My Lords, with the leave of the House, I shall now repeat a Statement made in another place by my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Education and Skills. The Statement is as follows:
“With permission, I would like to make a Statement on the children in care Green Paper that I have published today, copies of which have been placed in the House of Commons Library.
“Mr Speaker, at the heart of this Green Paper is one simple presumption: that the aspirations of the state for children in care should match those which each individual parent has for their own children.
“Members of this House recognise this moral imperative, and I would like to pay tribute to the associate parliamentary group for children in and leaving care and to my honourable friend the Member for Stafford for highlighting many of the issues which this Green Paper seeks to resolve.
“They have pointed out vociferously that this area has received too little attention for too long. We know the depressing statistics: children in care are five times less likely to achieve five good GCSEs and nine times more likely to get expelled from school. Indeed, one quarter of people in prison today have spent some time in our care system.
“The Government have introduced a number of measures to address the complex problems of children in care. Since 1997, we have invested almost a billion pounds into the quality protects initiative to improve outcomes for children in care. We have taken steps to encourage adoption instead of care. And we have put a duty on local authorities to improve educational outcomes for this specific group of children. But this has clearly not been enough.
“Today’s Green Paper builds on these efforts and the implementation of Every Child Matters, which for the first time provides the infrastructure to deal with this issue in a co-ordinated way.
“The first priority must be to prevent children from slipping into care where there are family alternatives. We must take effective pre-emptive and preventive action so that no child is sucked into the system by default. If there is a chance that a child could be restored to a healing family environment, we must seize it. We will trial a new kind of intensive family therapy which will address the parents’ problems, making sure that children are more than just helpless bystanders. It will seek to get to the heart of the domestic problem, tackling the most difficult situations of abuse, neglect or violence with a mix of conciliation and targeted care. To raise our knowledge of what works in this new area, we will create a national centre of excellence to share experience and knowledge.
“Secondly, the care system must act more like a traditional loving family, with all the extra responsibility this implies. Just because a child is in care does not mean that he should be deprived of the emotional support and development which most children can rely on. The state must ensure that children are always in the best hands, constantly supported, with continuous guidance and motivation investing in their futures and shaping their decisions.
“The care profession already comprises many dedicated, experienced professionals, but we need to ensure that all carers reach the standard of the best. We will begin a round of specially tailored recruitment campaigns. We will also take steps to match foster carers with children more intelligently, fitting the complex needs of the child with the specialised skills of the carer.
“A new tiered framework of qualifications, payments and standards will be used to steer these difficult decisions. By taking more trouble to get it right first time, we will avoid children being bounced from placement to placement, which is so damaging to them personally and disruptive to their studies.
“Thirdly, we must ensure that children in care receive an excellent education. Results have steadily improved for children in care, but, still today, nine out of 10 do not achieve five good GCSEs. In order to ensure that they benefit from access to sport, music and drama, which instil cultural values and equip them with social capital, we will encourage local authorities to open their sports centres and leisure clubs to children in care free of charge. Social workers will receive individual budgets to spend on the personal needs of the child, so that they have flexibility to find money quickly when a child needs extra support, such as speech or language therapy.
“We will appoint a new virtual head teacher in every area with over-arching responsibility for driving up results among local children in care. We will guarantee catch-up lessons. With the passage of the Education and Inspections Bill, we will also require schools to take in children in care even if the school is full, so that children are elevated to the best schools, not dumped in the worst.
“We will do more to prevent children in care being excluded. Nothing is more damaging to a child’s chances of success than moving school after they have made their GCSE choices. Children who change school after year 10 drop around one and a half grades per subject: so eight C grades become four Ds and four Es. We will therefore create a presumption that children in care will not move schools in years 10 and 11.
“When children have to move home, we will do all that we can to avoid them moving school as well. We have proposed that, in such circumstances, children in care will get free transport to their existing school, rather than move to a new one.
“Fourthly, we need to ensure that children who leave care do so in a measured way. Too often, children in care feel that the system spits them out on their 16th birthday, and only 6 per cent make it to university, compared with 38 per cent of their peer group. We must ensure that children get a soft landing when they leave the system, particularly during those crucial years when decisions are made about their future.
“We will give every child in care a right to decide when they leave the system and the chance to stay with their foster families up to the age of 21—or longer still, if they are continuing in education. We will establish a new £2,000 bursary to encourage them to attend university. We will also put an extra £100 into their child trust funds for every year they are in care.
