Children and Social Work Bill [HL]
My Lords, as is my duty on these occasions, I must advise the Grand Committee that if there is a Division in the Chamber while we are sitting, the Committee will adjourn as soon as the Division Bells are rung and resume after 10 minutes.
Clause 1: Corporate parenting principles
My Lords, first, I want to put Amendment 29 in context. I see it as part of a package relating to Clause 1. In our previous debate on Clause 1, there was a large measure of agreement that the corporate parenting principles needed to be kept tightly drawn and manageable in length. There was also a sense, however, that some important aspects, such as mental health, needed to be specifically incorporated into those principles. We also discussed at some length the importance of requiring the co-operation of other key partners in supporting the corporate parent in living up to those principles. I am sure that on this latter issue we will come back with amendments on Report to place a clear duty on key partner agencies and services to co-operate with the responsible local authority corporate parent.
I wish to raise a point on this, on which the Minister left me, and possibly other Members of the Committee, rather confused. Let me seek clarification from the Minister on what he said about other agencies co-operating with local authorities on the delivery of services linked to the corporate parenting principles. At one point he suggested that this was covered in Clause 10. As I said then, it is not. Then there was some suggestion that what was meant was Section 10 of the Children Act 1989. With a great deal of help from the Library, to which I give thanks, I have checked: it is not there in the 1989 Act. Then I asked the Library to show me the current version of the 1989 Act, as amended subsequently. It is not in the amended version of Section 10. I am struggling to find it elsewhere in any of the legislation. My request to the Minister, therefore, is that he write to me and other Members of the Committee as soon as possible—certainly well before Report—citing the text of the legislation that requires other agencies, and which of those agencies, to co-operate with the responsible local authority in delivering corporate parenting principles. Without that legislative clarity, I am sure many of us will want to press an appropriate amendment on this issue on Report.
I now return to my Amendment 29, which is linked to this issue. Alongside the corporate parenting principles and the co-operation and involvement of other relevant agencies, a third important element is, I suggest, required to make it all work in practice for the young people concerned. That is an obligation to help those young people get the services they need, which is where Amendment 29 comes in.
The amendment does two things. First, it requires the local authority corporate parent to ensure that all the relevant services are aware of the needs of children and young people in care or leaving care. We know that many of these services, some of which were cited in our previous discussion, are not aware of the special needs of those in care or leaving care. History suggests that we should strengthen the obligation on local authorities to bring home to the other agencies the special needs of those for whom they are corporate parents. Because of the unfortunate timetabling of the Bill, I had little time to prepare the amendment. I know that some services have been omitted from it, but this can easily be rectified.
The second part of the amendment places an obligation on the corporate parent to make sure the children and young people for whom it is responsible know about the services available to help them make their way in the world. It also obliges the corporate parent to help these young people secure those services. I regard this second aspect as very important indeed. Public services can be very complex; they can be very siloed—as was said in our last discussion—and pretty inaccessible. Many of us, as experienced and knowledgeable adults, often struggle to penetrate public sector bureaucracies, so why should we expect these young people to do it without help? It is not good enough to await young people coming forward and asking for help, which they often do not even know about. I recognise that I may not have got the wording quite right and this amendment would need to be aligned with the other amendments to Clause 1 that I have mentioned. However, I hope the Minister will see merit in this amendment and will be willing to make an amendment of this kind to the Bill and possibly discuss it with some of us beforehand. I beg to move.
My Lords, I rise briefly to support this amendment. I do so because it reminds me of my experience of being acquainted with a young woman who left care some time ago. She did get access to mental health support and saw a therapist over a quite considerable period. She is thriving; she is doing well and supporting young people leaving care. When she spoke to me about her experience, she highlighted how important it was for her to have that access to a counsellor. So if this amendment helps her with that, I would definitely like to support it. We will hear from the Minister about the Children Act duties and I hope that will comfort the noble Lord, Lord Warner.
This woman has a younger brother in care and she is concerned about the access that he is getting to therapy. This is a real issue for many young people in care and care leavers, so I am looking for as much reassurance from the Minister as possible in his response.
My Lords, I, too, rise to support the noble Lord, Lord Warner, in his amendment and particularly his plea that we should have some meeting to clarify the various amendments that have been tabled. In the next group, I shall refer to some of these amendments and it strikes me again that this is something that ought to be tied up between the Bill team and those of us who are taking part because otherwise we are in danger of having a thoroughly ill-constituted Bill to send forward to the other place.
My Lords, I also support the noble Lord’s amendment. He said that other bodies might be involved and I would draw particular attention to the position of the justice system in this context. Some of the young people involved will already have been involved in the justice system or may subsequently go into the justice system and, of course, have to emerge from it. It is important that there should be adequate liaison between the local authority and its services and those who have responsibility in the justice system, whether that is a custodial institution or another service. When the noble Lord returns to this—perhaps at a later stage—he might want to consider including that in the ambit of his amendment.
I support what the noble Lord, Lord Warner, proposes in this amendment. Before I make the next remarks, I draw Members’ attention to my interests in the register as a member of Kirklees Council. My concern with the amendment, and others we will discuss in the course of this Committee, is the number of proposals that add to the responsibilities of local authorities. As anybody who is associated with local government will be aware, additional responsibilities nearly always require additional spending. I just wanted to draw the attention of Members of this Committee to what is happening to the budget for children’s services in Kirklees Council, which is no doubt repeated across local government. Kirklees Council is a large metropolitan borough serving 420,000 residents, which puts the figures I shall now cite in context. The budget that the council intends to spend on children’s services, which excludes what it spends on schools, was £71.6 million for last year and is £70 million for this year. For next year, the proposed budget is £53.4 million. Despite every effort by members of the council and officers in Kirklees—we have done all we can to protect spending on children’s services—the reduction over the next couple of years will be £18.2 million. As Members of the Committee will quickly calculate, that is a reduction of 25%. Within that reduction, there is a reduction of 10%—more than £3 million—in services specifically for looked-after children.
Will the Minister take into account the dire consequences of the Bill adding to local authorities’ responsibilities? Of course, it is not that local authorities have no wish to have better services for care leavers and looked-after children, but there is a big reduction in the amount that can be spent on them. Consequently, any additional responsibilities will be very difficult to fund.
My Lords, I have great sympathy with what the noble Baroness, Lady Pinnock, said. We all work with local authorities that have extraordinary constraints on finances. However, I support the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Warner, because it can make things easier rather than more difficult. I need to support it as it relates to what I said both at Second Reading and previously in Committee about the two things that are important.
First, any amendments must be tightly drawn. I am really concerned about the next batch of amendments because they could add considerably to local authorities’ responsibilities. Many people agreed that if you are a director of children’s services, you do not want to have to wade through yet more legislation. We are looking for less legislation but legislation that is clearer and more tightly drawn, to be freed up to get on with the job of looking after children.
The other important item is that we make clear that this is the responsibility of wider services. The noble Lord, Lord Warner, acknowledged that his was not a comprehensive list of those people who could do more to benefit these young people. I know that some of the amendments may be out of the frame. Some of the issues I raised last time in relation to financial services need more refinement. However, if we had these two things—tightly drawn legislation and a wider range of services with the responsibility—it would not add to the responsibilities of local authorities but streamline their work and ensure that others took their part. I declare an interest as a vice-president of the LGA.
My Lords, I also support this amendment. I apologise for not being here for day one but at Second Reading I explained that I would not be able to be present last week. At Second Reading, there were a number of clauses—this is one of them—where I was concerned that the work of independent fostering agencies, adoption agencies and the voluntary sector as a whole, which provides increasing support to children in care and leaving care, was hardly noticed. We need to keep on top of that. We should not restrict its growth but we should ensure that it is joined up with what is required of statutory authorities and that quality remains high. In supporting the amendment, I hope consideration will be given to that area of work as well in any future redrafting.
Very briefly, I recognise the concerns expressed by the noble Baroness. So much money might be saved if the right agencies worked with local authorities. It is hugely expensive to keep a child in a children’s home. If that child could be kept in a foster placement because there was adequate early intervention from health, for instance, the local authority could save a lot of money. There is room for negotiation—perhaps health could pay half the cost and the local authority could pay half the cost of an intervention, or there could be some other variation. But it could save local authorities huge amounts of money if the right intervention was made and the right agency worked in partnership with them.
My Lords, I can see that the Minister is straining at the leash to answer this amendment. I make only two points, partly from my experience as chair of the Youth Justice Board for England and Wales and partly as a member of the committee of inquiry chaired by the noble Lord, Lord Laming, into looked-after children in the criminal justice system.
What attracts me to this amendment is that it approaches a very real problem from two directions, both in a constructive way. What has struck me over the past few years in considering the problems of looked-after children and the response of various bodies to their needs is that there is still a silo mentality in the operation of some of those bodies, as well as a chronic lack of exchange of information. Those dealing with a child at any point in its journey through the system should have the most comprehensive picture possible of that child’s vulnerabilities and needs. In the best of practices, that happens but, all too often, it does not happen.
On the other side of the same penny, the amendment proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Warner, deals with the lack of awareness of the children themselves, and those who care for them, of their full range of entitlements. Having a responsibility to make children, or those with responsibility for them, aware of those entitlements, can do nothing but good in getting them the care they need at any particular point in their lives.
I thank noble Lords who have contributed to this short debate. I am happy to signify my support for the amendment in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Warner, which is a common-sense amendment. Let me just express the hope at the outset that the Minister will find it in him to make a clean sweep of all our contributions—we shall see.
In moving Amendment 4 in Committee last week, I mentioned some of the arguments in favour of broadening the scope of the corporate parenting principles outlined in Clause 1. It is logical to adopt as comprehensive an approach as possible to corporate parenting and ensure that all those who can improve outcomes for looked-after children and care leavers have a role to play in parenting those children. In his reply on day one, the Minister stressed that the principles applied to all local authorities in England and that they apply to all parts of the local authority and not just to children’s services. That is important. He went on to highlight the fact that other bodies—such as central government, the National Health Service or housing organisations—are not corporate parents and therefore do not fall within the remit of the Bill, or this part of the Bill. He pointed out that NHS clinical commissioning groups had specific responsibilities for looked-after children, who were also specifically mentioned in NHS England’s mandate. That was certainly welcome to those who were unaware of it.
This amendment goes rather wider and includes the police but, given the proportion of looked-after children and recently looked-after children who have become involved with the youth justice system, that also has some relevance. That being the case, I hope the Government will accept the amendment proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Warner, which seeks only to formalise the relationship between local authorities and other organisations, not least housing services, which increasingly are not found within the responsibilities of local authorities. What is of paramount importance is that there is joined-up thinking and working, leading to an outcome whereby all agencies, to use that umbrella term, ensure the most productive relationships on behalf of looked-after children.
Section 10 of the Children Act 2004 includes a duty on local authorities to co-operate with “relevant parties”. However, if that mechanism were working effectively, noble Lords would not have been contacted by various organisations working with or for looked-after children seeking to have the relationship tightened up to provide better outcomes across all agencies. They clearly believe that more needs to be done and we should listen to them, as they are involved on a day-to-day basis with the children the Bill is designed to help.
The Minister mentioned last week that the Government would look at the lessons that might be learned from Scotland. I hope he will note that there the widest possible range of organisations is given the role of corporate parents. Whatever potential obstacles appeared north of the border were clearly overcome. The Minister also stated:
“I would expect partners such as police and health bodies to consider how they can contribute to supporting care leavers. I also hope that many organisations in the private and voluntary sectors will commit to supporting young people leaving care through the care-leaver covenant”.—[Official Report, 29/6/16; col. GC 52.].
I submit that expecting and hoping sounds more like a recipe for disappointment than anything else. Such sentiments are by no means firm enough and the Minister should look to the Bill as a means of ensuring that those things happen. That is what young people leaving care, as well as those assisting them in doing so, have a right to expect.
My Lords, before I respond, I am sure noble Lords will be interested in the documents that my department has published today relating to children in the social care system. The first is a policy paper entitled, Putting Children First: Delivering Our Vision for Excellent Children’s Social Care. It sets out our programme of reform to children’s social care for the next four years. The second is an independent report on children’s residential care by Sir Martin Narey, the former chief executive of Barnardo’s, who is an independent social care adviser to the Department for Education. Sir Martin paints a positive vision for the future role of residential care and we are grateful for his report. I am sure noble Lords will be interested in both publications, which we have today emailed to all noble Lords who were present on the first day in Committee. They will be available in the Library of the House.
I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Warner, for this amendment. I fully appreciate the intention behind it. However, what he seeks to achieve is already encompassed within the corporate parenting principles and existing legislation, which I will explain.
The fourth corporate parenting principle is designed to ensure that the local authority, as a whole, acts as a corporate parent, and helps looked-after children and care leavers to gain access to the services and support they need, including those provided by other relevant partners—to avoid the silo mentality that the noble Lord, Lord McNally, referred to, and, as the noble Lord, Lord Watson, said, to ensure that all those who can help are involved. On the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Warner, about Section 10, I apologise for the confusion. I am sorry to have created so much homework for him. Perhaps in future he can send me a short note and I could save him some time. After all, that is what officials are for. As the noble Lord, Lord Watson, said, we are talking about the Children Act 2004, and I will write to the noble Lord with the relevant section and an explanation.
On the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Watson, to make this section and duty more effective, for the first time we are bringing in the principle of corporate parenting. I am happy to discuss that with him further and, to take the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, to hold a meeting to clarify amendments and ensure, as the noble Baroness, Lady Howarth, says, that we get a sensible Bill without imposing too many new duties that are not really necessary on local authorities.
Local authorities are already under a duty under Section 10 of the Children Act 2004 to make arrangements to promote co-operation between the local authority and each of its relevant partners, including health bodies, schools, local policing bodies, probation boards and youth offending teams, as well as the voluntary and community sector. On the point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Pinnock, I know she would always like to have more money, but this does not impose any more responsibilities on local authorities. The intention of the existing duty is to improve the well-being of children in the local area and the corporate parenting principles are matters that the local authority must consider under the existing legislation. They do not add further functions.
Therefore, it seems inconceivable that under the existing legal framework relevant local agencies would not be aware of the needs of looked-after children and care leavers in the area. If that is the case, the issue must be with how well the local authority is putting its existing responsibilities into practice rather than it being a problem with the law. Therefore, I see no need to add to the seven principles in the way the noble Lord suggests.
The approach used in the existing legislation is broadly similar to the way the duty to co-operate works in the Care Act 2014, which the noble Lord, Lord Warner, referred to during the Committee’s first sitting. The local offer for care leavers will take us further than ever before in helping to ensure that the needs of care leavers are in the minds of services related to health, housing, education, police and employment. In developing their local offer, local authorities will need to talk to those services about what they intend to bring to the table based on what care leavers have told them they need.
For too long care leavers have told us that they do not always have the information they need about the services they need to access and about what they are entitled to. We expect the local offer to set out in one place the full range of relevant services, any additional facilities or entitlements that are on offer, and information about how to access them.
The care leaver covenant, which I have mentioned previously, provides a truly exciting opportunity to build the offer of services and support from a wide range of agencies and individuals. There is no reason why there should be a limit on this. We would like local communities to be as inventive as possible in finding ways of supporting and helping their children in care and care leavers.
I appreciate the very positive intentions behind the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Warner. However, I do not think it is necessary, given the requirements of the existing legislation and the enhanced focus on children in care and care leavers which the corporate parenting principles and the covenant will bring about. I therefore ask him to withdraw his amendment.
My Lords, I listened very carefully to the Minister. Before responding, perhaps I may say that he offered to write to me. When I did not receive a letter, I went to the Library.
With this approach of simply asking local authorities to find different obligations in different bits of legislation, the Minister is undermining the strengths of Clause 1 and the corporate parenting principles. The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Durham has given me some interesting information about the Children Act, so technology is giving us instant access to some of these bits of information. However, they do not cover some of the issues that were raised in the debate about the corporate parenting principles; they are narrower in scope where the partners are asked to intervene. We have been having a debate about the full range of services and agencies that need to co-operate with the local authority to enable the corporate parenting principles to be delivered to children. The Minister did not really deal with the issue in the second part of my amendment, which is about the local authority taking the initiative and showing children and young people what services are available.
I looked very carefully at Clause 1(1)(d). It is a pretty general proposition about helping young people, and it does not define who the “relevant partners”—the wording in the legislation—are. If the Minister wants to get the best out of this well-intended set of corporate parenting principles, we have to beef up the Bill in terms of the duty to co-operate placed on the full range of services, and we may need to specify them in the Bill with something along the lines of my Amendment 29. I will certainly come back to this, as I suspect will other Members, on Report. In the meantime—
Before the noble Lord withdraws his amendment, casting back to the Children Act 2004, one agency that was excluded was the Immigration Service. On the duty for all agencies to work together to secure the welfare of children, I am not sure that the Act was successful by excluding that service. In his letter to the noble Lord, Lord Warner, perhaps the Minister can make clear whether that is the case.
I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
My Lords, in moving Amendment 30 I shall also speak to Amendments 32, 44, 57, 63, 65, 67 and 69, which continue the discussion on Clause 1 and refer to the local offers covered in Clauses 2 and 3. I must declare an interest as co-chair of the All-Party Group on Speech and Language Difficulties, which three years ago published a report on the link between social disadvantage and speech, language and communication needs, or SLCN. I am conscious of the caveats about local authority resources made by the noble Baroness, Lady Pinnock, and my noble friend Lady Howarth of Breckland but I believe it is better to set out the total of what is required and then decide what cannot be done, rather than leave anything which is not in the Bill.
The inability of children to communicate is the scourge of the 21st century, fuelled by the use of the social media and a whole host of electronic gadgets to which too many of them devote far too much time. Someone has described the language that young people use to speak to each other, if they do so at all, as binary grunts. At Second Reading both I and the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, pointed that unless their SLCNs were assessed and treated, the children who are the subject of the Bill would be prevented from understanding or engaging with any of the changes proposed in it. The noble Baroness also made this point to the Grand Committee last Wednesday. To explain my case, and in acknowledging the risk of boring the Committee, perhaps I may repeat how I came to appreciate the fundamental importance of this issue.
In 1997, as Chief Inspector of Prisons, I visited Polmont, the young offender institution in Scotland, while researching for a thematic review that was being conducted of the treatment of and conditions for young people in prison. As its excellent governor and I walked round the institution, he suddenly said that if he had by some mischance to get rid of all his staff the last one out of the gate would be his speech and language therapist. Not having come across such a person on the staff of any young offender institution in England I asked why, to which he replied that too many young people could not communicate either with each other or with staff and that, until and unless they could, it was impossible to discover what problems they had and plan what help they needed. His speech and language therapist assessed every young person on reception and advised the discipline, education and healthcare staff on which identified SLCNs should be included in individual sentence plans.
