Clause 112 - Care plans

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

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

Photo of Tim Loughton Tim Loughton Shadow Spokesperson (Health) 6:15, 15 Ionawr 2002

I beg to move amendment No. 252, in page 63, line 11, at end insert

'and reference should be made to all relevant departments within that authority.'.

This is a small, probing amendment, and I am sure that we can dispatch it more quickly than we did previous amendments. Care orders, which we support, should take into account all local authority departments and not assume that the only department involved is social services. Several briefings submitted to the Committee made that point, including that of Barnardo's.

The social services department is often regarded as the only department that deals with care orders, and it is considered that the remit of those care orders does not go beyond that department. However, the local authority as a whole has a corporate parenting responsibility for the child under a care order, so the effects of that care order should entail the education department of a local authority—[Interruption.] I think that we have the agreement of Labour Members. Such involvement is especially necessary when dealing with learning difficulties, which is why we seek to add the requirement that reference should be made to all relevant departments in the appropriate authority. That would mean going beyond the social services department to deal with education, and possibly housing and other matters. I believe that there is a requirement to define duties of local authorities across boundaries, when a cross-boundary placement is involved. That is the thrust of the amendment.

The British Association of Social Workers raised another consideration: apparently, the requirement for a care plan as worded in the clause will also apply if the local authority applies for a supervision order. In that circumstance, the local authority would not be responsible for the child's care. Will the Minister clear up that anomaly?

Photo of Jacqui Smith Jacqui Smith Minister of State, Department of Health

The clause is concerned with making plans for a child while care proceedings are pending, when a care order is in force. Such planning is through the drawing up of a care plan by the responsible local authority in consultation with the child, his parents and other important agencies in his life. The purpose of the plan is to set out in writing how the child's welfare should be safeguarded and promoted. It is designed to prevent drift. It is designed to prevent drift—[Interruption.] The provision is very important, so I thought it was worth repeating. It

should help to focus work with the families and child. The plan will set out objectives for the placement, how they will be met and in what time scales. The plan is then revisited and, if necessary, revised and updated at each of the child's statutory reviews to ensure that his or her needs are continually monitored, and that work with the child and family continues to meet those needs.

The requirement for the court to consider a care plan prepared by the local authority when making a care order is in effect already entrenched in local authority and court practices, through case law and guidance. However, a recent judgment by the Court of Appeal in the case of Re:W and W&B highlighted that children's fundamental human rights can be breached by the non-implementation of a care plan. As part of the Government's response to that judgment, and given that the making of a full care order is a fundamental intervention by the court into a child's article 8 rights—the respect for private and family life rights—we consider it desirable to ensure that care plans that provide for the future of such children have a basis in primary legislation.

The clause therefore amends section 31 of the Children Act 1989, to provide that a court may not make a care order until a care plan has been prepared by the local authority and considered by the court. It also inserts a new section 31A into the 1989 Act, to place a duty on the local authority to prepare a care plan within a time scale set by the court. The authority must also keep the plan under review while the application is pending and once an order has been made and remains in force. Regulations made under new section 31(3A) will set out how the plan is to be drawn up and the information to be included. The clause strengthens the requirement on local authorities, which will ensure that such significant intervention in a child's family life is the subject of proper planning that has a statutory basis and is regulated so that intervention is proper and proportionate.

The hon. Gentleman's amendment is aimed at ensuring joined-up working on care plans in councils with social services responsibilities. All hon. Members would agree that it is important that such working occurs, so I have some sympathy with the intention behind the amendment. Care planning is crucial in the preparation of a local authority's application to court for a care order under section 31 of the 1989 Act, because the care plan explains how the proposed care order will be implemented to achieve specific outcomes for the child.

Care planning is so important that local authority circular LAC(99)29 sets out clearly that the care plan presented by the local authority is

''intended to be an authoritative statement made in good faith about the child's needs, the best way of responding to those needs, and the detailed arrangements setting out how the local authority will provide services to promote and protect the child's welfare whilst he or she is the subject of the care order . . . That commitment may require input from a range of services and may have far-reaching resource implications. These will always include the social services but in many cases may also involve an input

from health and education. If this is the case, an agreement should have been reached with these agencies in respect of services included in the care plan.''

The Government obviously consider it extremely important for different departments in the local authority to work together in drawing up a care plan, which is why the guidance on the subject spells that out so clearly. However, it is equally clear that it may be as important to involve services and agencies outside the local authority, such as the relevant health service bodies or even another local authority. Such involvement would not be covered by the amendment, which might therefore inadvertently serve to weaken the expectations on bodies other than the local authority itself.

Primary legislation would not be the right place to impose requirements on different local authority departments to consult each other when drawing up a primary care plan. Instead, we shall issue guidance to councils with social services responsibilities. That will probably take the form of a circular to update LAC(99)29, setting out best practice and repeating the terms of LAC(99)29 on agreements with other agencies.

On the hon. Gentleman's point about supervision orders, the provision applies only to care orders. If he wants further information about why that is the case, I shall be willing to send it to him. In the light of that explanation, however, I hope that he will withdraw the amendment.

Photo of Tim Loughton Tim Loughton Shadow Spokesperson (Health) 6:30, 15 Ionawr 2002

I am grateful to the Minister for that detailed response, although had she been performing on ''Just a Minute'', the buzzers would have been red raw because of her deviation, hesitation and repetition.

I agree that the thrust of the amendment is to ensure joined-up working between the relevant departments. The Minister rightly said that joined-up working could go beyond the parameters of the departments in the responsible local authority, and that is certainly true of local health provision.

I said that the amendment was probing, and the Minister assured the Committee that the necessary requirements are spelled out extensively in guidance. On that basis, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 112 ordered to stand part of the Bill.