Clause 111 - Inquiries by local authorities into representations

Part of Adoption and Children Bill – in a Public Bill Committee am 6:00 pm ar 15 Ionawr 2002.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

Photo of Mr Hilton Dawson Mr Hilton Dawson Llafur, Lancaster and Wyre 6:00, 15 Ionawr 2002

I am yet again impressed by the way in which my hon. Friend the Minister has moved an important amendment to such a vital Bill, but does she feel that the amendment and the Bill go as far as we could go? The Government are doing a tremendous job in revising the Children Act, which is what the amendment will do. They have amended it through the Bill and other legislation, such as the Children (Leaving Care) Act 2000, and those changes have put some significant resources into improving the care system. The Government are improving the training, support and standing of staff who work in the system, although there is still a long way to go.

The other important way in which the 1989 Act needs to be developed is in empowering children in the care system, whether they live in residential or foster care, under special guardianship, in adoptive placements or anywhere else. During the past few months in Committee, we have heard a great deal about the rights of the various players in the complicated adoption process, and about the various abilities of people to appeal and make representations. This morning, the rights of potential adoptive applicants were likened to those of people who might want to put up a garden shed. That is all well and good. The adults in the system need opportunities to make representations. However, the most important—and most powerless—people in the process by far are the children.

Is it not time to make a significant amendment to the Children Act by introducing in this Bill a right of independent advocacy for children in care? The Government are well aware of the implications of children living in the care system, where their voices are not heard, their concerns are not properly addressed and they are not empowered. We have seen scandalous situations in care over past decades and we know the appalling conclusions of the Waterhouse inquiry. There are investigations across 17 police authorities into the treatment of children in care.

Surely one of the major lessons to be learned is that children's voices must be heard; children in care who have a concern generally tell the truth. Those children know what is going on. They have a profound understanding of what is happening to themselves in the system, but they need consistent support. Local authorities must have a duty placed on them to ensure that children have that consistent support to enable their voices to be heard. There needs to be a statutory right of independent advocacy and a complaints system that is not time-limited—because complaints from children are tremendously dependent on their age, their maturity, their living situation and their awareness of what they can do to address the problems that they experience. They also need the decisions of adults in the system to be frozen while their situation,

complaint or the problem that they are trying to have addressed, and the actions of local authorities, foster carers and potential adoptive parents are reviewed.

The Government are going a long way in this important Bill, particularly in the amendment to the Children Act complaints procedures, which addresses the crucial issue of empowerment. Introducing a statutory right of independent advocacy for children in care system will profoundly improve what is on offer.

Amendment agreed to.

Question proposed, That the clause, as amended, stand part of the Bill.