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Baroness Masham of Ilton: Has the Minister referred to the Bill on special needs children that the DfEE said it will be bringing in? Will the children who are disabled, referred to in this amendment, be covered by that Bill? We do not yet know what will be in that Bill.
Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: I may need to reflect on that further. In relation to the learning disabled children I was talking about a strategy which is being developed, rather than legislation. The reference to the new ConneXion service was an announcement made by the Secretary of State for Education and Employment, which is relevant to the Learning and Skills Bill that we will be debating very shortly in the main Chamber.
Lord Laming: I thank the Minister for that thoughtful and helpful response. From my point of view I absolutely agree that parents who place their children in residential schools should in no way be seen to abdicate their responsibilities for those children. It would be very helpful if the Minister were willing to reflect specifically on the needs of those children who have no continued contact with their families and who spend 52 weeks a year in residential establishments. This is the group of young people for whom we should have particular concern. Other kinds of services to which the Minister has referred no doubt will support parents who have a continuing contact with their children, who have the best intentions for their children, and who are very concerned to care for and protect their children, but there is a group of children who have no continuing contact with their parents and whose only life experience is in a residential establishment of one kind or another. I hope the Minister will be willing to give some thought, within the context of a very thoughtful reply, to that particular group of young people.
Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: I am obviously happy to give that assurance, because it is very important that the needs of this particular group of children are considered. I still think there is a debate to be had as to the best way forward. There are real difficulties in relation to those children as against the basic core of the Bill, which relates to looked-after children. I recognise, however, that whichever route one takes, one needs to ensure that those children receive the right advice and support. I would be very happy to reflect further and discuss it with the noble Lord.
Baroness Masham of Ilton: Before the Minister sits down again, perhaps I may ask him about the position of children, say, from a Barnardo's home. Are they classed as children in care, or are they in a private home? How are they classed?
Baroness Masham of Ilton: I want to get this clear, if it is a very grey area. I would have thought that all children in a Barnardo's home would have been looked after--it does not matter how they are looked after, because they are away from their home.
Lord Clement-Jones: I, too, thank the Minister for his very careful reply to this amendment. As he says, the challenge is there to ensure that these children are properly looked after. I appreciate his undertaking to look at this issue as regards those in residential schools for that kind of period. After all, the amendment does not seek to include children who have a reasonable amount of contact with their parents--children who are 52 weeks in a residential school have very little contact with their parents. As the noble Lord, Lord Laming, said, we have no intention of trying to take responsibility away from parents. However, children who are in these residential schools for 52 weeks will have very limited contact with their parents.
The Minister took us very carefully through the Quality Protects programme and talked about the next phase being in the disability area and the fact that personal advisers will be part of that provision. However, the difference will be that the children who are in residential schools for 52 weeks will not have statutory rights. They will have rights under the Quality Protects programme but that is not the same as having the statutory rights enshrined in the Bill. Therefore, I appreciate the Minister's undertaking to look at that issue. This class of children is not huge but it is very important. In the meantime, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
The Deputy Chairman of Committees: Before I call the next amendment, perhaps I may suggest that when Members of the Committee refer to "Clause 24" of an eight-clause Bill, they should make it clear that they are referring to the 1989 Act? I am thinking more about the readers of Hansard than about Members of the Committee, all of whom realise what they are saying.
The noble Earl said: In moving Amendment No. 3A I wish to speak also to Amendments Nos. 4A and 11A. Amendments Nos. 3A and 4A have the aim of ensuring that there is a provision for review of pathway planning to take place in accordance with existing Children Act regulations regarding the review of plans for looked-after children.
These amendments are from the Children's Consortium. The Review of Children's Cases Regulations 1991 provide details about how the matter is to be considered on review; the frequency of review; and the people to be involved in the process. Guidance amplifies the process, and the looking after children materials, which are excellent and very widely used, are also very well established and proven.
There is no need, surely, to reinvent the wheel in this case but merely to amend what already exists. If the amendment to paragraph 19B(5) is accepted, this sub-paragraph is unnecessary and wrong. But why should there be a separate review process? Is it not part of the planning process that all matters are considered together?
Amendment No. 11A is closely connected with this. There is no requirement for a regulation to be drafted in relation to reviewing the pathway plan. Pathway planning should be seen as a process particularly for this group of vulnerable young people. Therefore, regulations about review are as important as those about initial planning. I should be interested to hear the Minister's response to whether the review of the pathway planning process is as important as the process for setting it up in the first place.
Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: I am grateful to the noble Earl for allowing me to talk a little about the question of pathway plans which are crucial to the success of what we are aiming to achieve. It is right to be concerned that the reviews of pathway plans are governed by proper procedures set out in regulations. I hope that noble Lords will be reassured when I say that the Bill already contains a specific power to make regulations about the review of pathway plans in Clause 3 at new Section 23E(2):
We shall be making tailor-made regulation in readiness for the implementation of the Bill. Because of that, there is no need to apply other sets of regulations about the review of children's cases or the assessment to pathway plans.
There is another reason against using the mechanism for the review of cases of children who are still looked after, as Amendment No. 3A provides. The idea has always been to give children and young people as seamless a transition from care to leaving care as possible. That is why they will all have pathway plans which will continue, whether they are in care or not. They will all have personal advisers.
If the plan were to be reviewed, as this group of amendments suggests, children who were still looked after might be subject to one kind of review and children and young people who had left care would be subject to another kind. We want to avoid creating such unnecessary distinctions.
As to the content of the regulations, in the consultation paper Me, Survive Out There? the Government propose reviews at six-monthly intervals, or more frequently if necessary, because pathway plans need to be flexible to accommodate the changes
It is intended that the consultations over the regulations should be open because it is clearly important that we get them right. We want to discuss them with the people representing children's interests who will have to operate them in order to ensure that we have got them right.
Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: The intention is that it will come into operation in April 2001, which is not long away. Noble Lords may ask whether local authorities will be prepared for it. Because it has been trailed in advance, we shall make it clear to local authorities that we expect them to have their preparations ready so that it can be up and running on 1st April 2001. Our intention with regard to regulations is to consult over the summer period.
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