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Social Care: Children

Volume 823: debated on Wednesday 22 June 2022


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of the Independent Review of Children’s Social Care, published on 23 May; and what plans they have to make experience of being in care a protected characteristic under the Equality Act 2010.

My Lords, we are grateful to Josh MacAlister for his important work, which matches our ambition for vulnerable children and their families. We will consider the recommendations in the Independent Review of Children’s Social Care, including the recommendation to make experience of being in care a protected characteristic. The Government will publish the detailed and ambitious implementation strategy later this year.

I thank the noble Baroness for her Answer. Today, 100 young people in the care system met Members of your Lordships’ House and the other place to express their views on how the care system can be improved, and I know that, like me, she had the privilege of meeting and talking with some of them. Can she say more about how young people will be directly included in the national implementation board of this care review?

I did indeed by chance meet a group of young people wearing badges reading “Our care”, so the opportunity was irresistible in view of the right reverend Prelate’s Question. We are building on the work that Josh MacAlister did. He had an advisory board made up of people with experience of the care system, and we are continuing with that approach for our implementation board.

The report recommends technology to achieve frictionless sharing of information, and a national data and technology task force. Is this the body that would decide on the unique identifying number for which the children’s workforce has been calling, to avoid children disappearing through the cracks between services?

The noble Baroness will be aware that the Government committed in the Health and Social Care Act to develop a unique identifier, and that work is continuing. I believe it is separate to her reference.

My Lords, the SEND Green Paper said very little about social care, and the independent review the right reverend Prelate spoke about defers responsibility back to the same Green Paper. This has caused groups such as the Disabled Children’s Partnership to raise concern that reform of funding for disabled children’s social care will not be addressed. Will the Government ensure that this does not happen and that problems in disabled children’s social care will be resolved?

I am very concerned if the perception is as the noble Lord describes. I encourage those involved with particular expertise in that area to contribute to the consultation on the Green Paper, which is open until 22 July. Our ambition is clear: that we address the problems in the system comprehensively.

My Lords, I wonder if the Minister has taken on board—I am sure she has—a recommendation from the report that more senior social workers should carry on having case loads. My experience as a family judge was that senior social workers were completely divorced from the sorts of cases that were actually coming before the courts. I would be grateful to know if the Government will take that forward.

The Government are considering all 80 recommendations in the report, of which this is an important one. We have identified the five priority recommendations, but the implementation board will report back on all our actions by the end of the year.

My Lords, I welcome the focus that the review has placed on supported lodgings. However, work still needs to be done to enable supported lodgings to become a fully recognised provision. Will the Government commit to meeting Home for Good, a charity that has recently set up a supported lodgings network, to provide a definition and guidance on this provision?

My noble friend raises an important issue. Indeed, one of the young women to whom I was speaking just before this Question talked about exactly the point that he raises. I would be delighted to meet the organisation that he mentioned.

My Lords, I too had the privilege of meeting some of those young people a little earlier, which included hearing a rather harrowing story of two brothers who had been brought up in foster care. The review recommends more support, both practical and financial, for kinship carers, which include grandparents, aunts, uncles and others who care for family members. Is the Minister able to say what is going to happen to that recommendation and whether the Government are planning to take it forward?

The Government recognise the incredible role that kinship carers play in the system. It would be premature for me to judge what the Government will decide, but obviously it is being considered carefully along with the other recommendations.

My Lords, in the question from the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, the Minister suggested that there would be two national children’s identification numbers. Is that correct? Can that be right?

I apologise to the House if that is the impression that I gave. I am happy to write to set out the Government’s position in detail.

My Lords, the report recommends that schools are made a statutory safeguarding partner in the care system, to represent the voice of education in partnership arrangements. Will the Government take advantage of the opportunity that the Schools Bill presents? I recommend the amendment tabled in my name to that end. which would formalise the role that our schools already play, to give them the recognition and voice that they need to do that job effectively.

I look forward to debating the noble Baroness’s amendment in detail. We know that schools already play an incredibly important part in safeguarding children and represent an important source of information about whether or not a child is safe. However, I cannot prejudge the final decisions.

My Lords, since there is time, I will ask another question. The review calls for a reformed children’s social care system to be based on children’s rights, putting children’s voices at the centre of decisions. What framework will the Government use for this approach? Will they consider using the existing UN Convention on the Rights of the Child?

A decision has not been taken on that, but the noble Baroness exposes an important issue. For a long time, the voice of the child and the welfare of the child being paramount has been a concept that we are all extremely familiar with, but we must ensure that it happens in practice as well as in legislation.