Baroness Hamwee: My Lords, the meeting arranged by the noble Earl brought a number of comments about Staying Put. It was clear that there is a shortage of accessible information—particularly because not

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all authorities are operating the system—and that there are real complications when there are cross-boundary considerations. That follows on from the point made by the noble and learned Baroness.

Some things were mentioned which really took me aback. When a young person becomes 18, if he or she does stay with the foster parents a tenancy agreement has to be signed. As a couple of the young people we met said, “This does not reflect our relationship. They are our foster parents; they are not our landlords”. It is necessary, I understand, to have a tenancy agreement in order to qualify for housing benefit and income support. I asked how the total income compared to fostering allowances and I was told by the foster carer we met that the total income had reduced by about 50%. He was very enthusiastic about his foster daughter remaining with him. That foster daughter also said—she was part of a sibling group—that she had to be CRB checked in order to stay with her sisters. Something has gone wrong with the system.

Baroness Walmsley: My Lords, I, too, have my name on the amendment and support it wholeheartedly. The noble Earl, in his introduction, used the word “normalising”. We are trying to normalise the relationship between the young people and their foster carers because, as my noble friend Lord Storey pointed out, most young people who grow up in their birth family do not leave home at 18. They stay on.

I was interested in what the noble Baroness, Lady Young, said about the pilots. It did not have an adverse effect on the recruitment of foster carers; indeed, it had a beneficial effect. It occurs to me that the Government might be a little concerned that if we make it a right for young people, if they and their foster carers wish it, to stay on until 21, it will take away foster parenting places for other children coming into the system. Frankly, I think that we should be putting more effort into turning the tap off and giving more support to families so that children can safely stay with their birth parents, but that is an argument for another day. That might be the case, but I have a suggestion that might fulfil some of the need without the problem of taking away a foster-caring place for some other child. I have promoted this idea to successive Children’s Ministers over the past few years, who all say, “That sounds like a good idea”, but nothing ever gets done.

Many children go off to university or college, or to work somewhere else when they are 18, but they maintain a close and supportive relationship with their birth families. Why not allow foster parents, if they so wish, and the young person wishes, to have a sort of little stipend or retainer to act as a supporter and adviser to the care leaver for the next few years when they have left the bedroom in the house? That bedroom would then be freed up. A lot of young people who get on very well with their foster parents go back and visit them and ask for advice anyway. But many of them, knowing that the parents may have taken on another foster child and will be busy, would be hesitant to go back to the foster parent and ask for help and advice when things go pear-shaped, such as their accommodation or education plans going wrong,

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or they have trouble with their employment. Whatever it is, they would have somebody officially who was being paid a little bit by the state to help them and stop new arrangements breaking down. It is when they break down that the state has a great deal more cost liability to try to put things right. There is an existing relationship of trust, understanding, knowledge and emotion. If the Government cannot accept the noble Earl’s amendment—I very much hope that they will—perhaps the Minister will consider my suggestion of a sort of halfway house. The parent could retain that relationship formally and, one hopes, the care leaver would have no hesitation in going back to that person for advice if things went wrong.

Baroness Massey of Darwen: My Lords, I strongly support this amendment. I have heard the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, talk about this halfway house before. It is not a bad idea, but I hope that we can go the full way, for two reasons. First, there is the cost-effectiveness, which one or two people have mentioned. We sometimes forget that early intervention can actually save money in the long run; we should not forget that. Early intervention is not just about babies or children but older people. This example applies and it can be effective in this case. Cost-effectiveness was the first thing that I wanted to mention.

The second thing is the incredible importance of education, which has also been mentioned. Young people in education tend not to get pregnant when they are 15 or 16, they tend not to misuse drugs or alcohol, and they tend to do better if they are encouraged in that education. Like the noble Lord, Lord Storey, I was very impressed by the young woman at the meeting we had last week, who talked about the importance of education to her. As we know, education is such a key thing for all children, but particularly for these children. Therefore for me, cost effects on education swing this towards the Minister accepting this amendment.

Baroness Howarth of Breckland: My Lords, I will not repeat all the arguments that have been made, but of course, I want to support this. However, I will take it from a slightly different angle. I am quite sure that the Government do not want to take away from the determination that the local authority has to do its work. I know that devolution is important, and that the independence of the local authorities, such as it is, is valuable. Therefore I can understand that that might well be a government point of view. I can understand that the Local Government Association may have some concerns about additional responsibilities being added in statute, and I can understand some of the arguments, such as that if we have older young people in placements, they may block placements when we are short of foster-parents.