“Parenting is a weighty responsibility and institutions need to be held accountable, just as individuals would be. Every local authority will be subject to regular inspections by Ofsted. They will also be encouraged to set up children in care councils, so that the voices of these children are properly heard. My department will make it a specific priority to improve the academic performance of children in care, and Ministers will hold an annual stock-take.
“Too often, decisions about children in care are taken without listening to those with most at stake: the children themselves. For this Green Paper, we will ensure that our consultation stretches right into children’s homes to connect with people who have been through the system.
“This is a Green Paper with as many ideas as prescriptions. We recognise that during open consultation, many further ideas will emerge, particularly from those who have been in care and the dedicated professionals who work in this area day in and day out. They are not to blame for the collective failure that this report highlights: we are. We need to provide a more co-ordinated approach to these entrenched issues, ensuring that our care system is focused less on systems and more on care. These children are our responsibility. We cannot continue to fail them.”
My Lords, that concludes the Statement.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for repeating the Statement made earlier by the Secretary of State in the other place and for giving us the opportunity to comment on an issue that is much discussed and is such a priority in your Lordships' House.
The care of children in the guardianship of the state has been a shameful side of the welfare system for far too long. As the Minister said, we have the depressing shopping list of familiar statistics. Half of all children in care are failing to achieve a single qualification in school, with only six in 100 making it to university. They are far more likely—indeed, five times more likely—to have a diagnosable mental illness and almost one third will not have received their basic inoculations. The tale of woe of far too many children in care ending up in prison or turning to drugs and prostitution is a depressing indictment of the role of the state as a parent in the world’s fifth largest economy. It has taken 10 years of deteriorating outcomes for these vulnerable children for this Green Paper to be produced, so we very much welcome it.
The Government say that their first priority is preventing children slipping into care, especially where there are family alternatives. We have long been an advocate of the state supporting parents and families to stay together. Intervention at an early stage to support and guide is welcome, but not in the way envisaged by the Prime Minister in his speech on 5 September, which would see more children condemned to a life in care. We are told that the Government will trial a new kind of intensive family treatment. May I suggest that there are already excellent models of such practice right here, right now?
In earlier debates, I mentioned the pioneering work of Kent County Council, which has invested enormously in helping families stay together by placing children with members of their extended family if possible. Only when all that fails does it consider taking the child into care. When it does so, there is a strong presumption towards adoption. As a consequence, it saves money on its care budget and has money to put back into early support and prevention, so creating a virtuous circle. None of this will work, however, unless we support, value and empower social workers and so get away from the view of them as child snatchers and re-energise their profession to work proactively in support of families.
However well early support and intervention works, there will always be children for whom the state is a refuge, and the state must be the very best parent that it can be. When your world falls apart, the last thing you want is to be removed from all that is loved and familiar. Too many children are moved too often, and too many are moved too far away from all they have known. This is potentially damaging, not least to the healthy attachment of babies and very young children. And how can their key or responsible social worker keep a proper watching brief if they are living hundreds of miles away? The role that the responsible social worker plays is vital. They should assume the role of the pushy parent: standing up for the best interests of that child, challenging mediocrity and refusing to accept inappropriate decisions. We welcome the commitment to extend care provision from 16 to 18, and we also welcome the additional financial and educational support for people leaving care. We should never again have to witness a child leaving care with all their worldly belongings in a black bin liner.
It is good that children in care will no longer simply be dumped in the worst schools, but going to the best schools will not be the answer if children are moved from area to area. What will be done to keep children closer to home? As part of this, will the Government be looking at an enhanced package of support for foster carers? Will the Minister also tell us what is being done to strengthen the social worker workforce, which, as I said earlier, is currently undervalued, demoralised and under-resourced? Will the Government be looking at what happens in other countries, such as the highly trained social worker pedagogue workforce in Finland and Denmark? In all this, there is the voice of the child. But it is not enough simply to listen: the most important part of listening is demonstrating that you have heard. The Secretary of State is right when he says that we should expect no less for children in the care of the state than we would for our own children, and when the Government advance proposals to achieve this, we will support them.
