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House of Lords Hansard
17 July 2017
Volume 783

    Question

    Asked by

  • To ask Her Majesty’s Government what steps they are taking to ensure that local authorities put an action plan in place for all children in need that will improve their family relationships and resolve other difficulties sufficiently for them to be stepped down from that status.

  • My Lords, our statutory guidance, Working together to safeguard children, is clear that, where a child is found to be in need, support should be provided to address those needs in order to improve their outcomes. Where the outcome of the assessment is the continued involvement of local authority children’s social care, the social worker and their manager should agree a plan of action with other professionals and discuss this with the child and their family.

  • I thank my noble friend the Minister for his reply. At his suggestion, I visited Feltham’s Reach Academy, where staff are working with the local authority to develop a family hub. Parents with children aged nought to 19 will get any early help they need so that they can partner with the school to help deliver outstanding pupil outcomes. This could be transformational for children in need. What are the Government doing to encourage the development of family hubs?

  • I am delighted that my noble friend visited Reach Academy in Feltham. It is an outstanding example of the success of the free schools programme, and I am pleased that it has also been approved to open a second free school. I know that my noble friend has done a great deal of excellent work with the Centre for Social Justice on the concept of family hubs. Obviously, the earlier we can help children the better, and this is why we are encouraging so many primary schools to open nursery schools, through the free schools programme and otherwise. A number of local authorities have introduced family hub-type models, and I hope we will see more of them. However, ultimately it is up to local authorities to decide the best local solution.

  • Does the Minister agree that school exclusion can exacerbate the difficult situation of children in need and may put them into care? Will he look at whether the system of continuing professional development for teachers can be strengthened and streamlined so that teachers are better able to manage such children and do not need to exclude them?

  • I entirely agree with the noble Earl that school exclusions are to be avoided at all costs, if possible. Certainly, permanent exclusions are counterproductive and even temporary exclusions are often so, because they effectively amount to the child bunking off for a day. They would be much better off segregated in the school, doing something which encouraged them to behave better in future. Most teachers are very keen to avoid school exclusions. I have just taken over responsibility for attendance and exclusions and will certainly look at this in more detail.

  • My Lords, children with parents in prison are particularly vulnerable and need much consideration. However, under the incentives and privileges scheme, prisoners have to earn the right to see their kids. Barnardo’s has been calling for this to change and for a review of the scheme. It should not be a privilege for parents to see their children, but the right of a child to see their parents. When will a review take place to change this unjust situation? I declare an interest as a vice-president of Barnardo’s.

  • I will have to go away and look at this. I am certainly a great believer in earned release schemes, where prisoners earn the right to be released early on the basis that they attend courses in prison. I was not aware of this and it is rather off my brief, but I will go away and come back to the noble Baroness on it.

  • My Lords, the Local Government Association recently highlighted a serious shortfall in local authority budgets to appropriately fund services for children in need and their families. Between 2010 and 2015, high-deprivation local authorities had to endure cuts of 21%, while the figure for low-deprivation authorities was 7%. Perhaps the Minister can help noble Lords make sense of that. I hope that he has been made aware of the research published last year by Professor Paul Bywaters and colleagues at Coventry University, which showed an association between the numbers needing child protection and looked-after children’s services and children living in local authorities with the highest rates of child poverty. Will he now commit to taking steps to ensure that the local authorities with the greatest proportion of children in need receive the funding necessary to ensure that children are not unnecessarily drawn into the child protection and looked-after systems?

  • I do not recognise what the noble Lord is saying. Child protection and safeguarding spending by local authorities increased by 13% between 2011-12 and 2015-16. It is clear that local authorities are rightly prioritising this area.

  • My Lords, is the Minister aware of the charity Malachi, which has had great success in the West Midlands and Birmingham working with schools where broken families are involved and children are in trouble as a result? It is now in the process of some degree of franchising to other parts of the country.

  • I am not aware of this charity. I am very grateful to my noble friend for drawing it to my attention and look forward to hearing more about it from him.

  • My Lords, as regards the Government’s promise to accept 3,000 unaccompanied children within the next couple of years, how does this link in with the care that our children are getting?

  • We intend that all children in this country are treated equally. I hope that the children to whom the noble Lord refers will be able to access all the services that would apply to any other children.

  • My Lords, both the Question and my noble friend’s Answer refer to the “need” of children. Could he kindly define the Government’s definition of “need” for these purposes?

  • I had better write to my noble friend on the definition of “children in need” as it is quite long and I do not want to take up noble Lords’ time. However, it should apply to all children equally.

  • My Lords, may I ask the noble Lord to go back to the answer that he gave on local authority funding? He made the assertion that it was clear that local authorities were making this issue a priority as they were spending more money on it. That may or may not be true, but what is important is how many children they are having to spend the money on. Can he tell the House what the increase was in numbers of children in care or needing local authority support over that period?

  • The noble Baroness raises a very good point. The number of children in need during that period remained fairly constant. We are doing a great deal of work reforming social care to try to ensure that the money is better spent.

  • My Lords, in her recent report on vulnerable children the Children’s Commissioner drew attention to the role of child poverty in that vulnerability. What are the Government doing to reduce child poverty—and will the Minister please not simply say “moving families into paid work”, because we know that that is not necessarily a route out of poverty for low-income families?

  • We are certainly very focused on social mobility; I always find the definition of child poverty or of poverty in general quite difficult, because if you define it as being below a certain barrier, there will always be people below it. However, we are determined to improve social mobility—it is what drives all our educational reforms.