I have looked at those issues. It is quite clear that unless there is something absolutely straightforward, either legislation or regulation, in this area, local authorities will not be consistent in their care of over-18s. I have numerous case studies, which I will not read out now, but they have made me think that I need to speak about this in this way, rather than supporting the independence of local authorities, as I usually do as a

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vice-president of the LGA. Time and again, we read of young people—and I have met them alone, and with the noble Earl, Lord Listowel—who tell heartbreaking stories of their education and of how their success in other areas is being stymied because they have to leave their family in which they have all their relationships. We are failing significantly to understand that emotional context.

Noble Lords have talked on numerous occasions about their own children. Sometimes you do not get rid of them until they are 30. They do a lot of things in between, and you still take them back. I have not had children of my own but I have brought up more than most, and I know about that trauma. Secondly, I understand that fostering, and numbers, are now improving, and that we have to look at that in a different way. It was explained to me—and this is not an area in which I have recent expertise—that foster parents who take adolescents often retire, as has been said, but also tend not to take small children when they need a placement. You need a different set of skills and you are looking for different foster parents. The idea that these young people are blocking a foster place is not a real one.

I can understand that the voluntary way forward is preferred by the Government. It will not work in present circumstances in local authorities, pressed as they are, unless there is some very strong legislation or statutory guidance.

7 pm

Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede (Lab): My Lords, I support this important amendment, which I knew was coming up today. I was sitting as an adult magistrate in Westminster Magistrates’ Court earlier today, in a general remand court, and I took a note of the type of cases we heard. I had 26 defendants in front of me today, five of whom were in the age range of 18 to 21: a perfectly typical illustration of the age range that we see. Although it is not always obvious in court what someone’s background is, I would make an educated guess, based on their previous criminal history, that four of those five had been in some sort of care: that was not a surprise. The fifth defendant was a foreign national who was only 20 years old and was living rough in London.

This is totally typical of the type of defendants whom I see in my adult work in central London, and that is why I support so strongly the amendment moved by the noble Earl. I would see a similar distribution in my youth work, and this one amendment could make more difference than any other single amendment we are talking about this evening.

Baroness Morgan of Drefelin (CB): My Lords, the noble Baroness, Lady Young, made a point about the age of 21. Noble Lords are sharing their experiences of parenting today, and the thought that my 21 year-old could be launched out into the world now fills me with anxiety. I feel that she is on a bit of elastic, will be coming back every so often and we will be there for her as things go on. I understand the evidence put very eloquently by the noble Earl, Lord Listowel, for this proposition, which I support. However, this is such an

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unusual opportunity that I wonder whether we should be saying 21 or 25. It might be pushing it slightly to say 25, but 21 seems so young. This is about making evidence-based policy, so I would be interested to know what the evidence is for the age of 21.

Baroness Hughes of Stretford: My Lords, I do not want to delay the Committee but I want to make a few quick comments in support of this amendment. It is very dear to my heart, as I was Minister of State for Children when we instituted the pilots to which several noble Lords have referred. One reason we did that was because, in the White Paper we wrote at that time, I felt strongly that one of our guiding principles in going forward and trying to improve the situation for children in care—a view shared by members of the Committee—was that we should provide them, as far as possible, with the same opportunities that we would want for our own children. As so many noble Lords have said, we have seen a social change over the last 20 years in that our young adult children do not leave home at 16, 17 or 18. Even if they go to university, their bedroom is still there and they come back. They often come back after they have done their studies and they now do not leave home until, on average, their mid-twenties. When the state is the parent, we have to aspire to the same opportunity for those children for whom we are collectively responsible. This is one of the most compelling reasons why we should extend these pilots and make them national.

The benefits to the young people in the pilots have already been well expressed and I will not rehearse them. There is, of course, a cost. The Department for Education has estimated, on the basis of the pilots, that the cost of instituting Staying Put nationally would be £2.7 million. I know that it does not work out as an average because some local authorities have more children in care than others, but, on average, that is £18,000 per annum, per local authority—not per child or per placement: per local authority. So the costs, relative to the benefits, are very small and, as we have heard, there are additional savings to the state from some of the state-funded benefits and support that would have been reduced in the pilots.