To cut a long story short, I have been campaigning unsuccessfully for a speech and language therapist to be on the staff of every young offender institution ever since. Proof of their value was provided by the governors of the two institutions in which therapists were funded for two years as a pilot by the Helen Hamlyn Trust. Each said to me within a month of their therapist’s arrival that they could not think how they had managed without them. The all-party group has campaigned for every child in the country to have their speech, language and communication ability assessed by the age of two by a health visitor trained by a speech and language therapist to identify potential problem areas, so that individual SLCNs can be treated before a child starts primary school, with the aim of enabling them to engage with their teachers and therefore with education. We would therefore like to see regular SLCN reassessment throughout a child’s school career, including pre-employment assessment on leaving, to ensure that they are able to communicate during each stage of their schooling. I have seen outstanding work during secondary schooling in Walsall, for example, that picked up problems that had been missed during the primary phase, saving children from possible truancy and/or exclusion.
Amendment 30 includes three requirements of local authorities: that they ensure, first, that the SLCN of every child and young person subject to the provisions of the Bill is assessed by someone such as a health visitor who, secondly, has been trained to identify potential problems; and, thirdly, that they ensure that appropriate support is then provided to treat identified needs. More widely, every child should have what is now called an education health and care plan, which are currently made only for those with special educational needs. For most children, the default plan will be the normal educational system. Recent legislation has laid down that home local authorities have responsibility for ensuring that such plans apply to those in custody as well, as the Minister will remember.
As for an assessment tool, I recommend that developed by the Royal College of Speech and Language Therapists for use by the Youth Justice Board in its AssetPlus programme, which provides an excellent model that could be followed with advantage. Amendment 32 requires that the Secretary of State include those three requirements in any guidance that is sent to local authorities. Amendment 44 includes the provision of speech, language and communication support in all local offers. Amendment 57 requires personal advisers of former relevant children to be trained in SLCN awareness, and Amendment 63 includes SLCN in the subjects to be assessed and included in pathway plans made by local authorities for such children.
The aim of Amendment 65 is slightly different, in that it is tabled in the same spirit as the amendments I tabled to Clause 1. As many noble Lords have said in relation to other duties required of local authorities, there should be no ambiguity about their duty to inform relevant children of their right to request advice and support. The word “must” says it all. The background to this amendment is that prison staff working with care leavers in custody have reported considerable difficulty in identifying local authority leaving-care managers, particularly for home local authorities nowhere near their prison. Some local authorities go so far as to record care leavers as not in education, employment or training, and therefore outside their responsibility. The aim of my amendment is to ensure that local authorities establish links with prisons and other justice agencies, in which children and young people for whom they are responsible are held, and institute effective joint working methods. This seems entirely in line with the Government’s care leaver strategy and by linking regional and NOMS care leavers’ champions, should ensure that there is a framework on which planning and support for relevant children can be based.
Bearing in mind the high proportion of care leavers with SLCNs, Amendment 67 seeks to ensure that both advice and support are given to former relevant children in a language that they understand, which must include the avoidance of bureaucratic gobbledegook. Amendment 69 may seem like a blinding glimpse of the obvious, but even though they may have been informed of their right to make a request—if Amendment 65 is agreed—many of these children have not the slightest idea of to whom to go to make one, let alone how to make it, even supposing that they can read and write. Civil servants, who may not understand this, must be reminded of their responsibility for providing clear and transparent information, set out in straightforward terms, which will enable care leavers and former care leavers to access what is on offer to them.
My final amendment in this group, Amendment 38, is completely different in concept but is also designed to improve local offers and is based on pathway plans, as outlined in the Children Act 1989. A report by the Children’s Society, The Cost of Being Care Free, found that too many people leaving care with no family to support them were falling into debt and financial difficulty, which suggested a lack of sufficient financial education. Again, we are up against inconsistency because the report also found that other than encouraging advice by personal advisers, nearly half of local authorities do not commission additional financial support. The Joseph Rowntree Foundation has drawn attention to accumulation of debt, threats to their tenancies and their inability to avoid this through careful budgeting being issues of continuing concern to care leavers. Hence Amendment 38 and the proposal that “financial education” be included in the list of supported services included in local offers. I beg to move.
My Lords, I shall speak to Amendments 30, 32, 40, 44, 46, 57 and 63, to which I have added my name. I support the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, who has, I think, given all the detail that the Committee needs. I spoke on this issue at Second Reading.
It is important for government and all who have responsibility for looked-after children to recognise that they could have unidentified or unmet communication needs. This unidentified or unmet need could prevent children and young people understanding and engaging with the changes to their lives that are being proposed and therefore they could struggle to have a meaningful input into those decisions. A lack of identification and consequent intervention for those with communication needs could lead to a range of negative outcomes in relation to their health and well-being, education and training, employment and participation in society. In addition, as shown in the statistics given at Second Reading, it could lead to their involvement in the criminal justice system, as the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, has already told us.
Those of us debating this issue today have good communication skills. Most of us cannot imagine what it is like not only not to understand what is being proposed for our lives but to be totally unable to respond in a way that adequately reflects the turmoil and uncertainty that we feel inside. Looking into the eyes of a child while explaining the processes and outcomes for them may assist those dealing with the child to tell whether the information has been understood. However, it is not a very scientific test, and it will certainly not assist the child or young person to respond if they have communication problems. Access to properly trained speech and language therapists is essential to ensuring that these extremely vulnerable members of our society are able to have a voice. Unless such help is provided, I fear that we will see statistics showing an increase, not a decrease, in the number of care leavers suffering from poor mental health and becoming prevalent in the criminal justice system.
Listening to the voice of the child is paramount. Children have a right to express an opinion on their care. Those providing help for young people about to leave the care system must be able to assess their ability to read and digest the written word, as well as the financial implications for them. As we discussed last week, this is essential in ensuring that they are able to budget and manage their money so that they do not fall into debt or find themselves facing sanctioning from the jobcentre or eviction from their accommodation.
I hesitated to use the word “illiterate” in Amendment 40, as labels, once attached to people, are often very difficult to shake off. Care leavers do not need this added stigma. They need help to overcome their difficulties, with information provided in a format that they can access, whatever that may be.
Personal advisers for care leavers up to the age of 25 should be properly trained in identifying and helping to overcome the communication difficulties of the young people they advise. Without this, there will be a huge gap in the support they are able to provide. Will it be up to local government to ensure that adequate trained support is provided? This should not be a charge on the local council tax payer; it should be properly resourced and funded by central government via the NHS. If the Government are serious about assisting care leavers to make the best of their lives, they will ensure that the funding is made available to cover the costs. I hope the Minister will be able to give us a positive response on this group of amendments.
My Lords, I have Amendment 35 in this group but I also support the amendments in the names of the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, and my noble friend Lady Bakewell, which refer to speech and language issues, and I have added my name to them. As I said in the debate on an earlier group, these issues are vital and must not be ignored.
My Amendment 35 seeks to ensure that information about the local offer for care leavers is provided in a form that is accessible to all children. We must not assume that all young people leaving care are fully abled. There are children leaving care who have sensory impairments, although such young people may stay in care a little longer than others. There are those with physical disabilities that might make it hard for them to use the internet easily. They, too, want to lead independent lives with the right support. There are those with learning disabilities who may be quite capable of living independently with the right support but need someone with an understanding of their problems to interpret the information for them so that they can express their wishes about what they need or want to access.
My Lords, I shall speak to Amendment 39 in this group, tabled in my name and those of my noble and learned friend Lord Mackay of Clashfern and the noble Baroness, Lady Tyler. Our amendment remedies a serious omission in the list of the areas of support that councils are required to include in their local offer. It stipulates that information and services that will help young people to develop and maintain healthy and supportive relationships should be available alongside the other five areas of health and well-being, education and training, employment, accommodation, and participation in society.
When parental care fails, for whatever reason, and children and young people are taken into the care of the local authority, it is easy for us as legislators to treat this primarily as a legal problem. Obviously, it is essential that a minor’s legal status be clear and established. However, first and foremost, we should be aware that these circumstances typically create a relationship problem because of the profound long-term effects of losing parental attachments and the often taken-for-granted bonds with siblings and others in the extended family.
At birth, every child comes into that little unit, their family, where relationships are, ideally, formed and nurtured. Relationships are foundational to all human societies and what human existence is all about; without them, that existence can feel precarious, fraught with fear and difficulties and even fundamentally unwelcome. This is especially the case when making the transition from dependence into independent adulthood, a difficult and protracted shift for every human being, even when they have the back-up of good enough parents.
Although I welcome the inclusion in Clause 1 of the corporate parenting principle that children should have stability in their home lives and relationships, this is the only place where the word “relationship” is mentioned in relation to care leavers. Others noted this infrequency at Second Reading, such as my noble and learned friend Lord Mackay and the noble Baroness, Lady Tyler, who mentioned a lack in this area. Three-quarters of young people leaving care admit to difficulties due to loneliness and isolation. Almost half found these very difficult to cope with, and those numbers could easily be higher, as admitting to such feelings is still stigmatised in our society.
Information about and provision to assist young people to build relationships should be included in the local offer laid out in the clause because it is highly likely to be another area of lack, given that they have not been able to learn such “habits of the heart” in their birth home. The Government might consider that this is covered by subsection (2)(a), on health and well-being, but we simply cannot take that for granted. Relationships are not yet embedded as a priority for public bodies. The best example of that is found in Public Health England, whose mission statement says:
“We protect and improve the nation’s health and wellbeing and reduce health inequalities”.
However, both its annual plan and the public health outcomes framework are relationship-free zones, something that the Tavistock Centre for Couple Relationships and others have been challenging for several years on the grounds that at least three-quarters of the indicators contained in the public health outcomes framework are directly or indirectly influenced by the quality of people’s couple relationships. It is stated rather narrowly, but noble Lords will take the point.
The inability to form and maintain relationships is a root cause behind poor health and well-being. It undermines educational attainment, employment prospects, the ability to maintain a tenancy and have otherwise stable accommodation, societal participation, and all the other itemised aspects of the local offer. This is not just because of the lack of self-esteem, self-confidence and other internal factors that can put lonely and rootless young people at such a disadvantage. Relationships have instrumental value. The deficit in social capital, when a young person has no family members to open their contact books to get them work experience and almost no settings in which they can acquire soft skills, can have devastating effects. Services do exist for young people to help address these relational difficulties. I have talked before about Love4Life in Loughborough, and Oasis College was recently established to ensure excellence in the many organisations that work in this and other related areas. They will not, however, be automatically commissioned without some indication from the Government that they are indispensable to a comprehensive and effective local offer.
I also gave concrete examples at Second Reading of the kind of services that local authorities can provide and commission. Northern Ireland’s model of person-specific personal advisers enables local authorities to draft in people who already get on with and are trusted by the young person leaving care. At present, care leavers are matched up with someone they may never have met before who usually has a couple of dozen or more vulnerable youngsters on their books. There is also a lot of staff churn, which makes a mockery of relationship stability.
I also recommended consideration of the family finding and engagement model in California and other parts of the United States. That name is slightly misleading in our system and not to be confused with the family-finding process to locate good potential adoptive parents. US family finding makes the most of blood connections with extended family and other supportive relationships that children entering or in the care system have already developed with adults, such as teachers, youth workers or the parents of friends. Instead of allowing them to lapse, local authorities treat these relationships as potential lifelong links and draw on this resource to build intentionally a network of support around young people before they leave care. What they are looking for is a small number of adults who are reliable and willing to be involved in the young person’s life and will keep in touch with them whatever happens, inviting them for Sunday lunch or to spend Christmas Day with them, for example. As I said, a highly suitable personal adviser could emerge from that process. If the Department for Education were able to furnish local authorities with model contracts, this would help them greatly.
I conclude by saying that this is a probing amendment. If my noble friend does not feel that this clause is the right one in which to place the necessary emphasis on relationships, I am open to the legislation being strengthened in this way elsewhere. Otherwise, the legislation will not, I fear, boost vulnerable young people’s life chances as much as might otherwise have been possible.
My Lords, I add my support to Amendment 39, to which my name has been added. It says it all that we are discussing this important issue about relationships in a hugely important group with some hugely important amendments but, frankly, the two do not sit very happily together.
At Second Reading and last week I talked about mental and emotional health, including how the love and support of foster parents can make all the difference. That is because of the relationship involved. I also stated that very little notice appears to have been taken in the family test, which was part of the impact assessment accompanying the Bill, of children’s wishes and feelings, particularly about relationships that they value or may want to preserve. It is not an exaggeration to say, as the noble Lord, Lord Farmer, did, that the Bill at the moment is almost devoid of reference to relationships. I am very pleased to see that other noble Lords are trying to ensure that this emphasis comes through more strongly in other amendments in other groups. I fear that that this lack of emphasis on relationships threatens to undermine the admirable intent of a good chunk of the Bill, which is obviously to ensure that we improve outcomes for care leavers.
There is an absolute wealth of research reports, including those from the Centre for Social Justice, concluding that if we do not put strong, healthy relationships at the heart of the care system, we will never see the improvement in life chances that we are all ambitious for. At Second Reading, I talked about the need for ambition—for setting ourselves a higher standard. We simply cannot treat the presence of strong relationships in the lives of children who have been in care and are leaving care as a “nice to have”. That is just not good enough. Strong relationships are of fundamental importance to any young person in their transition to adulthood. Without someone who will provide unconditional love and acceptance, the challenges that the world presents can sometimes seem insurmountable. Such relationships must be a fundamental element of young people’s care-leaving packages. Those young people need to know how to draw on the resources inherent in good-quality relationships; for example, how to handle misunderstandings and perceived slights, and the constant need for compromise—give and take, if you like.
Finally, there are good relationship support services available for young people. Indeed, there is evidence of their effectiveness—they work. They are provided by a broad range of providers, mainly in the voluntary sector. I draw noble Lords’ attention to my declared interest as vice-president of the charity Relate. If local authorities were required to provide information—not the service itself, just information—about relationships and these services, we would begin to see far greater take-up of what is on offer. Those benefits would then go into adult life and adult family relationships.
My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Farmer, spoke effectively about the fundamental importance of relationships to us all but particularly to young people whose first relationship is often so flawed and damaging. That made me think of the example that some of our senior politicians currently set about what a good relationship is. One lesson we might learn from current experience is that our political culture needs some reform. We need to think about how we make our culture one where the best rise to the top, and where we have confidence that they are shining examples to us all of how one should behave. I say that with all my own faults and probably hubristically; I apologise for that.
I shall concentrate on two amendments in this group. The first is Amendment 30 from my noble friend Lord Ramsbotham, which is on screening. As a child, I had a speech impediment. I was teased by other boys because of it. I saw a speech therapist, did some exercises and no longer have my speech impediment. I was no longer teased by the other boys and I felt better about myself for that. We know that many young people in care can feel stigmatised, different or abnormal, as was mentioned earlier, so to provide them with these services and enable them to recover—to speak normally, as others do—is particularly important from that aspect.
My Lords, in speaking to their amendments the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, and other noble Lords have outlined the importance of recognising that looked-after children may have unidentified or unmet communication needs, which could prevent children and young people understanding and engaging with the changes that the Bill proposes. For those with communication needs to fully benefit from the Bill’s changes, it is essential that any accompanying regulations and guidance stipulate that, as noble Lords outlined in last week’s Committee session, on entry to the care system the initial health assessment that local authorities are responsible for undertaking should include a mandatory screening for speech, language and communication needs.
The document Putting Children First, which was mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Nash, a few minutes ago and which dropped into our email inboxes about lunchtime today may well meet those concerns. It is a weighty document; not perhaps Chilcot-esque but there is quite a bit in there and it has not yet been possible to examine it in detail. I hope that that document, which I am sure is important, has some of the answers that have been asked for within this debate.
Amendment 32 would at least ensure that speech, language and communication needs are covered appropriately. To ensure that this is as effective as possible, it seems obvious and perhaps logical that people working with, supporting and caring for looked-after and previously looked-after children should receive training in awareness and communication needs, including knowing when to refer someone for speech and language therapy. It would surely be a matter of great concern if such referrals were not made due to the inability of the individual who comes into contact with them when they enter care. In the longer term, looked-after and previously looked-after children should have continuing access to speech and language therapy to help them address their communication needs as their lives progress.
I was surprised to learn that at present many children diagnosed as having speech, language and communication needs receive just one hour of direct intervention from a speech therapist each week and that at the age of seven, in all but the most extreme cases, that help often ends due to financial restrictions. Most then receive no further intervention until they enter secondary school three years later. That gap can surely have an extremely damaging effect on children with speech, language and communication needs. If that is so serious among the school population as a whole, how much more serious it is for children who are in care.
The fact that communication needs to be referenced so often in the various amendments we are considering today, not just in this group, highlights the importance of ensuring that such needs are identified when children and young people enter care and for those already in care to have any such needs identified when they are about to leave it. The importance of providing proper specialist support extends to the need for financial information and to understand relationships. So often, we have heard of young people leaving care being given their own accommodation without any proper planning or experience and with little ability to care for themselves. Debt soon follows, which can lead to accommodation being lost and benefits sanctions contributing to a terrible downward spiral. The difficulties of relationships ought to be another obvious area in which every step is taken to prepare young people as fully as possible for leaving care. Under some of the amendments we will deal with later, we will describe what can happen when people enter relationships without adequate preparation and support.
The amendments span both the corporate parenting principle and the local care offer. They strengthen the Bill and are worthy of our support.
My Lords, I shall speak briefly to Amendments 30, 32, 38 and 57. I wonder why the issue of personal advisers being trained in speech, language and communication awareness is in this group when we will be discussing their role under a later amendment; however, we are where we are. A number of issues need to be brought together and understood, perhaps after Committee.
I shall give your Lordships a flavour of what I mean. First, let us deal with the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, who rightly said that poor speech, language and communication limit not only children in care but young people generally. Eighty-eight per cent of unemployed men have speech, language and communication needs. They limit employment opportunities, affect their social and emotional well-being and contribute to literacy, behavioural and other social problems. The noble Lord, Lord Watson, said, “Let’s have mandatory screening”. What do we do in schools? Are we not screening there all the time? We are continually assessing and testing, so why do we need another form of mandatory screening? We need to ensure that that information gets passed to the relevant people.
I am sorry that my noble friend Lord McNally has been unable to stay. A year ago, I went to award the local youth offending team a dyslexia awareness certificate, which means that they can identify young offenders who have dyslexia problems. I was horrified to learn that no information is passed to that team on the academic, literacy or communication skills of those young offenders. Is that because of data protection issues? If we are to provide the necessary support for those young people in care, that information needs to be made available. If there is a body of information in schools, it needs to be passed on.
