Children and Families — Debate

– in the House of Lords at 11:43 am on 14th May 2009.

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Moved By Baroness Massey of Darwen

To call attention to Her Majesty's Government's policies on the well-being of children and families; and to move for papers.

Photo of Baroness Massey of Darwen Baroness Massey of Darwen Labour

My Lords, it is a great pleasure to be introducing this debate in anticipation of contributions by so many distinguished colleagues. In your Lordships' House there are, and have been, many champions of children and families, and I pay tribute to them all. I pay tribute to the noble Lord, Lord Laming, who sadly cannot be here today, the much lamented Lord Dearing, and of course the noble Baroness, Lady Warnock.

I declare an interest as chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Children, several of whose members are here today, together with others who have great expertise and commitment. I have said before, and I will say it again, that when we debate children's issues in this House, the concern is about children and only secondarily about party politics. This is not only refreshing, it has also enabled us to change legislation significantly on a number of occasions.

I hope that this debate will give the Minister arguments which may be incorporated into future legislation. I know that she will carry them back to the DCSF and other relevant ministries, as she is very conscientious and has the well-being of children and families at heart. I thank the Library in the House of Lords for its assiduous research on this topic and for its excellent briefing, which all noble Lords have received. I also pay tribute to the vigorous and tenacious voluntary sector for children, and the Office of the Children's Commissioner, not only for their briefings, but for discussing issues with me and for being so supportive to all of us. I know that they are well respected and listened to by Government.

One colleague from the voluntary sector asked me if the debate today would be a sort of report card on government progress. I suppose that is what, cumulatively, it will be. I am sure that we have all, at some time in our school careers, had report comments such as "enthusiastic", "attentive", "diligent", "average", "inconsistent", "poor", "more effort needed", and so on. There is a large spectrum of achievement, from brilliant to awful. One of the most damning comments I ever had was from a domestic science teacher. In this subject we handled things such as knitting needles and hot ovens, and I was deemed to be "dangerously incompetent". There was not much emphasis on self-esteem in children in those days.

On the spectrum of achievement, I would put the Government's record on children and families very high. I wonder how other noble Lords will judge it. No one can deny the immense focus that this Government have placed on children and families. No other country—

Photo of Baroness Royall of Blaisdon Baroness Royall of Blaisdon President of the Council, Privy Council Office, Leader of the House of Lords and Lord President of the Council (Privy Council Office)

My Lords, this is extraordinary, but if I might interrupt my noble friend, it seems that the microphone to which she is speaking is defective. Therefore I urge her to move to another microphone, with the leave of the House.

Photo of Baroness Massey of Darwen Baroness Massey of Darwen Labour

"Dangerously incompetent", my Lords! This is a first. This has never happened to me before.

I was talking about the Government's immense focus on children's issues. The Children's Commissioner has said publicly that more has happened for children in the past 10 years than in the previous 50. These achievements are, regretfully, too often unsung. The vision for children, reflecting Every Child Matters, the Children's Plan, and many other reports and legislation, genuinely seeks to make Britain a good place for children.

Listening to the voice of a child has become much more prevalent. Investment in outdoor play facilities, children's centres and Sure Start, increased funding for schools, investment in mental health and child health, and reviews of social care all point to a Government who care deeply about children. There are some contradictions and disappointments, for example in the child poverty targets. Nevertheless, real progress has been made—we have a Minister for Children and commissioners for children. We have had reform of children's services, which is ongoing. Commitment to improvement has been visionary and consistent.

I have no intention of going through all the reports and legislation on children and families over the past 10 years or of quoting lots of statistics. Noble Lords are very good at statistics. I will single out some areas that concern me, and to which there have been some government responses. I will do this very briefly on each area—other noble Lords will no doubt comment more extensively. I will then go into more detail on two initiatives which demonstrate, in different ways, a commitment to improving life for children and families.

Four things stand out for me as essential to the well-being of children and families: good parenting, a good workforce dealing with children and families, good co-ordinated systems for children and families, and listening to the voice of the child.