I, too, thank the Minister for repeating the Statement. I am not going to bash the Government: that has just been done extremely effectively. The Government quite rightly are bashing themselves, and I am very pleased to hear that they have taken on board the fact that nowhere near enough has been done and that they have shown the commitment that we have heard this afternoon to do something about it. I very much welcome that.
The most disadvantaged children of all are those in care. To be deprived of living with your family is the most catastrophic thing that can happen to any child, whatever the reason. I therefore very much welcome the Government’s first priority to prevent children slipping into care where there are family alternatives. However, will that mean increased funding for kinship care, which can be one of the most effective and cost-effective alternatives to children living with their parents?
I welcome the commitment to intensive family therapy, but will there be adequate resources? Will attention be given to early intervention in order to avoid some of the misery that families go through when they are not coping with their children? Will health visitors be involved? They provide a trusted and universal service, have no stigma attached to them and are very capable of delivering some of this intensive family therapy. Perhaps the Minister will tell us whether they are involved. I also welcome the specially tailored recruitment campaign and the greater efforts to match foster carers to children so that they will not be bounced around. Like the noble Baroness, Lady Morris of Bolton, I am concerned that improved training packages should be offered to foster carers. They can deal with very difficult children. There is a great turnover of social workers: their recruitment and retention is also very important. In addition, is the Minister able to reassure us that in future no happy and thriving child in a good foster home will be moved against his will for financial reasons? Today, I heard of a situation in Lincolnshire where that apparently is about to happen. It seems that no one has asked the child.
A good education can be the lever for a child to lift himself above his disadvantage in losing his family. Again, I welcome some of the noble Lord’s proposals; for example, encouraging local authorities to open sports centres and so on to these young people. But from where will these children get the money? How will local authorities ensure that no stigma is attached to children who use these services for free? I also welcome the individual budgets to be given to social workers, which could be very flexible. Will that money be owned by individual children or will it be one big pot? If so, how will social workers be accountable for funding decisions?
The Minister mentioned proposals that will require funding: for example, catch-up lessons, the prevention of children in care being excluded and full schools being forced to take another child will need resources. Will adequate resources be supplied? The money should follow the child. On these Benches we call that the “pupil premium”, which should go to all children with special needs, and this is the most special need of all. Such an arrangement would encourage schools to take such children, rather than seek not to take them. Free transport to enable children to stay at a school, even when unfortunately they have to change their placement, is a good idea. However, the biggest lack of access for many of these children is access to the internet. I was very disappointed that the Minister was not able to announce that every child in public care will have a computer and access to a broadband connection. That would be one of the best things that the Government could do to improve educational opportunities for these children.
Like the noble Baroness, Lady Morris of Bolton, I was delighted to hear that the Government will listen to children more. The Minister mentioned children’s homes. Will there be consultation with individual children in individual foster home placements? And what about children in prison; will they be consulted? Unfortunately, many of them land up in prison because they were originally in care and no one really looked after them. Like my noble friends and others speaking on the Front Benches today, I too think that children should not be in prison at all, but if they are, at the very least we should listen to them to find out whether it had anything to do with the fact that they were in care and what went wrong.
The Minister has said much that is positive and we will certainly support the Government. But what is crucial is the amount of money put behind the various promises, so we need some reassurance on that.
My Lords, I welcome the extremely constructive responses of the noble Baronesses, Lady Morris and Lady Walmsley, to the Statement. As it made clear, we accept that there is a huge amount more to do; the Government’s response is in no way complacent. Indeed, no one who looks at the shocking statistics that I relayed, which are set out in the Green Paper, could afford to take pride in the current situation.
The noble Baroness, Lady Morris, said that the position is deteriorating, but I am glad to say that it is actually moving in the right direction, although it is not moving fast enough. Outcomes for the 60,000 children in care at any one time have improved in recent years. The proportion gaining five or more GCSEs rose from 7 per cent in 2000 to 11 per cent in 2005. That is still a pitiful figure, but it represents a greater than 50 per cent increase over only six years in the proportion of children in care getting five or more good GCSEs. Moreover, the proportion known to be participating in education, employment or training at the age of 19 has increased by 8 per cent since 2002 when the Children (Leaving Care) Act 2000 came into effect. So while policies are making some impact, we need to see a dramatically improved rate of progress.