On personal advisers, your Lordships probably remember from Second Reading that I went through as many job adverts as I could find for personal advisers. I was concerned that there was no standard requirement; it was all over the place. Nowhere in any of those advertisements did I see any mention of speech, language and communication skills. The two are linked. If personal advisers are as important as they should be, part of their qualification or awareness must be in this area. How do we make that happen? Currently, there is no legal requirement on what personal advisers do, only suggestions. We need to spend time understanding that so that these people are the best who can be provided.
Finally, the key to this is making sure that the information is available in schools. By the way, this is not just an issue for children in care or care leavers, it is an issue for all children. I am glad that the Government, both in the coalition years and now, are addressing those issues in schools, through the pupil premium. I am a bit concerned—perhaps the Minister in replying could correct me on this—that we say that the pupil premium particularly should go to looked-after children. My experience in many schools is that it just goes into the common pot and the looked-after children, to use the vernacular, do not get a look-in. I want to be sure that perhaps Ofsted, when it is carrying out inspections of schools, makes sure that this pupil premium—where there are looked-after children—is particularly linked to the needs of the looked-after child.
My Lords, before I say a word on Amendment 32, it is extremely interesting how, as on the first day in Committee, fascinating bits of information from people’s background and knowledge of the whole of this area comes out, all of which is enormously valuable to those who are responsible for these Bills and this Bill in particular.
I support Amendment 32 in the names of the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, and the noble Baroness, Lady Bakewell, because it states that the,
“guidance given by the Secretary of State must stipulate … the need to screen children … the need for those who work with … children … to receive training in awareness of speech, language and communication needs”,
and refers to,
“the need for appropriate support to be provided for those children and young people with speech, language and communication needs”.
Above all, I stress that there is a need to update regularly all those people who are in this position and working with these children in need. Although I agree that all children need attention and need us to be aware of how they are developing and of what particular skills that will be essential in their future lives they are lacking, nevertheless, it is those who are in this very important position who need to be updated and know exactly what is happening in this area. I am very much in support of everything that has been said on this group and I look forward to what the Minister will say.
I thank all noble Lords who have contributed to this debate and start by addressing Amendments 30 and 32. Comprehensive legislation in this area is already in place and the local offer and support of personal advisers will strengthen existing arrangements. Under Section 22 of the Children and Families Act 2014, local authorities must identify all the children or young people in their area who have special educational needs or a disability. If needs are identified, a series of legal obligations will result in the local authority securing the necessary special educational provision. The statutory SEND code of practice sets out the detailed requirements on local authorities in relation to identifying and meeting special educational needs, including speech, language and communication. In addition, I reassure the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, and the noble Lord, Lord Watson, that we expect details of services to meet speech, language and education needs—including how they can be accessed—to be included in the local offer, which every local authority is required to publish in consultation with children, parents and young people.
The department also funds a consortium of more than 40 voluntary and community sector organisations to support practitioners working in the field of speech, language and communication. The department recently extended the contract, awarding a total of £650,000 in 2016-17 to extend and strengthen the evidence base around SLCN, increase awareness of speech, language and communication needs, and build capacity in the sector so that it can indeed provide the support that all noble Lords feel is so important. Virtual school heads, working with designated teachers and special educational needs co-ordinators, should also identify the support that looked-after children need in speech, language and communication. I know that under further groups of amendments today we will discuss in more detail the role of virtual school heads.
My Lords, perhaps I may ask a quick question about SEN thresholds. I understand that recent legislation has raised the threshold for an SEN statement, the idea being that schools will have better capacity to meet the lower-level issues. I had a fairly low-level speech impediment and I am not sure that I would have qualified for a statement. I should like to be told whether that threshold has been raised and whether we are getting evidence that schools are able to meet the lower levels which are no longer being statemented. Perhaps the Minister would write to me or we could just have a conversation about it afterwards.
I will do that.
My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for that reply, as I am to all those who have taken part in the debate on this group. I must admit that I am always nervous when I hear the phrase “comprehensive legislation is in place” because it reminds me that we are serving under what has been called the “management complex”. It may be all very well for people in Whitehall to lay things down and think that it is comprehensive, but a word that came up over and over again at Second Reading, as it is doing during Committee, is “consistency”. It is not a matter of laying stuff down; it is a matter of seeing that it is delivered consistently everywhere.
What worries me about much of this—about Section 22 and SEN and so on—is that it is all very well as seen from here but it will not be good enough unless it is reflected on the ground. I have taken note of what the Minister has said and I will come back on Report with some examples of inconsistency—that is, where it is not happening on the ground. It is very important that officials realise that rather than merely issue the instructions.
I am very pleased that the noble Lord, Lord Farmer, mentioned relationships. In young offender institutions where speech, language and communication therapists were introduced, the first thing that was noticed was an improvement in relationships. With that improvement, the whole atmosphere and the way that things were conducted in the institution improved. Somebody described it by saying that they were communicating with each other using the mouth rather than the fist. That was a pretty good basic description.
Had my noble friend Lord Northbourne been here, he would yet again express the concern he expressed to me that we hear an awful lot about corporate parenting but there is nothing about parenting skills themselves in this Bill. Those are hugely important, and at the basis of all the social work we are talking about. I am surprised that there is no mention of that in the Bill. I very much hope that may be rectified in government amendments that will install in the Bill some of the things the Government have assured us are in place. In the meantime, I beg leave to withdraw my amendment.
My Lords, our Amendments 41, 42 and 45 to Clause 2 and Amendment 54 to Clause 3 aim to make the local authority offer to care leavers a firm, proactive commitment to support rather than the you-approach-us emphasis currently in the Bill. We strongly agree with the Alliance for Children in Care and Care Leavers that the Bill does not go far enough to make a real difference to young people’s lives and that strengthening the local offer to all care leavers up to the age of 25 is a key opportunity to transform the standard of support that care leavers can expect. Our Amendments 47 and 74A deal with this important entitlement issue.
Noble Lords underlined the need to ensure the high standards of support for children in care and care leavers, as well as the best opportunities and access to the services that can help reduce the inequalities they face and set them on a positive path to the future. Amendment 41 places a statutory duty on the local authority to carry out an assessment of the services to meet care leavers’ health, well-being, education, training, job, housing and social participation needs, backed up by the duty to provide those services.
Together with other noble Lords, we stressed the need for a national minimum standard of care for the quality and extent of services which should be offered to care leavers. Amendments 41 and 43 emphasise this. The Bill currently requires local authorities simply to publish a list of the services they provide. This will not address the need for proactive support for care leavers or ensure that they have the information and advice underlined in previous amendments. What is needed is a national offer to serve both as a framework and as an undertaking about the availability of services across the country.
As part of these considerations on the importance of minimum service standards, I briefly for the record draw on the experience and findings of a recent major project, New Belongings, in which I was privileged to take part. It was a three-year project funded by the Department for Education and overseen by the Care Leavers’ Foundation. It involved both elected and staff leadership, practitioners from local authorities and care leavers. Its vision was to work with local authorities to improve outcomes for care leavers by using the care leavers’ experience and wisdom to shape and make decisions about the services that should be provided.
The project’s second phase ended in April. The finishing touches are currently being made to its final report, and it is being independently evaluated. Some 28 local authorities in England took part, covering 90% of all care leavers aged 19 to 21. They worked mostly in clusters, which was invaluable in developing local plans and in sharing and learning from each other. Key requisites and criteria from the outset were that the project had the personal and active support of the chief executive and the council leader. That was crucial. They signed up to the care leavers’ charter and undertook to work with local businesses to offer opportunities and support to care leavers.
Local authorities listening actively to care leavers through regular surveys and engagement through a care leavers’ forum was also at the heart of the project. Care leavers need to be central to decisions about services—decisions about them as individuals and about overall services to care leavers. This ability to listen, the quality of engagement with the care leavers’ forum and the real commitment of senior council leadership to corporate parenting were, together with the effectiveness of personal advisers, the three main factors contributing to improved outcomes for care leavers in the majority of the project clusters.
My Lords, I will speak to Amendment 98A in this group in my name. This is about the universal credit standard allowance for single claimants under the age of 25, for care leavers and lone parents. It ties in with much of what my noble friend has just said.
I thank the Family Rights Group for its advice on this amendment, which is rather complex, but clear. Under the current system of income support and income-based jobseeker’s allowance, the rate of personal allowance payable to a claimant depends on the claimant’s age and whether the claimant has children. Those under 25 year-olds who are not parents receive a lower rate of personal allowance than those aged over 25. A lone parent aged 18 or over will receive the same higher rate of personal allowance that those aged over 25 are entitled to. Lone parents receive a sum of £73.10 per week, which equates to £316.77 a month.
Under universal credit, the Government have introduced different rates of standard allowance for single claimants regardless of whether they are a parent, depending on whether the claimant is aged under or over 25. Therefore, in universal credit, the standard allowance for a single parent under 25 years of age is £251.77 per month, almost £65 less per month or nearly £780 less over the course of a year than lone parents of that age receive under the current regime.
Many young parents under the age of 25 who are care leavers are entirely reliant on welfare benefits and tax credits to support themselves and their children. The reduced rate of universal credit is likely to push this group of parents, who are already vulnerable, into severe financial hardship and debt. That may result in their having to move home, away from the formal support networks and services that are an integral part of their own pathway plans as well as the plans in place to support them in caring safely for their children. If their ability to meet their children’s needs is compromised, that risks children being denied the chance of being raised by their parents, thus impacting on the child and the parent’s right to respect for family life. It could also increase the number of children in care, which would not be in the best interests of children and would lead to a considerably greater cost to the Government.
The payment of a lower personal allowance undermines those provisions that aim to support care leavers, including those provided for in the Bill. It undermines the Government’s commitment under the leaving care strategy to ensure,
“that care leavers are adequately supported financially in their transition from care to adulthood to enable young people leaving care to have the same opportunities to fulfil their potential as their peers”.
These are important considerations and I hope that the Government will look on them favourably and give some explanation as to the discrepancies.
I will speak to Amendment 47 in this group. Many noble Lords will recognise that adolescence is a difficult time for many young people. Anna Freud, the founder of the Anna Freud Institute, wrote three times on adolescence. Her final paper was entitled Adolescence as a Developmental Disturbance. Adolescence—the transition from childhood to adulthood—can often be a difficult time, but if one is a child in care, has experienced trauma before entering care and then may well have experienced further trauma on entering care—the process of being taken into care is traumatic in itself—one may find oneself with a protracted adolescence. Anna Freud describes the process of adolescence as the detachment of a child from their parent and the gradual process of moving to become an independent adult individual. I paraphrase, but that is roughly how she would describe adolescence.
The important thing to keep in mind here is that adolescence is about the detachment from the parent. The child has a close attachment to the parent; adolescence sunders that relationship. When we talk about continuing support of such young people up to the age of 25 by local authorities, it is very important to recognise that the developmental drive for those young people is to push themselves away from their corporate parent, the local authority, particularly because of their early experience. Just like any other good parent, the corporate parent, the local authority, has to make very clear to their child or young person: “We are here for you. You may not like us—you may hate us or despise us; that is normal for adolescents—but we are still here for you, we still care for you and we still want to see you and support you. We are here for you when you need us”. That is what I hope the amendment covers. It puts more of an onus than the Bill currently does on local authorities to say to those young people: “We want to support you. This is the offer we have for you”, and, for instance, to send Christmas cards and postcards, to do everything in their power to keep in touch and to treat them, in this regard, just as they would younger people aged under 21.
I recall Ashley Williamson, a care leaver I have known for a while. He did not get back into contact with his personal adviser until he was perhaps 20. He was just on the edge of losing the right to a personal adviser, but very fortunately he got back in contact. It made a huge difference to his life, because he and his personal adviser clicked. She supported him to get stable housing for himself. Following that, his life improved and he became a very effective lobbyist in Parliament, coming to parliamentary groups to talk about what needs to be done for care leavers and expressing concerns about the sexual abuse and exploitation of young people in care.
We have heard eloquent words about the treatment of young mothers, in particular, coming out of care. I remind your Lordships that young people and teenagers in care are far more likely to become pregnant than those in the general population. Very sadly, the number of children taken away from young people who have grown up in care is also far higher as a proportion than in the general population. If anything can be done to ensure that the financial environment for those families is as beneficial and supportive as possible, that would be a very good thing, as I hope your Lordships will agree. We need to do all we can to support these families. We know from the statistics that they are highly vulnerable, so the measures described here are very welcome and I hope the Minister can give a positive response.
My Lords, briefly, I support Amendment 74A, to which I have added my name. I draw your Lordships’ attention to my entry in the register of interests about my involvement in a voluntary project for care leavers. I support everything that my noble friend said in support of this group of amendments. As she suggested, I want to put forward a set of arguments in favour of Amendment 74A, which is about the need to acquire better data about outcomes for care leavers.
As I said at Second Reading, delivering the Bill’s undoubted good intentions will be challenging. In particular, it is crucial that the individual circumstances of each young person must be considered if real progress is to be made. As the noble Earl, Lord Listowel, said, these young people face all the challenges that all young people face, but the particular challenges from their specific circumstances are especially demanding. Therefore, their problems are unusually difficult and complex and they require tailored help to meet them. If we are to do so, we must overcome all the problems that public services have traditionally found in personalising delivery to the individual.
Adequate data on outcomes will be crucial if we are to use the Bill’s framework to devise effective strategies, but it is simply unavailable at the moment. For example, as I said at Second Reading, it is known that 5% of care leavers are in higher education at the age of 19; we do not know how many of those will graduate; nor do we know how many care leavers enter higher education in later life, although we know that many of them do so when they feel more ready to take advantage of that opportunity. Such data will be crucial if we are to assess the effectiveness of support for those young people. Requiring local authorities to keep in touch with their care leavers until they are at least 25 will, among all its other virtues, enable better data to be compiled about outcomes for them, which is a vital building block for the success of the Bill in the long term. For that reason, and for all the others that we have already heard, I hope the Government will consider the amendment sympathetically.
My Lords, I have listened carefully to the strong case made by the noble Baroness, Lady Wheeler, for the amendments and agree with much, if not all, of what she said. I repeat, however, that they would place additional duties, and therefore inevitably extra costs, on local authorities. That must be recognised. Can the Minister give the Committee before the end of this stage an estimate of the additional costs imposed on local authorities by the Bill? In response to my earlier point, the Minister claimed that I was asking for additional funding. Actually, I was making a plea for cuts not to be made. A 25% cut in children’s services spending is bound to have a significant impact on what local authorities can do for children in care and care leavers. I make a plea for having not so large a cut in local government funding.
The noble Baroness will understand how sympathetic I am, sitting on this side of the Committee. We have now officially ditched austerity as part of the Tory leadership campaign, so circumstances are clearly different. However, I am also conscious that we are living in very difficult times and there is not likely to be much more money. She makes understandable pleas, but does she accept that a lot of this funding will prevent spending being incurred later? If we cannot support those most vulnerable young people at the most difficult times of their lives, they will run into problems and, sooner or later, that will involve more spending by the state when it would be tragic to have to do so. When she pleads for funding, I ask her to accept that this funding has a prophylactic effect, so the extra demand on resources may not be as severe as she suggests.
When I spoke at Second Reading, I made a plea for the Government to consider shifting money to early intervention and prevention so that we would not have to address issues of looked-after children and care leavers. The idea would be to put effort and funding into family support at an early stage so that children can remain safely with their families and not have to enter the care system. That would be the best outcome for the child and for the state, which is funding children in care. The thrust of my argument is that this is all focused on looked-after children and care leavers. I urge the Government to put the focus on family intervention and prevention of family issues that lead to children going into the care system. The difficulty with that is that we know across the country that children’s centres, which are the focus for early intervention and prevention, are closing. Only at the end of last week, Hampshire County Council made a decision to close all but 11 of its 53 children’s centres. That is the thrust of my argument. I would much rather that we did not have to debate support for care leavers because we had prevented all those children going into care.
My Lords, I urge the Minister not to make this provision too prescriptive. Good local authorities like flexibility and support. What is important here is the outcome for young people. Yes, I understand about early intervention and prevention work, which is very important, but the reality is that we will still have children in our care, for many reasons. The importance of the Bill is that it gives local authorities the flexibility to give that support in the way that is right for that young person. The noble Earl was quite right in saying that some young people get to the age of 16 and the last person on earth that they want to speak to again is their PA or social worker. We need the flexibility to use family friends or members to whom they may be close and to give them support to support that young people. They may be volunteers or mentors, but we need that flexibility to look at different ways of doing it.
As for money, it is important that every local authority makes every member of that local authority understand the importance of being a corporate parent. In Wiltshire, where I am the leader, every single member of that council has to sign up to agree that they are a corporate parent and have a day’s induction to understand what that really means. When it comes to budgets and prioritising budgets, the whole council then really understands the importance of that position. It is important to have flexibility and not be too prescriptive—and that we can look at each young person as an individual, as we would our own children, and give them the support that they need into the future.
My Lords, I shall speak to the group that includes Amendments 41, 43, 45, 47, 51, retabled as Amendment 74A, Amendment 54 and the proposed new clause in Amendment 98A. I thank all noble Lords who have spoken to them. All these amendments are concerned with the continuing support that care leavers receive.
First, I address Amendments 41, 43 and 45. Clause 2 requires local authorities to publish information about the services that they offer to care leavers, based on an understanding of their individual needs, as well as other services that they offer to help care leavers to prepare for adulthood. In preparing those local offers, local authorities must consult care leavers and relevant representative groups of care leavers, including children in care councils.
The noble Baroness, Lady Wheeler, talked about what the local offer should cover. The clause already includes a duty to publish information about services relating to health and well-being, education and training, employment, accommodation and participation in society. That is a non-exclusive list; the local authority may include other matters as it sees fit. Given the work that local authorities will already be undertaking, an additional requirement to assess the services required to meet the needs of care leavers would be overly prescriptive. Rather, these matters will be detailed in the guidance that my department will produce to inform the practical application of the corporate parenting principles, to which I have already referred several times during this debate.
With regard to the national minimum standard proposed in these amendments, the Government’s intention in legislating for the local offer is to raise the bar for services provided to care leavers. We want local authorities to aim much higher than a minimum standard when it comes to what they offer. We want to enable comparisons of the offer between local authorities so that there is upward pressure for them to do more. Ultimately, Ofsted will be the arbiters of how good a local offer is.
The noble Baroness, Lady Wheeler, referred to New Belongings. We eagerly await the evaluation results of the New Belongings programme at its dissemination event this Friday. That will inform our thinking. The care leavers strategy will support programmes that empower care leavers to drive change locally, such as New Belongings. I will come back to the noble Baroness on the care leavers fora and the other points that she made. In light of this, I hope noble Lords are sufficiently reassured not to move their amendments.