There are some areas of concern. There are too many children in the criminal justice system, especially in custody. Damaged children are being damaged further. This is expensive and counterproductive, and only re-emphasises the cycle of deprivation. In particular, children with special needs suffer. It is a difficult area. I am glad that youth justice has become part of DCSF, working with the Youth Justice Board, and I hope that this will change the emphasis to be more rehabilitative than punishing.

I welcome the introduction of education initiatives for young people in the criminal justice system in the Apprenticeships, Skills, Children and Learning Bill. Children in care are also at risk, and, given the small number of such children, we should be able to improve the system.

Indeed, there are steps in place to do that. I recently visited a centre for very difficult children, Tanglewood in Wiltshire, based on the therapeutic community model. As one member of staff said to me, "Such children need consistency, clear boundaries and security in order to combat their low self-esteem and feelings of victimisation and powerlessness". Yet, on average, most of those young people have moved from one setting to another every six months. Therefore, a child of 13 who has been in care for seven years will have been moved 14 times as a looked-after child. Of course they have problems with attachment. Such children need intensive programmes but, alas, there are too few. Some children will be from families where substance misuse is common, while sexual abuse and domestic violence may also be common.

Recent reports and statements emphasise protecting children, and I am glad that the Government have accepted the recommendations made by the noble Lord, Lord Laming. I am glad that the Children and Young People Act 2008 emphasised the need for better educational attainment for those in care. Social care needs high-calibre staff. The Government have recently announced extra money to recruit both departed and new social workers, a move welcomed by the LGA. The system needs an overhaul.

My third concern is with young people's health. Young people's sexual health initiatives illustrate the dilemma. Young people's sexual health in some areas of the country has shown dramatic improvement, particularly the teenage pregnancy rates. It is clear that where this has happened, services for teenagers, such as in school, surgeries and clinics, have collaborated. The same needs to happen across all young people's health services. They need a sympathetic, confidential approach, and they need collaboration between agencies. The news that personal, social and health education is to be statutory in schools is welcome, but I wish it had happened earlier.

My fourth concern is about the importance of play and too early an emphasis on formal learning. We have a play strategy, we have increased the time for physical activity in schools and we have had the sensible proposals of the Rose review recommending the removal of SATs at key stage 3. Young children need the chance to be creative, be it in sport, music, art, drama or whatever. Creativity is the bedrock of all real learning. Education is not training to pass exams or passive experience on a computer. The Government have invested considerably in education and in improving standards and attainment—for example, the Narrowing the Gap initiative, 21st Century Schools and the gifted and talented programme. There has also been investment in improving outcomes for children with special education needs.

I said earlier that a vital foundation for well-being in children and families is good parenting. Most children are wonderful and not the depraved monsters depicted in the media and perceived as such by many adults. I believe that some 70 per cent of stories about children in the media are negative, a shocking indictment. The experience of children in families is all-important, and the Government are to be congratulated on their support to families by way of tax credits and other initiatives, as well as by parenting support through Sure Start and family intervention programmes, which I shall say more about in a minute. The Government have recognised that disability in families requires special support. Welfare reform policies will help more people into work, the best route out of poverty.

Sadly, some families fail children. I am chair of the National Treatment Agency for Substance Misuse. I am proud of the progress made on drug treatment over the past eight years, due largely to dramatically increased government funding support. I see the impact of parental substance misuse, usually of drugs and alcohol, on children who may end up as victims, either as young carers or removed into care, or simply suffering. Thankfully, some are picked up by family and friends, particularly by grandparents. I am glad to say that the Government have responded in part to the needs of such grandparents by regularising their national insurance contributions, although there is still some way to go in ensuring that such family carers have adequate financial and other support. When families are failing, that needs to be spotted early and measures taken. Support must be built in and superb care systems are required, otherwise negative and vicious cycles will continue. The Government have recognised that.

Time is needed for policies to become embedded and for good practice to spread. More joint working across government and across services at a local level is needed to deliver the desired outcomes. I know the Government are working hard on this, but the breakdown of silos may take longer than was anticipated. Perhaps the Minister can give some examples of good practice in collaboration at national and local levels.