Many schools have an outstanding record in dealing with children in care, including schools with boarding accommodation. One of the possibilities raised in the Green Paper is that of extending the use of boarding accommodation for children in care where that would be appropriate to their circumstances and schools are prepared to take it on. There are also areas of excellent practice which we want to examine more closely and learn from. For example, the noble Baroness, Lady Morris, referred to the much higher level of social worker pedagogy and the more highly trained workforces in Finland and Denmark. My right honourable friend the Minister for Children has been studying that closely. The Green Paper makes a proposal to set up social care practices, enabling social workers to group together in much the same way as GPs so that they can operate quasi-independently of the local authority. We believe that that has the potential to raise quality and stability and to reduce the bureaucracy which at present can be so stifling to the role of social workers. So there is plenty of good practice both nationally and internationally, but the issue is to learn from it and then to apply it systematically. That is what we seek to do in all the ways set out in the Green Paper, and I am sure that there are other examples of good practice that we should take into account. That is why we have produced a Green Paper and we welcome all responses to it, including those from noble Lords.
The noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, is always on my case when it comes to resources, and she is right to be so. As we were told by the Bard,
“Nothing will come of nothing”,
and many of these policies are expensive. However, I have noted the words of Martin Narey, the chief executive of Barnardo’s and one of the most respected figures in this field. It has been announced in the Green Paper that he will conduct a review of the future of the concept of care and how we see it developing over the next generation. On the “Today” programme this morning, he said:
“This is one of those rare things that I’ve come across in public life where we don’t think that what is needed here is more money. We spend nearly £2 billion on children in care—that’s about a quarter of a million for each child—and we do a pretty bad job”.
Martin Narey speaks with the experience of being the chief executive of Barnardo’s and before that the director general of the Prison Service, so he knows what he is talking about. Indeed, the amount of money spent specifically on children in care has risen very substantially in recent years. It is now £1.9 billion, which is a 50 per cent increase in barely six years. So the proportion of funding available for children in care has risen substantially.
A comprehensive spending review will take place next year and the particular impact of the proposals set out in the Green Paper will be carefully examined in the call for additional resources over and above what we spend at the moment. But, as those of us who have looked at what takes place in children’s homes, with social workers and in schools recognise, if we get the policies right and are particularly successful at early identification—an issue that both noble Baronesses highlighted in their remarks—the expenditure over time is likely to be less and not more, and massively less if we avoid the terribly poor outcomes for children in care that lead them into the custody system, which has the highest level of expense of all.
So the more successful we are at early intervention, early placements, the intensive therapy referred to in the Green Paper and the initiatives that the noble Baroness, Lady Morris, rightly raised in respect of the more innovative and successful local authorities in this area, such as Kent—for example, the placing of children with extended families—the less call on public resources there is likely to be over time.
Stability in schooling is a vital part of that because the more stable a child’s schooling the more successfully they are likely to perform in school. The statistics on this are particularly stark: children in care are five times more likely to move school in years 10 and 11—that is in the two years leading up to their major public examinations—and yet pupils who move school after the start of year 10 on average score about 1.5 grades per subject lower than those who are not moving school. This has one of the biggest effects in our model of school performance of any change in circumstance among pupils—bigger even, I am informed, than the effect of having special educational needs, free school meals or being looked after.
Getting stability in school placements is vital. That is why, for example, we propose in the Green Paper that there should be free transport to school, so that if there are movements in placements but it is still possible for children to attend the same school, albeit with a longer journey to the school, the expense of travel to school is not a factor in requiring pupils to change schools.
I have been asked a large number of questions and I have dealt with many of them. There were others and I may write to the noble Baronesses to deal with them. But let me deal with one vital aspect: the availability and training of foster carers. This is a crucial issue, which the noble Baroness, Lady Morris, particularly highlighted. One of the most radical proposals in the Green Paper, which is set out on page 49, is to move to a tiered set of arrangements for foster carers. There will be three tiers: tier 1 will be foster carers for children with few additional needs relative to those outside care; tier 2 will be carers for children with some additional needs; and tier 3—which is the really substantial innovation—will be carers for children with severe or complex needs requiring specialist care, who, of course, are the most difficult children to look after. The proposal in the Green Paper is not only that these foster carers should have much more intensive support, including immediate access to multi-disciplinary teams, as set out on page 49, but also that this category of foster carers should be salaried for the first time in this country. We believe that taking forward the availability of salaries for foster carers dealing with the most difficult and challenging group of children could radically address both the issue of recruitment, a matter raised by the noble Baroness, and the quality of care and stability of placements.