The Minister in reply to the previous debate said that helping care leavers to stay in education and training was vital. He also said that when the legislation is being changed, we need evidence of impact. I put it to the Minister that this particular proposal satisfies both of those criteria. If we were in government, and if we are in government again, this is something we would definitely be looking at to see if we could fund because the costs relative to the benefits are also small. I hope the Minister will consider this favourably.

Lord Nash: My Lords, I welcome the opportunity to debate the important subject of how local authorities support care leavers. I fully understand concerns raised by noble Lords, including the noble Earl, Lord Listowel, the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss, the noble Baronesses, Lady Young, Lady Massey, Lady Morgan and Lady Howarth, the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby, and my noble friends Lord Storey, Lady Howe and Lady Walmsley, and many external parties

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about the ongoing support for care leavers. As the noble Earl has said, we have had the opportunity of discussing this matter privately on a couple of occasions recently. I look forward to further discussions with him on this matter as he knows I also feel strongly on this subject.

We have emphasised the importance of staying put in revised statutory guidance, because we recognise that for many young people the ability to stay on with their former foster carers, particularly when they are in further and higher education, is the right decision. The Minister for Children and Families wrote to all directors of children’s services last October, encouraging them to prioritise their staying put arrangements, so that all young people who wanted to could benefit from this provision. I accept there is more to do. Naturally we are disappointed that the 2013 statistical returns from local authorities show only a marginal increase in young people in staying put provision. However, we should recognise that these figures collected by local authorities are a snapshot at 19 and they run only until March 2013, so there is not much time to see the impact of the actions we have taken since 2012. Moreover, they do not tell us about the number of young people who might be benefiting from this provision from the age of 18, and who will leave this arrangement before they turn 19. From next year the department will be collecting data at age 18, 20 and 21, and will be able to see from 2014 how many young people are benefiting from this provision before and after the age of 19.

Our approach is and has been to improve practice. We are continuing to look for ways to promote and encourage this. We have already worked with Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs and the Department for Work and Pensions to issue practical guidance on staying put to help carers and local authorities around tax and benefit issues. As I have already said, the revised Ofsted inspection framework that comes into practice in November has a specific focus on the quality of leaving care services. A focus on the care leaver assessment will be on accommodation, and inspectors will consider staying put opportunities. Being able to stay in placements beyond 18 is mentioned within one of the grade descriptors of the care leavers’ judgement. We will monitor closely the reports on these inspections and feedback from care leavers, and expect to see significant improvements in 2014 and 2015 in the number of young people staying put. In addition, through our work with the National Care Advisory Service, my department will encourage local authorities to share effective practice where they are making good progress in this respect. While doing everything that we can to promote staying put, we must recognise that this sort of provision will not be appropriate for all young people. Care leavers, like their peers, have different needs, and attitudes regarding their transition to adulthood. The crucial point is that young people should be offered a range of placements that are safe and suitable, and meet their individual needs. I want to reassure noble Lords that the Government want to encourage all looked-after children to stay in

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care until they are 18 and beyond, where this is the right choice for them. We want to do everything we can for all care leavers.

I recognise the strength of feeling expressed today, and wish to take the issue away to consider further what more we can do to increase the numbers of young people in staying-put arrangements. I understand that noble Lords feel there is a case that all we are doing is not enough. I have asked my officials to work further with the Fostering Network and others on this issue. The noble Baroness, Lady Hughes, mentioned a figure of £2.5 million, which is no longer our view of the figure, although it is a figure that the Fostering Network has recently come up with. We believe the figure is considerably higher, but we will be working with the Fostering Network to see if we can pin this figure down further. I would be pleased to discuss this issue further with the noble Earl over the coming weeks.

I hope that what I have said reassures noble Lords of our commitment to this issue and I therefore urge the noble Earl, Lord Listowel, the noble Baroness, Lady Young, and my noble friends Lady Sharp and Lady Walmsley not to press their amendment.

