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Care Leavers: Life Chances

Volume 773: debated on Wednesday 29 June 2016


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government how the introduction of the first corporate parenting principles will ensure that care leavers have the best life chances possible.

My Lords, good parenting is essential to ensure that young people can thrive in childhood and as adults. Our Bill brings together for the first time what it means to be a corporate parent. The principles set a high bar for how local authorities should discharge this incredibly important duty when supporting the most vulnerable young people. In addition, by signing the care leaver covenant, private and public organisations will commit to giving care leavers the start in life they deserve.

I thank my noble friend for his helpful Answer. The introduction of this Bill should be welcomed by all sides of this House. For far too long, vulnerable children and care leavers have been left behind. Does the Minister agree that the outcomes for these children should be a matter for the whole of society? Can he explain how these important principles will be adopted by other organisations so that the burden does not fall solely on overstretched local authorities?

I am grateful for my noble friend’s support. I agree entirely that we want the principles to be embraced by a wide group of organisations—charities, the private sector, businesses and public sector agencies—and that is what the care leaver covenant is all about. It will be a promise from the nation to care leavers that anyone who leaves care will be treated fairly and given the support they need to make the best of their opportunity to make a successful transition to adulthood. It will be a commitment to support care leavers through the way in which we deliver services, the opportunities provided, promoting the covenant and getting others to sign up.

My Lords, we have only just started, so we are not at a point where anyone can shout, “This side”. The House seemed to be indicating to the noble Baroness on the Cross Benches.

I apologise; I did not see the noble Baroness. The Minister will know that the children who do worst at school and in life are those on child protection plans, rather than those coming into care. How will the Government ensure that such children have good parenting, either by being maintained in their own homes or being in permanent placements that will give them that life chance?

The noble Baroness is quite right and she knows that the Minister, Mr Timpson, is very focused on this. We will shortly bring forward more proposals.

My Lords, my question is simple. How did we get to the place where we talk about “corporate parenting”? I ask this House to think about that notion. The idea that some children might not be able to stay with their own parents is one thing, but the idea that we talk about corporate parenting in a world like this—what does that mean?

I apologise if the noble Baroness does not like the expression but the intention is to give these children someone who is in loco parentis and can fight their corner. It is about changing and spreading good practice, and making sure that the local authorities’ task in loco parentis does not burden them with a tick-box approach and extra duties.

My Lords, the Minister will know how important personal advisers are for care leavers. How do we ensure that they are of the highest quality? Does he believe that there should be minimum qualifications and requirements? Is he hopeful that this might be agreed in the Bill?

The noble Lord is quite right that personal advisers are very important, as is their consistency—one hears from care leavers that they get a lot of changes—and quality. We are conducting a review of personal advisers which will inform our thoughts on this further.

My Lords, how do the Government reconcile the treatment of those from this country who have been corporately cared for with that of young unaccompanied asylum seekers who, when they reach the age of 18, can be deported with no care at all? How can we help those 18 year-olds by changing legislation or putting in new hope for them?

The noble Lord will know that we have just debated this at length. We have had extensive discussions with the Home Office designed to make sure that we place the interests of those children first until they leave the country.

My Lords, in the light of the Laming report, the Howard League report and the Standing Committee for Youth Justice report, which all draw attention to our inappropriate criminalisation of children in care compared to the rest of the world, what steps are the Government, whether the DfE or the MoJ, going to take to address this issue?

Sir Martin Narey is conducting a report in relation to children’s homes, and I think he will address that. Charlie Taylor is also conducting a report. I think we need to wait for them.

The Minister will know that children leaving care are much less likely to go into higher education than other children. Are there provisions to ensure supportive parenting of some sort to see them right through to the age of 21 or so if they go into higher education, to ensure that more of them go and that they do not drop out?

Yes. As the noble Baroness will know, there is further financial support for schoolchildren in care through the pupil premium, and if they go to university there is extra money available.

My Lords, local authorities that have responsibility for these children are usually the largest employers in their area. Like all parents, they should take more responsibility in ensuring that these children and young people have access to apprenticeships and jobs and have a future. Many do not do this, although there are examples of good practice. Will the Minister say how this will be rolled out?

The noble Baroness is absolutely right. Part of the local offer will make sure that local authorities set out well in advance of when children leave care what the opportunities for them are. Then we can spread good practice in this area.