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I ask the Minister to tell the House what initiatives the Government have supported to promote community support for educational achievement and to live up to the department’s ambition to promote the wider contribution of young people to their communities.

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12.48 pm

Baroness Howarth of Breckland: My Lords, I, too, congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Massey, on securing this debate and on an opening speech of such clarity and width. She is a tireless advocate for children and their families and I can testify to the fact that she also encourages other Members of this House.

Families come in all shapes and sizes and, although we all hope that every child can be brought up in a stable environment, we know that family breakdown happens. Most parents manage to make good arrangements for the care of their children when divorce or separation occurs, but for the 10 per cent who fail to come to an agreement the family courts must help and intervene.

I shall spend my few minutes this afternoon talking about the children and family courts system and about the Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service and the social workers who try to help the families who come before it. CAFCASS is a non-departmental public body that comes within the framework of the Department for Children, Schools and Families; it is therefore part of the government framework. I declare an interest as its present chair and previous deputy chair for five years.

It is no secret that CAFCASS has had a difficult journey and that we still have much to do. However, we have consolidated 113 organisations into one national CAFCASS and we have built a corporate identity as a service provider and an employer. We have much to do in the areas of standards, but we are working on it. We must remind ourselves that we have a statutory responsibility to ensure that children and young people are put first in family proceedings, that their voices are heard properly, that the decisions made about them by the courts are in their interests and that they and their families are supported throughout the process.

As such, the organisation plays a key role in family life within the legislative framework set by Parliament. We are involved with some 80,000 children a year and have a staff of around 2,000, most of them social workers. Care and separation proceedings are fraught with conflict. For many, it is about winning a battle where the children have been either the victims or weary bystanders. Much of our work is about helping families to see the conflict through the eyes of the child and to seek a resolution.

In private law, divorce and separation start with the presumption that it is in the child’s best interests to maintain contact with both parents, unless there are good reasons to the contrary, such as domestic violence or neglect. We must remind ourselves, particularly this week, of the importance of protecting women and children from domestic violence. There is a view, however, that the law treats non-resident parents unreasonably in the family courts. This view has led in part to the opening up of the courts to the press. The Government’s own research, however, and our most recent gender outcomes statistics show that there is,

On the contrary, it looks as though fathers are taking more part in the lives of children. We in CAFCASS work closely with support groups such as Families

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Need Fathers, which has done excellent work in supporting the role of fathers and, indeed, now separated mothers. Of course, there is a small minority of cases where a parent is determined to continue the relationship battle whatever the detriment to the child. Ending contact in these cases can save that child from emotional harm.

In public law, where children are likely to be removed from both parents for care reasons, CAFCASS carries out some of its most high-profile work, as the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss, mentioned. Key to this, as in all our work, is the role of safeguarding—ensuring that children are properly protected. In the aftermath of the case of the murder of Baby P, the number of care applications has escalated sharply. The trend continues. It represents a shift in intervention threshold by local authorities. We have found that there is an increase in the number of cases coming to court of children who are already known to local authorities and where chronic neglect is the main feature.

Each child and family needs intensive help, clear assessment and decisive plans. My concern is that none of the agencies is meeting this requirement at the present time, as reflected in the second report of the noble Lord, Lord Laming. Work with chaotic, disordered families, where there is poverty linked with alcohol or drug abuse, or both, and where parents have limited emotional ability, requires the highest-skilled workers, either to keep the family at home or to make the difficult decision to remove the child. One thing is certain: the social worker who will undertake this task on behalf of us all will be damned if they do and damned if they don’t.

The Secretary of State has made a commitment to supporting social workers and I hope to hear the Minister today reiterate her support. We have to come through this crisis of backlogs and difficulties. We have to come to the point where we can find other ways of helping families and their children. The debate introduced by the noble Baroness, Lady Massey, is a useful way of focusing on many ways forward. Government policy and the Every Child Matters agenda must mean every child because, as my chief executive Anthony Douglas put it:

“Each child is not a statistic but a person with complex and long-term needs which the State has a duty of care to meet”.

In these difficult times, I know that the Minister and the Government will do everything possible to meet those needs; we in CAFCASS will do everything in our power to play our part.

12.55 pm

Baroness Hollis of Heigham: My Lords, I want us to think again about the structure of the welfare state and social security as it affects women and their families.