The Earl of Listowel: I thank the Minister for his reply. Before thanking colleagues, perhaps I may put a few questions on the detail to the Minister. With regard to the timescale, he was good enough in his comments just now to say that he expected a significant increase in the next two years in the number of young people staying put. Perhaps he would like to write to me with a clearer timescale. My concern is that unless we move quickly on this in the next one, two, three or four years, hundreds of young people will miss out on a pathway which we know would do them a lot of good and mean that they would have much better outcomes. If the Minister wishes to take a different approach, the voluntary approach, I should be grateful if he could make it clear when he hopes to achieve the target of 25%, which I think is the government target. It would also be helpful to know what steps the Government will take if that target is not reached or if good progress is not made in that direction. Those are just a couple of questions. He may prefer to write to me rather than answer them now.

Lord Nash: I am grateful to the noble Earl for his further questions. We expect to see an increase to 10% in 2014 and 25% in 2015 but, as I said, I look forward to discussing the whole issue with him, officials and the Fostering Network shortly.

The Earl of Listowel: I thank the Minister. I thank all colleagues for their support for the amendment. It is heartening for me to hear that depth of support from across the Committee. If I may say so, it was most interesting to hear from the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby, about his experience today in an adult court. It was not at all surprising.

I should have made clear a couple of things in my opening remarks. First, 11 local authorities took part in the pilots to begin with. Then two of them merged, so it became 10. That is the reason for the disparity

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between the comments made by my noble friend Lady Young and me about the number of local authorities in the pilot evaluation. I also omitted to say that some of the local authorities taking part in the evaluation were selecting young people who work in education or training, so that does not give us as clear a picture about the successful outcome as one might like. I think that it is still very clear, but I want your Lordships to be aware that there was a difficulty there in terms of the group used in the pilots.

I welcome what the Minister has said. Of course, the measures that he is proposing are untried. We have seen only a marginal improvement in the past year. My concern is that in the years to come—the next one, two, three or four years—if the movement is too slow, hundreds of children will miss out on an education, a training or employment and go down much worse pathways if we do not grab the nettle and act now. I look forward to studying what the Minister said and to further conversations before Report.

I reiterate once more how grateful I am to noble Lords across the Committee for their support and I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment 38 withdrawn.

7.15 pm

Amendment 39

Moved by Baroness Butler-Sloss

39: After Clause 9, insert the following new Clause—

“Provision of accommodation for children

In section 20 of the Children Act 1989 (provision of accommodation for children: general) after subsection (1) insert—

“(1A) Where a local authority provides accommodation for a child identified as a victim of human trafficking who has been trafficked into England or Wales, that local authority shall have parental responsibility for that child during the period that child remains in the accommodation of the local authority or until the arrangements for the child have been completed, or both.

(1B) Where another local authority provides accommodation for that child, that local authority shall have parental responsibility for the child during the period that child remains in the accommodation of that local authority or until the arrangements for the child have been completed, or both.””

Baroness Butler-Sloss: This amendment deals with a totally different subject. There are three amendments in this group but I do not propose to speak to Amendments 43 or 234 because I understand that those who tabled them will in due course ask to degroup them. Therefore, I shall speak exclusively to Amendment 39.

This amendment relates to the most disadvantaged group of children who come into this country. Very often, they are children brought here against their will, or certainly without any knowledge of what is going to hit them when they get here. They may be sexually exploited or they may be victims of domestic service or forced labour, such as the Vietnamese boys who run the cannabis farms in rented accommodation. Among them are boys who are trained, Fagin style, to steal, and there are other children who go through appalling

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sorts of slavery. When they escape, or if they are fortunate enough to be picked up at the border control, they are not as well looked after as adults.

This is an area where adult victims of human trafficking—modern slaves—are quite well cared for in this country in many ways. It is much to the Government’s credit that they have signed the European directive on human trafficking and, indeed, are in the process of implementing it. However, we fall far short of what should be done with the children. They are placed in the care of a local authority, not under care proceedings, which we discussed earlier today, but under Section 17 of the Children Act 1989, which requires local authorities to look after a child in their area. They are placed with the nearest local authority by whoever has identified them as trafficked, and the local authority has an obligation to look after them under Section 20 of the Children Act. I repeat: it is an obligation to accommodate.

We know that very worrying numbers of children go missing from local authority care. Local authorities do not even know why or how some of these children have come into care because it takes anything up to 48 hours to register a child into care, and these children often go missing within 48 hours. In another place, Peter Bone MP sent a message to all local authorities asking how many children who go missing are trafficked children. No local authority responded with any figures at all, and only about eight out of all the local authorities responded at all but they had not identified the children who were missing as trafficked children.