I now address Amendments 47, 51—retabled as Amendment 74A—and 54, which all concern the support that care leavers receive up to the age of 25. No care leaver will be left to fend for themselves when they reach 21. Through Clause 3, a care leaver aged up to 25 will know of their right to request support, including access to a personal adviser. If a particular service provided under the local offer is appropriate and meets a particular need, of course the young person should be able to access it. That is the purpose of the local offer, and personal advisers are responsible for identifying and co-ordinating the provision of services for the care leaver.
However, mandating a personal adviser for every care leaver, regardless of their wishes, and a requirement to provide such services would be disproportionate. To do so raises several obvious practical issues. Some care leavers want independence at the earliest opportunity and to sever any ties with their corporate parent. Some move away from the area and become hard to trace. Even those still known to the local authority will be in very different circumstances, with different needs and aspirations. Some will value the help of a personal adviser and some will look for guidance and support elsewhere, as my noble friend Lady Scott of Bybrook said. Often, this will reflect how well the relationship with the personal adviser has worked, how helpful they have been or might be, and their relationships with others.
If we were to impose the support of a personal adviser on every care leaver, there is a real risk that that would divert support from care-leaving teams away from those who really need it. Rather than impose a personal adviser service, it is better to make the personal adviser service optional for those who want it so that resources can be effectively targeted—as is done successfully in Trafford. However, we want to make sure that all those who want the support of a personal adviser can access it.
There are two important issues here. The first is whether and how care leavers are made aware of the offer of support from a personal adviser. I suggest that the obvious place for that is the local offer. The second is whether a care leaver who has lost contact with their personal adviser should be able to resume this if and when they feel the need to do so at a later date. The noble Earl, Lord Listowel, referred to an example of this. I can certainly confirm that that would be possible through the existing legislation and Clause 3 for care leavers up to the age of 25. The guidance we are producing will encourage local authorities to carry out this new entitlement clearly, proactively and positively so that care leavers are encouraged to take it up.
We need to set an expectation that local authorities should attempt to remind care leavers of their entitlement to this support so that a young person refusing support at age 22 does not feel that they should be barred from accessing it later. I accept that this is an important point. I should like to reflect further on this in discussion with local authorities and over the next few months before we return on Report.
I understand the force of what the Minister is saying and the Committee will be grateful for his offer to keep looking at these points. Could he also take into account my point about data and the importance of keeping some sort of better check on what happens at least until the age of 25? What he has said so far does not really address that point. Perhaps he could reflect on that and come back to us either with a letter or on Report.
I was about to say something about data which I hope will satisfy the noble Lord. If it does not, I shall be very happy to discuss it with him further. Local authorities are required to provide data on care leavers aged 19, 20 and 21. From October this year, we will also publish data on care leavers aged 17 and 18. We are also now able to link with datasets held by the MoJ and HMRC, which will allow us to track care leavers’ longer-term outcomes. However, I shall be happy to discuss this further with the noble Lord.
The noble Baroness, Lady Pinnock, asked about funding. We do not believe that Clauses 1 and 2 represent new burdens on local authorities. However, as I have already said, we recognise that extending personal advisers to all care leavers up to the age of 25 will have financial consequences, and we have made a commitment to provide new burden funding to meet these extra costs. Our initial estimates are based on our experience in Trafford, which is a very high-performing local authority, and we will publish the figures shortly.
My understanding is that Amendment 98A, in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Massey of Darwen, would extend the higher rate of universal credit to single-parent care leavers. The benefits system recognises the special needs of care leavers. However, in the current system there is considerable complexity around the rates for young people, with some differences between benefits. The structure of age-related rates in universal credit is much simpler than the benefits it replaces, with just four rates of the standard allowance compared with, for example, 15 in employment and support allowance. These age-related standard allowance rates are now established in universal credit.
Making changes such as those set out in this amendment would replicate some of the complexity that we are seeking to remove. Rather than handing out money to young people and expecting them to fend for themselves, universal credit seeks to support vulnerable young people and parents to stabilise their lives and find work. For this reason, the DWP extended second-chance learning from age 19 to 21. This allows care leavers to claim income support and housing benefit if returning to full-time, non-advanced education to make up for missed qualifications. In addition, single-parent care leavers who are working will be able to access help with 85% of their childcare costs up to the cap.
With that information, I hope I have reassured noble Lords that care leavers will receive and be able to access the support they need, and I hope that the noble Baroness will feel able to withdraw her amendment.
My Lords, I am grateful for the Minister’s response and particularly for what he said about keeping an open mind and thinking further about the degree of the burden on local authorities from keeping in touch with and being proactive towards young people up to the age of 25. What he said about guidance on being proactive was very welcome. Are there currently issues regarding those up to the age of 21? Under the current duty, do local authorities express concern that the duty sometimes causes them to expend resources unnecessarily? Do young people feel a bit harassed by the current system? Otherwise, I am not clear why one should treat those over the age of 21 any differently from those under 21. If there are no current issues, I am not sure why it should be an issue to transfer the provision to under-25s. However, I am sure that that can be answered in subsequent discussions and, as I said, I am grateful to the Minister for his response.
I noticed that the Minister has kindly arranged a meeting with Mr Brokenshire, the Minister in the Home Office responsible for immigration. Will the provisions in Clause 2 apply to unaccompanied asylum-seeking children until the moment they lose the right to remain and have to leave, with them then appealing?
The answer to that is yes.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for his response and for undertaking to look at the New Belongings project. He is right: there is a dissemination event for the project on Friday. It is very widely subscribed, I look forward to it and I am sure that a number of noble Lords and others here will be attending.
I am disappointed that the Government do not consider the need for a statement of minimum standards. Many local authorities do not have the support or resources to work out what is needed, so national standards and national guidance are very important. I understand what the Minister says about raising the bar and aiming high, but the reality is that many authorities struggle to reach the bar at all. This goes back to the issue of consistency of approach and avoiding variations in standards across the country that the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, and others have referred to.
The introduction of the local offer arrangements in themselves do not necessarily lead to a step change in improvements. Detailed consideration needs to be given to how they will operate in practice, what impact they will have and how we can ensure that the offer is there for all and not just for some, depending on where they live. Minimum standards for services and the important issue of extending offers to care leavers up to the age of 25 are important, and I am grateful that the Minister said that he would look at this again. I shall read his comments very carefully but we will certainly return to these matters on Report.
My Lords, all the amendments in my name in this group aim to fulfil the ambitions of the Bill by extending support for care leavers. The reasons for most of them were extensively debated at Second Reading, when widespread concern was expressed about the onus being placed on young people to request a personal adviser, and I do not intend to rehearse those arguments now. They seem self-evident. If the Bill is to deliver on its objective of better support for care leavers, the duties under Clause 3 should not be dependent in this way. In response to those concerns, the Minister said at Second Reading:
“This is an extremely good point which I would like to go away and reflect on”.—[Official Report, 14/6/16; col. 1204.]
I hope that he has now done so and will feel able to accept these amendments, which address that point.
I also speak briefly to Amendments 60, 72 and 74 in my name. Amendment 60 provides that all care leavers with a personal adviser should have a full needs assessment to ensure that they receive all the support they need. A young person may seek help from their local authority for a small problem, which can easily be resolved, but may also have more complex problems that only a full needs assessment will identify, so it is important that their needs continue to be monitored throughout their pathway plan and they retain their personal adviser even if the care leaver is referred to external services for their needs to be met. The amendment would secure that.
Amendment 72 is a probing amendment. As the role of the personal adviser is so critical to the content of Part 1—we have already heard noble Lords discuss this at some length and the noble Earl, Lord Listowel, earlier talked about the need for them to deliver services of an appropriately professional standard—it is clearly important that there should be clarity about what exactly that role is. The amendment is designed to encourage the Government to make clear whether they have any plans to change the role of the personal adviser and, if so, what they might be.
Finally, Amendment 74 would extend the duty on virtual school heads to care leavers. The creation of this role is a potentially valuable innovation, but those who have left care before their 18th birthday are not covered. Moreover, the role excludes a focus on care leavers over the age of 18, while local authorities have continuing duties to support care leavers in education up to the age of 25. There is clearly a need for better joint working between local authorities and further and higher education providers. The amendment would extend the role to cover further education and higher education providers. I hope that the Government will look sympathetically on all those amendments.
My Lords, the Bill as drafted places responsibility on the young person to request advice and support. No one in this Room or reading the Bill would be in any doubt that we are talking about vulnerable young people, so the question has to be asked: what support will be offered so that young people know about all their entitlements; and what systems will be in place to help a child make that request, remembering that many of these children will have literacy difficulties? It is one thing for a young person to turn down advice and support that they have been offered. There are two ways of looking at that if it happens. One is that that the individual does not lack a certain amount of confidence, which is a good thing. The other is that they may not have thought the thing through or may lack the requisite amount of common sense, turning away from what is clearly valuable and important information.
Confidence is a big issue for many children who are leaving—or young people who have recently left—care. That lack of confidence is simply because of their life experiences up to that point. They are moving into a world of their own, taking many important steps in a way not experienced by children fortunate enough to live within a family, who have that family as a safety net after they have left home, should things not go entirely to plan. A young person leaving care may not have been informed that they can ask for advice and support. Even if they have been informed and have had that support, it could depend on how that was done. The young person may not always grasp what is available to them.
The question must be asked: why take that risk? Why leave it up to the young person? Much better surely that the duty falls directly on the local authority, not the person himself or herself. We have to have a sense, as we debate issues like this, that we have a duty of care in terms of framing legislation that affords the maximum amount of support to young people. I think Amendments 52 and 53, to which I am speaking at the moment, do that. I mentioned earlier—as did the Minister—that his department has today published the policy paper entitled, Putting Children First: Our Vision for Children’s Social Care. If that means anything at all, I suggest the Minister should live up to it by accepting Amendments 52 and 53 and making sure that the onus is firmly on the local authority to be proactive rather than reactive.
My Lords, I briefly support Amendments 52, 53 and 54. These have echoes of the debate we had on my Amendment 29, in which I argued—with support from other Members of the Committee—that the onus should be on the local authority to take the initiative in offering help. I ask the Minister to think about the circumstances in which many of us are placed as parents, where the Government are trying to get the principles of corporate parenting as close as they can to the responsibilities of parents looking after children who are not part of the responsibility of a local authority. We as parents—I can speak from personal experience—do not watch our children walking over a cliff and wait for them to request us to do something. If we see that they do not understand something or they are going to take some ill-advised action, we do not wait for them to ask us: we intervene. We try to intervene in a sensitive manner but we do try to intervene to give them the information they require to make better decisions. Why are the Government asking a group of people who, on their own acknowledgement, are vulnerable, who often find it difficult to interact with public bureaucracies, to make a well-informed request for help? Indeed, if they are capable of making that well-informed request for help, there is a large chance that they do not need it in the first place. What the Minster has set up looks like a gesture, but the “on request” totally minimises the effectiveness of that gesture. I ask the Minister to reconsider the Government’s position on this, in the light of the moderate way that the noble Lord, Lord Wills, and others have argued for the amendments.
My Lords, I add one sentence because I clearly heard the Minister say that there would be young people who would not need personal advisers or would not wish to have this sort of help. I understand that absolutely, but all the amendments are suggesting is that we move out “on request” so that the local authority has to take responsibility to ensure that information is given so that a refusal could be made. If we do not ensure that the young people have the knowledge of what is available, they can walk into difficulties.
My Lords, I came to this Committee looking at the amendment thinking “No”. Young people themselves should be able to say “No”. Actually, listening to noble Lords, I now think it is absolutely right. These are the most vulnerable young people. For them to try and cut through the bureaucratic enjoyments of social services does not come easily. The onus should be on us to provide that support. This shows the value of a Committee, does it not? You listen to arguments and might change your mind.
I support Amendments 52, 53 and 74A. I was most grateful for the Minister’s encouraging reply on the previous group, which is relevant to this discussion, and for his sympathetic stance towards this. The current discussions about the pressures on local authorities, and the huge and diverse burdens they carry, might be one further reason why the onus should be put more firmly on them in primary legislation. Also, I am a little puzzled why one would wish to treat over-21 year-olds any differently to under-21 year-olds. My puzzlement is that if we are agreed that we should in this Bill make sure that over-21 year-olds receive the same entitlements that under-21 year-olds leaving care have had up till now, why should we not treat them in exactly the same way? I would appreciate some help with that question. If we can, and there is no legal impediment to do so, would we not want to give them exactly the same offer as that for under-21 year-olds?
On the personal adviser role, which was also discussed, I recognise absolutely the wisdom of the noble Baroness, Lady Scott, in talking about some flexibility in how that role is provided. One of the great successes in policy in this area in reason years has been the introduction by the coalition Government of Staying Put. More and more young people are now choosing to stay with their foster carers past the age of 18. We heard eloquently from the noble Lord, Lord Farmer, about the importance of relationships and the continuity of them. Thanks to Staying Put and the Government’s work, more and more children are choosing to stay, from a position where in the past we were not able to encourage them to do that or make it possible. Enabling foster parents to become their young person’s personal adviser may be a very good and appropriate thing. This is someone they already have a relationship with.
My concern is that there also needs to be rigidity in certain ways. My concern about the whole issue of children found in social care is that we have allowed too much flexibility in the social work profession. Until very recently, it was not a requirement that social workers should have a degree to practise what they do. Indeed, later parts of the Bill address this very fact of the overflexibility and a lack of specification of what social workers should do. This personal adviser role is important as well. Reports from right-wing think tanks such as the Centre for Social Justice highlighted the failure to have a consistent personal adviser workforce. There needs to be both flexibility and rigidity in the system. I suggest that there can be assessments and processes to decide whether it is appropriate to devolve responsibility to a foster carer or some extended family, or whether to keep it with a personal adviser. However, we need some rigidity.
It is very much an Anglo-Saxon approach to have a flexible workforce and it has many advantages to it, while the continentals face great challenges because they have a rather rigid way of approaching their workforce. I would argue that for vulnerable children, there have been advantages in the continentals’ rigid approach. It is well documented that they have far higher requirements for social workers. In staff at children’s homes, they have pedagogues who normally have a degree-level qualification and have had very substantial training, which I would argue is very appropriate to working in residential care. I recognise the noble Baroness’s concerns but I share the concerns around the Committee that the personal adviser role needs to be more clearly spelt out and specified. I hope that the Minister can help us with that in his response.
My Lords, I want to say a word about personal advisers. The first thing we have to look at is who these children are and what their needs are. I have heard recently in the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Children and in the European Union sub-committee which is discussing a report on unaccompanied asylum seekers just how vulnerable these children are—and how, in that vulnerability, they may find it difficult to make decisions and have the confidence to choose or request a personal adviser. Their relationships have suffered so much by their experiences that they may not trust anybody. We need to look at the children first. They may of course not wish to have a personal adviser, while some of them may not know exactly what they want so might try out various support systems before they decide. Personal advisers should not be available on request but should be there automatically for those children who are so vulnerable.
My Lords, I thank the noble Lords, Lord Wills, Lord Watson and Lord Hunt, for tabling this group of amendments. Let me begin with those amendments tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Wills, which would replace “former relevant child” with “care leaver” throughout Clause 3. I understand that the noble Lord’s intention is to apply provisions to all care leavers. I offer reassurance that the issue is already addressed in existing legislation. Different groups of care leavers and looked-after children are defined in legislation and I will set out how Clause 3 applies to them.
“Eligible children” are looked-after children aged 16 to 17 who are subject to the care planning process and the regular review that this brings. They are entitled to receive advice and support from a local authority personal adviser. “Relevant children” are aged 16 to 17 and have ceased to be looked after. They too are entitled to receive support and advice from a personal adviser. “Former relevant children” currently receive support from a local authority personal adviser up to the age of 21. If they pursue education or training they can retain that support until they are 25. Clause 3 will now address the gap and provide a personal adviser to all “former relevant children” up to the age of 25, where they want one. Whether they are in education will no longer be a qualifying factor.
In Amendment 52 the noble Lords, Lord Watson and Lord Hunt, propose that personal adviser support should be provided whether requested or not. I have already spoken at some length on an earlier group about the practical issues involved in providing support up to age 25 even if care leavers no longer want a service. I will therefore not repeat the arguments.
The noble Lord, Lord Wills, referred to my reflecting on certain matters in relation to the role of personal advisers. I was going to come to this later in group 6, in relation to the amendment tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Warner, but I will deal with it now.
We want to learn from those areas where the personal adviser service is provided effectively and make sure that that becomes the standard of support that care leavers across the country can expect. We also need to make sure that the purpose of the role is clear, that the right people are recruited to take on the role and that they have the right opportunities to learn and develop so that they can better respond to new challenges that care leavers face. That is why we are reviewing the personal adviser role. The first phase of that review is already under way. My officials are carrying out a series of eight deep-dive reviews to local authorities. They are meeting with leaving care managers, personal advisers and care leavers so they can better understand: first, what support personal advisers currently provide; secondly, which issues care leavers most need support on; and, thirdly, how personal advisers provide the mentoring and befriending support which can be so critical to care leavers’ well-being and which we know they value so highly.
The second phase of the review will build on and be informed by the first phase, but will focus on wider issues such as: whether we have done enough to articulate the key purpose of the personal adviser role, as currently articulated in secondary legislation in the Care Planning, Placement and Case Review (England) Regulations 2010; how we can best raise the status of the role; and what opportunities exist for personal advisers to access continuing professional development. In conducting this review, I would like to offer reassurance that we will consult all relevant parties. I will also ensure that noble Lords have the opportunity to comment and contribute.
On Amendment 60, I can provide reassurance that local authorities will continue to develop and review pathway plans. As corporate parents, they will do this irrespective of other partners and the support that they bring. Local authority-appointed personal advisers will work with the care leavers to review plans on a regular basis. Local authorities are already required by law to manage these obligations as the corporate parent. Amendment 72 is unnecessary, as the functions of the personal adviser role are set out not in statute but in secondary legislation—the Care Leavers (England) Regulations 2010 and the Care Planning, Placement and Case Review (England) Regulations 2010. If any changes are made to the functions of personal advisers, an amending statutory instrument would need to be laid before Parliament, which would provide an opportunity, through the negative resolution procedure, to make any objections if needed.
To turn to Amendment 74, let me clarify why the Bill extends the role of the virtual school head to children who leave care through adoption, child arrangements or special guardianship orders but not to older children. In practice, virtual school heads and designated teachers do not suddenly turn a blind eye to the children in care whom they have been looking out for and supporting just because they have reached the age of 18. The arrangements in place will continue up to the time they leave school unless, of course, their circumstances have changed. In many local authorities, the virtual head plays a role in relation to care leavers. For example, in Hertfordshire, the virtual school head has included within it the post of a personal adviser for students at university. For care leavers, the main support in relation to education is from the personal adviser.