There are a whole host of proposals in the Green Paper which I hope will be constructive. We look forward to a dialogue with noble Lords as they study the proposals. I am available, as is my right honourable friend the Minister for Children, to discuss them with noble Lords as they come forward with their responses.
My Lords, I would like from these Benches to support the Green Paper. Many of us believe that it is overdue, but it is a good paper and I support it.
The Minister placed great emphasis on improving educational achievements among people in care, which is very important. I would like the Government to stress two points that are mentioned in the Green Paper. The first is that no one should end up in care by default, which is what I call the question asked by those in care, “How did I get here?”. It is an important point because once people are in care a certain course is open to them and they cannot get away from it. The other point concerns the end of care—the soft landing—and the question, “Where am I going next?”. That also is an important point. So an emphasis on education, yes, but the beginning and the end of care are also extremely important for operating the system.
I have one specific question about exclusion from schools. I understand the point that the Minister has made, but I am not sure how the policy will operate in practice. Does it mean that every school has to be told beforehand that it has to treat some children differently? The practical question of treating people differently where there is a threat of exclusion seems quite difficult to arrange. Perhaps the Minister will comment on that.
My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Williamson, rightly raises the issue of children not entering or leaving care by default. It is vital that children are placed in care only where there is an imperative need. The big increase in the number of care placements over the past 10 years has been a result of care orders, not voluntary placements. The evidence is that it is only because of imperative need that the number of children in care has increased from 50,000 to 60,000 over the past 10 years.
The noble Lord’s point about not leaving care by default is well taken; it is a major theme of the Green Paper. About a quarter of children in care leave care at 16. That is much better than was the case before the Children (Leaving Care) Act 2000 was implemented in 2002, but we believe that there is scope for significant further improvements. That is why we have proposed giving children in care the right to determine when they leave and providing the right for foster placements to continue up to the age of 21, or further still if the child is in education.
There is already very strong guidance to schools in respect of children with special educational needs and those in care that full account should be taken of their circumstances before the decision is made to exclude them. That must also involve identifying their circumstances beforehand; in that way, schools and head teachers are aware of a child’s particular conditions and the ways in which they can help to deal with those conditions so that issues to do with exclusion do not arise in the first place.
One of the ideas raised in the Green Paper relates to the fact that parents have the right to avail themselves of the appeals process for exclusions, as indeed they do. As a Minister, I know that one of the most fraught areas of educational practice is when schools find it necessary to exclude pupils, particularly permanently, and deeply aggrieved parents go through the appeals process. The Green Paper says that the corporate parent—the social worker—should consider using that process on behalf of the child in care in much the same way as a parent would. We believe that, by engaging with the system in this way and taking a much more active role in ensuring that the subsequent education for the child is taken seriously and the best possible placement is made, corporate parents will start to replicate the conditions that apply to children with parents who are directly acting on their behalf.
My Lords, I welcome the Statement and the Green Paper. As usual, there is considerable consensus around the House about matters to do with children, and we must never be complacent when it comes to children who are often extremely vulnerable.
I welcome the additional funding and the commitment to consult children who have been through care and are in care. I also welcome the reference to Every Child Matters, which should be at the heart of everything to do with children.
I have three specific points. First, I want to reinforce a question asked by the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, about kinship care. We have to get to grips with this and look in some detail at how it can be funded. I am thinking in particular of grandparents, an issue that I have raised before in the House. Secondly, what do we mean by family therapy? Where will it be trialled and how will it work? Thirdly, there is the question of staffing, which is mentioned in children’s legislation. The quality of staffing is key when dealing with vulnerable children. The recruitment, training and payment of staff must be considered when we look at dealing with vulnerable children.
My Lords, I welcome my noble friend’s remarks, which, as always, are absolutely to the point. Much of the funding issue that she raised relates to social work: seeing to it that support is made available to enable social workers to be more successful in their jobs, and addressing the acute problems in respect of recruitment and training that exist in some parts of the country, particularly London and the south-east.
These issues are not directly addressed in this Green Paper, because a review process—as my noble friend will know, it is called Options for Excellence and is led by the Department of Health—is looking specifically at the training and recruitment of the social work profession. The final report of the Options for Excellence initiative is due later this month, and I will see that it is sent to my noble friend.
