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Children in Care

Volume 495: debated on Tuesday 7 July 2009

To ask the Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families if he will bring forward secondary legislation under the Children and Young Persons Act 2008 to provide that (a) children in care shall receive a visit from a local authority representative at least once a month, (b) adults who have been in care may be considered for appointment as independent visitors by local authorities, (c) a child may be placed outside a local authority's area if it is in the child's best interest, (d) before any child in care is placed back home with a parent a local authority must ensure that (i) it is safe for the child, (ii) the parent or parents can look after the child and (iii) the child is happy to go home and (e) the duties of independent review officers shall include (A) keeping in touch with each child in care, (B) listening to children's views, (C) making sure a child in care understands the local authority's planned arrangements and (D) checking action taken against care plans and reviews. (262513)

We intend to tackle the issues raised in the question as follows:

(a) Section 15 of the Children and Young Persons Act places a duty on local authorities to arrange for all looked after children to be visited by a representative of theirs and for all looked-after-children to have available to them advice, support and assistance when they seek it. We shall be issuing regulations about how local authorities should discharge its duties under this section. We intend to impose a general minimum requirement setting the frequency of social work visits to looked-after-children and we will specify in addition that visits should also take place at the request of the child or their carer. We will be consulting on draft regulations and guidance including the frequency of visits in due course.

(b) We will also be using new regulations to broaden the categories of children who could be provided with an independent visitor. Care experienced adults might well make very suitable independent visitors for looked-after-children and we will consider them alongside other options.

(c) Section 8 of the Children and Young Persons Act 2008 sets out the considerations that local authorities must have regard to when they are considering making a placement for a looked-after-child. We will be strengthening regulations and guidance so that all placement decisions must be based on a thorough assessment of the needs of the individual child concerned which, for some children is likely to result in a placement away from their home community and out of their local authority area.

(d) Our strengthened regulations and guidance will say that every looked-after-child must have a care plan based on thorough detailed assessment setting out how the local authority intends to respond to their needs. All care plans must take into account the child's wishes and feelings. Plans to re-unify looked-after-children with their families must take account of children's safety and include an assessment of how the child and their family's circumstances have changed so that their parents are able to resume the child's care.

(e) Section 10 of the Children and Young Persons Act 2008 specifically strengthens the role of the independent reviewing officer (IRO) by:

Making it clear that one of the IRO's core responsibilities is to ensure that children and young people are able to contribute meaningfully to their care plan and its reviews.

Imposing a new legal duty on IROs to ensure that due consideration is given by the local authority to the child's wishes and feelings.

Ensure that each child will have a named IRO, so that a child can be confident that one person will offer continuity and have oversight of their case.

Through new regulations and guidance, we intend to specify that every child must have their own named IRO and that IROs must meet with the young person in advance of the review meeting. This is to ensure that they understand the purpose of the review and are given the opportunity to fully contribute to the discussion about the plan for their future care. Every review should provide a real opportunity to scrutinise the child's care plan to ensure that it continues to offer an appropriate response to the full range of their needs.