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This debate builds on many of the issues raised by the Good Childhood report which we debated a few months ago. The most reverend Primate the Archbishop of Canterbury wrote in his afterword that this report forces,

“the reader to ask what we have in the ‘bank’ of mind and spirit in our culture that reinforces love and fidelity and offers some robust account of what long-term human welfare looks like and what it demands”.

I want briefly to say something about what well-being looks like and something about what it demands.

There are at present no universally agreed ways of defining and measuring well-being. In terms of children, ideas about well-being have often been transferred directly from concepts which apply to adults, with inadequate reference to children themselves. In addition, there has been a tendency to focus more on children’s future well-being or “well-becoming” as adults than on their experience of childhood, and to measure child well-being in terms of the absence of negative indicators, such as substance abuse, rather than the presence of positive ones. How do we attend wisely to the views of children themselves on these matters?

This year, for example, the Get Ready for Change! project saw a group of children and young people carrying out a major children’s rights investigation and submitting their own report to the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child in Geneva to inform its examination of the United Kingdom. Such projects fall far short of a systematic attempt to monitor

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and assess the experiences of children over time. For that reason, the Children’s Society is developing a well-being framework based on a consultation exercise with Ipsos MORI. The first phase of the survey, a representative sample of over 7,000 children, in years six, eight and 10, was completed in July 2008. The findings are due to be published this summer. This will be a major part of identifying well-being among different subgroups of children, leading to the development and testing of a new index of child well-being. Some of the themes are already clear, even predictable. The family is clearly of paramount importance. When children and young people were asked to choose between love, respect, support and freedom, in terms of their importance in family relationships, 70 per cent chose love.

We can begin to see where this message is getting through in the recent Children, Schools and Families Select Committee report on looked-after children, which concluded,

I want briefly to focus on child poverty, for it is clear that the well-being of children demands a fundamental change in our approach to inequalities and a renewed political determination to deliver on the targets for child poverty eradication. I hope that we shall hear from the Minister on the subject, because if there is a golden thread linking all the policies around child well-being, this is it.

The financial crisis offers us a chance to rethink our public values; to evaluate the collective social, political and economic costs of our present inequalities, as the Joseph Rowntree Foundation’s recent research has clearly revealed. Living in poverty has an immediate and enduring impact on children’s lives. In my own diocese, in some of the inner city schools, 85 per cent of children are on free school meals; one school has children speaking 40 different languages. Here we see powerfully the impact of poverty and multiple disadvantage and we realise that those forms of inequality demand focus and sustained attention on the alleviation of poverty. It was therefore a serious disappointment that in the Budget the Government were not able to prioritise spending in that area, putting only £20 extra per child per year on tax credit, or merely 38p per child per week. Will the Minister commit today to doing everything possible to ensure that the pre-Budget report in the autumn gets the Government back on track to reach the 700,000 children who need to be taken out of poverty if the 2010 target is to be achieved?

The well-being of children focuses our attention on the central task of a civilised society: the task of inducting children into responsible and fulfilling lives. That is a challenge at every point of government policy but especially in facing with real, enduring courage the challenge of the toxic combination of inequality, high child poverty and low social mobility in this country, relative to many European comparators and illustrated by the UNICEF report to which reference has already been made. If we are to move beyond what

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has been called the mixed climate of fear and dislike that seems to affect so many perceptions of children and young people, the agenda for addressing the needs of the 3.9 million children in poverty in this country must be faced. That remains the single greatest threat to the well-being of children and families today.

12.24 pm

Lord Ramsbotham: My Lords, I join other noble Lords in congratulating the noble Baroness, Lady Massey, on obtaining this important and timely debate and pay tribute to her for her chairmanship of the Children Group, which is recognised by the large number of people from outside organisations who make it their business to attend, knowing that there will be a lively, challenging, interesting and relevant meeting under her chairmanship. I also join in the words of my noble friend Lady Warnock and repeat the plea that I have made many times in this House that every child should receive a speech and language therapy assessment before beginning primary school, to enable them to engage with that process.

I say that this debate is timely because we are about to embark on a legislative marathon, including the Coroners and Justice Bill, the Welfare Reform Bill, the Policing and Crime Bill, the Apprenticeships, Skills, Children and Learning Bill and the Equality Bill, all of which contain clauses relevant to children. Therefore, it is very timely to be reminded of their needs and problems as we approach that process.