For older care leavers, a range of alternative support is already in place. Pathway plans for care leavers should include information about support for education and career aspirations. Care leavers are also a priority for the 16 to 19 bursary, worth £1,200 annually, and they receive a one-off bursary of £2,000 if they progress to higher education. I hope that this provides noble Lords with sufficient reassurance not to press their amendments.
The Minister rather peremptorily dismissed the arguments advanced by other noble Lords and me on Amendments 52 and 53. He said that he had answered them in respect of some other amendment, but he uttered the words so quickly that I could not identify what he was talking about. Is he quite content that what he is proposing—he talked of practicalities—means that no young person who would benefit from the information and support that he or she needs will slip through the net simply because they either did not know or did not understand that they could ask for that information? Would it not be far better to ensure that people who do not need the information have it rather than that those who need the information do not have it?
I do not think that we are arguing about anything here. It seems to me obvious that, to take the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Warner, we cannot just leave young people to ask for help; they have to know about it. The minimal expectations in the local offer from the local authority have to be absolutely clear, including, in my view, that children should have some financial education training and some domestic skills and that they should know what they are entitled to once they leave care.
That should be absolutely clearly spelt out in the local offer. As has been said, it seems to me that although a child or young person has rejected the need for a personal adviser at the age of 21, by the age of 23 they may well have changed their mind. They should be regularly reminded by the local authority of this right. I do not argue with that and we will set out our expectations of local authorities in relation to the local offer and what they will do to make care leavers aware of their rights and entitlements not just once but regularly until they are 25.
The Minister seems to be praying me in aid as somehow opposed to the amendment advocated by the noble Lords, Lord Wills and Lord Watson. I am not; I was supporting what they are saying. I am sorry if I was not clear but I want to put it beyond peradventure to the Minister that I support their amendment to delete “on request”.
I fully understand that; I am sorry if I created some confusion.
My Lords, I am extremely grateful to everyone who has taken part in what I thought was a useful short discussion on all the amendments. On the one which has taken up the most time, the question of reversing the onus of requesting continuation of support in this way, I will read and reflect carefully on what the Minister said. I understand that the Bill is full of good intentions and I know that he is personally. I worry, however, that, as other noble Lords have said much more powerfully than I, we are still placing an unrealistic burden on very vulnerable young people who do not suddenly stop being vulnerable when they pass a particular age. At least until 25, many of them will be in very difficult circumstances and not all of them will be capable of making these informed, rational decisions, as the Minister said, however accurately informed they are of their entitlements. I will look at the Hansard record of what he said, but, given the widespread support for a change to this part of the Bill, we may return to it at Report.
My only other comment is about the role of the virtual school head. I thought I heard the Minister say that in many cases, they do not just turn a blind eye but go on being involved. That is precisely the point: it is in many cases, not necessarily in all. Again, I am not altogether reassured by what he said but will read what he said in Hansard and reflect, but we may return to it on Report. In the meantime, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
My Lords, those of you who have heard me speak on previous Bills will know that this is something that I keep coming back to. It comes out of working with kinship carers and learning of some of their experiences, but is particularly about the needs of care leavers as young parents. One tragedy is that far too many young women who have been in the care system become young parents themselves. I and other colleagues here tried to do something about that when we were in government. We introduced various programmes that did an enormous amount both to reduce the number of teenage pregnancies and to care for and support young people significantly when that happened.
We know the reality from the social justice commission: that about one in 10 girls leaving care aged between 16 and 21 are either single parents when they leave or very quickly afterwards become single parents. I ended up specialising in adolescent girls when I was working in Newcastle all those moons ago—most of them will now be grandmothers, or great-grandmothers. I remember one young woman in particular, who had been in care all the time since she was a baby. By the time she had a baby herself, I had finished, but she rang me absolutely delighted to tell me that she was now pregnant. She was 16, and everybody knew that she would have enormous difficulty in caring for that child. But she needed something to love—it was as awful and plain as that. Now I work with women with complex needs, many of whom have come through the care system and certainly come through abuse, and so on. Many of them have child after child, who are taken into care. Nobody works with them because they have removed the child, so they go and get pregnant again and that child ends up in care. We simply should not see this.
It goes back to what I talked about the other day in Committee: that we need to do much more work with parents when the child is taken into care. These amendments are essentially about recognising that those leaving care—many of them are still children—and who are pregnant or have a young child demand a specific responsibility on our part, even if they have left care. I remind the Minister that the staying-on provisions do not relate to children who have technically just gone home to their parents or who are in residential care, but they are still children leaving care. As I say, they do not get the additional time or support that we were all so pleased about in the staying-on relationships, which essentially relate to children in foster care.
All these amendments really say is that this is a specific category to which the Government will have to pay attention. It can become a vicious circle if we are not careful. We know that they will need additional support in parenting, although that is not to say that some of them will not in the long term make good parents. As the Minister who introduced the family nurse partnership, I know that even the most vulnerable teenage parents can, with the right sort of support, become good parents. The amendments address the fact that, if you are a child who has spent significant periods in care, you will need extra support. That is sort of self-evident but it is not taken into account in the Bill, and I ask the Minister to take specific account of it.
I have not tabled an amendment on this aspect, but these clauses also deal with adoption support being extended to special guardians who are raising looked-after children. I am really pleased about that but why have the Government not extended that support to special guardians per se? Kinship carers in particular often step in to make sure that the kids do not go into care or become looked-after children. As I have said—too many times, I feel—kinship carers frequently do that not because they have sought to become a carer but because they do not want their daughter’s or sister’s children to go into the system. They end up having quite good outcomes even though they are impoverished, frequently.
I meet kinship carers in the north-east—because we have a higher proportion of kinship carers than in most regions of the country—who have gone through things that you and I would absolutely not want to do to look after the children. They get no support at all. They are not going to get the mental health support for the children or the other support that the children frequently need because they are special guardians, but their child has not technically been in care or looked after. It tells you how old I am when I keep saying “in care” instead of “looked after”, does it not, but because that is not the case, they are not going to get that additional support. I have not put an amendment down about it at this stage but I will come back to it. I want to make sure that the Government think about these sorts of things a little more. In the Bill, we are in the business—I hope—of trying to make sure that we create less vulnerability and less cost to the public purse. I believe that in the long term, addressing these amendments and my question will assist that objective.
My Lords, I support my noble friend Lady Armstrong, particularly on Amendment 61A, but also in what she said about kinship care. I know that the outcomes of children in kinship care are better, in health and academically, than other forms of care. I also know that there are vicious circles which, unless there is intervention, go on being vicious circles generation after generation. The Family Rights Group report on the young parents project has out significant things about young people who are young parents and care leavers. We know that these young parents have multiple challenges—there is also a figure that one in 10 care leavers aged 16 to 21 have a child taken into care—but they are alienated by negative experience of state services. They are judged by their youth and background and have suffered abuse often,
“being in care, mental health problems, exclusion from school and/or involvement in youth justice”,
and so on. The support given often ignores their roles as parents or helps them to safely raise and keep a child. They often have less developed support networks, as compared to older parents, and fewer established systems in place as they move into adulthood. Despite their vulnerability, the particular needs and circumstances of young parents who are care leavers—whose children are not subject to child protection inquiries—are not sufficiently identified. They need a clear pathway plan, which includes all that a pathway plan should include, and certain sorts of information should be drawn upon in formulating these pathway plans.
My Amendments 98AA and 98AB are long and fairly self-evident. They repeat many concerns already expressed about the importance of pathway plans or assessments of need. One other thing that is important in pathway plans is the co-ordination of plans, and of assessments in relation to them, along with the setting up of advice, assistance and support. Again, I would state that these young people are extremely vulnerable, as my noble friend said, and need all the support that we can give. She also said that giving support early can avoid pain to them and also cost to the state, if we avoid these vicious circles that we all know exist.
My Lords, I am sure the Grand Committee is very grateful to the noble Baroness for tabling these important amendments and bringing this issue back to us. I pay tribute to her and her colleagues for introducing the teenage pregnancy strategy while they were in government. After many years, it brought down the level of teenage pregnancies. It is not equivalent to that of the continent but at least it is moving in that direction. It has been a most important success.
Listening to the noble Baroness, I was reminded of a 24 year-old woman who, some time ago, attended the all-party parliamentary group for young people. The group was discussing mental health and she bewailed the fact that she had not been able to access mental health services. She had two young children whom she was really struggling with. I very much welcomed the earlier amendment from the noble Baroness, Lady Tyler, to extend mental health support to the age of 25. At the APPG the 24 year-old bewailed the fact that, even if that was changed, she would be too old to benefit from it by the time it came into effect.
Last year the Maternal Mental Health Alliance launched a very important report into perinatal mental health, identifying the extent of perinatal mental health issues and the cost to the nation of failing to meet them. This group of young women is particularly at risk of perinatal mental health issues. The charity Best Beginnings does much work in this area and published a video that looked at a young woman as she was suffering from postnatal depression. It covered her experience of having a poor relationship with her mother because of her boyfriend, who did not understand her situation, and a GP who just did not have time to talk to her. She suffered a gradual spiral into depression and lost any patience with her children. She was not a young woman in care but one could easily see the same situation arising for such a person. She desperately needed help but she did not know how to ask for it. I hope that the amendments will make us think more about what we can do to reach out to these young women and ensure that they get the right help.
There is increasing support for women during pregnancy. The Government have invested more in perinatal mental health, and in particular there are models of what I call “caseload midwifery”—one-to-one midwifery, where the midwife makes a relationship with the parents early in the pregnancy, maintains that relationship and ideally is there at the birth. That model of service could be very helpful to these young mothers.
There has been a lot of recent research into neurodevelopment. Some of it has looked at the neurodevelopmental plasticity of infants, and it has been found that adolescents go through a further major neurodevelopmental change. There is also evidence that women show some plasticity in their neurodevelopment in childbirth because of the powerful relationship with their infant. However, there is a great risk that becoming a mother at an early stage will be too much of an experience for some women to manage. Their early experiences in infancy may prevent them being able to mother their children adequately, but there is also the opportunity for it to be a key turning point in their lives, where they learn to love and be loved for the first time. We need to be there for them as far as we can to make sure that that is the outcome—that it is a turning point in their lives and a positive experience for them and their child. Therefore, I am very grateful to the noble Baroness for moving her amendment and I look forward to the Minister’s response.
My Lords, I feel that I could already write the Minister’s response by saying that of course these needs are already met in Clause 3(5)(a) or (b), as the subsection refers to meeting “his or her needs”. However, when, year after year, report after report notes that these needs are not dealt with, surely we reach the point where they need to be specified—hence I support the noble Baroness’s amendments. The needs of these young parents have so consistently not been adequately met that we now need to specify them so that they are.
I would also comment that, on occasions, young men may also find becoming a parent a positive turning point. There is a need to support young men who are looked after and become parents who recognise that they have now come to a point of responsibility and they would like to step up to it. They also need support. I invite the Minister’s comments on that.
My Lords, I, too, support Amendments 61A and 71A in particular and draw the Minister’s attention to a Select Committee report produced by your Lordships’ House on post-legislative scrutiny of adoption legislation. Somewhere in the Department for Education archives, there will no doubt be copies of that report and the oral evidence given to the committee. The noble Baroness, Lady Howarth, was on it, and, I think, the noble Baroness, Lady Armstrong.
Among those who gave oral evidence was a remarkable judge, Nicholas Crichton, from one of the London family courts. He was so fed up with a procession of the same young women coming before the family court and having their children taken away. The women would reappear 12, 15 or 18 months later and would continue through their 20s with the same judges in the same court taking away their children and putting them into care. He got so fed up with that that he found some charitable funding to produce some support for the young mothers to whom it was happening because he was trying to stop this escalator of producing more children to be taken into local authority care.
That judge was doing the job that we could argue is the responsibility of the local authority because the great majority of these young women had been in care. We had a bizarre situation where an energetic and innovative judge was trying to do the job of a local authority that was not able to provide these kinds of services to young women who had been in care and who had repeat pregnancies. I would ask the Minister to look at that before he rejects fully these amendments, because there is a lot to be said, in the public interest as well as the interests of these young women, for moving down this path.
My Lords, I apologise for being unavoidably unable to come to the first day of Committee. I should like to add some comments in support of Amendments 61A and 71A. We should see these amendments as being very much about early intervention and prevention. The Bill, welcome though it is, is a little light on early intervention and prevention. The amendments point to situations from the point of view of the babies born to young people who have been in care. Unless there is specific early intervention with a great deal of support provided, we may not be preventing those babies at some point coming into care or being subject to serious difficulties.
I say that for two reasons. We know from the statistics that, generally, babies of young parents—right across the board, not just those who been in care—do not fare as well on any number of developmental indicators, despite the ability of some individual young parents to be outstanding. Those babies suffer a series of stresses from that situation that impair their development, in many instances irrevocably. The vulnerabilities suffered by a young parent who has been in care can only add further stress and difficulty to that situation. It is really important from the point of view of early intervention and prevention for children born to young people who have been in care that there is a specific focus that points the statutory services to make sure that they intervene early and prevent adverse consequences further down the line to another generation of children. I hope the Minister will take these amendments seriously.
My Lords, we have had a very interesting and informative debate on this subject. I do not wish to add anything because everything I might say has already largely been said. All I would say is that this is focused on the principle that I and others raised at Second Reading and earlier today: the fundamental importance of early intervention and prevention if we are to break the cycle of children going into care and the consequent implications for the rest of their lives, and for the costs on local authorities and the state. Everything we know points to the fact that a focus on funding for early intervention and prevention does more than address the issues once children and young people are in the care system. I very much welcome this informative debate and thoroughly support the amendments.
My Lords, this has been a persuasive debate. We have already had the evidence that my noble friend Lady Armstrong described from the social justice commission, which is all too depressingly clear on the plight of care leavers who become young carers. My noble friend Lady Massey referred to the Family Rights Group, which produced an excellent briefing detailing some of the challenges that young parents covered by these amendments have to face. I was particularly struck by the evidence that young parents often feel judged by their youth and background rather than their parenting abilities, and particularly that, where support has been provided to them, it has often been done in their capacity as young people leaving care and has rather ignored their roles as parents. This will be a very telling point when we come to the Minister’s arguments.
The amendments seem comprehensive. Amendment 61A would insert into the assessment of the needs of a former relevant child a reference to young parents, while Amendment 71A expands helpfully on the definition of young parents. Amendment 98AA would insert into the Bill a requirement for pathway plans to be provided for,
“looked after children and care leavers who are young parents”,
and Amendment 98AB would amend the Care Leavers (England) Regulations 2010 to incorporate support for young parents, so my noble friend has tabled a comprehensive package of amendments.
Rather like the right reverend prelate, the Minister may say that young parents are implicitly covered in the Bill. However, to come back to the point raised in the evidence we received from the Family Rights Group, is not one of the problems here that in these legislative terms care leavers are thought of as care leavers rather than as young parents? It seems that although the Minister may say that the provisions can be seen to apply to young parents, the fact is that sometimes there is a need to be explicit. There is sometimes an advantage in putting a specific requirement into the Bill. The point I put to the Ministers is that the case has been made today for such an explicit provision, and I am sure that we will need to return to this.
I am grateful to all noble Lords for their contributions to this debate. Although I see the intention behind these amendments and the important issues that noble Lords have raised, we are not persuaded that they require prescription in primary legislation. I am reminded of the comments of the noble Baroness, Lady Howarth, earlier today and in our previous session that we should not overburden the Bill with matters best addressed by other means, particularly guidance.
As we have discussed at length, local authorities will appoint a personal adviser to those care leavers who want one, up to their 25th birthday. This brings with it the responsibility for the corporate parent to assess a young person’s needs and to prepare a pathway plan. This means that a wider group of care leavers will have their needs identified and responded to for a longer period, including those needs linked to parenthood.
My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness for her careful and thoughtful response, but I have a couple of questions for her. With regard to health visitors, I acknowledge the immense investment that the Government have made in the regeneration of the profession. However, is she aware that until recently central government has been funding health visitors and many more have successfully been recruited, but that has recently moved to local government responsibility. There has been concern that some local authorities may choose not to fund the service or to fund it less. One issue is how frequently health visitors can visit. I should like an assurance from the Minister that so far the news of that transition to local government funding is that health visiting services are continuing as they have before. She can write to me but I would appreciate reassurance on that point. There might be room for improved guidance in this area. There is clearly a struggle in prioritising how health visitor services should be used in this climate and how many visits can be made to families. I would appreciate an assurance that the guidance is explicit that a young care leaver should have at least four visits—I think the standard may be three or two at the moment. Something like that might be helpful.
Although I welcome the family nurse partnership model and the benefits that it brings through having a professional team around the family and not just the health visitor on her own, I believe that that is a fairly short intervention. Perhaps the Minister can let me know how long it lasts. Given the issues of continuity of care for this group of young people, I would appreciate more information about the duration of the family nurse partnership model and what provision is made to ensure a smooth transition to other services. Reassurance on that matter would be welcome.
I am happy to write to the noble Earl with more detail and will circulate the letter to other Peers who have been here today.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for her reply. She talked about the intent of the amendments being covered in guidance. I will withdraw the amendment at this stage but, in doing so, I would like to be confident that the Minister will ensure that the House is able to consider the guidance before Third Reading.
My Lords, this is a probing amendment on an issue of great concern to me: safeguarding young people from predatory adults. Clause 3 is the first place in the Bill where I could find the term “personal advisers”, so I have grafted the amendment on to the clause to seek support in principle for the idea that personal adviser is the kind of job that could conceivably attract people with predatory intentions towards vulnerable young people.
Many of those young people over the age of 21 may themselves, despite their chronological age, be rather immature and vulnerable, so reaching the magic age of 21 does not necessarily produce a lack of vulnerability. That is why I drafted the amendment, which requires the Secretary of State to make regulations on three matters relating to personal advisers, irrespective of age. The Minister has to some extent tried to deal with that in his previous answers about a review and the rather mysterious deep dives that seem to be taking place in the Department for Education. However, I am not sure that we should miss this opportunity in legislation to put safeguards relating to personal advisers in the Bill: first, a provision for performance standards and training for personal advisers to be set out in regulations; secondly, arrangements for vetting them as to suitability before they take up posts; and, thirdly, a publicly available register of approved personal advisers. Those are the minimum safeguards that are required before we proceed with the introduction on a national basis of personal advisers, whatever reviews the DfE may be carrying out.