I end by referring to two recent initiatives that demonstrate aspects of working with children and families in positive ways. The first example encourages young people to become activists on environmental issues, something that young people are interested in. The Health Protection Agency defines sustainable development as a way of linking together recommendations in UK strategy for children's environment and health. Small steps to a sustainable future, a project funded by the DCSF sustainable development team, works in collaboration with the National Children's Bureau. It will involve local authorities and vulnerable young people to develop a young person's vision for sustainable development. The NCB is also a founding member of children in a changing climate, a global advocacy and learning programme aiming to motivate children, young people and their families, to influence climate change. The Government have set up the development of a sustainable schools programme, Defra has led a third sector task force on climate change and environment, and youth climate change champions were appointed in 2008. This timely action involves young people and families directly, and works across government and agencies.

The second initiative is the family interventions project, which works with challenging families to tackle anti-social behaviour, prevent homelessness and tackle social disadvantage. There are 67 of these projects across England, and they will be expanded to every local authority targeted in the youth crime action plan. More than half the projects are being run by local authorities, through for example, community safety, youth offending, children's services or housing departments. The remainder are run by the voluntary sector, such as the National Children's Home and other organisations.

The projects have a key worker, who will help the family identify problems, co-ordinate services to support the family and agree steps to motivate change. They have proved very successful, and evidence suggests that they save money. It is estimated that a family with severe problems could cost between £250,000 and £300,000 a year, without such interventions. Again these projects involve families in solutions to problems, and have multi-agency collaboration. It is not just doing things to people, which can be demotivating and create dependency.

I have tried to demonstrate that vision and determination can make a difference. Parents, a good workforce, co-ordinated systems of delivery and listening to and involving children and families are all key. This Government have shown vision and determination. We all know that governments cannot do it all—visionary and determined people in the systems are what ultimately count. However governments can set an agenda. There are of course still issues to be addressed, but children and families deserve governments who help them thrive. I hope that whatever the next election brings, and whichever political party is in power, it will not lose sight of the need to act on behalf of every child and every family.

b

"a child of 13 who has been in care for seven years will have been moved 14 times as a looked-after child. Of course they have problems with attachment."

Well, some of these children have been abused by paedophiles in the child care system, so movng them from place to place helps to cover up that abuse very effectivly.

Submitted by barbara richards Read 2 more annotations

Photo of Baroness Morris of Bolton Baroness Morris of Bolton Shadow Minister, Health 11:58 am, 14th May 2009

My Lords, this debate today covers a huge range of issues, all of them important to the well-being of our society, and so I should like to thank the noble Baroness, Lady Massey of Darwen, and express my admiration of her for yet again securing a debate on these essential issues. I too came close to being dangerously incompetent in domestic science, although my husband probably thinks I still am. In the short time I have, I will focus on just a couple of issues; first, the increasing perception that our children are less fulfilled and happy than they once were, and, secondly, the threat to family life in all its forms. I do not believe it is too controversial to suggest that the two are closely linked.

It was more than two years ago, in February 2007, that UNICEF—I declare an interest as a trustee of UNICEF UK—produced its damning report on the state of childhood in Britain. The findings were profoundly worrying, and although most noble Lords will be familiar with them, the main headline deserves to be highlighted. The UK was rated at the bottom of the table overall for children's well-being, scoring the lowest of the 21 industrialised countries studied—not near the bottom, but at the very bottom. Even after two years I think that conclusion has lost none of its power to shock.

The significance of the UNICEF report was that it found that neither national wealth nor household wealth in the countries concerned was the determining factor in whether children were happy. By definition, the countries studied were developed and affluent but there was still evidence of poverty in the quality of the childhood experience. A detailed look at the report shows that family breakdown is more prevalent in the UK, with fewer children living with both parents than in any other country except the United States. But the most shocking findings were those on children's behaviour, with the UK leading the tables on the percentage of young people indulging in "risk" behaviour such as drunkenness and under-age sex.

Just a few months after the UNICEF report, the Children's Commissioner, Sir Al Aynsley-Green, warned of a

"crisis at the heart of our society".