I want to focus on one aspect only—children in custody—and take as my text the excellent joint report of Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Prisons and the Youth Justice Board entitled Children and Young People in Custody 2006-2008, which was published recently. I shall cite two passages from it, one from the text and one from the conclusions, because I could not put what is said better and they are relevant for the House. Talking about the whole survey, the report states:

“The results ... show, in general, a steady improvement in terms of young people's experience of the custodial environment”—

which is to be welcomed—

“But there is less encouraging news in relation to what the effect on them will be. Ease of contact with family and friends had deteriorated both for young men and young women ... only a third of them said that it was easy for their families to visit, and in some establishments this figure was as low as a quarter (for young men) or 13% (for young women). Over a quarter of young women and nearly one in five young men said they had no visits at all. This must reflect the distance from home of some young people. In some establishments, a significant proportion also said they had problems contacting their families by telephone or mail.

There had also been deterioration, for young men, in some other important resettlement areas. Fewer young men said they could see their training plan, or had been contacted by a youth offending team or social worker or probation officer while in custody. There was still only a minority of young men—around four out of 10—who believed that they had done anything in custody that would help them not to offend again; though this rose to nearly eight out of 10 among sentenced young people in the one open unit (which has now been closed)”.

In conclusion, the report states:

“There are some key messages ... from these surveys. First, there is considerable variation in young people’s experiences and opportunities between different establishments ... there are also variations which are not inexplicable ... where culture, management or history seem to play a part. It also remains troubling that overall so many young people have felt unsafe ... the experience

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of black and minority ethnic young men remains significantly more negative ... Third, and most importantly, the experience of custody is only a part of these young lives, and it must be of concern that links with families and, for young men, with support services outside prison, seem to have loosened”.

Those are serious and worrying words. They reflect something that I have been saying now for more than 10 years: until and unless someone, some person, is responsible and accountable for consistent direction of what happens to children in custody, we will continue to have uneven performance. We will continue to have the ridiculous situation that incoming governors and directors of establishments are not required to carry on from where their predecessor left off but can do what they like in relation to the targets and performance indicators that they have been given.

As has been mentioned, there is a disconnect between what happens in young offender establishments, run by the Prison Service, secure training centres, which are run by private companies on contract to the Youth Justice Board, and local authority secure homes, some of which are run by local authorities and some by the private sector. In this context, I deplore, as I have many times in this House, the abolition of the Commission for Social Care Inspection, which focused entirely on issues such as safeguarding, which the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Leicester just mentioned. Until and unless something is done to improve the overall direction of what happens, we will still go on having to read this depressing catalogue of avoidable failure, which is damaging the young people whose interests all of us in this nation must have at heart. I beg the Government to do something serious to overcome this deficiency.

Baroness Thornton: My Lords, before my noble friend stands up to speak, I respectfully remind noble Lords that the six minutes are up when the clock turns to six. Several noble Lords have overrun by a minute—not the previous speaker, who was a model of brevity. However, I remind noble Lords that we will overrun if we do not stick to the time.

12.30 pm

Baroness Billingham: My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Massey, for bringing this debate to the House today and I apologise to her and to the House for my mobile interrupting the beginning of this debate.

I am acutely aware of the many areas that need to be covered if we are to take a broad view on the Government’s record on well-being. Therefore, I will focus on just one aspect, sport, which I firmly believe ranks with equal importance to apparently more serious areas being covered today. For who can deny the part that sport plays in our society, whether one is a fan, an aspiring player or an occasional participant in a huge variety of sport? All that against the increasing awareness of an epidemic of obesity among both young and old and the anger and frustration we feel at not having access or opportunity to take part in our favoured sports.

Years ago, as a young councillor in Banbury, I well remember the scathing attitude of those around me when youngsters lobbied us to provide a skate park in the town—heresy. Many years later it came into being, but only after a very long campaign.

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When I reflect on the Government’s policies today, I have to remember the starting point in the 1990s. School sport was reduced to a token. Curriculum expansion had almost pushed PE off the timetable. Heads were more concerned with academic league tables and made flimsy defence of sport. Not only that, but extra-curricular activities in state schools had bitten the dust, thanks, in no small part, to the noble Lord, Lord Baker of Dorking—as a fallout of his confrontation with teachers.