We need to go back 100 years, to Lloyd George’s introduction of national insurance. He refused to accept that sickness, unemployment, old age and so on were a lack of moral fibre to be dealt with by charity. He would have preferred universal provision and a decent poor law but the stigma of that was unacceptable. So he went for contributory national insurance for the head of the household—for the working man. That

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kept out the rough and the idle, and women. His principles were continued by Beveridge, who worked for Lloyd George. As long as the man held on to his 40-year job and his wife held on to him, they were okay. National insurance, revamped poor law, filled in the gaps for the uninsurable, the lone parent, the widow. The bones of that system—contributory national insurance for men underpinned by means-tested benefits for women—still scaffold our welfare state, wrongly in my view. Why is it wrong? Because it has continuously discriminated against women.

Let us think about it. Benefits assume that you are either in full-time work or out of it. That is fine for men but impossible for most women, who can manage only part-time work. What about pensions—save for 40 years, save early, save enough, do not touch it? That is fine for men, because pensions depend on full-time work, but impossible for most women. Economics and demographics have rendered this model of Lloyd George and Beveridge pretty much obsolete. Yet we still expect women to get their benefit and pension cover either from husbands, even though half of women in their 50s or 60s are not married, or, if they are without a husband, to behave like men even though most will have children, grandchildren or elderly parents to care for.

All Governments have recognised the problem and sought to tweak the system. Since 1997, the Government’s record has been admirable. They have made it possible for mothers, particularly lone parents, to work. The minimum wage, the 10th anniversary of which was yesterday, has benefited a million people, mostly women. Tax credits, childcare provision and the right to request flexible working have made work possible and work pay. As we all know, the only way to address child poverty is to bring up the child in a working family.

As for pensions, five years ago 90 per cent of men, but generally only 20 per cent of women, could retire with a full basic state pension. As a result of the great work of James Purnell, the number of years required for a basic state pension is down to 30. Those caring for older people and, to my delight, those caring for grandchildren for more than 20 hours a week will receive a national insurance credit. This is a real recognition of family values and the dependence of one family generation on another. Above all—thanks to your Lordships—the Government have allowed people, mainly women, to fill in their pension gap through the buy-back of missing national insurance years. One hopes that within the next decade or so both women and men will have similar coverage, perhaps of 85 or 90 per cent, in their pensions.

We have travelled a long way. And yet, why keep the state pension contributory if fairly soon almost all will be covered but in unnecessarily complicated ways? Why not go for a universal state pension based, say, on 20 years’ residence? This would be simple, popular, inexpensive and save 3,000 jobs administering a redundant system. Why continue to police a contributory system to keep people out when, on the other hand, we then use credits to bring them back in again?

As for working-age benefits, income support—a woman’s benefit which recognises unwaged work—is being replaced by jobseeker’s allowance, which is a

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man-seeking-full-time-work benefit. Given that three-quarters of unemployed men voluntarily return to work within six months, JSA’s tough conditionality has been designed for the 22-year-old who is reluctant to get up in the morning. That is fine: a 22 year-old can be expected to work under JSA rules and to travel an hour and a half to seek work. But a job that starts at 9 am and is an hour and a half away is not fine for a lone parent with two children whose school opens at 8.45 am. The JSA has financial sanctions for the 22 year-old; but apply those to the lone parent and you also sanction the child. You can pressure the 22 year-old into full-time work, but often all that the lone parent can manage is a patchwork of mini-jobs of, say, 12 hours a week. As her benefit is deducted pound for pound it may not be worth working, so either she will not work or she will not declare it. And yet those mini-jobs may be the best preparation for her to go into full-time work when her children are older. We make her fit the benefit regime of the 22 year-old instead of devising a benefit regime that fits the realities of her life, which requires a tapered approach to benefit rather than the male model of being in work or out of it.

The time has come to restructure social security by holding up the gender filter and building it around the lives and needs of women as well as those of men. I believe that we would all win from it.

1 pm

The Earl of Listowel: My Lords, I, too, warmly thank the noble Baroness, Lady Massey of Darwen, for securing this debate and for her chairmanship of the children’s group. I am most grateful to her, and to other noble Lords, including the right reverend Prelate, for speaking at length today about the needs of children in care. As vice-chair of All-Party Group on Children and Young People in Care, perhaps I may advise the House that, on Wednesday 20 May, there will be a meeting of the group at which the Children’s Legal Centre will discuss its advocacy for children and young people in care. I would be grateful for your Lordships’ support for that meeting. I declare my interest as a trustee of TACT, a not-for-profit foster agency, and the Michael Sieff Foundation, a child welfare organisation.