I shall say a few words about my personal experience, which causes me to feel so strongly about this amendment. First, some of the experiences I had as a director of social services brought home to me the vulnerability of young people with low self-esteem, a lack of love in their lives and bad experiences at the hands of adults. If a person in a position of trust abuses that trust, often after a period of grooming, many young care leavers are very vulnerable to damaging overtures. I have a few examples that I have had to deal with—and I am sure that the noble Baroness, Lady Howarth, has had not dissimilar examples. A foster father sexually abused a teenage girl; a Catholic priest abused young people in an adoption agency; a care home manager was caught in a teenaged girl’s bed in his own care home, in the middle of the night; and care home staff practised so-called regression therapy by encouraging children to sit on their laps. These are just a few of the people who find themselves able to get near vulnerable young people. Incidentally, the care home manager caught in flagrante took me to an employment tribunal for wrongful dismissal. These are real-world examples of what corporate parents may have to deal with.
It was that experience that led to Virginia Bottomley, the then Health Secretary, appointing me to chair an inquiry in the early 1990s after a series of scandals into how we recruited, vetted and trained staff working in children’s homes. Our report, Choosing with Care, led to some strengthening of the safeguards against predatory adults. But with the passage of time, we are in danger of assuming that some of those problems have been dealt with. As the Jimmy Savile and other examples have shown, we have to be ever vigilant. If we introduce a new group of people with easy access to vulnerable young people, we need to do all we can to safeguard those young people. The predators will always be around, and we are failing young people if we do not do our utmost to put in place protective procedures.
That was brought home to me very graphically when, a couple of months ago, I saw a play by Phil Davies called “Firebird”, at the Trafalgar Studios—I am not doing a commercial because it is no longer running there. This shows how a predator, seemingly someone who works with young people, grooms a lonely, vulnerable, young person into prostitution. I am sure that the wording of my hastily produced amendment could be improved, but I hope that the Minister will accept in principle that, if we are going for a national system of personal advisers, we should put in the Bill some safeguards for young people against potentially predatory personal advisers.
My Lords, I obviously support what the noble Lord, Lord Warner, has said, although I am not going to go through the long list of experiences that I have experienced as a director of social services, as an assistant director and a social worker, and even more so, working with the Lucy Faithfull Foundation, which dealt with predatory grooming adults and how they got in touch with children.
I am concerned about how we work through two parts of this. One is how we make absolutely sure that the vetting is solid and absolutely reliable for all the reasons the noble Lord, Lord Warner, has said—and how we set performance standards—but also, at the same time, as having some flexibility in who the young person might see as the person who is going to be their personal adviser. I think this is more complex than it looks on the surface. I think we could set standards of training—we have all done that in our time; we could have a vetting system and place it on a register, although I would say 130 days to get a vetting back from the Met police at the moment seems to me a scandal, and is interfering with the recruitment of appropriate social workers right across the piece. But we have to look at how we have both of those things together, with the young person having some choice about who they want to be their mentor. There may be people in their lives, such as a teacher who stuck with them right through their school or a foster parent who struck right with them. Are they seen as different from personal advisers, who are a sort of profession apart? I have not yet conceptualised who those people are in relation to all the other people who are supporting the young person, and where the standard is set. The one thing that is absolutely clear is that whoever they are, they must be vetted. In my day, we had people called children’s homes visitors, and we learned the hard way what happened if you did not vet appropriately those visitors, when young people disappeared on to the street. I would underline that—it is quite a complex question.
My Lords, this is an important probing amendment. I now understand why it is in this grouping and not in the other groupings, and I apologise to whoever is responsible for that. As the British Association of Social Workers rightly said, it will be important to clarify what qualifications and capabilities will be required for the new personal advisers. Throughout our Committee discussions, we have shown how important personal advisers are and will be, in terms of speech and language and literacy, financial matters, and in putting the pathways plan together. It also is important that these are the right people for that and currently, there is no prescribed professional or occupational qualification determining which person should carry out the personal adviser’s function for any individual care leaver. There are suggestions of what a PA should normally possess. They should,
“be working towards a professional qualification … good practice …for the young person to maintain the same PA from the age of 16”,
et cetera. Presumably, the current personal advisers are DBS-compliant. If they are not, why not? I would have thought that was something that happened straightaway. They are working in a very intimate situation with young and vulnerable children, so if that is not the case, we need to know that straightaway. If it is the case, we need to look at the other suggestions that the noble Lord, Lord Warner, has made. We also need to ensure that the line management of personal advisers is not something that is just put on paper and does not happen but that somebody line-manages those personal advisers and sees them on a regular basis. There is another issue—that if we are not careful, sometimes young people who are emotionally vulnerable can make allegations against personal advisers, and that personal adviser is in a very difficult situation. If an allegation is made against a teacher, at least the teacher is in a setting where there are people around who can support and advise, whereas a personal adviser is acting entirely on their own. As well as any register and making sure that correct procedures have been gone through, there also has to be proper and effective line management of personal advisers.
My Lords, I rise to express not dissimilar concerns to the noble Baroness, Lady Howarth. I firmly support the tenor of what is proposed, but at the same time I go back to Second Reading when the noble Baroness, Lady Hughes, raised the question of foster carers. Some foster carers will rail against the professionalisation of advice. If we believe that there needs to be flexibility in the range of personal advisers, we need to beware of the Bill being so constraining that we lose that flexibility. They have to be securely and safely recruited and vetted, and we must ensure that there is ongoing support. The concern just expressed about the vulnerability of an individual personal adviser also needs to be heeded. I wanted to place on record a concern that this is something that must still be wrestled with. We have not got to the bottom of the right answer yet, either with what is in the Bill or in the guidance. This will be another example of where the guidance needs to be seen before Third Reading.
My Lords, I very much appreciated the 1992 report of the noble Lord, Lord Warner, Choosing with Care. I have referred to it many times during my career in this House. I find it extremely helpful and illuminating, and in visiting children’s homes, I know how helpful they have found it. There is even something called the Warner interview in which they are instructed to look back over the CV of the applicant to see if there are ever any gaps and probe the applicant on what they were doing in those gaps. It was very influential and important.
I also emphasise what noble Lords have said about the first line manager or supervisor. Recently at a conference, I heard from the chief executive of Frontline, which trains social workers. He produced evidence that where there was an excellent supervisor and manager, even in a poorly functioning local authority, newly qualified social workers could do well and be resilient. Dame Claire Tickell was commissioned to produce a White Paper for social work and she emphasised the need to train first line managers strongly. I welcome what the Minister has said so far about how he sees the Government helping to develop this personal adviser role. I hope that he will also look at their supervision and their first line managers and how those need to be developed.
Finally, on the issue of flexibility versus rigidity, there are strengths to both sides of the argument. I hope that we can find a marriage between the two. My concern is that there are huge burdens on local authorities’ resources at the moment, and unless one is very specific in terms of the personal adviser profession, we may find huge disparity in quality and that our young people may not get delivery of what they need. At the same time, there needs to be flexibility where someone knows that young person and they have a relationship. We want continuity of relationships and we want foster carers, teachers or friends to be supported to be able to deliver that. We want to allow that role to be given to the foster carer or whoever. This issue is complex. This is a helpful debate and I look forward to the Minister’s response.
My Lords, as we have heard, this is a complex and difficult issue. I have huge sympathy with what the noble Baroness, Lady Howarth, the right reverend Prelate, and the noble Earl, Lord Listowel, said about the need for flexibility. These young people are very vulnerable. They have a wide range of needs and they will respond differently to different people. It is not a question of having one professional group that will deal with every young person in the same way. We must be very careful about this because everything that I have learned about this complex subject suggests that one of the most crucial things is stability in the lives of these young people. The more difficult and restricting we make the area in which we can recruit these personal advisers, the more difficult it will be to provide stability, so there is clearly a huge problem here.
Having said that, we should not let all those difficulties dissuade or deflect us from the fundamental importance of what the noble Lord, Lord Warner, has said. There is always a temptation in government—I remember it very well from all my years as the Minister—that when things come complicated and difficult, particularly in such sensitive areas, to push it aside, kick it down the road a little bit and have a review which, in the circumstances, will not necessarily produce anything very valuable. We have heard the experience of all those people with a lot more experience than I have in these matters of how these problems come to light only after the damage has been done.
I urge the Minister to grapple with those difficulties, not lose sight of the importance of what the noble Lord, Lord Warner said, and to produce a substantive response today.
I am very grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Warner, for his amendment and the points that he, the noble Baroness, Lady Howarth, the noble Lord, Lord Storey, the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Durham, the noble Earl, Lord Listowel, the noble Lord, Lord Wills, made about the importance of safeguarding young people from predatory adults and the qualifications, training and management of personal advisers. These are of crucial and, in the case of safeguarding, paramount importance, and I will ensure that these points are covered in our review of personal advisers, to which I have already referred in some detail. This will inform what we say on Report, although I recognise the points made by the noble Earl, Lord Listowel, and the noble Lord, Lord Wills, about flexibility and stability and will look at the worrying delays to which the noble Baroness, Lady Howarth, referred in relation to vetting.
I hope that the noble Lord will accept that I do not want to prejudge the outcome of our review by accepting his amendment now, and I hope that he will therefore consent to withdraw it, but I assure him that I recognise the importance of the points he makes.
My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister and everyone else who has spoken in this debate. I could really identify with the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Wills. I recognise how complex this issue is, certainly do not want to go into bat for the particular wording of the amendment and I accept that the Minister needs to carry out a review.
However, given what we have learned about predatory adults and vulnerable people over a long period, I ask the Minister and his department to reflect whether we should signal the issue of vetting in some brief way in the Bill. The noble Lord, Lord Storey, made the important point that there are two sides to this: the vulnerability of young person but also that of the personal adviser if they are isolated without adequate supervision. This is a difficult area and it is not easy to find solutions, but it behoves all public bodies and Governments, particularly with the Goddard inquiry going on, to recognise upfront that this is a real 21st-century issue which has to be wrestled with. Signalling in the Bill not the detail but a willingness to grapple with the issue is very important. In the meantime, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
My Lords, I beg to move Amendment 75 and shall speak to Amendment 135 in my name. Amendment 75 puts a general duty on the Secretary of State to promote the rights and well-being of looked-after children and care leavers. The state’s care of children unable to live with their families carries enormous legal, moral and financial responsibilities. Although local authorities are of course directly responsible for individual children, central government supports the care system through policy development and sourcing, as well as public awareness-raising to ensure public support for this serious duty.
That is why I believe that it warrants a general duty on the Secretary of State akin to those which exist in relation to health and education. While those two elements of service provision to looked-after children are really important, factors affecting where they are looked after and by whom, what therapies are provided, how they are involved with decisions relating to their care and how it is all paid for are also important enough to require a general duty on the Secretary of State in charge.
My Lords, I wish to speak to Amendment 76, which is a probing amendment. Given the hour and the closeness to our target time, I will be brief.
I believe that the Bill should introduce a social justice premium—a grant that would be payable to local authorities and services and to care leavers. The social justice premium would provide funding to raise the life chances of care leavers and close the gap with their peers who are not, or have never been, in the care system.
The premium would be based on the calculation of harm over a care leaver’s lifetime. It would qualify those affected for proportionately favourable funding in terms of both payments and services. One practical application would be a government top-up for savings accounts to ensure that looked-after young people accumulated assets at least at the median rate for their peers. I look forward to the Minister’s response.
My Lords, I shall speak briefly in favour of Amendments 75 and 135. It would be very helpful if there were a duty on the Secretary of State to address the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child in the way that the amendment describes. It would be helpful if there were child rights impact assessments for every piece of legislation—for instance, on the housing legislation that we have debated recently. Low-income families have suffered most in the recent years of austerity. We heard earlier about the closure of children’s centres, which are a vital tool in transforming the lives of these young people. It would be very helpful if central government were more aware of the impact of every piece of legislation on children and families, particularly poorer families. There was hardly any mention in the housing Bill of the impact of homelessness. There was some mention of families in temporary accommodation but I suggest that not nearly enough attention was paid to their needs.
Moving to Amendment 135, I was very interested to hear from the Leeds deputy director of children’s services four or five weeks ago. Leeds had been a struggling local authority in terms of children’s services but that was turned around, and he described the process. First and foremost, the foundation of the change was to consider the UNCRC—it was the very basis upon which the change was made. Leeds recognised that to improve children’s services it was necessary to look at all the children in the city and to think about how to improve their lives, listening to their needs and wishes to understand them better. I look forward to the Minister’s response.
My Lords, I have added my name to Amendment 135, and the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, has already quoted from the 2016 report by the observers from the UN Human Rights Convention on the Rights of the Child, which was very damning. I want to draw attention to the fact that in 2008 there was an earlier damning report and the Government’s response to that in 2010 was to say that they would give due consideration to the rights of the child in all new legislation and policy. I have to say that there has been precious little sign of that, which worries me.
The other thing that worries me about this is the comment made by the noble Baroness about the inequality that exists in the observance of the rights of the child in the various parts of the United Kingdom, with England consistently lagging behind. I really think that this Bill is an opportunity to do something about this, and we ought to seize it.
My Lords, I omitted to say that there seems to be a real issue in the United States, France and this country about a large section of the population feeling left out. The success of globalisation has in many ways simply left them behind. This would be one helpful measure to ensure that those at the bottom of the heap are better treated and feel better treated.
My Lords, Amendments 75 and 135 have been comprehensively argued and we have a great deal of sympathy with the intention to include in the Bill reference to the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child to promote the rights and well-being of children in care and care leavers. As the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, pointed out, general duties on the Secretary of State exist in relation to health and education, so it is important to consider this issue in the Bill.
Specifically on the UNCRC’s latest report, the Minister underlined at Second Reading that the Government fully recognised the importance of the committee’s work and were looking closely at the report. The report has again warned, as we heard, of the growing and disproportionate impact of austerity and spending cuts on disadvantaged children. It would be helpful if the Minister explained further his thinking on the report and what are the Government’s plans for responding to it.
We recognise the importance of upholding the rights of children in care and care leavers and on ensuring their well-being. Establishing at the end of Clause 3 a duty for the Secretary of State to promote the rights of children and young people covered by the Bill in accordance with the convention and other relevant legislation reinforces the commitment to provide the services that care leavers need. It also defines well-being, which we asked for, and to include physical, mental health and emotional well-being; the skills needed to contribute to society; and the importance of social and economic well-being, for which we have all recognised the need.
The provisions in Amendment 135 would be particularly important if Clauses 15 to 19 remain in the Bill. The Minister knows that there are deep concerns at the wide-ranging scope of these clauses, which we will debate on later amendments. This amendment would place a duty on public bodies and any person providing children’s services of a public nature to have due regard to the UN convention, particularly in functions relating to safeguarding or promoting the welfare of children—it is vital for this protection to be included if the scope of Clause 15 is as wide-ranging as is currently feared—and for regular reports to be published on how the requirement is being met.
Importantly, the amendment refers to this report as needing to be in a format “accessible to children”. In this context, I commend the valuable programme of work currently being undertaken by Coram Voice to find out from young people in care themselves what well-being being actually means to them. Its survey of children in care, Your Life, Your Care, began last year and aims at measuring the quality of their care experience and their own sense of well-being under what it calls the four Rs—relationships, recovery, resilience-building and rights, which very much resonate with the issues and approaches that have come up under the Bill. It can be used to help local authorities demonstrate how they are meeting Ofsted requirements, for example: what they are doing well and what they could improve.
Amendment 76, tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Bakewell, and supporting the Joseph Rowntree Foundation call for the Secretary of State to have power to introduce a social justice premium grant to local authorities for services or grants for care leavers, reflects the need to find responses to the huge funding pressures faced by local authorities and the impact of the scale of the cuts in recent years. The overall aim of improving care leavers’ life chances and closing the gap between them and children who have not been in care is certainly one we all fully support. The Joseph Rowntree Foundation underlined that this policy is in the early stages of development ahead of the application of its anti-poverty strategy later this year and we look forward to seeing further work on this. The aim of basing the grant and calculations of harm over the care leaver’s lifetime is also laudable but a very challenging proposition.
Overall, it is worth emphasising that further premiums or special funding at the Secretary of State’s discretion, however welcome in the current context, are not the answer to medium or long-term funding problems. Local authorities must be adequately resourced to undertake the work and responsibilities placed on them, and Labour is strongly committed to achieving that. If we listen to care leavers themselves to help shape their services to them, as we all advocate, we know that worrying about money, fear of not being able to pay the bills and getting into debt that can never be paid off is at the heart of a lot of the problems they face.
I am grateful to the noble Baronesses, Lady Walmsley, Lady Bakewell and Lady Pinnock, the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, and the noble Earl, Lord Listowel, for these amendments and their comments, and for the comments of the noble Baroness, Lady Wheeler. I am grateful for their brevity. In that regard and without wishing to be rude, I know we are debating important matters but if we are to get through this Bill in four days in Committee I would be grateful if noble Lords could come back on Wednesday in that vein.
First, I will respond to Amendment 135, on the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. I offer my reassurance that the Government remain fully committed to this important convention. The recent report by the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child on the UK recognised the progress made by the Government in protecting and enhancing children’s rights over recent years. The Government are unconvinced that putting a statutory duty to pay due regard to the convention on Secretaries of State or other bodies would have a real impact on children’s lives. In 2010, the coalition Government made a Statement to Parliament stating that the Government would give due consideration to the UNCRC when making new policies and legislation. This Government maintain that commitment.
Legislation is already assessed to ensure compatibility with the UNCRC. A rigorous child rights impact assessment was conducted on this Bill, for example, and shared with the Children’s Commissioner and the Joint Committee on Human Rights. Similarly, at a local level we believe that putting additional duties on public bodies is not the right approach to either raise awareness of the UNCRC or to change the way decisions are made. More targeted approaches through guidance and support to specific professionals or related to specific aspects of children’s rights are more effective. In 2013, for example, we issued statutory guidance to DCSs to have regard to the general principles of the UNCRC and to ensure that children are involved in development and delivery of local services. The Children’s Commissioner’s primary function is to promote and protect children’s rights and ensure that they are properly understood, including by children themselves. She raises awareness and ensures that their views are brought to the attention of decision-makers at both local and national levels.
Turning to reporting mechanisms, under the UNCRC process we are required to provide a full UK report on a five-yearly cycle. The reports are publicly available on the UN website. Any additional requirement would risk duplicating our existing obligation. I recognise the value of impact assessments carried out on legislative proposals where they affect children, as referred to by the noble Baroness, Lady Bakewell, and the noble Earl, Lord Listowel. We carried out a very full analysis of the Bill’s impacts on children’s rights, interests and families. The Government are committed to giving due consideration to children’s rights on matters such as this, as I said. Of course, there are aspects of children’s rights where we can and should do more. I assure noble Lords that we are considering the recommendations of the UN Committee, published earlier this month. We will respond to the concluding observations this year.
