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Lord Macaulay of Bragar: Before the noble and learned Lord sits down, would he reconsider the use of

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the word "shall" in the light of the observations of the noble Baroness, Lady Faithfull? Should it be "may" or should it be "shall", or even "maybe"?

Lord Fraser of Carmyllie: I am sure that Her Majesty's Treasury would be delighted if I were to delete the word "shall" and retreat to the use of the word "may", but I think it is important that when young people first leave care at up to the age of 19, the local authority should be under a duty to provide this assistance to them. As they become older, the provisions should be merely permissive, and the use of the word "may" is then more appropriate. Although there may be some who would like to go a little further, generally speaking, there is agreement that we have the balance about right.

The Earl of Mar and Kellie: Perhaps I may take issue with the noble and learned Lord. I am keen that such children—I suppose that I should not say "in care" but those who are growing up on a "looked-after" basis—should know that the local authority gives them the right to ask for services. I take the point that over the age of 19 someone who is vulnerable and needs services will be able to demand them by approaching the social work department in the same way as anybody older, but I would prefer such children to know that they have the right to approach the local authority rather than have to argue the case for services. However, I have listened to the Minister's argument, and I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

The Earl of Mar and Kellie moved Amendment No. 87:

Page 19, line 16, leave out from ("at") to ("was") in line 17, and insert ("any time subsequent to his fifteenth birthday").

The noble Earl said: I want to establish in the Committee's mind the fact that the Bill puts a rather high starting point for eligibility for the mandatory provision of aftercare. I cannot grumble about the Bill's current provision of aftercare. What I hope can be achieved by this amendment is the inclusion of a larger but equally vulnerable group of ex-care adults who returned to their homes from care in the last school year. Many will have been in care because of school attendance problems. Their return home will usually have been made on a trial basis, with the hope that the child's increasing maturity will stand him in better stead, but there is no guarantee that the situation in the family home will have changed much from that appertaining before the child was received into care. There is the reasonable possibility that the family home may yet again disintegrate.

I believe that lowering the age of eligibility will have the beneficial effect of ensuring that fewer vulnerable young people are left outside the mandatory safety net. The costs of homelessness, mental ill health, destitution, unemployment, delinquency and possibly imprisonment far outweigh the increases in costs that this amendment may generate. I beg to move.

Lord Fraser of Carmyllie: I recognise that the provision as presently drafted will mean that a person seeking to be looked after by a local authority

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immediately before reaching school-leaving age would not be eligible, in terms of the definition, for aftercare. But there clearly has to be a cut-off point at some point. The noble Earl's amendment seeks to lower that cut-off point a little. Again, I am not so much concerned about the issue of resources in principle. Clearly, however, the amendment could increase the number who would be eligible and accordingly there is the prospect of a greater imposition of costs. What is more important is that if the amendment is accepted, someone could leave care at the age of 15 years and one week and get on fine, surviving satisfactorily back home all the way up to a week before his 19th birthday when he could then come back and demand or require those services of the local authority. The period is becoming too extended. It is right that we should have restricted it in the way that we have from the 16th birthday through to the 19th and that we should not extend it in this wider fashion. However, I recognise that this is an issue of cut-off points and that there will always be arguments about whether a cut-off point is too high or too low.

3.45 p.m.

The Earl of Mar and Kellie: I thank the Minister for his answer. I am a little worried about the fact that many children go home between the ages of 15 and 16. I would not like the situation to emerge whereby people were actually staying in care for a couple of extra months in order to qualify. I appreciate that a cut-off point will always create that problem. I am just wondering how we can avoid it. I am tempted to say that I do not mind the additional cost; that statement had better be taken as it is meant!

On the noble and learned Lord's analogy of the person who has lived successfully up to 18 years and 11 months and then his life disintegrates, I would argue that that is exactly why the social services department is there. It is there to help such a person, so we should not be too worried about that possibility. However, I accept that that example was given as analogy. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 88 not moved.]

The Earl of Mar and Kellie moved Amendment No. 89:

Page 19, line 19, leave out from ("least") to ("years") in line 20, and insert ("twenty-one but is less than twenty-three".).

The noble Earl said: In moving Amendment No. 89, I should like to speak also to Amendment No. 90. These two amendments clearly seek to extend the ages to which the local authorities may, on request, provide ex-care young adults with advice, guidance and assistance. The Bill at present is quite generous in extending the right to help and interest up to the age of 21, but I believe that it should go further. Earlier I established that the normal age for leaving home proves to be 22 years. That does not mean that families normally lose all interest in their children as soon as they have flown the nest for the first time. My personal experience as a step-parent of five and grandparent of six confirms for me that the continuing and developing relationship with one's adult children is ongoing. Even

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the Government recognise that. Parents are required to support their children up to the age of 25 in their higher and further education.

It would be eminently reasonable to extend that interest to young adults who have endured the need to be received into care. What is more, they should know that they have a right to such interest and assistance and should not have to plead for it with the intake and assessment team.

I would finally say that the costs of the extended provision of advice, guidance and assistance to this older group by right will not be very large as the numbers will taper off with increasing age. However, this provision by right will be highly valued by the small group of still vulnerable young adults who I persist in believing are worth more than the money. I beg to move.

The Earl of Balfour: I wonder if I can ask a question at this stage. Do local authorities have facilities to assist adults in need of care? Although the Bill deals with children, Amendment No. 90 raises the age to 25. At that age the child has definitely become an adult. What is the relevant Act in that case? A reply would help me to understand the extension of age proposed by the noble Earl, Lord Mar and Kellie, in his amendment.

Lord Macaulay of Bragar: The amendment would, I believe, be greeted with some approval within the community. There is no compulsion on the local authority. We are now seeing the effects of the so-called policy of care in the community. As the noble Earl said, a person who requires care in the community may be aged 24 but possibly lacks the mental capacity to be able to look after himself or herself. I have not discussed the matter with the noble Earl, but the reasoning behind the amendment may be that we have to provide some kind of community shelter for people who have been pushed out into the community so that they have a safe haven to go to. They can say to the local authority, "Here is my position. Can you help me?" I wonder if that is perhaps the reasoning behind the proposal.

It is of course, ridiculous to describe someone aged 25 as a child, but we have to strike a balance. To that extent, and given that the amendment does not impose any mandatory duty on the local authority but merely makes a facility available, I support the amendment.

Lord Fraser of Carmyllie: I knew there was some advantage in this new arrangement for discussing matters in Committee. I can answer the noble Earl, Lord Balfour, by telling him that there are indeed powers given to local authorities in Scotland to provide assistance to those who are adults. Those broad powers and duties are to be found in Section 12 of the Social Work (Scotland) Act 1968.

As I said, it is almost inevitable that in our approach to aftercare there will be criticism that we are not being generous enough or that there are cut-off points that are too low. I reiterate that, in my view, the aftercare provisions we are introducing are considerably more generous than those provided under the 1968 Act. I believe that that is acknowledged. They are also more generous than those on this side of the Border including, as they do, a specific duty for local authorities to help

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young people until they become 19 years of age.

I do not believe that we need to take aftercare beyond a young person's 21st birthday. Of course, there may still be a need for continuing help and assistance, but that I see as coming through mainstream social work provision and not tied to the fact that a particular individual, now an adult, had at one time been in care while he was a child.

This is essentially a children's Bill, and while we certainly want to ensure that it deals adequately with an individual's transition to adulthood, we would not want to extend that transition indefinitely. So with that balance between the specific provisions in the Children Bill and the more general social work duty, I hope the noble Earl will accept again that the balance is about right.

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