If the children have a mobile phone, as they usually do, they are given a number and are told to ring the trafficker. The trafficker waits outside the care home, or very often the home of the short-term foster parents who have not had time to get organised with this child who is suddenly dumped on them: the child gets the telephone call, goes out of the front door and is never heard of again. Those children are trafficked or retrafficked. Something like 300-odd children have been identified as being trafficked, and that, I suspect, is the tip of the iceberg.

The reasons for asking for a local authority to have parental responsibility are twofold. One is that these foreign children do not have anyone in this country with any responsibility for them until they get to the local authority—perhaps with the exception of those who are trafficking them, who may be relatives. Secondly, the local authority does not have parental responsibility, as defined in the Children Act, for these accommodated children; it simply has a requirement to accommodate them. It is right to say that there is a requirement to look after them but if they do not have parental responsibility—and local authority social services know exactly what parental responsibility means—that is what they receive after they get a care order. Even an interim care order gives them a joint parental responsibility with the family. However, for these foreign children there is nobody with parental responsibility.

Parental responsibility may not be the best way of dealing with this; there are two views on it. I have tabled this amendment because I am concerned that, currently, local authorities are not treating these children with the seriousness that they should. Local authorities

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are overworked and very often under-resourced. These children are dumped on them at very short notice, identified as having been trafficked and are not given the same degree of care as a child who goes through the care process in this country. It seems that there are two ways forward here. Either the local authority makes a care application, which costs money—and it is getting more and more expensive for local authorities to make care applications—or, as I suggest, there should be an automatic parental responsibility. It would not cost a penny but it would flag up to local authorities the actual responsibility they have for these children who are dumped on them. They cannot just accommodate them and not really take that extra step of being a joint parent.

I am extremely concerned about the standards for the children we have been talking about last Wednesday and today. They are only a small number of children but, my goodness me, we are failing them. It is a blot on the England and Wales system, under which we are failing to deal with them. I do not know whether I really need to declare again an interest as a trustee of the Human Trafficking Foundation or as co-chairman of the All-Party Group on Human Trafficking and Modern Day Slavery, but this is a truly serious matter for a small group of children. One way of dealing with it is to give local authorities parental responsibility. It would hit them with the fact that they have to do something practical about these children.

Barnardo’s was given some money—I believe by the Government—to trial having specialist foster parents to look after trafficked children. I was told by one of the representatives of Barnardo’s that it was not taken up. I think that 15 specialised foster parents were trained and that local authorities were told they could have this for nothing. They were not being asked to pay a penny and they did not take it up. I think there were two or three places where local authorities did not do it, which is an indication of the degree of concern that I understand the overworked social services have for this group of children. Something absolutely has to be done. I beg to move.

Lord Northbourne: My Lords, I rise to reinforce, in a way, what the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss, has said but also to ask some questions. I should perhaps declare an interest as a council tax payer in the district of Dover. As I see it, the amendment, as tabled, would require the local authority to bear the financial responsibilities of looking after these trafficked children, far more of whom probably come in through Dover than through any other point of access to the United Kingdom.

It so happens that a year or two ago, my wife chaired the Kent Community Housing Trust, which is for old people. During that time they received a panicked telephone call from the county council saying, “We simply can’t cope with this flow of people. Can you help us?”. Luckily, an old people’s home was able to be diverted for that purpose. As the noble Baroness said, it is not easy. In one case a child arrived at the children’s home absolutely white with fear and said that he had just seen a murder and the murderer. The child knew that the murderer had seen him, so he

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feared for his life. He was kept in the home for 16 days and at the end of that period he slipped down to the village to buy some fags and was never seen again. We are talking about quite a tough world.

What are the financial implications for local authorities which receive an enormous number of young people? My noble friend was being rather critical of the local authorities but they were presented with a very difficult problem at very short notice.

Baroness Butler-Sloss: The local authority has the obligation under the 1989 Act to accommodate children, so there are no financial implications that I understand. The only financial implications would be if the local authority were involved in care proceedings, when it would have to pay for the applications.

Lord Northbourne: How are they supposed to pay for this?

Baroness Butler-Sloss: They do it already. There is no difference. They have a requirement under the Act to accommodate. They have had that since 1989, or since 1990 when the Act came into force. I am talking about giving them a parental responsibility order, which is a wake-up call and has nothing to do with finances at all.