I thank the Minister for the attention that she has increasingly been giving to the children's workforce, especially child and family social workers. I am grateful for the establishment of the social work taskforce and look forward very much to its recommendations this autumn. Moira Gibb, chief executive of Camden local authority, has been appointed to lead the taskforce and is highly regarded by all the professionals I have spoken to. As the vacancy rate for child and family social workers in London is 20 per cent we know that her work is vital. I also thank the Minister and her colleagues for the recent additional investment of £58 million in child and family social work. However, given the concerns that we all continue to have about children's social care, I hope the Minister will continue to give thought to the need to ring-fence and increase the funding for these services.

I shall speak about access to mental health services for the carers of young people in care, for young people in care and for care leavers. On Tuesday I had

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the privilege of attending a discussion at which the Minister spoke. In the audience were a number of care leavers, foster carers, social workers and adoptive parents. Channel Four showed excerpts from its documentary “Lost in Care”—which was referred to earlier in the debate—in which care leavers spoke about having 15, 20 or 30 different placements while in care. That was not a representative sample. However, the trauma that children experience prior to entering care, which is sometimes compounded by trauma experienced while in the care system, gives rise to high rates of mental disorders within this group.

In its 2002 survey, the Office for National Statistics put disorder rates as high as 45 per cent for children in foster care and 72 per cent for children in residential care. As they are children, they may recover quickly. However, if their needs are not met, these disorders may harden into adult personality disorders which can be very hard to treat. Often the best treatment for such childhood disorders is a warm and stable relationship with a caring adult, as the right reverend Prelate so elegantly said. It is therefore absolutely right that the Minister places such high value on stability and that the Government have set a target for placement stability. At the same meeting on Tuesday, Stuart Hannah, a child psychotherapist at the Tavistock and Portman NHS Foundation Trust, drew attention to the important work of therapeutic children's homes such as the Mulberry Bush School. Key to the success of such facilities is ongoing consultation by a child psychotherapist or appropriately skilled clinical psychologist or psychiatrist with the staff group.

Children who have been traumatised may often sabotage future relationships with adults and avoid intimacy and love at all costs because of the pain that it has given them in the past. Given these children’s resistance to forming stable relationships with carers it is essential that residential child care workers should be supported in their task by the best mental health professionals in the field. It is deeply regrettable, given the level of need and the inexperience of those working in the front line, that all children's home staff do not enjoy ongoing support from these kinds of consultants.

There needs to be appropriate high quality mental health provision throughout residential care. Consideration also needs to be given to providing such support to adoptive parents, child and family social workers, foster carers and GPs. The very best services already provide this. Kids Company, which was also referred to at our meeting on Tuesday, forges relationships of trust with our most neglected children. Staff do so while receiving regular support themselves from child psychotherapists. Such support was once a regular feature of child and family social work, as I think my noble friend Lady Howarth may be able to attest.

The final report of the national CAMHS review, Child and Adolescent Mental Health Service, published last December, recommended increased integration of CAMHS services with other services and a push to educate the childcare workforce in child development. The Government have established an independent advisory board to implement these recommendations. Will the Minister consider meeting the board—perhaps with her colleague, the noble Lord, Lord Darzi—and me to

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discuss the concerns that I am expressing today? What progress has been made in the integration of CAMHS with children's homes? How many children's homes offer ongoing consultation for staff by child psychotherapists or other clinicians? How is the quality of this consultation monitored?

Given that improvements in public care are still at an early stage, what assessments and access to services are offered to care leavers who may have mental health issues arising from abuse prior to care or from instability in the care system? Is there an infrastructure of support for self-help groups for care leavers, perhaps facilitated by a mental health professional, so that care leavers can resolve earlier trauma? Is individual therapy for care leavers made available and promoted? I look forward to the Minister’s reply.

1.07 pm

Lord Griffiths of Burry Port: My Lords, we are in the debt of my erstwhile mentor, my noble friend Lady Massey of Darwen, for giving us this opportunity to share such a wide expression of views on this general subject. I am delighted to offer mine in the midst of expertise of a rare order, and I stand as a general practitioner in the midst of consultants. As a church minister, my daily work is to visit families in their homes, to climb the stairs of those inner-city dwellings and to sit and eat humble fare sometimes with such families. I allow my mind to see the two little children in this small one or two-bedroomed accommodation when they have grown up and their home will be bursting at the seams. I sometimes hear that a pregnancy will make it likely that there will be three children before very long.

