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Lord Clement-Jones: My Lords, the aim of the amendment--it was put forward in Committee and on Report--is to ensure that local authorities are under a duty to meet the continuing assessed needs of young people up to the age of 21 who have previously been in care. This would provide a safety net for all those young people who leave care and get into difficulties later. The view of all sides of the Chamber in Committee and on Report was that young people leaving care have to cope with the challenges and responsibilities of major changes in their lives at a far earlier stage than other young people. Yet they face additional problems purely as a result of having been in care.
It cannot be right that young people in care must go to great lengths to obtain the opportunities that other young people take for granted. It cannot be right that children and young people leaving care have to fight for financial and practical assistance to stay on a course, in a job, or in a home where they feel secure and happy. I am glad to say that the amendment was supported by the Association of Directors of Social Services.
On 10th February in the debate in Grand Committee, and on 9th March on Report, the Minister expressed his agreement with the principle of the need to extend the proposed new duty to care leavers up to the age of 21. He said that the Government were committed to doing that as soon as possible. However, the problem as he expressed it was essentially one of timing. On these Benches, although we understood the timing difficulties faced by the Government, and the fact that the Comprehensive Spending Review round two had not yet pronounced, we were firmly of the view that the duty should be put on the face of the Bill. A powerful moral and practical case for pressing ahead was made by Sir William Utting in the House of Lords at a meeting in January. He concluded:
I recognise that much of the efficacy of the amendment tabled by the Minister will depend on the appointed date chosen. I hope that the Minister's influence, which has proved so considerable to date, will extend to ensuring an earlier appointed day.
Baroness Masham of Ilton: My Lords, I support the amendment. Many young people who have been in care or are coming out of care are disabled or have learning difficulties, and the process therefore takes much longer. It is an important matter.
I congratulate the Minister on his hard work on, and interest in, the Bill. I was surprised that more noble Lords did not take sufficient interest in the Bill. It is exceedingly important. If one can prevent people being sucked into a life of crime, it is well worth while. That is of great importance to the families, the young people and to the country because it saves money.
The Earl of Listowel: My Lords, I support the amendment and put forward one further argument. We have discussed the way in which young people have been let down before they arrived in care and while in care. The Government's innovations--the young person's assistant and the pathway plan--will give those young people the additional support they need to make a go of life. However, if the young person's assistant does not have the authority to require local authorities to provide the necessary facilities agreed between the young person and his assistant, there is the danger that the trust between the young person and his adviser will be lost. We have talked often of the danger of estrangement. It is an important consideration. I, too, welcome the happy news of the Government's concession with regard to training and education.
Baroness Thornton: My Lords, I welcome the success and my congratulations on the cross-party achievement. We have all worked together to make the Bill more successful. I have worked with children in care--indeed, many years ago I worked in a residential home--and this Bill is the most important piece of legislation I have participated in since my introduction two years ago. We know that the passing of the Bill will mean something real to a group of young people who are most disadvantaged and in need of support. I congratulate the Minister and thank him for all his efforts on our behalf.
Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, it is tempting to quit while we are ahead in the mutual congratulations. It is a reflection on our serious and considered debates on the Bill throughout its stages in this House. It is also about our united determination to do much better for looked-after children and looked-after children who have left care.
The stark statistics which I quoted at Second Reading resulted in our discussions on the amendments: 75 per cent of young people leaving care have no educational qualifications; up to 50 per cent are unemployed; and up to 20 per cent experience some form of homelessness within two years of leaving care.
The development of a much enhanced service and the legislation that is before us rests on current good practice within the system. It is as well also to acknowledge the work of some local authorities in providing effective support.
The noble Earl, Lord Howe, said that it is "when" and not "if". That takes us to the substance of what is proposed: ensuring that young care leavers receive the support they need. The Government's amendments provide a far-reaching and coherent package for support for these young people. In beginning my remarks I apologise to your Lordships for the lateness in their tabling. However, given their welcome, I am sure that I can ask indulgence.
