New Clause 1 - Extended family: welfare checklist

Part of Children and Adoption Bill [Lords] – in a Public Bill Committee am 11:45 am ar 21 Mawrth 2006.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

Photo of Stewart Jackson Stewart Jackson Ceidwadwyr, Peterborough 11:45, 21 Mawrth 2006

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

I am pleased to be serving under your chairmanship again, Mr. Hood.

Some hon. Members and particularly the Minister will know that I have taken an interest in extended kin parenting, particularly by grandparents. I was privileged to win an Adjournment debate on 18 January to discuss such issues and had quite a debate with the Minister.

The Government have missed a golden opportunity to address some important issues that impact significantly on extended family parenting, particularly by grandparents. I want briefly to raise two or three issues relating to that missed opportunity and to explain the rationale behind the new clause.

The new clause is essentially a presumption in favour of extended family parenting. I believe genuinely that it would not in any way contravene the paramountcy principle—quite the opposite. I believe that it is in the best long-term interests of children, as any reasonable person would agree, given the significant evidence that children can, in the wake of a break-up of their parents’ relationship, benefit from contact with their grandparents.

Not much research has been done on the matter during the past few years, but I pay tribute again to the right hon. Member for Birkenhead (Mr. Field), who has done some local research among his constituents on the Wirral on the impact of the current legal system of family law on grandparents who choose to be de facto parents to their grandchildren. The system as they see it and as articulated by the right hon. Gentleman is loaded against them. I commend to the Committee the document prepared by Dr. Anne Gray of London South Bank university on the evaluation of the grandparent-toddler groups initiative, which strongly makes the case for grandparent and extended kin parenting.

I want to speak principally about three issues to which I hope the Minister will respond. In particular, I want to refer to undertakings that she gave during the Westminster Hall debate on 18 January. First, section 10 of the Children Act 1989 covers the requirement by family and friends carers to apply for a residence or special guardianship order. The Government have not sufficiently thought through the issues and the present system is significantly biased against family and extended kin members. More particularly, there is lack of parity between non-family and family members. That issue was discussed in respect of grandparents during the Westminster Hall debate. I look to the hon. Member for Stafford for support because he knows the area well and is broadly supportive of my underlying assumptions, if not the details of the new clause.

Secondly, I want to mention section 17 of the Children Act 1989 and the financial assistance given to extended family and grandparents vis-à-vis other carers. The arrangement is currently not being adhered to and has not, unfortunately, been addressed in the Bill.

Thirdly, I mentioned parity in respect of section 10 of the 1989 Act, but I should particularly like to consider section 8, regarding the need for a certain period of residence for a child with grandparents, as opposed to non-family carers. The Government had an opportunity to consider such matters in preparing the Bill, but unfortunately they do not seem to have made much progress in that respect, even though the Minister said:

“The 1989 Act recognises that, even if there is parental opposition, it could be in the interests of a child to maintain contact with their grandparents. No one has a veto. The parent does not have a veto. Subject to the paramountcy principle, the court will take into account the importance of grandparents and other relatives to the lives of children.”—[Official Report, Westminster Hall, 18 January 2006; Vol. 441, c. 268WH.]