New Clause 9 - Registration of private foster parents

Part of Adoption and Children Bill – in a Public Bill Committee am 6:30 pm ar 15 Ionawr 2002.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

Photo of Jonathan R Shaw Jonathan R Shaw Llafur, Chatham and Aylesford 6:30, 15 Ionawr 2002

I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.

New clause 9 is in my name and that of my hon. Friend the Member for Lancaster and Wyre and the hon. Member for Meirionnydd Nant Conwy. It would replace section 69 of the Children Act, which provides for the inspection of privately fostered children. It would provide better protection for a vulnerable group of children and allow parents to obtain information so that they could make informed choices about whom they placed their children with. I shall examine the current legislation, discuss why it needs replacing and detail what the new clause would do.

Section 69 relates to the private fostering of children up to 16 years old or, where they have special needs or are disabled, up to 18 years old. Such children are cared for by someone other than their relatives, which means their grandparents, siblings, step-parents, blood aunts and uncles or other persons with parental responsibility. The Act places a duty on the parent or the carer to notify the intention to place a child. The number of children that a private foster carer can look after is limited to three. Regulations require local authorities regularly to visit children and their private foster carers to satisfy themselves that the children's welfare is promoted and that they are safeguarded.

In the landmark report ''People Like Us'' on the review of safeguards for children who live away from home, Sir William Utting, chairman of the review said:

''It was plain to the review that private fostering was among the least controlled and the most open to abuse of all environments in which children lived away from home.''

We should think about the environments in which children live away from home—residential homes in the private and public sectors, private schools and foster care homes in the local authority and independent sectors. There are many scenarios, but for children who are privately fostered, such places are among the most dangerous. While there, they will be

more open to abuse, because we know that determined abusers will seek out places where controls and external scrutiny are weak.

During his presentation of the social services White Paper, the then Secretary of State for Health, my right hon. Friend the Member for Holborn and St. Pancras (Mr. Dobson), talked of our responsibility to protect children. We cannot blame local authorities or adoption agencies for past failings: we all have a responsibility. Whatever our position—as Members of Parliament, Governments of all political persuasions, councillors, the neighbour who chooses to turn his head and not report something—we share that responsibility. That is what the Bill is about. We are here today to promote the welfare of children, and to safeguard those who are vulnerable. The Department believes—it has had about 12 years to consider the matter—that the present law is sufficient to allow local authorities to inspect privately fostered children, and that it is the responsibility of local authorities to do so. I wonder whether local authorities have the tools properly to do that job.

My starting position is, of course, that the Government are right. My good colleague the Minister, too, is always right. However, occasionally—just once in a while—there might be a seed of doubt about a particular policy. Perhaps there is a seed of doubt about section 69 of the Children Act. I hope that there is a seed of doubt in my hon. Friend's mind, and I hope that it will grow during the next few minutes. Let us go back to 1871.