However, our broad objective in this area is clear: to repeat in respect of social work our great success during the past 15 years in raising the status of the teaching profession, improving its training and increasing the number of good-quality recruits, thereby improving outcomes for children. We seek to replicate many of the processes which we have put in place. Let us be clear that there is a pay and conditions element to our proposals, but they relate also to the quality of recruitment efforts—the kind of work which the Training and Development Agency for Schools does in respect of teachers, which has been radically to professionalise the recruitment exercise and the training provided for teachers. We want to see that become much more widespread across the social work profession.
Chapter 2 of the Green Paper has a great deal to say about family therapy, and gives a whole set of examples of local authorities and other agencies which have taken forward positive initiatives in this area which we wish to see replicated more widely.
I understand my noble friend’s great concerns about kinship care. She also knows the Government’s position on paying grandparents. I fear that we do not have a complete meeting of minds on the issue at the moment, but we remain open to persuasion.
My Lords, can I direct the Minister’s attention to a problem which is not often recognised or referred to and which is associated with the welcome initiative on a soft landing which, if it is to succeed, will inevitably involve various voluntary agencies? I can best explain the difficulty by describing what happened when I was a Minister in the Department of Health and Social Security and then in the Home Office. When in the DHSS, I was responsible for the welfare of children in areas other than their health, which meant children who were locked up by local authorities. I was introduced then to an admirable scheme, which involved intervening with children before they reached the condition in which they would be taken into care and thereby preventing it, often quite late in their careers.
The Department of Health was responsible for any funding that would be given to that part of the voluntary sector. The department which benefited from it, by a reduction in the prison population, was the Home Office, which did not have to find a penny. Therefore, the economic incentive lay with the department which had no access, and the moral incentive rested with the department which got no benefit. This break between funding departments and benefiting departments crucially affects policy. Will the Minister ask his colleagues to look at this now, long before they go to the White Paper which will result from this discussion?
My Lords, the noble Lord, who speaks with great experience on these issues, raises an absolutely valid point, which is that the single biggest expense incurred in this whole process is by the custody system, which is overseen by the department with the least ability to have an impact on the behaviour which gives rise to the expenditure in the first place. However, I hope that my department, which has so much to contribute in this area, has some incentives. We now have massive incentives to see educational attainment rise, because all our performance indicators and capacity to justify the great expenditure of public money in which we are engaged depend on rising performance. The fact that we now publish annual statistics on the performance of children in care—and put them up in lights, if that is the expression—as a national indicator of success, puts great pressure on my department and therefore on local authorities and schools to take this issue with wholly greater seriousness than has been the case.
There are now powers to require schools, whether or not they see the benefit, to take account of children in care. Local authorities now have a power to require schools to admit children in care, not only at the beginning of the school year but at any point, because children in care so frequently move placements during the year. They will have to take account of that power, even though it may not enhance their success in GCSEs and other public examinations and tests. I hope that we are getting the incentives more aligned than was often the case in the past, but I completely accept that there is by no means a complete alignment of incentives at the moment, and we should examine that more during the Green Paper consultation.
My Lords, as vice-chair of the associate parliamentary group for children and young people in and leaving care, I thank the Minister for his comments on that group.
Developing the point that the noble Baroness, Lady Massey of Darwen, made, in considering the minimum standards for children’s homes, and in the Options for Excellence programme to which the Minister referred, will he look at implementing finally the recommendation in the report of the noble Lord, Lord Warner, in 1992, Choosing with Care, that staff in those homes receive regular consultation from an expert in mental health? Does he agree with the noble Lord, Lord Warner, that that would contribute to the development of the staff and their attention and that it would be beneficial to the mental health of looked-after children in children’s homes? They are often the most traumatised children, with the Office for National Statistics establishing a rate of 72 per cent with mental disorders in this group. Will the Minister look at that again? In the interim, will he also look at encouraging children’s homes to consider the model of introducing a teacher or a social worker, or both, into the home on a part-time basis, for two and a half days a week, to boost the professional capacity of the staff and benefit the children?
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Earl for his remarks. He has made an early contribution to the debate on many of the issues in the Green Paper, and we will take seriously his remarks, although some of them have a large price tag attached and we would have to work out their resource implications.
There has been a significant expansion of the CAMHS service in recent years, which goes some way to meeting the noble Earl’s first point. However, I accept that there is further to go and that to meet the full recommendations of my noble friend Lord Warner we need to seek substantial further progress on the track that we have started on.