Sadly, this grim picture has been reinforced again in the recent report compiled last month by the University of York for the Child Poverty Action Group. Although it shows the UK placed slightly higher than in the previous UNICEF study, it is only slightly better, at 24th out of 29 countries. Germany comes out in eighth place, with Scandinavian countries at the top of the table. Overall, it looks depressingly like the scoreboard of the Eurovision Song Contest over recent years. Let us hope we have a better result in that this weekend, but I fear that solving the complex problems of childhood will be beyond even the ability of my noble friend Lord Lloyd-Webber.

I acknowledge that, following the UNICEF report, the Government published the Children's Plan and the Department for Children, Schools and Families was born. Of course, change does not happen overnight, but it seems as if we keep debating the same issues, passing more pieces of legislation and getting the same outcomes. One area where this is most obvious is children in care, the system now known in local government by the awful title of "corporate parenting". We learnt last month that the attainment gap for looked-after children has widened. As Natasha Finlayson, the chief executive of the Who Cares? Trust said:

"Achieving a level of good GCSE grades is the absolute minimum to ensure children get access to employment and a good start in life. It is a major concern that progress is so slow and the gap between those in care and not in care is widening".

But it does not have to be that way. During our deliberations on the Children and Young Persons Bill and in previous debates I drew attention to Barnet Council, where each child in the care of the council has been twinned with an employee of the council. They do not meet them or mentor them but they are that "pushy" parent that all children need, asking the awkward questions. The result is a dramatic improvement in educational achievements. That does not require money or an all singing and dancing piece of legislation; it is simply something that works.

Similarly, we are now in the middle of a debate on whether more children should be taken into care or whether we should spend more time and resources on early intervention. Again in Kent—I make no apologies for referring to this once more—the authorities spend a good deal of their precious resources on working with families and the extended family to try to reach a solution which keeps the family together. Only when that has failed do they take a child into care, and then move swiftly to adoption so that a child receives the stability and consistency that is so vital to the well-being of which the noble Baroness, Lady Massey, spoke—and it saves money. So my question to the Minister is, what happens to best practice? Rather than always trying to reinvent the wheel, why do we not look at what is working across our councils and with some of our wonderful charities such as Save the Family, which every week battle to rescue broken families before they disintegrate? Why do we always have to have shiny plans and countless new pieces of legislation?

In conclusion, alongside providing our children with the best possible education with rigorous standards, we must support families and help them to stay together wherever possible. Unless we address the root cause of family breakdown, or in many cases the absence of a family structure at all, I fear that the Government's well-intentioned policies will fail to deliver the quality of life and opportunities that so many of our children and young people deserve.

Photo of Baroness Garden of Frognal Baroness Garden of Frognal Spokesperson for Children, Schools and Families 12:05 pm, 14th May 2009

My Lords, I, too, thank the noble Baroness, Lady Massey, for giving us this opportunity to review the Government's policies on children and families and to look more broadly at community support. As a nation, we are still failing to provide all our children with the best possible existence. We have evidence of this, to our shame, as the noble Baroness, Lady Morris, set out, in the child well-being index and other international reviews, where the UK is well down the list.

Legislation can go only so far to improve people's lives. Government cannot intervene at every stage in personal relationships—nor, indeed, would we wish them to—but they can set frameworks to promote equality and opportunity for all, as well as encouraging a caring culture and promoting a healthy work-life balance.

The House's recent debates have included the report A Good Childhood, which came up with sound and positive proposals for children's well-being. All our deliberations are framed by Every Child Matters, the Children's Plan, UNICEF's work, and the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. We are not short of good guidance, but it should be matched by implementation.

On the horizon at the end of May is National Family Week, a new national occasion to encourage families to spend quality time together, with an imaginative range of events and an impressive array of supporting organisations.

Families these days come in all shapes and sizes. They may consist of two people or myriad people, one child or more, one parent or more—maybe male and female or same sex—birth parents and foster or adoptive parents. They may be made up of two, three, even four generations. There is diversity in ethnicity, faith, health and wealth. In short, there is no such thing as a standard family and no pat solutions for ensuring universal well-being. Today's tolerance of diverse families should have reaped positive benefits. Too often it has led to lack of opportunity, rather than increased confidence.