The Earl of Listowel: I hope it will be helpful to the Committee—

Baroness Howarth of Breckland: My Lords—

The Earl of Listowel: My noble friend may want to do the same thing.

Baroness Howarth of Breckland: I am asking that Amendment 43 be decoupled from this amendment because it deals with a quite different issue. I wish to speak briefly to the amendment moved by the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss, if the noble Earl, Lord Listowel, will allow me. It is extraordinary that there are children in this country, from wherever they have come, for whom the local authority fails to take some sort of action. I do not often say this but, in my day, children would be seen as having no parental cover whatever and there would be no doubt that the local authority would have had a care order. There is no doubt that that would have happened in the past. The noble Baroness, Lady Howe, agrees.

I understand why we want fewer court proceedings. Having been the chair of CAFCASS, I absolutely understand that. They are expensive and are often not helpful to the child’s experience, never mind that of the local authority. Under the 1948 Act we had a way of ensuring that children were placed under the equivalent of a care order by a process in the local authority. In the days of Sections 1 and 2 of the Children Act 1948, one lot of children went to court and the others went through a process in the local authority. We should ask the officials to look at this. Without a doubt we have a national responsibility to protect this small cohort of children. I have come into contact with

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them because I deal with serious sexual abuse issues. The girls who are trafficked are seriously sexually abused. It is not just prostitution; it is abhorrent prostitution. Unless we find ways of protecting these youngsters they will just slip away and disappear, not of their own choice. I support the noble and learned Baroness in her attempt to find a way that is not expensive but which secures these children’s futures.

Baroness Massey of Darwen: My Lords, an issue that is not directly relevant to this amendment, but which is akin to it, is that of parental responsibility and the accommodation that these children go into. I know that these highly vulnerable children are put into shocking accommodation. They are followed by traffickers, drug dealers and criminal gangs. They are abducted and disappear or something even more terrible might happen to them. I want to emphasise that parental responsibility must include decent accommodation for these children.

The Earl of Listowel: My Lords, I advise the Committee that I wish to decouple my Amendment 234 from this grouping. I apologise; I did not watch carefully enough the information from the Whips’ Office this morning.

7.30 pm

Baroness Hamwee: My Lords, I have put my name to the amendment. I think that I could sum it up by saying that it would turn accommodation into care, and it is care that is needed. It is not surprising that children in this situation go missing, because the only people whom they know are those who have trafficked them. If they are given the means of staying in touch, as so often they seem to be, they will respond to a contact or make contact themselves. It seems that very often the first thing that happens is that they are given a mobile phone and instructed: “You keep in touch with us”. Whether this is the right way of going about it I do not know, but I have heard those around me who have much more recent or, indeed, current local authority experience muttering, “But the local authority has to do this”. Well, let us find a way of making sure that the local authority does more than what fulfils cold letters on paper and actually produces the service.

Lord Storey: My Lords, I would like to explore this in a bit more detail. Perhaps the Minister, if he is not able to give the information in his reply, could write to us. My experience in local government and as a head teacher is that, of course, children are trafficked, but some are trafficked because their parents in another part of the world want a better life for them, so they pay someone to put them on a plane and the poor child then arrives in the UK. As I understand it, there are regional centres where the children are received. There is one in Dover. Liverpool was and is another regional centre. The children come to Liverpool and Liverpool tries as best it can within the resources to cater for them and to look after them. I know that for two reasons. One is that, four or five years ago, our director of social services wrote a report saying, “Look, my budget can’t cope with the number coming in. We want to help, but it seems unfair financially that

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Liverpool should carry this burden”. Secondly, I also know as a head teacher that some of these children have been put into foster care. I gave the example at a meeting of a Mongolian street child, whose grandparents had paid a trafficker to bring him to the UK. He landed in London but was sent to a regional centre, which happened to be Liverpool, where he was fostered with a wonderful family in Halewood. He came to my school and he was well looked after. For me, the issue is not the reluctance of local authorities to deal with this but the sheer size of the problem and the support that they get. I hope that that makes sense.