My Lords, the Green Paper is very welcome. I speak on this matter with some passion because I spent four years of my life, between six and 10, in care, which may be somewhat unusual for a Member of this House. The circumstances were not unusual: my father had been killed in the war and my mother got TB, as a lot of people did at that time. She was taken to a sanatorium and was away for four years before the health service and streptomycin, as I think it is called, cured her, and she came back home again. But in those intervening years I was taken into a very loving foster home in my own village of Wendover, in Buckinghamshire, where I was beautifully cared for. The teachers in my primary school looked after me and gave me additional help, and the day that my mother came out of the sanatorium was the day that I heard that I had passed the 11-plus. So I was the lucky one, but millions were not. That is why this Green Paper is so important to ensure that all the good fortune that I had is shared by others. I hope that the Minister will ensure that this happens.
My Lords, like my noble friend I spent part of my childhood in care, and I can only echo all the remarks that she made. This is a matter of the utmost national importance, not only for the individuals concerned, but if we are to have a fair and just society.
My Lords, I add my congratulations to the Government, who have moved a very long way. There is still a great deal more to do, but there are some exciting ideas in this Green Paper. Can I have a tiny moan, however? It would be nice if Green Papers were available to us before or at the same time as they are available to members of the press, who seem to have a better view of everything of this kind. However, that is a side issue.
I very much support all that is being done with regard to schools and the extra effort that local authorities will be making, as well as the requirement on schools themselves. I am sure that will help. The preventive side is vital and that is clearly in place. I add my support for kinship care. I gather from what the noble Lord has said that this is not a matter on which there has been movement but it could save much money and contribute to a great deal more family cohesion.
The local authority’s responsibility and the need for the child to be consulted have been re-emphasised. That is crucial. However, I wonder whether there is not still a place for those children who do not have any family or friends to have a mentor—an extra person who could undertake the role of a parent, as it were. The local authority is not a parent in that sense. Such a person could befriend such children. Organisations such as HomeStart already have such schemes. Over the years trained volunteers have done so much in this country to map out new areas where government help is needed. They are vital partners in all this. Foster parents are volunteers and all the ideas for increasing their support and training are very welcome, but I still feel that there is room for the extra help which a mentor could give.
My Lords, the noble Baroness makes a good point about the need for enhanced mentoring and for the support which mentors can give, particularly to children in care who have no relatives to take an interest and support them. The previous Government introduced the very welcome concept of the independent visitor, who has a role in mentoring a child in care who has no relatives. In the Green Paper we are consulting on whether the offer of an independent visitor should be extended to other children in care and on how we can revitalise the role of the independent visitor. This is all set out in the Green Paper. We welcome the noble Baroness’s views on it.
My Lords, I too am pleased by much of the Green Paper, which I look forward to reading in detail. I endorse the remarks of the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, about people in prison. I was concerned to discover that those responsible for young people in care who were entering prison rather switched off once those young people went into prison and did not carry on that duty of care while they were there. That was particularly problematic when those people came out of prison, in the preparations for their coming out and in the transition to their being released. That was one of the reasons for the concern that the Children Act did not apply to those people when they were in prison. I hope that that will be picked up and added to all the other good things in the paper because it is badly needed in the whole context of offender management, particularly young offender management.
My Lords, the noble Lord makes an important point about the welfare of children in care who end up in custody. There is a long section on that at page 82 of the Green Paper. We will greatly welcome the noble Lord’s comments on that when he has had a chance to read the Green Paper in full. As he knows, at the moment those in custody who are subject to a care order should be supported by their local authority. That includes visiting and the six-monthly review of care plans, as with other children in care. We need to ensure that that duty is taken more seriously, particularly when the children in care are about to be released, as the noble Lord said. It is so important that proper arrangements are made for them after their release.
However, the Green Paper proposes to go beyond that and to require local authorities to assess the needs of young people in care who are there on a voluntary basis, but who enter youth custody, with an expectation that those children too will continue to be supported as children in care. In most cases this would entail a social worker, a care plan and continued support as a child in care on leaving custody. We seek to enhance the provision for children in care who end up in custody, including for those in voluntary care. Although their care is voluntary, by definition they often have inadequate family arrangements to support them while they are in custody.