There is no doubt that support for care leavers aged 18 and over has aroused considerable passion and debate. Noble Lords from all sides of the House have made the point that young people from a normal family background can usually expect to be able to ask for help and support from their parents into their 20s and in some cases even longer. Noble Lords have made the point that young people leaving care have at least the same need for such continuing support. I agree wholeheartedly.
The amendments are about making sure that care leavers receive the support they need as young adults. Amendment No. 5 removes any ambiguity about the status of a young person who is an eligible child and leaves care at 18. Such a young person skips, as it were, the status of relevant child, as relevant children are those who leave care at 16 and 17, qualifying for the new arrangements. It might therefore seem that such a young person would not qualify for support after 18, but this amendment makes it quite plain that they are to receive these continuing duties from their responsible authority.
In addition, through these amendments we have brought together all the provisions for continuing support for former relevant children, so that they will sit as a single package at new Section 22C rather than being scattered through the Bill. I believe that that approach has a number of benefits. First, it makes this part of the Bill a good deal clearer. As we have debated the legislation, we have all had to wrestle with the fact that it is complex. We have tried to balance concision against repetition. This new presentation introduces some repetition, but I hope that your Lordships will agree that it is a price worth paying for the clarity it offers.
Amendments Nos. 3, 6 to 10 and 13 to 15 are all drafting amendments, mainly consequential on grouping all these duties together in new Section 23C. Finally, Amendment 11, at subsection (5), introduces new duties whereby local authorities must provide assistance to their former relevant children.
Given that position, which will not come as a surprise to noble Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Laming, offered us a way through our impasse when he spoke in Committee. He pointed out that it is not uncommon for Bills to be passed without a final commitment to a timetable for implementation either for all or part of the Bill. It remains a matter for government to decide when to commence any of the Bill's provisions.
We have listened carefully to the arguments which noble Lords have made repeatedly throughout debates on the issue. Noble Lords are rightly concerned that there should be no shred of ambiguity about the Government's commitment to these young care leavers to ensure that they receive the support which will enable them to live fulfilled and productive lives as full members of society. That is why we have decided that the new duties should appear on the face of the Bill to be implemented as soon as we have secured the resources to support them.
The amendment to new Section 23C(5)(a) imposes a new duty on a responsible authority to assist a former relevant child up to the age of 21 with the expenses associated with employment. I say to the noble Earl, Lord Howe, that that means on the person's 21st birthday. The amendment at new Section 23C(5)(b) imposes a new duty on a responsible authority to assist a former relevant child with the expenses associated with education or training. In this case, the duty applies until the end of the care leaver's agreed programme of education or training, even if that takes him past the age of 21. This is another place where this approach offers more than was before us previously.
The amendment at new Section 23C(5)(c) imposes a new duty on local authorities to provide general assistance to care leavers aged 18 to 21 if their welfare requires it. That assistance can be in kind or, if appropriate, in cash. As ever, the key mechanism for this is the pathway plan. A young person will always keep his pathway plan until he is 21 and it will continue to be reviewed and revised until then.
However, if the local authority continues to assist someone in education or training, new Section 23C(8)(b) ensures that he will keep his personal adviser and his personal plan, which will continue to be reviewed and revised until that support comes to an end. So it is possible to envisage a case where someone comes very late indeed to education, starts his GCSEs just before the age of 21 and is assisted by the local authority through a complete course of education to degree level or even beyond. That meets an important point which was raised in Committee.
The amendment at new Section 23C(9) requires the authority to disregard any gaps in attendance for reasons such as illness so long as the young person resumes the course as soon as possible. New Section 23C(10) obliges the responsible authority to provide vacation accommodation to young people whom they are assisting with higher education, should they need it.
I hope that noble Lords will agree that this package of support is a significant step forward for young people aged 18 and over who have left care. It treats them as adults operating in the adult world, but it provides support for them while they find their feet. It seems to me to be very much a feature of the Bill that support and assistance will be tailored to young people's individual needs and circumstances. Therefore, the provisions mirror much more closely what a young person could expect from his family.
I believe also that the provisions for support through education and training should encourage more young people to take up those opportunities and so improve their chances of a rewarding career. No longer will we have a situation in which as many as 75 per cent of young people who leave care have no educational qualifications. I trust that noble Lords will support the amendments.
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