I try to deal imaginatively with some of the problems that ensue. For example, I deal with inner-city schools which make provision for people who come from these sorts of homes. I am the minister of a flourishing church with more than 400 members. We have a large number of families from many ethnic groups. My only qualification for contributing to a debate like this is that I know and I visit those families. They matter to me and, through the way we organise our church, we try to offer safe space for children to have activities that enhance their well-being.

I hope that it will not be thought to be a little tendentious or pedantic on my part to qualify the wording of the Motion before us. Although my awareness of child-centred government policy began with the Children Act 1989 and therefore goes well beyond the lifetime of this party’s Administration, I want to congratulate the Government on much that has happened. Rather than call attention to the policies on,

I shall consider making provision for such well-being or to offer a legislative framework to enhance the well-being of children. Governments of course cannot and do not do it. It is those of us who live in communities and respond at ground level to the opportunities that legislative frameworks and systems of care offer who have to turn the good thinking, the lofty thinking, and the idealism of Governments into practice.

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I am full of admiration for the children and young people whom I see day by day and week by week. I see the noble Lord, Lord Stewartby, almost in his place. His family trust helps us to achieve real funding for an effort in the borough of Haringey—it is worth dwelling on the fact that it is Haringey—where children are encouraged to play, to develop cultural ways of behaviour, to learn about each other’s cultures through drama, and to enact responses to the burning issues of the day on the street. A young man, a member of my church—I have known him since he was 10 and he is 23 now—is funded by that trust. He organises workshops that look, for example, at substance abuse, the carrying of knives, gang activities on the streets, and so on. It is a brilliant piece of work.

Another young man—a big boy—was passing by when a gang with baseball bats and knives were about to leave yet another victim on our streets. He simply went in and knocked a few heads together and knocked a few people out of the way, and they ran like scared rabbits. He will be presented, in church, at a suitable time, with one of the top awards that our Boys’ Brigade unit has to offer. He is about to undertake his A-levels.

There is another young man, completing his degree—he was 21 last Sunday—who is the only male teacher in our Sunday school. Incidentally, I notice that there are six male participants in a debating list of 23 today, and that those organising this debate have bunched them together for solidarity, which I find very encouraging. So thank you very much.

My admiration is unbounded for children and young people, and for families who courageously try to bring up their children with dignity, often in difficult and constraining circumstances, turning them out so well and wanting them to become responsible citizens. Because they arrived here from other places, these families often do not have many of the benefits they aspire to for their children. It really is imaginative and brilliant.

We were represented by one of my colleagues earlier this week at a faith forum in the borough of Islington. Members of faith communities advised social workers, doctors, nurses, those concerned with housing policy and its implementation, and people from the voluntary sector and the police, about how those who have faith—or how the values that come from faith—impact on some of the social problems that present. To have an opportunity for the voluntary sector and the sector of faith to have practical interaction with the providers of the services which legislation in this area makes possible seems to me to be very positive indeed.

1.13 pm

Lord Elystan-Morgan: My Lords, I have found this debate, as all these debates are, to be richly inspiring. I, too, warmly congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Massey, on initiating this debate and having placed the community once more in her debt for the most distinguished efforts she has made for so long on behalf of children and young persons.

It is inevitable that this debate should, to some extent, be in the shadow and gloom of the Baby Peter case, which has already been referred to today. I am

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very grateful to the Government for the swiftness and dedication with which they have approached this horrible situation, and for the promptness with which they have reacted to the report of the noble Lord, Lord Laming. That report, to my mind, is the fruit of assiduous and thoughtful study. The Government have accepted all 58 recommendations and have set in train very many relevant and splendid initiatives.

I want to make three general points. First, the inquiry of the noble Lord, Lord Laming, splendid though it is, has been on a rather narrow basis: that was the basis on which he was invited to report. He was asked to consider the systems in existence for the protection of children and to ask whether those systems were now operating as they should, and what the difficulties were. To my mind, there is justification—and this will have to be attended to sooner rather than later—for looking into whether the systems now in existence are relevant to the needs of the 21st century. I hope that the Government can give some assurance that that is a matter very much in the forefront of their mind.

Secondly, tragic, ironic and shocking as was the case of Baby Peter, there was nothing unique nor, I am sorry to say, outstanding in the loss of that child’s life. The statistics do not always tally, but taking a conservative view, one would come to the conclusion that about 100 children lose their lives every year, possibly as many as 150. In other words, two or three young children a week die of neglect or abuse.

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