Care orders: permanence provisions

Part of Children and Social Work Bill [Lords] – in a Public Bill Committee am 11:30 am ar 15 Rhagfyr 2016.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

Photo of Edward Timpson Edward Timpson Minister of State (Education) 11:30, 15 Rhagfyr 2016

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mrs Main. We are all sad that Mr Wilson is not with us today, but we all agree that you are a fantastic and exemplary replacement.

Clause 8 will expand the factors that courts must consider when deciding whether to make a care order in respect of a child, and it will ensure that consideration is given to the impact on a child of any harm they have suffered or may be likely to suffer; the child’s current and future needs, including any needs arising from that impact; and the way in which the long-term plan for the upbringing of the child will meet those needs. Those are all key considerations when courts are deciding whether to place a child in authority care and are considering all the permanence options available.

The family is, of course, the most important building block in a child’s life—every child deserves a loving, stable family—but it is important that we find children who cannot live with their birth parents permanent new homes without unnecessary delay. It is common knowledge that children who enter care are particularly vulnerable, often having experienced abuse, neglect and disruption—experiences that can have a significant detrimental effect. That means such children have additional needs now and later in life, something I know all too well from my own family.

Research confirms that these children need quality care and stability, in particular, in order to secure their future chances in life. However, there is concern that, at present, those factors are not always at the forefront of decision makers’ minds and, consequently, some children may be missing out on placements that would be right for them.

The Department’s review of special guardianship orders in December 2015 found that potentially risky placements were being accepted. For example, in some cases special guardianship orders were being awarded with a supervision order because of reservations about the guardian’s ability to care for the child in the long term. That was never the intention when the Children Act 1989 was introduced, so clause 8 seeks to ensure that courts also consider the individual needs of the child now and in the long term, particularly in light of any abuse or neglect that they have suffered, and assess how well the proposed placement will meet those needs.

By ensuring that information about children’s current and long-term needs is made available when key decisions are taken, we aim to ensure that the best placement option is pursued in every case—in other words, the placement that is most likely to meet a child’s needs throughout their childhood. Those working with children in this area support the clause. Andy Elvin, the chief executive of the Adolescent and Children’s Trust—TACT—the UK’s largest fostering and adoption charity, has said:

“All of this is eminently sensible. In practical terms it will raise the evidential bar for all care planning.

The biggest impact, rightly, will be on special guardianship order assessments. The logic of this is that these will have to move to be on a par with fostering assessments. The court is being asked to make a decision that will last not only the child’s minority, but impact the rest of their life.”

Dr Carol Homden, the chief executive of Coram, has said:

“Recent research shows that many people underestimate the significance of harm that all too many children experience before coming into care. Therefore, we particularly welcome that this Bill calls courts and local authorities to focus on the impact of any harm a child has previously suffered and their life-long future needs when making decisions about their care.”

These are clearly important measures that have the strong support of those outside the House.