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Family: Protective Effect

Volume 825: debated on Monday 7 November 2022


Asked by

To ask His Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of the report by Children’s Commissioner for England Family and its protective effect: Part 1 of the Independent Family Review, published on 1 September; and in particular, what assessment they have made of the definition of the ‘protective effect’ and its implications for future policy.

My Lords, the Children’s Commissioner’s review is centred on the protective effect of families. We agree. A strong and safe family home helps children to meet their full potential in life. That is why we have announced over £1 billion for programmes to improve family services, including family hubs and the Supporting Families programme. The Children’s Commissioner’s review will help to inform ongoing work so we can be sure to support all types of families.

I thank the Minister for her reply. The Children’s Commissioner’s excellent report reveals a strong correlation between close familial relationships formed through shared experiences and both the immediate well-being of children and their long-term outcomes. Families are the primary way that families support one another but sometimes, outside support is required and the report reveals that often, families struggle to access this and that it is unequally available across the country. How will His Majesty’s Government ensure equal access to and availability of family support services across the whole country?

The right reverend Prelate will have heard me say already the scale of the investment we are making in family services and the importance we place on them. In particular, the Government are committed to opening 75 family hubs in areas which need that support most. But I agree with the right reverend Prelate and stress the striking point in the report regarding who families in need turn to: namely, their families and friends, far, far before any statutory service.

My Lords, we have a new Cabinet since my own Question on this review, so I ask again whether a Cabinet Minister has been appointed to co-ordinate every department’s policies to strengthen families? Also, acknowledging the 75 hubs already mentioned and my registered interests, will the Government bring funding forward for the remaining 75 local authorities to develop family hub networks, given the huge pressures facing families and the test-and-learn approach taken to hubs in the first 75 councils?

My noble friend knows that working to strengthen families is a key priority across several government departments and although there is not currently a designated Minister, we will be actively considering this. We share my noble friend’s aspiration to see family hubs across the country and it is crucial that we deliver really well in the selected local authorities, so we will be building on the evidence and learning from this investment to improve services across the country.

Following on from the right reverend Prelate’s Question, the commissioner highlighted that nearly all the children her team helps have significant mental health issues and struggle to access timely and consistent support from CAMHS, so will the Government seriously tackle better access to mental health services as a priority to prevent these problems escalating?

A significant part of the investment we are making in family hubs and the Start for Life programme is specifically related to mental health. Some £100 million of the almost £302 million is for parent-infant mental health support, starting at the earliest possible opportunity.

My Lords, I know the Minister understands that the intervention and support of kinship carers is essential for many of the most vulnerable children and their families. There were some significant indications of the support that kinship carers need in the Josh MacAlister review earlier this year. Can the Government confirm that they will bring in measures to better support kinship carers, so that families really can care for the most vulnerable?

More than 150,000 children live in kinship care, so the noble Baroness raises an incredibly important point. The Government recognise the need to support kinship carers more, and we have made early progress. We have invested £2 million to develop 100 kinship peer support groups for kinship carers; this summer, we set up the first dedicated policy team in the department focused on kinship care; and obviously, we will be responding to Josh MacAlister’s recommendations on that point.

Will the Government be looking at the full costs of knocking £50 billion out of the social economy when we move into this period of austerity? Removing £50 billion could well cause hundreds of billions of pounds-worth of damage, especially to our families.

The noble Lord raises a much broader point. Bringing it back to the review, the Government are very excited about and look forward to the second stage of the Children’s Commissioner’s review on the protective effect that families can offer.

My Lords, Dame Rachel de Souza’s report makes the very valuable point that family policy should not be restricted to any one department or policy area. What are the Government doing to ensure different departments and teams are incentivised to break down silos between them—including local government—so that we can spread awareness of the support available to families and make it far easier for families themselves to navigate?

Government departments already work very collaboratively in this area—my own department works closely with both the Department for Work and Pensions and the Department of Health and Social Care. The real way that we want to deliver for families is by listening to the recommendations from the Children’s Commissioner and making sure that our policy is led by that vision of a family test and its protective effect.

My Lords, does my noble friend the Minister acknowledge that the state cannot do all of this itself? It needs to work not only across government departments but with civil society organisations, particularly neighbourhood civil society. Can she enlighten us on some of the work that her department is doing with local civil society?

My noble friend makes a very important point. Dame Rachel points out in her report that 11% of families in need turn to council services, but almost the same number—10%—turn to the exactly sorts of community services that my noble friend refers to. I know that the majority of the work to support them is done through DCMS, but my department is very much aware of their work and grateful to them for it.

My Lords, another of the findings from Dame Rachel de Souza’s report was that the most common worries for families were financial, due to the increase in the cost of living and particularly the cost of childcare. If we ever want to achieve sustainable growth in this country, we must prioritise a complete overhaul of the childcare system to make it affordable, high-quality and easier for people to navigate. What can the Government do to help?

The noble Baroness will be aware that the Government are committed to improving parents’ access to affordable and flexible childcare. We will set out these plans in more detail in due course.

My Lords, I am a patron of the National Association of Child Contact Centres. Will my noble friend give a big shout out for child contact centres, which play a phenomenal role, relying primarily on volunteers to run them? Cafcass used to provide the service, and the NACCC has not received any money since September, which is obviously putting it in dire straits. Could my noble friend use her good offices to intervene on its behalf?

I will certainly take the point that my noble friend has raised back to the department. I am delighted to express my support for the incredibly important, difficult and sensitive work that child contact centres carry out.

To take the Minister back to the answer she gave on the subject of mental health services, particularly for young people, she will be aware that the real difficulty in providing those services is that there is an insufficiently large workforce. There are simply not enough professionally qualified people to deliver the kinds of services that young people very badly need. In what way are the various funds that the Minister has referred to going to help with that problem?

The noble Baroness makes a fair point, and I am happy to write to her setting out in more detail the Government’s strategy on expanding the workforce. She will appreciate that this falls more within the Department of Health workforce strategy, but I am happy to expand on that. Also, there are a number of very sophisticated and helpful digital applications that can help support young people in addressing the mental health challenges they face.