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The Earl of Listowel: Before the Minister responds, I make it absolutely clear that I informed the Minister that I would not move this amendment in this group. I do not wish to leave anyone feeling that they have been put in a difficult situation, and I would certainly welcome a letter as a response to the concerns that I have raised, if that would be more convenient.
Baroness Howarth of Breckland: I am not sure whether that is shutting me up or whether I have the opportunity to say two brief things. I usually am brief, and I will continue to be so. I, too, do not want to get into the discussion about disability that we will probably have in a moment but this debate gives me the opportunity to say two things.
First, I declare an interest as an ex-director of social services. Having run most of these services at some point in my life, and knowing the extraordinary difficulties that local authorities face in managing, my view is that few other organisations are as well placed. We always want to replace something that we have with something better; it is like the CAFCASS situation. Let us make work the thing that is going to work, rather than thinking that we can do something better. Local authorities, on the whole, are doing a hugely good job for thousands of children; I would like to put that on record. I have said to the Minister that we really need to value them and the staff who are struggling daily to provide these services and work of quality, and who care about children to the depths of their hearts.
However, having said that, and although I accept the noble Baroness's reassurances, we know from researchI do not have it with me but I can get the references quite easily; I think it is Tunstallthat Section 17 is implemented very patchily and that the assessments are made on a different basis. It is a postcode lottery of services, and it links to the local authority's capacity and that word "sufficiency" again. It is particularly true when you consider disabled children or those with very special needs. I quote the example of a child of extraordinarily destructive behaviour, whose relatives will not look after him for more than two hours at a time, and whose parents cannot get that child provision. You can imagine what that does to the single mother who also has a difficult adolescent child, and you can imagine
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the likely outcomes for that child. It is not that there is "sufficient" provision. Again there is the gapsufficient for what? Children with specialist disabilities have a particular difficulty with the childcare that they receive.
Lord Adonis: I am very grateful to the noble Earl for giving me an opportunity to talk about funding. I entirely accept everything that he and other Members of the Committee have said about the importance of training and the adequacy of the workforce, without which none of these services would be provided. An important part of the functions of local authorities in developing their local plans is to see that they provide these services in the context of local capacity. Their role in ensuring training and support for the workforce is essential in that context.
In passing, it is precisely because we recognise that there are pressures on local authorities, and do not want to move further than we believe possible for them to meet those pressures, that we do not favour the imposition on them of yet more unfunded duties in Clause 6. The noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, is always clever to add the words "as resources permit", or some similar phrase, in her amendments, as the Liberal Democrats so often do, when she proposes a massive extension of responsibilities for local authorities and others. We are at least making an honest attempt to match additional duties with corresponding resources.
I get into trouble when I recite figures, but I do not think anyone would deny that significant additional sums are going into local authorities: nearly £3 billion for 2006-08 in general Sure Start grants, which is an increase of £700 million compared to 2004-06 on a like-for-like basis; the transformation fund of £250 million over and above existing outlays to improve workforce qualifications, also to be available between 2006 and 2008; and the additional funding to enable three and four year-olds to be funded at the same rate regardless of the setting they attend, and to provide the extra weeks in the free entitlement that commenced at the beginning of this month, leading to a significant increase in direct funding to local authorities to meet that cost. I could go on detailing the provision we have made for local authorities.
We have also provided significant additional sums for parents themselvesparticularly, but not exclusively, lower-income parents. Child benefit has increased well above the rate of inflation since 1997. We have focused additional resources on parents to enable them to purchase appropriate childcare for their children. The reforms in the tax and benefits systems mean that families with children are on average £1,300 a year better off, and those in the poorest fifth of households are on average £3,000 a year better off. Significant additional resources are available to families to meet the demands of childcare.
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The noble Earl, Lord Listowel, highlighted the issue of foster carers. This is of great concern to us because of the undersupply of suitable foster carers, the principal providers of childcare for an especially vulnerable group of children. We are mindful of the need to take additional stepsincluding, where appropriate, additional remunerationto encourage foster carers. We are soon to consult on guidance onI need to be careful with my wordingstandard levels of remuneration; not levels we would impose, but that we would exhibit for local authorities to have regard to. A good deal of work on this is under way. I undertake to write to the noble Earl and other Members of the Committee to set out what we are doing both to give additional support to foster carers and to increase the supply of suitable foster carers.
