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Baroness Hamwee: My Lords, the Minister's response is helpful and I shall consider further the relationship between the DDA and the provisions set out here. The prompt for the amendments was that, under what is set out in this Bill, the court has to consider "in particular"those are the words usedthe three matters to which I referred earlier, all of which concern the effect on other people. I am concerned about the relationship between the two pieces of legislation.
The noble Baroness said: My Lords, in moving Amendment No. 36, I shall speak also to Amendments Nos. 39 and 46. The amendments relate to the issue of residential care, which we discussed at some length in Committee. The Minister's response to the probing amendments tabled at that stage, along with the draft guidance which has now been published by the Home Office and the DfES, do not provide a sufficient explanation of how residential parenting orders will work in practice, and how they will comply with the Children Act 1989 and the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, ensuring that all decisions are taken in the best interests of the child.
Because we have reached a different stage of the Bill, I shall repeat the list of organisations which I believe has come to be known as the "Sharp list": Barnardo's, the Children's Rights Alliance for England, the Children's Society, family service units, NACRO, the National Association for Youth Justice, the National Children's Bureau, the NCH, the NCVCCO, the NSPCC, the National Youth Agency and YMCA England all continue to have very serious concerns about the compliance of these clauses with the
I am aware that the Minister has addressed this matter in a letter sent to the noble Earl, Lord Listowel, which he has shown to me. However, it would be helpful if she could put on the record her reasons for being confident that there is no breach either of the Act or of the articles.
In addition, five other specific concerns have been raised by these organisations. The first is that, as it stands, the provision is unnecessary. Arrangements are already in place under the Children Act 1989 and the Care Standards Act 2000 for a family to be placed in a residential family centre where available and appropriate. The decision to require parents to undertake a residential assessment is usually taken as a part of care proceedings under the Children Act 1989 and only after a full assessment of the child's needs. The decision would be taken on the basis of an assessment of need made under Section 17 of that Act. This defines children "in need" as being those who are,
The second issue that these organisations are concerned about is that in order to require a parent to attend such a course an assessment needs to be undertaken by a local authority's social services department. Social services would normally require parents to engage in a residential assessment only if they had concerns about the safety and care of the child or children. Residential family centres are often used for very vulnerable families with young children to provide support and to identify work to be undertaken to help the family. The focus is on monitoring and an assessment of parental ability, and children attend these centres with their parents.
Neither the Home Office nor the DfES draft guidance refer to undertaking such an assessment of the child's needs as part of the youth offending or local education authority recommendation to the court. Both sets of guidance refer to the fact that counselling or guidance on problems may be provided by the LEA, by the youth offending team, by the local authority social services department or voluntary sector organisations. Social services departments will not provide services without having first undertaken an assessment of need.
The organisations concerned about these issues do not believe that it is appropriate for either the LEA or the youth offending team to undertake the kind of assessment required in order to assess parental capacity. At the very least, they argue, an assessment under Section 17 by social services departments should form part of any evidence before the court. Will the Minister give assurances that any guidance on parenting orders will include the requirement for youth offending teams and LEAs to make such referrals to social services departments prior to their application to the court?
Thirdly, it is unclear whether residential centres will be required to register with the National Care Standards Commission. These organisations are also concerned that there is no clear direction about making arrangements for the care of any dependent children. In Committee, the Minister stated that,
It is unclear as to what arrangements will be put in place, either for children who attend with parents or for those who do not. Currently, the residential family centres are required to register with the National Care Standards Commission. They are defined as,
Can the Government confirm that any provider of the residential component of the parenting order will be required to register with the National Care Standards Commission? If children are not attending with their parents there is need to ensure that they are being appropriately cared for and that should be undertaken with the involvement of local social services departments to ensure that arrangements are suitable.
The fourth point that has been raised is that there is little evidence of research on the effectiveness of residential courses. Clauses 18, 20 and 26 state that the court must be satisfied that attendance at a residential course would be more effective than attendance at a non-residential course in preventing the behaviour for which the order was given, or in the case of parenting orders for exclusion from school, in improving behaviour.
The guidance states that the LEA or the youth offending team must provide evidence of how the residential requirement will be more effective. It is not clear how such an assessment will be made as to the effectiveness or not of this residential requirement. There is no detail as to the model of parenting programme that would be used in a residential setting. There are a range of such models currently used within residential settings, including therapeutic and behavioural. Can the Minister indicate what model of intervention is being used, what research backs this up
There is no indication as to how far there is capacity to meet these requirements or how costs will be met. The recently published Home Office action planTogether: Tackling Anti-Social Behaviourstates that the residential parenting scheme will be piloted through the Youth Justice Board in partnership with the Juvenile Offenders Unit at the Home Office. Can the Minister tell us a little more about the proposed pilots and about the capacity and funding for parenting courses, in particular the residential component?
Finally, I shall say a word on costs. Paragraphs 162 to 165 of the department's guidance set out that the LEA will be responsible for covering the costs of the application for a parenting order and meet the costs of any counselling or guidance programme. However, in some circumstances, the governing body of a school will be expected to meet the costs of the counselling or guidance programmes. Will the Minister clarify who will be responsible for meeting costs in the case of residential courses? I beg to move.
Lord Elton: My Lords, I share many of the reservations of the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, but at the same time I recognise a serious weakness in our society, in the form of the children of parents who were themselves children when they became parents. Such parents have no inherited parenting skills at all, and go on to be parents themselves. There must be an intervention, which will have to be more radical than merely consultation and attendance at a centre from time to time. Therefore, it may be necessary for there to be a residential course. As that is the case, I recognise the caveats put into the Bill as to the circumstance under which it may be held.
I remind noble Lords that we are debating Clause 18 and parenting orders, which means that the attendance on the part of the people involved may not be voluntary. It is laid on them by the courts. The next clause relates to parenting contracts, with which there can be an element of voluntariness. By a side wind, will
The answers to those two questions may make me less friendly to the amendment tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp; otherwise, I find it rather attractive.
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