encouraging response to those concerns, which I know they very much share.
I encourage the Minister to meet Mr Oppenheim, the children's champion in the Immigration Service appointed by her predecessor, the noble Baroness, Lady Ashton of Upholland, to discuss these matters further if she has not yet had the opportunity to do so. The Children's Commissioner for England recently visited Yarl's Wood family detention centre, about which he continues to have concerns, so I hope that she will be able to make the time to meet Mr Oppenheim at an early juncture.
I also join in welcoming the Bill. It has been a pleasure and a privilege to have been involved in some parts of it. I do so as the joint chair of the All-Party Group on Children and Young People in Care. It is a great step forward and shows the Governments commitment to improving the chances of these young people, who have been so regrettably let down in the past. Recent events highlight the continuing need, despite the welcome efforts made by the Government, to improve the status of social work and to support social workers. Far more still needs to be done to ensure that there is a proper professional framework in which social workers can operate in difficult circumstances and with such vulnerable children and families. I welcome the Bill.
Baroness Howe of Idlicote: My Lords, I congratulate the Minister and the Government generally on their considerable efforts to accommodate our very real concerns about the Bill. I am sad to hear that the noble Baroness, Lady Morris, is to leave this brief. As others have said, I am sure that there will be plenty of activity in many areas of the political scene and elsewhere to which she will apply her considerable knowledge and experience.
I emphasise the concern that we all share about children in the immigration scene. I back the idea of continuing to keep an eye on the terrible problem of children who have disappeared since arriving in this country. Our lack of knowledge and activity during the time that that has been going on is shameful and we have not done as much as we could have done. I hope that the Minister will be active in that respect.
Baroness Morgan of Drefelin: My Lords, I thank noble Lords for those helpful and important contributions. As someone who has joined the proceedings on the Bill at the very last stage, I have been made aware of the incredibly rich, important and significant debates that have taken place. I should like to offer a little more reassurance on the questions that noble Lords have raised. First, the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, highlighted the question of momentum. The Bill has certainly generated momentum and we will be moving quickly on to the next Bill. But I am happy to reassure him and other noble Lords that we will continue the momentum that this Bill has generated.
I can also reassure noble Lords about the code of practice. I know that some noble Lords have been concerned that there will be a considerable gap in time before the new duty in the Immigration and Citizenship Bill can take effect. I am therefore pleased that the arrangements provided for in the UK Borders Act 2007 requiring the Border and Immigration Agency, as it was then known, to have regard to a code of practice for keeping children safe from harm will remain in place. It will have been reinforced by the clear new direction of travel.
The code of practice has been consulted on widely and a response to that consultation, together with a revised code, is expected to be published in early December, when the original duty in the UK Borders Act 2007 will be commenced. In time, the planned provisions in the Immigration and Citizenship Bill will replace those in the UK Borders Act 2007, so we can expect a phased introduction of these new measures designed to safeguard children and promote their welfare: first, from this autumn, a duty on UKBA to have regard to a code of practice for keeping children safe from harm; and then, subject to the passage of the Immigration and Citizenship Bill, a stronger duty to discharge functions having regard to the need to safeguard children and, picking up on the concern of the noble Baroness, Lady Morris, to promote their welfare, and to have regard to guidance issued by the Secretary of State.
The noble Baroness, Lady Howarth, referred to training. All border and immigration staff have received training on child awareness issues to keep children safe from harm, with two further levels of training aimed at those staff members whose work directly affects children. The UKBAs culture is changing and, given what I have said today, there should be no question of our commitment to ensuring that culture change continues.
The noble Earl, Lord Listowel, asked whether I would be happy to meet Jeremy Oppenheim, the childrens champion for the UKBA. I have had a note from my officials to say that I shall be happy to do so. I thank them for that kind gesture, but I could have thought
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Like all noble Lords who have taken part in this short debate, I wish to put on record my thanks to the noble Baroness, Lady Morris of Bolton. She and I are members of the class of 2004. She has made a tremendous contribution to this House. I am disappointed that I will not be able to work with her more often as we take forward the huge amount of legislation that will be introduced in the next Session. I hope that noble Lords will accept my commitment from the Dispatch Box to maintain the momentum that we need to ensure that we keep the interests of all children within the UK borders at the centre of our approach.
This is a small group of minor and technical amendments. I shall try to explain succinctly their effect and rationale. Commons Amendment No. 2, and its counterpart Commons Amendment No. 9, although lengthy, are in fact minor and technical, concerned with the establishment of an independent review mechanism relating to approval of foster parents, similar to the existing mechanism for prospective adopters. By restating paragraphs 12(d) and (g) of Schedule 2 to the Children Act 1989, the amendments provide for transitory arrangements in advance of the new substantive provisions coming into force.
The Bill already contains provisions in Schedule 1 that enable the Secretary of State in England, or the Welsh Ministers in Wales, to make regulations to set up an independent review mechanism for foster carers. The independent review mechanism will allow all prospective and existing foster carers whom the fostering service provider proposes not to approve as foster parents, or whose approval the provider proposes to withdraw, the option of having their case reviewed by an independent panel. So it is offering those who may not go forward as foster parents the option to have that decision reviewed. Our intention is to establish the new IRM for foster parents from April 2009, but the enabling provisions in Schedule 1 are linked to Clause 9 and to the restatement of Section 23 of the Children Act 1989, and our timescale for bringing those provisions into force is longer. This is why we need a separate, parallel transitory provision to enable the fostering IRM to be established next April.
