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Earl Russell: My Lords, I am most grateful to the Minister. Were the Government to decide that the

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responsibility lay properly on local authorities, would the Government then agree to vary their standard spending assessments accordingly?

Lord Burlison: My Lords, I note the point made by the noble Earl. I am certain that this debate will be studied and any meaningful recommendations that may come from it will be considered in due course. I hope that I may be able to cover that a little more as I progress through the comments I wish to make.

The Department of Health will consider such applications carefully. That point was made by the noble Lord, Lord Astor of Hever, as regards whether progress can be made in the area of establishing refuges in the future.

We are greatly encouraged by the developments the Children's Society is seeking to bring about. Refuges are one of the services, together with drop-in centres, advocacy for young people, emergency foster care placements and night-stop accommodation, which go to make up street-work services and, of course, they need to be developed in close collaboration with the statutory services; namely, social services, the police, education and health, within the strategic framework of the local authority's children's services plan.

In January 1998 the Local Government Association and the Association of Chief Police Officers issued guidance to local authorities on procedures and good practice when children go missing. My department was on the working party which produced this excellent guidance and we will be developing it further with the publication this spring of practice guidance.

The Children's Society wants each child who runs away to be offered an interview to assess their reasons for doing so. The joint guidance produced by the Local Government Association and the Association of Chief Police Officers advises that children who run away should be given the opportunity to explain their reasons for doing so. In this way their needs can be identified and met to ensure that they do not feel so desperate as to run away again.

The Government's response to the Children's Safeguards Review made it clear that accurate records must be maintained of every incident and senior managers should examine the reasons why children have gone missing and any variation in the rate at which they run from different children's homes and foster carers. This data will help us all--both local and central government--to gain a clearer picture of the extent of this problem in order to provide a more strategic response.

For a minority of runaways a pattern of sleeping rough may follow. As my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Education and Employment said recently:

    "... education is key in alerting young people to the consequences of sleeping rough. We are already funding a project run by Centrepoint which allows people to hear first hand from their peers about the realities of rough sleeping. We are currently looking into expanding this to other areas around the country".

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Our measures to support families and carers should help prevent problems escalate to the point where a child or young person runs away. However, I think we need to look at ensuring that where necessary there is an appropriate multi-agency response. A major improvement may well be the setting up of the new youth support service. It may provide the key because of its close involvement with individual young people and the way in which it will be working with other agencies, including social services, where there are serious concerns.

I welcome the Children's Society's research, which greatly improves our understanding of this problem. We are anxious to do all we can to prevent children feeling the need to run away. To this end I can tell noble Lords that department officials will shortly be meeting Ian Sparks, Chief Executive of the Children's Society, to consider this pressing and complex issue.

I shall now respond to one or two points that have been made in the debate. If I am not able to cover them all, then--as was suggested by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mayhew--I shall study Hansard and write in response to any matters that I may have missed tonight.

The noble Earl, Lord Russell, made the point that Home Office parenting orders may be dangerous as they could lead to more runaways. I hope that I have made it clear in my comments that the Government are determined to work with families to break the cycle of youth offending and social exclusion. Parenting orders are only one part of the package to reduce offending. They have their place in ensuring that parents face up to their responsibilities.

The noble Baroness, Lady Stern, spoke of the consequences for the future. The Government are well aware that some children and young people who run away may establish a pattern that leads to social exclusion. It is for those reasons that we are taking forward a whole raft of measures aimed at preventing social exclusion.

The noble Earl, Lord Rosslyn, pointed out the role of the police in this area. I know that he has considerable experience and first-hand knowledge of the events of which he spoke. I should like to thank the noble Earl for pointing out the important role played by the police in this area and the assistance they give to tackling the problem. Not only do they receive reports of missing children and return them, but they can play a role in identifying the problems which may lead to a young person running away. It is vital that the police and social services work together for the child. I welcome the work of the Association of Chief Police Officers and indeed local government.

The noble Earl, Lord Rosslyn, asked what is being done to tackle the problem of those involved in prostitution. The guidance, which was published at the end of last year, includes a new section which draws on the Home Office and Department of Health draft guidance on children involved in prostitution. It states

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that local agencies should develop inter-agency protocols to guide action when there are concerns that a child is involved in prostitution, including guidance on sharing concerns about the child's safety and the identification of a child involved in prostitution or at risk of being drawn into prostitution. This should always trigger agreed local procedures to ensure the child's safety and welfare and enable the police to gather evidence about abusers and coercers.

The noble Earl, Lord Listowel, asked about government support for Childline. The Government have supported Childline and the invaluable work that Childline undoubtedly does. They are committed to developing systems for children to make their voices heard. One example is the priority being given to children's participation in the £375 million Quality Protects programme. The noble Earl also asked about encouraging funding for local authorities. There is a specific reference in the children's services guidance to the need to plan services for runaways on a collaborative basis with other agencies and to institute effective monitoring arrangements. That is designed to provide major inputs for better financed, targeted and supported services. The Department of Health will reiterate the importance of this issue in its good practice guide to local authorities in the spring.

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I have tried to deal with as many points as possible. I realise that I may not have covered one or two. Indeed, the noble Earl, Lord Russell, asked whether the Government will adjust the standard spending assessment. I have an answer in front of me, much to my surprise. The Government are investing an additional £375 million in local authority services for children. We will be encouraging local authorities to consider the development of refuges.

This has been an excellent debate. Considerable thought and good intentions lay behind the speeches of all those involved. Perhaps we will see the day when the kind of progress which we should all like to see will come about.

Lord Astor of Hever: My Lords, before the noble Lord sits down, will he look at my question about bullying in schools? I do not expect an answer now, but I should be grateful for a letter. Perhaps the noble Lord could also put a copy in the Library.

Lord Burlison: My Lords, I apologise to the noble Lord. I missed his point. I asked my noble friend Lady Amos whether she had caught it, but she, like myself, had had her attention diverted. I shall of course respond.

        House adjourned at twenty-four minutes past eight o'clock.

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