What has been done to repair the damage? Frankly, an enormous amount. The Government have set up a delivery framework—Sport England, UK Sport and the Youth Sport Trust—which has built up a positive rapport with all the governing bodies of sport in the United Kingdom. Huge amounts of money have been channelled into sport, £2.4 billion, divided equally between sport in schools and the community, the development of young players and encouraging families to return to active sport.

What has been the result? Well, a transformation. Sport in schools, from having virtually no time in the timetable, is now five hours for primary schools and three hours for secondary schools. Extra-curricular sport is flourishing. Clubs, teams and groups are in competition. Competitive sport has regained its proper place in society. There is a genuine broad offer of sport for all with schools and colleges. Volunteering, officiating, running clubs and being coaches are being promoted. All these are essential if we are to build for the future and staff the London Olympics in 2012. Those Olympics have pricked the nation’s conscience to get off our sofas.

Links between schools and clubs are essential. Three years ago, the Government created community amateur sports clubs. That is part of the answer, but that bridge is not yet completed. Clubs must change and become less exclusive. Community sports clubs have an inducement of rate reduction. Governing bodies are putting in place a matrix of link officials who work with schools to publicise sport in their area and help identify sports that students can take part in—all this against the alarming rising figures of obesity. Sport not only helps counter that but adds to the social inclusion of many youngsters in society; and it is fun and lifelong. If only noble Lords had come along to watch the match at the Lords and Commons tennis club this Thursday, they would have witnessed extraordinary scenes of ageing players thoroughly enjoying themselves, albeit a trifle creaky the following day.

The Government are playing their part and must be determined to continue with a high level of support. The credit crunch puts pressure on all budgets, but this budget line is surely one that must be protected at whatever cost. We cannot slip back to the dark days of the 1990s. I very much hope that the Minister will assure us of that. If I speak with unusual passion, that might be because I spent part of my childhood in care. Sport played a crucial part in helping me to find new friends within the community of sport.

However, I have a most wonderful offer to make to the Minister and to the Government today, with no extra cost and with guaranteed success. If they take on board the campaign to stop putting the clocks back in

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October, at a stroke, they will give us all thousands of extra daylight hours, after school and work, to make ourselves more active. If they resort to that old chestnut of dark evenings being dangerous, I hope they will quote this month’s report from the National Audit Office saying that child pedestrians are most at risk from 3 pm to 7 pm, especially in the weeks after the end of British Summer Time.

So, let us stop this daylight robbery and give everyone the chance that they need and deserve to create a healthier, more active and happier society—a crucial policy to promote the well-being of children and families, which is the heart of our debate today.

12.36 pm

Baroness Butler-Sloss: My Lords, I strongly support the suggestion just made by the noble Baroness, Lady Billingham. I would like to take advantage of this valuable debate introduced by the noble Baroness, Lady Massey, to raise a specific issue about well-being: access to justice for those children whose future is decided in the courts.

As has been said, one of the most vulnerable groups are those children who are in care and those who are the subject of care proceedings with the possibility of permanent removal from their families. All such children committed to care have to have an order, either of a judge or of magistrates, and they have to go through court proceedings. Many such children have been physically or sexually abused or seriously neglected and all have been emotionally abused. Allegations have to be proved and medical and social worker evidence has to be tested to assist the court to decide whether the case for a care order is proved.

Every Child Matters: Next Steps refers to the importance of the family justice system for children. Family lawyers, the Family Law Bar Association, family solicitors such as Resolution and the Association of Lawyers for Children spend long hours preparing these cases with voluminous evidence and difficult and often insoluble problems where their expertise and experience are of great help to family judges, which, as your Lordships will appreciate, was what I was at one time. The work of these lawyers, of barristers in particular, often makes a real difference to the outcome. However, contrary to public belief, family lawyers are not particularly well paid under this legal aid system.

I recently co-chaired a meeting for the Family Law Bar Association with the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, to learn about the Legal Services Commission’s proposals to restructure the package of payments to family barristers in the longer cases. Because of a marked reduction in those cases, there will be a most damaging effect on the availability of experienced family practitioners in those cases. There will be fewer family lawyers prepared to do this work. They will vote with their feet and there will be a great disincentive for young barristers coming into family work. As a former family judge, I already advise Bar students not to do family work. Following the Legal Services Commission’s proposals, there is about to be a serious and irreparable loss of the pool of expertise.