Commons Amendment No. 7 amends Clause 32, which provides the Registrar General with a power to supply child death information to the appropriate national authority for research purposes. This amendment
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Finally, Commons Amendment No. 3 is a minor drafting change to Clause 14 to ensure that subsection (2) correctly cross-refers to an order made under Clauses 12 and 13. I hope that, given that brief explanation, noble Lords will accept this group of amendments.
Baroness Walmsley: My Lords, I shall just say a few words about Commons Amendment No. 7, which I particularly welcome, as I welcome any means of ensuring that we gain the widest possible dissemination of information about child deaths and therefore have every possible opportunity to learn lessons from every child death.
It is unfortunate that, despite everything that the Government have done, we are still having too many violent deaths of children; even one is too many. It is very important that we should have every possible opportunity to learn lessons from the deaths of children. I refer not just to the terrible recent case in Haringey, but to the two more child deaths in Manchester, of which I heard only this morning. I have no doubt that lessons will emerge from that case too. It is important that professionals everywhere have every single opportunity to learn all the lessons that they can from all those unfortunate occurrences.
(a) advice, guidance and counselling;
(b) services necessary to enable the child to visit, or to be visited by, members of the family;
(c) assistance to enable the child and members of the family to have a holiday together.
This group of amendments relates to children who are provided with accommodation for three months or more under education and health legislation, the great majority of whom are disabled. The particular needs of this vulnerable group have been the subject of much debate, both in this House and the other place. Perhaps it is no surprise, then, that we have returned to this topic.
We have made it clear throughout the debates on this issue that we share the ambition to ensure that social services are actively involved in a timely and appropriate manner when a decision is taken to accommodate a child away from home, so that consideration is given in every case to the childs social care needs and to the needs of members of his or her family for support to enable them to sustain their involvement in their childs life.
Having listened carefully to the persuasive and passionate speeches on this subject, my honourable friend, and my predecessor as Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Children, Young People and Families, Kevin Barron, undertook to explore with the Every Disabled Child Matters campaign group whether there was anything more that the Government could do to promote the welfare of this vulnerable group of children. I believe that we have developed a package of primary and secondary legislation, supported by improved statutory guidance, which will make a significant contribution to improving services for these children.
Commons Amendment No. 6 requires the local authority to have an appropriate tailored package of services suitable to meet the needs of children who are provided with accommodation under health or education legislation. In particular, the local authority will be expected to provide services that support the continuing active involvement of the parents in their childs life. It will complement the new duty in Clause 19 of the Bill to arrange social work visits which will provide ongoing supervision for the placement and ensure that the local authority is aware of any significant change in the childs circumstances and is able to step in where necessary.
I hope that one of the most important services that local authorities can provide is to take all reasonable steps to promote contact between the parent and child. The amendment specifically refers to services,
Nevertheless, we recognise that in some cases interagency working arrangements are not as effective as they should be, and so we will use powers in Clause 19 to require a visit to take place within the first seven working days of a placement, or notification of a placement, unless an initial social services assessment
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It remains the responsibility of the home local authorities to assess and provide services to meet the needs of children being placed out of area under health or education legislation. Commons Amendment No. 5 makes this position clear beyond doubt. Of course, in practice, it will often be appropriate for the home and receiving local authorities to reach an arrangement for some aspects of service provision.
I recognise that, unfortunately, for many children in long-term placements parental engagement may be difficult to establish or sustain, and we will strengthen statutory guidance to make clear that one of the visitors responsibilities will be to develop a relationship with the child and provide support to their parents. For that reason, the visitor should be available to speak with the parents and the child between visits. The guidance will also provide greater detail on the considerations around parental involvement and the childs needs, and when it would be appropriate for the local authority to assume responsibility for providing accommodation under Section 20 of the 1989 Act, and thus for the child to become looked after.
This is a comprehensive package of measures that was developed in partnership with Every Disabled Child Matters and has been warmly welcomed by it. The package significantly improves the safeguards for this group of vulnerable children and will promote their welfare by providing support to keep the child and family in touch. I am committed to continuing the constructive dialogue with EDCM, other stakeholders and honourable Members. This will be vital in taking forward the development of the regulations and statutory guidance. I am confident that noble Lords will support this improvement to the Bill.
Baroness Walmsley: My Lords, I hope that I speak for the whole House when I congratulate the Government on listening to the Every Disabled Child Matters consortium, which is very much to be congratulated on its role in helping the Government make even further improvements to what was a very good Bill. I also congratulate, in his absence, the noble Lord, Lord Rix, for his persistence, in this House and behind the scenes, in letting the Government have the benefit of his great expertise in this field.
The Earl of Listowel: My Lords, I join the noble Baroness in welcoming these improvements to the Bill. The concern raised with me by a director of social services was that in this area it is very important to get the balance right between a local authoritys responsibilities and those of parents. It is also important for the local authority to measure its response so that it does not lessen the parents involvement. Therefore, I was very pleased to hear what the Minister said about all the steps taken to promote contact between the child and any family that he may have, and I welcome the amendment.
Lord Ramsbotham: My Lords, while we are in the mood of thanking and congratulating those who played a part in the Bill, I hope that the House will not think it inappropriate if I mention the noble Lord, Lord Adonis, the Ministers predecessor. We thank him for all the work that he did during the passage of the Bill.
Baroness Howe of Idlicote: My Lords, I add my voice to those of other noble Lords in expressing thanks because a considerable amount of effort has gone into the Bill from all sides. This is a hugely important amendment and it has been worked on to an impressive degree, particularly the important aspect of keeping the family in touch in many ways. That is spelt out in exactly the way one would hope and we wish the provision well in its implementation.
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