New Clause 14

Part of Children and Young Persons Bill [Lords] – in a Public Bill Committee am 2:00 pm ar 3 Gorffennaf 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) 2:00, 3 Gorffennaf 2008

I shall cut to the chase. I am very sympathetic to the principle of new clause 14. We have to do what we can to reduce the financial impact of an allegation on foster carers, but a better way of achieving that aim, rather than by amending primary legislation, is through the national minimum standards, which we are in the process of reviewing and which will be subject to full public consultation later this year. We intend, therefore, to use the revised national minimum standards to make it clear that fostering service providers who  usually pay their foster carers a fee should continue to do so while an allegation is investigated, at the same level as it would have been paid at had the child or children not been removed from the placement. Payments would continue until the allegation had been resolved. I hope that that announcement is helpful to all hon. Members who spoke on the new clause and put their names to it, and to the Fostering Network.

New clause 40 also deals with payments to foster carers who are subject to an allegation, but it concerns the allowance that is paid to foster carers, rather than the fee. This new clause would require local authorities to continue paying the allowance to foster carers who were the subject of a complaint until a decision on the complaint had been reached. Unlike the fee, which is intended to reward the foster carer for their skills, experience and commitment, the allowance is intended to meet the cost of caring for the child. Therefore, it would not be appropriate for us to insist that the allowance be paid if the foster child or children had been removed while the allegation was investigated. In certain cases, the local authority or other provider might want to consider continuing to pay at least an element or perhaps all of the allowance if there are special circumstances, but that is best determined locally where all the facts are known. There is certainly no legislative barrier to providers continuing to pay an allowance if that is appropriate in the circumstances.

New clause 40 would also require local authorities to take steps to protect the identity of foster carers who are the subject of a complaint. Rather than lay out all of the provisions that we have in place, it may be useful if I write to Committee members to outline the details of the foster carers right to confidentially. We accept the principle that foster carers’ identities should not be released in most cases and, where appropriate, should be protected while an allegation is being investigated.

The “Working Together to Safeguard Children” guidance, states that that all complaints should be treated seriously and in accordance with consistent procedures. It also states that it is reasonable to expect 80 per cent. of cases to be resolved within one month, 90 per cent. within three months and all but the most exceptional cases within 12 months—so, 10 per cent. is not an acceptable outcome, as hon. Members have said. Evidence says that those time scales are not always met. During an investigation, the national minimum standards for fostering services, makes it clear that providers should be making independent support available to their foster carers. Again, it appears that that is not happening in all cases.

I am committed to taking further action to address those issues. I recognise that lengthy investigations without adequate independent support can add to the stress experienced by foster carers. So, in addition to our commitment regarding fees, we will be revising the national minimum standards for fostering services to reinforce our expectations about the time scales for resolving investigations and to highlight the need for foster carers who are subject to an allegation to receive appropriate independent support. We will clarify what we mean by that during the revision of those national minimum standards.

I accept the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Stafford that there are times when allegations have substance, and we should not forget that when trying to deal with the problems that the Fostering Network and hon. Members have rightly highlighted. I hope that hon. Members are reassured by what I have said and that the action that we are taking will improve the situation of foster carers subject to an allegation. I hope that the hon. Member for Crewe and Nantwich will withdraw the motion on that basis.