Clause 6

Part of Children and Young Persons Bill [Lords] – in a Public Bill Committee am 11:45 am ar 24 Mehefin 2008.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

Photo of Kevin Brennan Kevin Brennan Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Children, Schools and Families) (Children, Young People and Families) 11:45, 24 Mehefin 2008

The first amendment seeks to limit the piloting to three years. The other seeks to ensure that the pilot period does not start until after the powers under clause 1 have been commenced. I acknowledge that the intention is to seek some reassurance that we will pilot the approach of social work practices in a timely fashion and seek further clarification on the timetable for the operation of the pilots.

The timetable for piloting social work practice was set out in some detail in the other place, in the debate referred to by the hon. Member for Mid-Dorset and North Poole. However, I shall repeat it because it is important to understand the rationale behind the timetable and the five-year period.

Clause 6(2) allows for clause 1 to be brought into force by reference to a particular local authority or authorities in order to enable the selection of local authorities to pilot the social work practice model. Unless clause 4 is brought into effect within five years of Royal Assent, clauses 1 to 5 will cease to have effect. We therefore have five years to establish the pilots, allow them to run, make a thorough evaluation of them prior to deciding whether to roll out the power to make arrangements under clause 1 to all local authorities. Five years is a reasonable period to undertake that work. Reducing it to three years would compromise the effectiveness of the pilots and risk disrupting children’s lives by not allowing for the appropriate transition periods.

The subsequent timetable for the pilots is as follows. Subject to the successful passage of the Bill, we will move to identify local authorities to take place in the pilots. Those local authorities will begin commissioning social work practices in early 2009, subject to the Bill receiving Royal Assent—and subject to when it receives Royal Assent. Detailed contract negotiations will need to take place between the pilot local authorities and the social work practice providers, and practical arrangements for transferring cases will need to be put into place.

The aim is to have social work practices up and running, with full case loads, by autumn 2009, and that the pilots then run for two years until autumn 2011. During that period, evaluation evidence will be gathered. In the fourth year, 2011-12, the independent evaluation of the pilots will take place. We will ensure that the evaluation report is made public, and that there is a full and proper consultation before the model is made available to all authorities, if that is the desired option. The full evaluation report will obviously be placed in the Library of the House.

The fifth year is a necessary transition period, because if a decision is taken to make the social work practice model available to all local authorities, we will have to ensure that we get the regulatory regime for social work practices right. We will have to consult on that regime, and give the chief inspector time to prepare the inspection  arrangements. Those local authorities that had run the pilots would need to commission social work practices for the post-pilot period, and would need time to do so. If the decision were to not make the model more widely available, the pilots would remain in place to allow a well managed and staged transition of staff and children back to the local authority over that year, to ensure minimum disruption to their lives. That is an essential part of ensuring that we support the lives of the children and young people in the pilot authorities, and it is vital to give sufficient time for that.

I hope that members of the Committee will see that while the pilots themselves will not last for the five-year period, we need five years to do all the things around the piloting, including set-up, evaluation, ensuring that we have the evidence base needed to take the right decisions for looked-after children, and consulting on the way forward before taking important decisions. It is also clear from the Bill that we will need to move promptly on Royal Assent. I hope that that goes some way towards explaining why the pilot in the Bill is set at five years.