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

That must rank as one of the most helpful interventions I have ever had. I thank the hon. Gentleman and pay tribute to his expertise on such matters. With all due respect to you, Mr. Hood, I am disappointed that we have not been able to discuss that new clause. It would have been nice to have focused on that issue, listened to the Minister and understood why it was not possible to introduce such provision. There is a presumption among many extended kin carers that the system is biased against them. Since the 2002 Act took effect, they certainly feel that strongly with regard to financial assistance, post 13 December 2005. It is unfortunate that we cannot debate the issue that was raised.

I should like to press the Minister on two points. During the 18 January debate on extended kin and grandparents’ access to grandchildren, she said:

“Removing the requirement would immediately bring in formal parties to start court proceedings” in respect of the requirement to seek leave. She went on to say:

“I am not saying that that would happen in every case, but it could, and the court must have a way to screen cases if, knowing all the circumstances, it feels that proceedings are unnecessary.—[Official Report, Westminster Hall, 18 January 2006; Vol. 441, c. 269WH.]

Non-family foster carers and adopters do not have to go through that legal route. Indeed, they must only prove that the child has resided with them for 12 months, whereas family and extended kin have to prove that they have resided with the child for three years.

In addition, the costs have been estimated by the Grandparents Association as anything between £250 and £1,000. So a financial cost falls on people who may already be impecunious. The right hon. Member for Birkenhead mentioned constituents who were among the poorest people, but were forced to go through those legal loopholes. I should like to hear evidence from the Minister on why it is not possible for that legal hoop to be removed.

On 18 January, the Minister said:

The Department for Education and Skills is considering the issue, and I expect consideration to be completed sometime this year. I know that that is rather vague.”—[Official Report, Westminster Hall, 18 January 2006; Vol. 441, c. 269WH.]

I want to press her on that point. We need to focus on the welfare of the child, which is about extended family care. There is evidence that such care works in the best interests of children. At the moment, there is a perception of unfairness and of a lack of equity. Unfortunately, the Bill does not address that, and so will exacerbate that feeling of a lack of fairness and justice for a particular part of our community.

I hope that the Minister can answer the questions put to her, not least those asked by the hon. Member for Stafford, and that we can go forward with an undertaking that those points will be taken on board. Two months ago, the Minister gave me a time-based undertaking, and I hope that she will think of that when she replies.