The media, as ever, have their part to play in raising awareness. There is a current series on Channel 4 highlighting the care system. On Sunday it will show "The Unloved", a film directed by Samantha Morton who herself grew up in local authority care. I saw the preview last week. Often a single case can make a more powerful point than all the general statistics put together. The film follows an 11 year-old child, as seen through her eyes, as she is moved away from her drunken father to a children's home. She is surrounded by well meaning but often inadequate adults, trying to cope in the most difficult circumstances with young people in need.

The film is a dramatisation, but with the detail of a documentary. It conveys the lack of security, warmth or engagement between adults and children. It portrays the powerlessness of a child taken into care, her isolation and the basic wish to be with a parent, to be part of a family unit. We witness young people reaching out for communication, recognition from another child or an adult, with brief moments of friendship, happiness and love, which give hope of a better life.

Reports from UNICEF, Barnardo's and other children's organisations indicate that such a depiction of vulnerable, disadvantaged children is sadly only too real. Children in care have so much disproportionately poorer prospects of success, educationally or socially. The levels of child poverty in this country are still much too high, given our wealth as a nation. In raising awareness, there should be a concerted effort to use the expertise and advice from children's organisations to target funding where it can be most effective and to encourage people to train and to work in social care. Adverse publicity about tragic cases has accelerated moves to ensure better safety for vulnerable children, but too many laws and regulations may have unintended consequences. There is a real danger that good people will be deterred from becoming social workers and fewer people will come forward. They work in some of the most difficult and dangerous areas of the community, often under stress, often undervalued and underpaid, but with some of the greatest rewards in turning around disadvantaged lives.

This debate comes shortly before your Lordships' House considers the Apprenticeships, Skills, Children and Learning Bill, which will have an impact on children's well-being. Education has a key part to play in ensuring that young people grow into responsible and confident adults, better equipped to be caring parents. To that end, we, too, welcome the Government's commitment to making PSHE a compulsory part of the curriculum as one step toward giving them the confidence and skills to build good relationships.

The well-being and safeguarding of children should be the responsibility of us all—of parents, certainly, but with the support of friends and neighbours, and of professionals in schools and health services. We look forward to hearing from the Minister how the Government will take forward the issues raised in the debate to provide opportunities and quality of life for those who need them most.

Photo of Baroness Warnock Baroness Warnock Crossbench 12:10 pm, 14th May 2009

My Lords, I, too, must thank the noble Baroness, Lady Massey, for initiating this debate, which is obviously of enormous importance, especially if we wish to improve on the rather dismal place that we occupy in the league tables to which both she and the noble Baroness, Lady Morris, referred.

I want to address a relatively narrow issue, but one to which I know the Government, to their great credit, are committed: the improvement of children's linguistic abilities. I think of it as linguistic deprivation; it has also been spoken of as language poverty. The Government have taken good note of the 2008 Bercow report, and doubtlessly of Sir Jim Rose's recent remarks in his curriculum review on speech and language needs. Nothing is more important to a child's future well-being than confident communication.

Some time ago, I visited a primary school on the outskirts of Birmingham, an area of acute poverty and squalor where most of the children were of single mothers, living in blocks of flats quite apparently in need of demolition. A nursery school had only recently been opened at the school as a result of intense lobbying by the local GP.

The average vocabulary of the children, aged about three when they started, was five words, at least two of which were expletives. The difficulty that the teachers faced was largely that of engaging the attention of the children, who had never had a conversation in their lives. Their mothers, many of whom had relatively short-stay boyfriends, had no time or inclination to talk. When they went out, it was usually in a pushchair facing firmly away from their mother; at home, they sat in front of the television.

I heard from the teachers, and could see for myself, that one of the most important things that those children began to learn was to do things together in a regular, indeed a rhythmic, sequence, such as playing ring a ring o' roses, saying rhymes together or singing songs. They were drawn in to such activities and began to enjoy all the repetitions, jokes and actions. All this was confirmed in last year's departmental national strategy publication, Every Child a Talker, which is full of ideas for nursery and primary school teachers and for parents. But there is one thing that I would like to factor in to this programme: radio.

I must declare an interest as acting chairman of a broadcasting group called Sound Start, which for three years ran a highly successful children's radio station in London as a privately funded pilot—the group is actively campaigning for children's radio and hopes to collaborate with the BBC. As noble Lords will know, the BBC will next week bring to an end its only readily accessible radio programme for young children.