Amendment 75 proposes that a similar duty is put on the Secretary of State to promote the rights and well-being of children and young people who are looked after or care leavers. We believe that introducing such a duty is unnecessary. This is due to the duties which the Secretary of State already owes and the commitments that the Government have already made. The Children Act 1989 sets out the legal principle that the child’s welfare shall be the paramount consideration in decisions regarding children in the social care system. The guiding principle of any decision taken in relation to looked-after children will be to have their well-being as the primary consideration.
Section 7 of the Children and Young Persons Act 2008 obliges the Secretary of State to promote the well-being of all children in England and empowers her to take action to promote the well-being of care leavers. Clause 1 introduces the corporate parenting principles. The first principle sets out that a local authority must, in carrying out functions in relation to looked-after children and young people, act in their best interests and promote their health and well-being. We hope that this will reassure the noble Baronesses.
Turning to the social justice premium grant, the Government fully support the principle behind Amendment 76. As a Government, we are committed to improving the life chances of care leavers. Our forthcoming care leaver strategy will set out our ambition that care leavers should have the same opportunities, experiences and life chances as other young people. The best local authorities, such as Trafford, already provide additional support to care leavers to improve their life chances and to narrow the gap between them and their peers. Trafford ring-fences apprenticeship opportunities for care leavers and gives them free access to leisure centres.
Our goal is to see more local authorities providing excellent services that improve the life chances of all care leavers. This Government are committed to an all-out assault on poverty and improving chances for all children, regardless of their background and past experiences. Our forthcoming life chances strategy will set out our plan for transforming the life chances of disadvantaged children and their families and for tackling deep-rooted social problems so that no one is held back or prevented from making the most of their lives. In view of the measures that we have already taken to promote and protect children’s rights, particularly for children in care and care leavers, I hope that noble Lords will feel sufficiently reassured not to press their amendments.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for his reply and for what he said about child impact assessments on child-related Bills. But is it not even more important in Bills about housing and welfare that there are such child impact assessments? Those Bills have a huge impact on children and their families and one does not get the sense that the impact on children is really thought through. American academics who come to this country talk about how important housing is to children and bewail the fact that there does not seem to be awareness at senior levels of government of that necessary connection.
My Lords, I am grateful to all noble Lords who have spoken to this group. I will not say much because I need to be in the Chamber for the dinner break business. I thank the Minister for his reply. This is not the first time that I have tried to get some incorporation of the UNCRC into UK law and I am sure that it will not be the last. We made progress under the coalition Government when Sarah Teather announced that all government policies would be scrutinised to make sure that they were compliant with the UNCRC. That is why I wonder why, on the front of the Bill, we have a compliance statement about the UN Convention on Human Rights, but no statement about compliance with the UNCRC. That would be a step forward. After Sarah Teather made that statement, I went to talk to civil servants in the Department for Education to ask them what was the procedure to make sure that every policy was compliant. They did not have one. I would be interested to know what the procedure is now, because that was five or six years ago. Let us hope that we have moved forward in that respect because unless we have a proper procedure for doing this, it will not always happen and we things will fall through the gaps. However, I said that I would not say much, so I will sit down and I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
My Lords, these amendments, in the name of myself and my noble friend Lord Hunt, are to the clause relating to educational achievement. It is surely self-evident that educational achievement is absolutely crucial to the hopes of young people in or leaving care in building a life that offers opportunities to raise their own family and pursue a career. So everything that can be done should be done to maximise those educational opportunities.
Amendment 77 would expand the provision that states that the advice and information should be available to the child’s parents for the purpose of promoting the child’s educational achievements. The term “parent” is unnecessarily narrow because, by definition, many of the young people we are talking about will not have parents. Perhaps the Minister will come back and say that it is a legal term and it is not necessary, but children could be with foster carers, they could be under special guardianship orders or they could be in care homes. The main point is to make sure that they are provided with the necessary advice that they need and to which they are entitled.
Could the Minister clarify whether the provision of information about education is to be provided to the child’s parents alone? It is obvious, as I have said before, that it has to be broader than that. There is not a lot more to say on that amendment, and I hope that I can get a fairly straight response.
On Amendment 79, there is an issue here with simply saying that a local authority,
“must appoint at least one person for the purpose of discharging the duty imposed by subsection (1)”.
I hope that it would be more than one person—but even if it is only one person it is important to ensure that that person, whoever he or she may be, allocates not just the resources but the time to do the job properly. There are many examples in schools, obviously at a more local level—for instance, the special educational needs co-ordinator. In my experience, that person is in some cases just the person who is willing to come forward and take it on; they may or may not have the training initially—they may be the only person willing to do it, on top of his or her other duties. On a bigger scale, within a local authority, it is important that the person who is appointed to look after the educational achievements of children in care is not just given another duty to add to his or her job description and is expected to do that within the time available to them. Can the Minister clarify that the people given the job will be able to do that?
It has already emerged as a recurring theme, even in the two Committee days that we have had on this Bill, that more and more duties are being given to local authorities. In some cases, that is quite appropriate, if they have been properly resourced. I shall not rehearse the arguments about the stresses and strains on the finances of local authorities, because everyone is only too well aware of that but if more and more duties are laid on them, local authorities must have commensurate resources transferred to them to enable them to carry out the duties properly. I accept that that is a small aspect, but it is an important part of the Bill. As I said earlier, the educational achievements of looked-after children and children leaving care is crucial to their adult lives. I ask the Minister for those kinds of assurances and whether we can look with confidence at this part of the Bill, so that the person appointed to fill the post will have the ability, time and resources to do the job properly. I beg to move.
My Lords, I speak to Amendment 86, which seeks to ensure that formerly looked-after children receive in their school,
“appropriate education in personal, social, health and economic skills, and citizenship”.
I find it really not that surprising that so many noble Lords have referred today to issues such as relationships, financial education, independent living, self-confidence and self-esteem. The amendment just backs up the need for us to consider those really very essential skills. All children should receive such personal development and economic education, as well as citizenship skills. Amendment 86 seeks to take account of the trauma and vulnerability that some children have experienced. Again, I include migrant children, although I am very aware that other children will have experienced varying degrees of loss, trauma and pain.
My Lords, I shall speak to Amendment 78, which relates to Clause 4, which inserts, under the heading “Educational achievement of previously looked after children”, a new section into the Children Act 1989 in order to provide information and advice to previously looked-after young people and their parents.
In particular, my amendment affects subsection (3) of the new section, which provides local authorities with a power to do,
“anything else that they consider appropriate”,
to promote the educational achievement of these young people. This is potentially radical wording—whether that is intentional I am not sure—but, as I said at Second Reading, that ambition is very welcome. It is not quite on a par with the power to innovate described in Clauses 15 to 19 but I certainly think that it acts in that direction.
Without wanting to presage the debate that will take place around that part of the Bill, it is already clear that noble Lords will demand that any such powers to innovate will need to be very carefully designed to avoid negative and unintended consequences. It is that spirit which informs this amendment. I am concerned that the subsection does not include the necessary safeguards to avoid negative and unintended consequences for some young people.
Local authorities have a number of duties to several categories of vulnerable children—not simply looked-after children but, for example, children with special educational needs and disabilities. Even as we move towards an academy-led system, local authorities retain direct responsibility for placing children with special educational needs and disabilities who have educational health and care plans. I am sorry for the continued jargon. My worry is that as currently constituted, the subsection gives local authorities permission to provide extraordinary support to previously looked-after children, which is of course welcome on one level, but even if that is at the cost of pupils with SEND, for example, who are much more numerous and may have more challenging needs.
My amendment would add a simple caveat to make it clear that local authorities must take into account the impact of their actions on other children for whom they have a responsibility when considering how to raise attainment for previously looked-after children. I am perfectly willing to accept that it may be unnecessary if I can get the reassurances that I seek from Ministers that it is not intended or that other safeguards exist, perhaps in other legislation.
I turn quickly to Amendment 86, in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Massey. I strongly support the sentiment on the delivery of high-quality PSHE in schools. That is what we do through our character programme in the Floreat schools that I set up. I am also involved in the “Developing Healthy Minds in Teenagers” programme, which is trying to do something similar in secondary schools. I very much support the spirit of the amendment but I am concerned that it might tip us into a statutory PSHE curriculum which, as the noble Baroness knows, I am not ready to support because, as Ofsted has said, PSHE teaching in too many schools is not yet good enough. We need to fix that problem before considering whether it should become a statutory subject.
I shall speak to Amendment 86. The noble Baroness, Lady Massey, has been a worthy champion of PSHE ever since I joined the House of Lords. I thought that the battle was over when in reply to her question the noble Baroness, Lady Evans, said that yes, she thought that it was important that all schools taught PSHE. I raised my hand in the air thinking, “Great, we’ve got that”.
I was interested in the comment of the noble Lord, Lord O’Shaughnessy. There is always this debate about whether we have to slim down the curriculum. It is said, “We don’t want to have statutory PSHE; we want schools—academies—to have freedoms”. Yes, I can subscribe to some of that but children are more important than them just having freedoms for curriculum development. There are really important things that need to be taught to all children and we have just heard a catalogue of them. It is hugely important that children have sex and relationship education and that they have financial education, and so on and so forth. I was fascinated by the noble Lord’s comments about the sort of work that he does in his schools. I pay tribute to that, but it should be for all schools.
I am not sure whether saying, “Let’s get the PSHE model right before we make it statutory” is the right approach. It should be the other way round. We should be saying that we will make it statutory for all schools—including free schools as well, incidentally, which I notice that the amendment does not mention—and then we make the resources, drive and determination to make that happen. That is probably one of the most important things that we can do for all children, but particularly for vulnerable and looked-after children.
My Lords, Amendments 77 to 79 and 86 concern educational support for formerly looked-after children. The trauma and experiences of children who have suffered from abuse and neglect can have a long-term impact on outcomes and life chances, even once they have left care through a permanence order. The Bill seeks to ensure that everything possible is done to help these children and young people overcome the difficulties that they have faced and to realise their ambitions.
Our intention is to place a duty on local authorities to extend the duties of virtual school heads to support looked-after children who have left care under an adoption, special guardianship or child arrangement order. I assure the noble Lord, Lord Watson, that we will consider his Amendment 77. We will be talking to government lawyers about whether the current drafting fully captures special guardianship or child arrangement orders. We think that it does for adopted children but if it does not and the current drafting of the Bill does not achieve that aim, we will consider a government amendment to Clause 4. I thank him for raising that issue.
While I understand the point made by my noble friend Lord O’Shaughnessy in his Amendment 78, I am not convinced that it is necessary to place a duty on local authorities to consider the impact of what they will do on other groups of children. Local authorities will need to ensure that they do not spend disproportionate time supporting one child or group of children at the expense of others. Virtual school heads must do this now as some looked-after children will require more intensive support than others. I reassure my noble friend that the new duties in the Bill are deliberately light-touch—just providing information and advice—to allow virtual school heads to effectively prioritise their workload.
The role of the virtual school head for formerly looked-after children will be different from their current role. They will not have to monitor each child’s progress as they do for children in care for instance, as the child’s parents and carers will do this. We are confident that with the other specific duties on local authorities to support looked-after children, previously looked-after children will not be disproportionately supported at the expense of others.
On Amendment 79, again I do not think it appropriate to specify in primary legislation that local authorities must ensure virtual school heads have the resources to do the job. Clearly, we will expect all local authorities to do this and we will, via Ofsted inspections, check the quality of the service provided by virtual school heads. I assure the noble Lord, Lord Watson, that a virtual school head will not be an add-on to other duties. Their sole focus will be vulnerable children. Many virtual school heads already respond to requests for advice and information from parents and schools in respect of children who have left care through, for example, adoption. Clause 4 seeks to ensure that all authorities offer this service. However, I have asked officials to ensure that resources for virtual school heads are covered in the statutory guidance we will issue to clarify their role.
Finally, Amendment 86 covers personal, social, health and economic education for formerly looked-after children. We agree that all young people should leave school prepared for life in modern Britain. The Minister and I agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Massey, and the noble Lord, Lord Storey, that high-quality PSHE has a vital role to play in giving young people a better understanding of society and supporting them to make informed choices and to stay safe. The majority of schools and teachers already recognise the importance of good-quality PSHE education.
However, as I am afraid the noble Baroness has heard me say before, we believe it is not the availability but the quality of PSHE teaching that is the most pressing issue, as my noble friend Lord O’Shaughnessy highlighted. I say again: we will continue to keep the status of PSHE under review but in the short term we will prioritise working with experts to identify further action we can take to ensure that all pupils receive high-quality, age-appropriate PSHE and sex and relationships education. I am sure that the noble Baroness will continue to push us on this matter and that we will have many further discussions. I hope, on that basis, that the noble Lord will feel able to withdraw his amendment.
I am sorry to prolong the sitting. I am very reassured by what my noble friend said about looked-after children not suffering as a consequence but my specific question was about children with special educational needs and disabilities. I wonder whether she could write to me to provide that reassurance that local authorities’ duty of care to them is dealt with in other legislation so that there is that balance.
I am very happy to write to my noble friend on that.
My Lords, I thank everyone who has participated in the debate and the Minister for her largely positive response. I certainly welcome that she is considering what we said in Amendment 77 and will come back on that. I welcome also the fact that virtual school heads will have a sole responsibility, so presumably other resources will have to be made available to make sure nothing is taken away from existing budgets. I want to make sure that the individual appointed—mentioned in Clause 4(4)—is not being taken away from doing anything else that he or she was doing, as has often been the case with other new appointments. This is not the time to discuss the PSHE argument and I would say only one other thing to the noble Lord, Lord O’Shaughnessy. I do not know him well enough to make this accusation to him personally, but there always will be some people who will say we are not yet ready for PSHE being a statutory requirement in schools. Some of the statistics on young people’s exposure, particularly to sexual activity, be it in real life or virtually—online or whatever—suggest that they have to get as much information as early as possible, and we need to find ways of doing that. There is nothing more for me to say on that. Again, I welcome the Minister’s response and I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Committee (2nd Day)
Relevant document: 1st Report from the Delegated Powers Committee
29: Clause 1, page 2, line 4, at end insert—
“( ) In discharging its responsibilities under subsection (1), the responsible local authority must—(a) ensure that all partner bodies responsible for health, housing, police, employment, education and training services are aware of the needs of children and young people for whom they are responsible; and(b) advise the individual children and young people concerned of the availability of services offered by partner bodies which meet their needs and assist them in securing such services.”
Amendment 29 withdrawn.
30: Clause 1, page 2, line 11, at end insert—
“( ) A local authority in England must, in carrying out functions in relation to the children and young people mentioned in subsection (2)—(a) undertake a screening of the children and young people’s speech, language and communication needs;(b) to ensure those working with the children and young people are trained in awareness of speech, language and communication needs;(c) ensure appropriate support is provided for those children and young people with speech, language and communication needs.”
Last week, I chaired a meeting for Learning Disability Voices and we heard from a young man called Mark who has learning disabilities and is benefiting from the very specialist care services offered by that section of social services and by a charity called Ace Anglia. He and a young man called Max from Ace, who is an expert in this, told me about the system called Easy Read, which uses simple language and pictures to explain issues those with learning disabilities need to understand. It is offered to hospitals and similar places which need to ensure that all patients understand information that relates to them, whatever their learning disability. That is one example of what I am getting at in the amendment.
Local authorities need to be aware of those services, as well as the availability of audio tapes, Braille, large print and all the other ways to ensure information gets over to all care leavers.
Needless to say, although they are not covered by the amendment, it is also important that young people leaving care who do not yet have a good grasp of English also have a translation in their own language. Quite a few teenagers may have come to this country as unaccompanied refugee children and not have been here long enough to be fluent in English when they leave care. We need to think about them, too.
My point is that we need to look at the specific needs of the young person as a unique individual when making this crucial information available so that we can be sure that they can all benefit from it.
On financial matters, briefly, the APPG for children and people in care, of which I am the vice-chair, recently had a meeting where we debated a motion that financial education should be an obligation for looked-after children and we concluded by voting yes—that they should all receive that financial education and there should be that obligation. One interesting point made was that it should perhaps begin at an early age and that, through their relationship with young children, foster carers should be advised and supported in teaching how to manage money. From that also flows the suggestion that we should be concentrating on training for personal advisers, residential childcare workers and foster carers so that they can perhaps deliver the financial education. But that is the detail and I support that amendment.
With regard to the concerns of the noble Baroness, Lady Pinnock, about the funding of local authorities I omitted to say earlier that I could not agree with her more. The Bill should not put any more financial responsibilities on local authorities without providing the finance from central government for them to deliver it. That is absolutely crucial if we want to see improvement in this area.
Personal advisers are referred to in this group but when the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Warner, was discussed I perhaps missed the discussion about professionalising them. I welcome what the Government are saying about developing the mentoring role of personal advisers but we will not see the difference we want to make through the Bill in this most important aspect—the personal adviser role—unless they are clearly well-regulated professionals with clear case load numbers. It is just the sort of clarity that we are trying to provide for social workers later in the Bill. If we do not raise the status and professional regulation of these people, we will not be delivering for young people leaving care. I look forward to the Minister’s response.
Existing regulations and standards also ensure that foster carers and carers in residential homes can meet the needs of the young people for whom they care. On these amendments, and Amendment 63, I reassure noble Lords that the care and pathway planning process already addresses speech and communication needs. Pathway plans must include an assessment of the needs of care leavers with a view to determining what assistance, if any, it would be appropriate for them to provide. This will include those needs relating to speech, language and communication. As we have said already in debates on these clauses, we will publish guidance regarding this legislation to set out in detail how local authorities might apply the new corporate parenting principles. The content of the guidance will, of course, be a matter for full deliberation and consultation, but I fully expect it to cover this very important area.
On Amendment 57, personal advisers have an important role to play. They are the key professionals responsible for identifying and co-ordinating provision of services, including those to support any speech, language and communication needs. Personal advisers’ responsibilities to inform care leavers of the services that they may access is already covered in existing legal duties and functions, and by Clause 3 of the Bill. Our review of the personal adviser role will address some of the issues that the noble Lord, Lord Storey, raised, as it will consider what further guidance or stipulation is necessary.