The Earl of Listowel: I am reminded of the report by my noble friend Lord Laming on the death of Victoria Climbié. One of the comments made by the social workers in Haringey who were interviewed was that they were overwhelmed at the time, particularly by unaccompanied asylum-seeking children and young people. This can put a heavy burden on local authorities. I have another, related experience of visiting a children’s home some years ago. I spoke to the manager, who was very experienced—in many ways, she was a remarkable manager—but when it came to working with unaccompanied asylum-seeking children, she felt that these were not their children. She had enough to do looking after the children with whom she had to deal, rather than having to deal with these other children, if you like. There is a difficulty and perhaps the amendment is a helpful way of tackling it. Some people will just say, “Look, we have enough on our plate. We don’t want to think about these extra children and we’ll find ways not to do so”. I am not sure whether that is exactly the issue in hand, but my experience is that, understandably, given the strains on social services and the immense emotional burden that caring for children with complex needs brings with it, some people can find ways to rationalise not giving proper care to vulnerable children because those children come from a very different background from theirs.

Baroness Jones of Whitchurch: My Lords, I am extremely grateful to the noble and learned Baroness for tabling this amendment. We all share her abhorrence at what is currently happening out there in the way that the care system is routinely failing trafficked children. I was interested to hear what the noble Lord, Lord Storey, said. One aspect of it might be that children whose parents want a better future for them come here voluntarily. However, the people that the noble and learned Baroness is talking about are duped into coming here on completely false pretences. They are told they are coming for waitressing jobs or otherwise to earn money. They certainly do not expect to come in the mode of being owned by a gang member, which is where they find themselves. The noble Lord is right that there is some good local authority practice but that is where people want help and support genuinely to make a better future here: these are not the same people.

This all goes to show that the problem for local authorities is much bigger, in the round, than we are looking at. There are people who come in on the noble Lord’s terms and those who come in on the noble and learned Baroness’s terms. There are some excellent

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charities working in this sector, as well as the local authorities who are providing a safe haven and proper care and advice for these young people. However, they need to do more and they are very much the exception. All too often, everyone feels powerless to prevent those children who are rescued disappearing. It is not just that they are being traded and sold into slavery and sexual abuse. Very often, the children go along with the gang members because they are spooked by some form of black magic which is endemic in their original societies or they feel that their families will be threatened by violence back at home if they do not go along with it. In no sense are they involved voluntarily: this is under absolute fear, duress and panic. It is a scandal that we are allowing this to happen on our territory and are unable to prevent it.

I was pleased to hear the proposals of the noble and learned Baroness. I do not know well enough what difference it would make but it would be fair to say that if it did make a big difference it would have a cost implication. If it were not going to make much difference, it would not. We have to own up to the fact that there may be a cost implication to what is being proposed. It is only right that, if a child is under 18, the local authority should have the same duty of care to look after them as it would to any other young people under its jurisdiction. It also seems only right that, when they go missing, it takes the same level of care as it would for any other young children under its jurisdiction, including making sure that it escalates the details of those young people beyond the local missing persons’ procedures.

We have touched on what is going wrong with local authorities. It is partly about resources but they also think that it is just too complicated to deal with on their own, particularly when they are dealing with young children and traffickers who are constantly moving and crossing local authority borders and other boundaries. It is all too easy for local authorities to feel that it is, in a sense, someone else’s problem and that the problem has moved off their estate and into the hands of someone else. That is not justifiable and we want to work with the Government to find some way to deal with this problem. It seems an absolute affront to our civilisation that children can be bought and sold and exploited in our own sight, and that we seem to be powerless to stop it.

The real solution probably lies with having the political will to make this issue a priority, which I do not think that it has been up to now. At the same time, a lot could be done if all the agencies involved worked more closely together to share information and act decisively. Whether that needs to be put in legislation is another matter, but a bit more joined-up action and joined-up government could go some way to addressing it. I very much appreciate the noble and learned Baroness raising this issue, and I hope that the Minister will explain how she is going to solve this problem.

Baroness Northover: My Lords, first, I thank the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss, for her tribute to the Government in relation to adults who have been trafficked. We appreciate her comments. But we share her concerns, and those expressed by

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other noble Lords, on the welfare of children who have been trafficked into this country. These are often extremely vulnerable children, who may have suffered tremendously at the hands of their traffickers. As recent work by the Refugee Council and the Children’s Society shows, these children can fail to gain the support that local authorities should provide. They should get the same support as other looked-after children; the legal duties to support them are the same. The noble Baroness, Lady Jones, pointed towards that. Local authorities already have statutory duties to safeguard and promote the welfare of trafficked children. They should be treated and supported in the same way as a local authority should support any child whom it is looking after.