The Earl of Listowel: I thank the Minister for his helpful response. I look forward to hearing from him on that final point, in particular. I am grateful for recent correspondence from him; it has been extremely helpful. I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Morris of Bolton, for her contribution, and my noble friend Lord Northbourne for what he said on this important matter.
By referring to what the Government are looking at as regards foster children, the Minister gives me the opportunity to relate what I was recently told by the education officer at the Shaftesbury Homes and Arethusa charity, which does an outstanding job in raising the educational attainment of children in residential care. The education officer said how much she valued the "schools within schools" programme, of which the Minister is a strong supporter. It enables young people who might normally be excluded from school to participate, not in the main body of the school but in a unit allied to it. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
"( ) must have regard to the needs of parents in their area
(i) who are eligible for the childcare element of the working tax credit;
(ii) who are eligible for the maximum entitlement to the child tax credit;
(iii) for the provision of childcare which is suitable for disabled children; and
(iv) from black and minority ethnic communities"
The noble Baroness said: I shall speak also to Amendment No. 27. Amendment No. 26 would include a specific mention of low-income families, both working and non-working, and of the needs of disabled children and those from black and ethnic-minority communities. Amendment No. 27 mentions
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the need for diversity in the kind of provision and care appropriate for ethnic-minority families in the duty to provide sufficient childcare.
There are many different kinds of childcare settings as well as day nurseries. There are playgroups, mother-and-toddler groups and other setups. There are settings that teach according to the Steiner and Montessori principles. It is important that they are all considered and supported by the local authority. Can the Minister assure us that any guidance developed for local authorities will encourage them, in carrying out this new duty, to consider all types of provision?
It is also important that everything that local authorities do in relation to this new duty is ethnically monitored, as required by the amended Race Relations Act 1976, to ensure that local children from black and ethnic-minority communities have equality of access and opportunity and are treated equally in relation to childcare. This may mean a certain amount of outreach work beyond what is needed for the indigenous population.
"We therefore expect local authorities to take into account the need to consider cultural factors when securing child care, and the guidance will give information as well as examples.[Official Report, Commons Standing Committee D, 8/12/05; col. 128.]
Although I welcome that statement, we must understand that across the childcare sector the understanding of the implications of the Race Relations Act is limited. Training in anti-discriminatory practice is not easily accessible, due to the limited number of competent trainers working in early years and the budgets available for training. Perhaps the Minister could tell me how Ofsted monitors adherence to the Act and whether the inspectors are sufficiently knowledgeable about these issues to make competent judgments?
Paragraph 10 of the notes on the guidance for the new duty mentions socially excluded and minority groups, but there is no mention, for example, of Gypsy and Traveller children, nor any mention of the workforce. It is important in the recruitment, development and training of the workforce that attention is given to encouraging members of all communities to get involved in working with children and to train to improve their qualifications. Children need role models that they recognise. They do not always feel comfortable in a setting where there is no adult who looks like them or speaks their language. I have heard some very moving stories from practitioners about how children suffer when that is not provided, and flourish when it is.
The promotion of racial equality is also very important for the development of children at this crucial early stage when attitudes are developing. We need to do whatever is necessary to help them develop positive attitudes to differences between people. To a great extent, children do not notice differences between themselves and other children; they get on with playing together, and that is a very good thing. However, we need to address the need for the adults in their livesthose in positions of influence and
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authorityto cover the same racial mix, as far as possible, as the children in the area. Otherwise, the belief will be that only white people are in a position of authority; that is highly undesirable and will not do. A good racial mix among the workforce will also enable an understanding of the cultural differences between children so that they can develop an appreciation of their own and other children's cultures. A strong foundation in these matters is vital not only to the child's development but to social cohesion when children grow up. We must not ignore it. I beg to move.
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