On Amendments 35 and 46, under the Equality Act, local authorities are already required to ensure that the services they offer and information they produce are readily accessible to care leavers with disabilities. They cannot put anyone with a disability at a disadvantage. We will ensure that the departmental guidance that will accompany this legislation is clear on this point. The guidance will make sure that local authorities take reasonable steps to ensure that care leavers can understand and access the support and services available to them in the local offer, expressed in a way that is clear and easy to understand. The noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, gave some examples in other areas, such as health, where innovative approaches are being used by local services to ensure that they are accessible to all. We certainly want to encourage local authorities to share best practice and consider using different types of technology. The local office for SEND must be kept under review and, when local authorities receive suggestions and comments, they must say what they have done with them. While I agree, of course, that the services local authorities provide should be of high quality, imposing a requirement to score services is not the best way in which to achieve that. Local authorities already have evaluation, management and records systems in place, and are subject to inspection by Ofsted. They will also be placed under a duty to consult care leavers before publishing or updating their local offer. That consultation will include seeking feedback about the services that are provided.
With regard to Amendments 44, 65, 67 and 69, I hope noble Lords are reassured by what I have said. Existing duties, Clause 3, and accompanying guidance will ensure that care leavers are informed about the support they can get, in a way that they understand, and helped to access the services they need.
I turn to Amendments 38 and 40, and the very important matter of support for young people leaving care in managing their finances, as highlighted by, among others, the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, and the noble Baroness, Lady Bakewell. Noble Lords will be aware that many local authorities already provide support in this regard. Indeed, one key aspect of a young person’s pathway plan is to help the care leaver to develop,
“the practical and other skills necessary for independent living”,
which, of course, includes budgeting and financial awareness.
Clause 2 sets out the main subject areas which we believe the local offer should cover to assist care leavers in preparing for adulthood and independent living. It is a non-exhaustive list, and the local authority will have the flexibility to include other subject areas that it thinks should be part of its local offer. As we discussed in Committee last Wednesday, our intention is to provide guidance on what a local area might include in its local offer. My noble friend and I fully agree that care leavers should be helped to develop financial skills and understanding of how to manage their finances effectively to help them to achieve independence and avoid running into financial difficulties. As noted, our intention is to include further information on this in the guidance.
Finally, I turn to Amendment 39. I reassure my noble friend Lord Farmer and the noble Baroness, Lady Tyler, that the whole thrust of what we seek to achieve through the Bill is the reinforcement of the importance of relationships and helping children and young people to recover from their pre-care experiences to make a successful transition to independence. The importance of relationships is central to the corporate parenting principles. As noble Lords will know, good corporate parents already support care leavers in developing relationships in a range of practical ways that have wider benefits. For example, Stoke-on-Trent City Council has set up an independent housing company, the House Project, which is run by, with and for care leavers.
Clause 2 already prescribes the broad areas that the local offer should include. We will publish guidance for local authorities and I would fully expect it to say that they should include in their offers information about relationship education among the services available for care leavers. Our forthcoming care leavers strategy will set out our plans to ensure that care leavers are better supported to develop and sustain the social networks that support them in their transition to adulthood and beyond.
Clause 3 will enable care leavers to maintain their relationship with their personal adviser, whom they often see as a linchpin in their lives, until the age of 25. One function of the personal adviser is to co-ordinate the provision of services and to take reasonable steps to ensure that the young person makes use of them. They will also, through the pathway planning process, identify ways in which the care leaver can develop and maintain positive attachments.
My noble friend Lord Farmer talked about family-finding services. Building on success in the United States, the Family Rights Group is now testing this approach in a number of local authorities. This is exactly the sort of approach that we want to test more widely as part of our forthcoming care leavers strategy. I hope that the noble Lord will feel reassured enough to withdraw his amendment.
Amendment 30 withdrawn.
Amendments 31 to 32 not moved.
Clause 1 agreed.
Amendments 33 and 34 not moved.
Clause 2: Local offer for care leavers
Amendments 35 to 40 not moved.
41: Clause 2, page 2, line 41, at end insert—
“(2A) A local authority in England must conduct an assessment of the services required to meet the needs of care leavers in relation to—(a) health and well-being;(b) education and training;(c) employment;(d) accommodation;(e) participation in society.(2B) The results of the assessment must be published online.(2C) A local authority in England must provide services that meet the needs identified in the assessment carried out under subsection (2A) and which also meet the national minimum standard.”
As part of the project, I visited the London Borough of Lewisham and subsequently hosted a discussion group of care leavers, senior social care staff and council members from the borough in the House last week. From that type of engagement, I emphasise that you can tell the quality of engagement with the care leavers’ forum by the discussions and conversations that take place. The local authority knows its forum members, keeps in touch and respects their views and inputs. The care leavers feel involved. Care leavers’ forums and regular surveys give the structure and voice to the consultation with care leavers that is required to take place under Clause 2(6). Our Amendment 45 would require the consultation responses to be published online, reinforcing the importance of the care leaver’s voice and helping to ensure transparency and accountability in how the local offer is developed and agreed.
My reason for drawing the Minister’s attention to the project was the hope that he could assure me that the department is actively looking at the project and its key relevance, particularly to the early clauses of the Bill. I hope that its report will be published this month. Can he undertake, on care leavers’ forums in particular, to come back to the House with a considered view on how they can ensure that local authorities set them up and make full use of their wisdom and experience to develop care leaver services? The project was also asked by the department to define a gold standard in services for care leavers. That has now been published on the New Belongings website and I hope the Minister will look at it in considering the need for minimum standards of service.
I mentioned Lewisham but participating local authorities in the project covered, for example, other London areas, Yorkshire, the north-west, the Midlands and south-west. Key changes in practice in Trafford and Leeds featured strongly, as we would expect, but progress was reported on a wide range of services against project criteria across all 28 councils. For example, there was Bournemouth’s offer of extended support for PAs to out-of-office hours. Staffordshire’s establishment of care leaver ambassadors, using young people with recent experience of care and leaving care to mentor care leavers, was particularly effective for education mentoring. I thought that Durham’s provision for every senior manager to mentor a care leaver was very valuable; it also developed a housing protocol for each care leaver as part of its pathway plan. There was no direct financial support to LAs in this project, only practical support for project activities. The project view was very supportive of the need for national minimum standards and guidance on services to be provided by councils.
Our other amendments in this group are Amendment 47 to Clause 2 and Amendment 74A to Clause 3. They would create a clear principle that all care leavers are entitled to advice and support up to the age of 25. The case for this was well rehearsed by noble Lords at Second Reading. The extension of support through the Bill as drafted comes with significant caveats, with the onus on the young person to contact the local authority having lost touch with services. Amendment 47 would ensure that the onus is on the corporate parent to reach out to those who may need support and ensure that they are aware of their entitlements. Post 21 is often the age when the problems for care leavers start to pile up. We do not want them to wait until crisis point or fail to get in touch because they do not want to admit that things are going wrong.
Our Amendment 74A would provide for a new Clause 3 to extend a range of duties as set out in Section 23C of the Children Act; in particular, to extend personal adviser support for care leavers up to the age of 25. Care leavers currently have the right to support from a personal adviser and pathway plan up to age 21, or 25 for those who told the local authority that they plan to return to education. The Bill extends this access up to 25 year-olds but again places the onus on the request for support coming from the young person. However, we know that the young people most in need of support often lose touch quickly with services and will not know their entitlements or where to go for help. Our amendment places a duty on councils to stay in touch with care leavers, to re-establish contact where they lose touch, to offer assistance with emergency welfare needs in certain circumstances and to appoint a PA and keep the pathway plan under regular review. This amendment is supported by my noble friend Lord Wills, who will speak on the importance of councils having adequate data on service outcomes for care leavers, and by the noble Earl, Lord Listowel.
I re-emphasise the key role and effectiveness of PAs, particularly the quality of their relationship with care leavers which underpins real change in practice. Talk to care leavers and they will stress this—and just how important the stability of PA support and better access to them is—rather than, as one care leaver said to me, just being able to “grab time with them”, as so often happens. I beg to move.
Amendment 41 withdrawn.
Amendment 42 had been withdrawn from the Marshalled List.
Amendments 43 to 46 not moved.
Clause 2 agreed.
Amendments 47 to 50 not moved.
Amendment 51 had been retabled as Amendment 74A.
Clause 3: Advice and support on request
52: Clause 3, page 3, line 42, leave out “on request”
I met numerous young people through the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Children, who came to talk to us about the difficulties they faced and how they came through them. They did so because they were given information that helped them to make an appropriate choice about their future. Some of them made that choice with some difficulty, even wishing not to go down the path where they ended up getting into a variety of trouble. Yet at the end of the day, because the offer was made to them over and over again, they were able to accept the advice and move on. That does not mean that a young person who has the ability and does not want a personal adviser should not be able to say, “No, I don’t want that. I can get on perfectly well”—just as some 18 year-olds leave an ordinary home and survive in society. However, we must persist with young people who face such difficulties and give them help.
Amendment 52 withdrawn.
Amendments 53 to 61 not moved.
61A: Clause 3, page 4, line 18, after “needs,” insert “including his or her needs as a young parent where applicable,”
Guidance associated with the Children Act 1989 already covers in detail the matter of assessment of needs through pathway plans for children in care and care leavers. This includes the needs of those care leavers who are either parents or about to become parents. That guidance makes it clear that considering family and social relationships is a key aspect of assessment as part of pathway planning. It also requires there to be full consideration of how all relationships form part of a care leaver’s transition to adulthood. This would include where the young person was a parent or was to become one. Local authorities must keep pathway plans under review to reflect changing circumstances and needs. One of the specific factors that might lead to a review is, as the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, said, the parenting capacity of a care leaver—as the guidance explains.
The Children Act 1989 guidance on transition to adulthood also states that local authorities should set out how they will support specific groups of care leavers such as lone parents. However, we need to ensure that, as well as there being clear guidance, care leavers and other young parents are able to access the services they need. To this end, the number of health visitors has increased by almost 50% since May 2010. Health visitors deliver the Healthy Child Programme, a universal service for all families. As part of the HCP, health visitors will identify where families need additional support. It states clearly that one of the risk factors for experiencing additional problems is where one or both parents grew up in care.
For disadvantaged teenage mothers, family nurse partnerships, which the noble Baroness, Lady Armstrong, highlighted, also offer an evidence-based, intense programme of supported visits. The FNP supports many teenage mothers who have a care background. In October 2015, robust new evidence was published on the FNP programme’s effectiveness in improving short-term outcomes in England. The FNP national unit is using this evidence to adapt and strengthen the programme so that it provides more flexibility, supporting nurses to tailor the intervention to client needs in order to help local authorities develop a service that meets the particular requirements of vulnerable families in their local area. As the noble Baroness, Lady Massey, said, for the minority who have multiple children taken into care, programmes such as Pause provide new approaches that recognise the complex challenges that these women face.
On the points of the noble Baronesses, Lady Armstrong and Lady Massey, around kinship carers, they will be aware that my noble friend the Minister agreed last week to meet the Kinship Care Alliance to discuss these broad issues. That meeting is currently being set up. I will be able to say more later about the guidance and support available to kinship carers in my response to group 11.
The noble Baroness, Lady Armstrong, asked whether children in care who are accommodated in children’s homes would be able to stay on, like those with foster parents. Today we announced that the department accepts Sir Martin Narey’s recommendation to develop a Staying Close model for those in children’s homes post-18 years. Work on that will be beginning.
I will take back to the department the comments of the noble Lord, Lord Warner, and ask them to be looked into—if they have not already been.
On the comments of the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Durham about young men, we recognise that programmes to support young fathers are underdeveloped. Having a child can be a catalyst for young fathers to turn their lives around. I will ask my colleagues in the Department of Health and back at my department to provide an update on services available to young fathers and will write to the right reverend Prelate. I will take back the points made by the noble Baroness, Lady Hughes, in relation to early intervention.
We believe that the amendments of the noble Baroness, Lady Massey, are unnecessary as they duplicate existing provision contained within the Children Act 1989, seeking to re-insert them in this Bill. Although we understand the intention, we believe this change is unnecessary.
I hope that noble Lords will see that the particular needs of young parents and of parents will be fully covered within the corporate parenting guidance and that the Government are undertaking a programme of work to support these vulnerable young people. With that, I hope that the noble Baroness will feel able to withdraw her amendment.
Amendment 61A withdrawn.
Amendments 62 to 72 not moved.
73: Clause 3, page 5, line 16, at end insert—
“( ) In making available personal advisers under this Act, the Secretary of State must make regulations to provide—(a) performance standards and training for personal advisers;(b) arrangements for vetting as to their suitability before taking up posts; and(c) a publicly available register of approved personal advisers.”
Amendment 73 withdrawn.
Amendments 74 and 74A not moved.
Clause 3 agreed.
75: After Clause 3, insert the following new Clause—
“Duty of the Secretary of State
(1) The Secretary of State must promote the rights and well-being of children and young people in England mentioned in section 1(2).(2) In this section—“rights” means—(a) the Convention rights within the meaning given by section 1 of the Human Rights Act 1998;(b) the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child; and(c) other human rights;“well-being” means—(a) physical and mental health and emotional well-being;(b) protection from harm and neglect;(c) education, training and recreation;(d) the contribution made by a person to society;(e) social and economic well-being.”
Data collected for the NSPCC concluded that the rate of confirmed abuse in residential care in England was 3.3 in every 100 children in 2011-12. In institutional settings, there are alarmingly high numbers of abuse allegations which local authorities find to be unsubstantiated, suggesting that children still struggle to be believed. For example, one local authority said that it had received 82 abuse allegations in three years from children detained in its local young offender institution but every single one was found to be unsubstantiated. Central government policy directly affects these children, which is why they need a ministerial champion with a defined statutory role. The review led by the noble Lord, Lord Laming, of the overrepresentation of children in care in the criminal justice system calls for,
“strong and determined leadership at national and local levels”.
This has been advocated time and time again in respect of looked-after children. Amendment 75 would make the rights and well-being of looked-after children and care leavers an unambiguous political priority by putting the duty on the Secretary of State.
Amendment 135 would place a duty on public authorities to have due regard, when safeguarding and promoting the welfare of children, to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child and its optional protocols. It would require them to determine the impact of local service provision and decision-making on the rights of children and provide a framework for public service delivery. Rights become real for children at the local level: in their homes, schools and communities and through their contact with local services and practitioners. Yet research has shown that too many children continue to experience violations of their rights, such as lack of access to mental health services or living in overcrowded, damp accommodation. The far-reaching cuts to local authority budgets have resulted in a 40% real-terms reduction to their funding, which has inevitably impacted in particular on preventive services, including those for children.
The UN Committee on the Rights of the Child said in its recent examination of the UK’s child rights record that it was,
“seriously concerned at the effects that recent fiscal policies and allocation of resources have had”,
and that they are,
“disproportionately affecting children in disadvantaged situations”.
The UN committee urged the UK to introduce a statutory obligation to consider children’s needs,
“when developing laws and policies affecting children”.
The Bill gives us an opportunity to do just that. This duty for public authorities would require them routinely to consider the impact of policies and decision-making on children, thus ensuring that vulnerable children do not bear the brunt of any future spending cuts.
Political and administrative duties play an important part in putting children’s rights into practice as, for example, the duty on public authorities to act compatibly with the European Convention on Human Rights clearly shows. That duty has ensured equal financial support for family members and non-family members who foster children, and has confirmed that children staying in hospital for a long period still receive disability living allowance. As the Committee can see, such a duty works.
The evidence shows that the most powerful driver for implementation of the CRC within a nation comes through giving direct force to the CRC in domestic law. Incorporation through a duty on public authorities should enable the provisions of the CRC to be invoked directly before the courts and ensure that it prevails where there is a conflict with domestic legislation or common practice, in the same way as the European Convention on Human Rights has been incorporated by means of the Human Rights Act—and it works, as I have just said. Although my amendment does not bring full incorporation of the UNCRC into UK law, to be within the scope of this Bill it provides a duty in relation to safeguarding and promoting the welfare of children.
England is lagging behind the rest of the UK in terms of legislative protections for children’s rights. The legal machinery for securing children’s rights in England is significantly weaker than in the devolved Administrations and, as a result, local implementation of the CRC is inconsistent. It relies on an ad hoc approach to child rights impact assessments and the efforts of some very committed individuals.
Few local authorities have an explicit child rights plan or strategy in place. Evidence from UNICEF UK’s work indicates that local authorities do not always understand the full extent of the rights and duties set out in the CRC and often limit children’s rights to participation and voice. Indeed, in response to the group led by Amendment 10 last week, the Minister said that “rights” were covered by Clause 1(1)(b) and (c) because they deal with children being able to express their wishes and feelings. The UNCRC goes much wider than that. There is no evidence of a systematic use of child rights impact assessments to determine which services to cut when budgets are tight, and that is why we need Amendment 135. I beg to move.
Amendment 75 withdrawn.
Amendment 76 not moved.
Clause 4: Duty of local authority in relation to previously looked after children
77: Clause 4, page 5, line 28, after “parents” insert “and any other person with parental responsibility”
These children, like all children, need skills for life to enable them to make progress at school, in society and in employment. Employers consistently say that they want not just academic education but things such as team-building and resilience. Other skills include language and communication—I thank the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham—and developing relationships, resilience and self-confidence. The skill of looking after one’s health should also be included—for example, avoiding early pregnancy and protecting against HIV and other sexually transmitted infections. We know that looked-after children tend to have more early pregnancies, for example.
The Minister knows that many, although not enough, schools have developed successful programmes around these themes—good schools often have a member of the staff who is charged with running these programmes—with links with other schools and services in the community. Some of us go into schools as part of the Lord Speaker’s Peers in Schools programme. The other week I was at a school that had a programme of personal and social education which also included citizenship and financial education.
The recent referendum indicated that, although some young people are informed and knowledgeable about what used to be called civics, some are not. It is important that all young people—particularly perhaps young migrants—become informed about our political and legal systems. With this amendment I am asking that all schools should pay particular attention to what are sometimes called soft skills, which enhance academic skills and behaviour. The Royal College of Nursing, voluntary sector organisations, parents’ organisations and young people have asked many times for this education to be provided.
I know that the Government are nervous about the word “statutory”. I shall not go into that but I do not think that “ensuring” that pupils receive social and skills education is controversial, and that word is used in other Bills. It is not about prescribed programmes; it is about the ethos of a school—for example, having children’s paintings on the wall, and the relationship between staff and pupils and between pupils and pupils. It is about policies on bullying and school meals. It is about assemblies, which foster good citizenship, civic duties and having a pride in the school and in oneself. It is about pastoral care, which links to other agencies. This is of course about the curriculum—about handling money and issues such as drug education, sex education, diet, first aid and so on. Of course, sport, drama and art reinforce personal development and relationships. I have discussed these issues with the Minister before and I know that he is very supportive. I hope that the Government will return to this at some point and look at the need for social and personal development, as well as academic development, in all our schools.
Amendment 77 withdrawn.
Amendments 78 and 79 not moved.
Committee adjourned at 7.46 pm.