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My concern is not at all for the lawyers; it is for children and the parents who must be represented. The legal aid changes raise issues about the rights and welfare of children. They involve Article 12 of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child and Articles 6 and 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights. There will be a lack of access to justice and a lack of adequate representation of children and of the parents who may be unfairly accused of misbehaviour and may lose their children for ever. Much more important is the grave danger of the loss for children of their parents if these cases are not properly tested.

I cannot overemphasise the potential damage to these extremely vulnerable groups of children. It is worrying that the Legal Services Commission does not recognise children among its stakeholders. I should make it clear that the family Bar is asking not for more money but for a more sensible redistribution of the money that the Legal Services Commission and the Ministry of Justice say will be available. I appreciate that I am taking the Minister by surprise, but I ask the Government to recognise the damage that will be done if the Family Law Bar Association’s proposals are not taken seriously. Those proposals should be looked at again. A failure to do so would undermine all the Government’s other good policies, which I so very much support.

12.41 pm

Baroness Amos: My Lords, I thank my noble friend Lady Massey for opening today’s debate on an issue that is not only of current importance to our society but crucial to the future well-being of our nation. I shall focus on the interconnectedness between educational achievement, family and community support, and the importance of aspiration and self-belief in our young people. When the Prime Minister announced the creation of the new Department for Children, Schools and Families in 2007, he said:

“Children and families are the bedrock of our society. The Government’s aim is to ensure that every child gets the best possible start in life, receiving the ongoing support and protection that they—and their families—need to allow them to fulfil their potential”.—[Official Report, 3/7/07; col. WS 82.]

Today, I shall focus on one initiative, Trailblazers, which I have supported for the past four years and which aims to deliver some of these goals in a practical way and to link strongly to the Every Child Matters agenda. Trailblazers was started in 2004 by the Learning Trust, which runs educational services in Hackney. I declare an interest in that my sister works for the Learning Trust in Hackney. Hackney is an inner-city borough, with all the attendant challenges. It is the third most ethnically diverse local authority in the United Kingdom, with a dynamic and constantly changing population and high levels of poverty. It has formidable educational challenges, with young people facing significant pressures to engage in behaviour that makes them vulnerable to harm. As a consequence, the borough suffers from negative stereotyping about its schools, its young people and the wider community.

In focus groups and consultations, students said that their achievements should be celebrated and recognised by the local community. This was in line with the trust’s own objective to raise awareness of the

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positive achievements of young people in the borough, and so the Trailblazers initiative was born. Its objectives were publicly to celebrate the achievements of the young people in the borough, to combat negative stereotypes of Hackney schools, to give examples of excellence, to attract the recognition of the community, to inspire students to reach their full potential through education and to improve GCSE results.

The trust began by identifying young people who had achieved across a range of different areas. Importantly, it looked not only at young people who were academic but at those who were making significant progress in other areas, including behaviour. The early stage of the campaign included an advertising campaign on buses and billboards that asked Hackney citizens to support Hackney children. The campaign was entitled “Hackney is with you all the way”, and was run just before the children’s exams. Hackney residents could not miss it.

What a success it has been. To date, more than 600 super-achieving students have been nominated by secondary schools as trailblazers across the categories of academic achievement, sports, creative arts, musical excellence and personal development. They have become the voice and role models for Hackney youth. All Hackney secondary schools have participated in the campaign. Trailblazers became the model for the London Challenge—the London-wide schools recognition programme. A student was sponsored to attend Gordonstoun School, five university students have been sponsored and revision publications have been used by students and parents across the borough.

A head teacher said: “People need to look behind the headlines declaring that Hackney schools are failing their children, and you will see a totally different story”. A young woman said: “Hackney students are tired of being considered second-class citizens. We want everyone to know that we are achieving excellence”. The then chair of the Learning Trust said: “In Hackney, we are no longer happy with mediocrity but genuinely aspire to excellence”.

Students have achieved the highest marks in GSCEs in the county. Their talents are endless. The campaign was a simple idea that was driven by the passion of students in Hackney. All its materials featured students or their work and led to spin-off activities in schools. It has captured the imagination of local people and acted as a call to action that was accepted by students and the teaching community. The success of this programme rests on its co-ordinated approach. It engages students, parents, teachers, administrators and the whole community in recognising that we all have potential and that there is a need to nurture and support talent and to celebrate achievement. I have been privileged to host an annual event for Trailblazers in this House, which has been supported by other noble Lords.

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