Parental responsibility in law is not required to fulfil the duties of a parent in practice. Where local authorities are failing in this duty, they should be held to account. The noble Baroness, Lady Jones, pointed towards that, too. But requiring that they gain shared parental responsibility would not in itself bring the improvement provided. There was an interesting mini-debate about cost; the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss, and the noble Baroness, Lady Howarth, reassured the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, on that, and we are grateful for that.

Assigning parental responsibility could have unintended consequences. A trafficked child may well have a parent somewhere who already has parental responsibility for them. Although the local authority should act as a parent until the family is reunited, it should not automatically acquire parental responsibility towards that child. While it is clear that some local authorities are not performing adequately their statutory role to promote the interests of trafficked children, adding a requirement on them to seek parental responsibility for these children could create legal complexity without addressing the reasons for these failures. Instead, we believe that we must continue to pursue the programme of reforms to the care system that are already under way. As we implement these programmes to provide more stable placements, improved education and health outcomes and support towards independence and adulthood, I assure noble Lords that we shall take account of the particular needs of trafficked children. Already, for example, we have published revisions to statutory guidance on missing children which strengthen advice on identifying and meeting the needs of child victims of trafficking. The consultation on that has just finished, and we will take the comments from tonight into account in the final version of that guidance.

I mention to the noble Earl, Lord Listowel, that the number of unaccompanied asylum-seeking children has in fact dropped over the past two years, which is of course very welcome.

This is a very vulnerable group of children, and we fully recognise that. We understand what the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss, and others are arguing. We will be very pleased to arrange a meeting with noble Lords to discuss this issue and consider whether more could be done. In the mean time, I hope that the noble and learned Baroness is willing to withdraw her amendment.

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Baroness Butler-Sloss: I thank all noble Lords for their contributions. Perhaps I should have said earlier that this was a probing amendment. I see disadvantages in local authorities having parental responsibility, but I never suggested in the amendment that they should hold it exclusively. It would be similar to a care order, where the local authority and the parents share parental responsibility. There is no suggestion that it should be a sole responsibility.

It is important to recognise that asylum-seeking children are not necessarily trafficked. I am talking about a relatively small number of children, in the hundreds, but they are the most vulnerable children coming in from outside.

Baroness Northover: Perhaps I should clarify my comments to the noble Earl, Lord Listowel. He suggested that local authorities, because they are dealing with large numbers of asylum-seeking children, were therefore not dealing with trafficked children. I simply wanted to place that in the context that the numbers there are dropping. In case I caused any confusion, perhaps I can clarify what I was saying.

The Earl of Listowel: Just to clarify my position, I was simply using that as an example: that occasionally local authorities are overburdened for one reason or another and we need to support them as far as possible to meet those needs.

Baroness Butler-Sloss: I am talking about a very specific group of children. Some trafficked children may seek asylum, but that is a completely different matter. I am talking about children who have through the NRM been positively identified as trafficked or

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are going through the process of identification—one or the other. I am not talking about children who might possibly be trafficked but who have not yet gone through that identification.

The reason for tabling the amendment was as a wake-up call to local authorities. I totally understand the extent to which they are overburdened and underresourced—I said that—but this small group of children is slipping through the net. I was delighted to hear what the Minister had to say about missing children, because there is a serious lack of data from local authorities on children who go missing. They ought to be able to identify what sort of children they are. Are they the children who keep going missing from children’s homes? We know that there are children who go missing three, four or five times a week. That is not the sort of child we are talking about. The group we should worry about is the child who goes missing and is never identified again as a child who was in a children’s home or a foster home. Local authorities do not even know. They have to get their act together to know that those are trafficked children.

I welcome the opportunity to discuss that further with the noble Baroness. I have no doubt that the group of which I am a co-chairman would very much like the opportunity to do that, particularly the chairman of the Human Trafficking Foundation, Anthony Steen, who was previously an MP who worked tirelessly for this cause. This children issue is one that we are truly concerned about. I very much welcome what the Minister said and I am happy to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment 39 withdrawn.

Committee adjourned at 7.49 pm.