This seems to be a genuine abrogation of the duty of public service broadcasting. The BBC is, sadly, moving increasingly further away from what it used to do so brilliantly in schools' radio programmes, which were useful, not only at school but at home. The need for this good programming is even greater, now that there are more children in our primary and nursery schools for whom English is not the first language.

The BBC has turned its back on an enormous service that it used to perform. It shares the totally unfounded belief that small children are not interested in radio and that the only radio they need is the sort of wall-to-wall pop that they can listen to while they are doing something else. This belief is completely and profoundly mistaken, as the BBC could have a profound input into making children take part in what I think of as genuine conversation. Radio also used to be amazingly useful for schools which lacked a teacher with the confidence or ability to teach music, movement, singing, rhymes, poetry and literature. There are schools where teachers could easily learn from the input of radio.

I come back to the concept of linguistic deprivation, which is one of the most serious kinds of deprivation that a child can possibly suffer. I firmly believe that radio can teach children not only to talk and to sing, but to listen. Television is no substitute, because it tends on the whole to distract a child from listening and to limit a child's imagination. After all, the imagination of children is the foundation of their future education, well-being and ability to live lives that they will think are worth living.

I therefore ask the Minister to assure the House that subsidising children's radio will form part of the speech, language and communication action plan under which the Government are committed, I am glad to say, to spending several million pounds over the next few years. I greatly welcome the action plan, but beg the Minister to consider the place that radio may have in school and, perhaps above all, at home, where children and parents together can benefit and learn—learn the power of listening and talking—as a way of properly engaging with the world.

Photo of The Bishop of Leicester The Bishop of Leicester Bishop 12:17 pm, 14th May 2009

My Lords, with others I pay tribute to the noble Baroness, Lady Massey of Darwen, for bringing this debate to the House and to her consistent and distinguished commitment to the issues which it raises. As chair of the Children's Society, I must declare my interest.

This debate builds on many of the issues raised by the Good Childhood report which we debated a few months ago. The most reverend Primate the Archbishop of Canterbury wrote in his afterword that this report forces,

"the reader to ask what we have in the 'bank' of mind and spirit in our culture that reinforces love and fidelity and offers some robust account of what long-term human welfare looks like and what it demands".

I want briefly to say something about what well-being looks like and something about what it demands.

There are at present no universally agreed ways of defining and measuring well-being. In terms of children, ideas about well-being have often been transferred directly from concepts which apply to adults, with inadequate reference to children themselves. In addition, there has been a tendency to focus more on children's future well-being or "well-becoming" as adults than on their experience of childhood, and to measure child well-being in terms of the absence of negative indicators, such as substance abuse, rather than the presence of positive ones. How do we attend wisely to the views of children themselves on these matters?

This year, for example, the Get Ready for Change! project saw a group of children and young people carrying out a major children's rights investigation and submitting their own report to the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child in Geneva to inform its examination of the United Kingdom. Such projects fall far short of a systematic attempt to monitor and assess the experiences of children over time. For that reason, the Children's Society is developing a well-being framework based on a consultation exercise with Ipsos MORI. The first phase of the survey, a representative sample of over 7,000 children, in years six, eight and 10, was completed in July 2008. The findings are due to be published this summer. This will be a major part of identifying well-being among different subgroups of children, leading to the development and testing of a new index of child well-being. Some of the themes are already clear, even predictable. The family is clearly of paramount importance. When children and young people were asked to choose between love, respect, support and freedom, in terms of their importance in family relationships, 70 per cent chose love.

We can begin to see where this message is getting through in the recent Children, Schools and Families Select Committee report on looked-after children, which concluded,

"the greatest gains in reforming our care system are to be made in identifying and removing whatever barriers are obstructing the development of good personal relationships, and putting in place all possible means of supporting such relationships where they occur".

I want briefly to focus on child poverty, for it is clear that the well-being of children demands a fundamental change in our approach to inequalities and a renewed political determination to deliver on the targets for child poverty eradication. I hope that we shall hear from the Minister on the subject, because if there is a golden thread linking all the policies around child well-being, this is it.

The financial crisis offers us a chance to rethink our public values; to evaluate the collective social, political and economic costs of our present inequalities, as the Joseph Rowntree Foundation's recent research has clearly revealed. Living in poverty has an immediate and enduring impact on children's lives. In my own diocese, in some of the inner city schools, 85 per cent of children are on free school meals; one school has children speaking 40 different languages. Here we see powerfully the impact of poverty and multiple disadvantage and we realise that those forms of inequality demand focus and sustained attention on the alleviation of poverty. It was therefore a serious disappointment that in the Budget the Government were not able to prioritise spending in that area, putting only £20 extra per child per year on tax credit, or merely 38p per child per week. Will the Minister commit today to doing everything possible to ensure that the pre-Budget report in the autumn gets the Government back on track to reach the 700,000 children who need to be taken out of poverty if the 2010 target is to be achieved?

The well-being of children focuses our attention on the central task of a civilised society: the task of inducting children into responsible and fulfilling lives. That is a challenge at every point of government policy but especially in facing with real, enduring courage the challenge of the toxic combination of inequality, high child poverty and low social mobility in this country, relative to many European comparators and illustrated by the UNICEF report to which reference has already been made. If we are to move beyond what has been called the mixed climate of fear and dislike that seems to affect so many perceptions of children and young people, the agenda for addressing the needs of the 3.9 million children in poverty in this country must be faced. That remains the single greatest threat to the well-being of children and families today.

Photo of Lord Ramsbotham Lord Ramsbotham Crossbench 12:24 pm, 14th May 2009

My Lords, I join other noble Lords in congratulating the noble Baroness, Lady Massey, on obtaining this important and timely debate and pay tribute to her for her chairmanship of the Children Group, which is recognised by the large number of people from outside organisations who make it their business to attend, knowing that there will be a lively, challenging, interesting and relevant meeting under her chairmanship. I also join in the words of my noble friend Lady Warnock and repeat the plea that I have made many times in this House that every child should receive a speech and language therapy assessment before beginning primary school, to enable them to engage with that process.

I say that this debate is timely because we are about to embark on a legislative marathon, including the Coroners and Justice Bill, the Welfare Reform Bill, the Policing and Crime Bill, the Apprenticeships, Skills, Children and Learning Bill and the Equality Bill, all of which contain clauses relevant to children. Therefore, it is very timely to be reminded of their needs and problems as we approach that process.

I want to focus on one aspect only—children in custody—and take as my text the excellent joint report of Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Prisons and the Youth Justice Board entitled Children and Young People in Custody 2006-2008, which was published recently. I shall cite two passages from it, one from the text and one from the conclusions, because I could not put what is said better and they are relevant for the House. Talking about the whole survey, the report states:

"The results ... show, in general, a steady improvement in terms of young people's experience of the custodial environment"— which is to be welcomed—

"But there is less encouraging news in relation to what the effect on them will be. Ease of contact with family and friends had deteriorated both for young men and young women ... only a third of them said that it was easy for their families to visit, and in some establishments this figure was as low as a quarter (for young men) or 13% (for young women). Over a quarter of young women and nearly one in five young men said they had no visits at all. This must reflect the distance from home of some young people. In some establishments, a significant proportion also said they had problems contacting their families by telephone or mail.

There had also been deterioration, for young men, in some other important resettlement areas. Fewer young men said they could see their training plan, or had been contacted by a youth offending team or social worker or probation officer while in custody. There was still only a minority of young men—around four out of 10—who believed that they had done anything in custody that would help them not to offend again; though this rose to nearly eight out of 10 among sentenced young people in the one open unit (which has now been closed)".

In conclusion, the report states:

"There are some key messages ... from these surveys. First, there is considerable variation in young people's experiences and opportunities between different establishments ... there are also variations which are not inexplicable ... where culture, management or history seem to play a part. It also remains troubling that overall so many young people have felt unsafe ... the experience of black and minority ethnic young men remains significantly more negative ... Third, and most importantly, the experience of custody is only a part of these young lives, and it must be of concern that links with families and, for young men, with support services outside prison, seem to have loosened".

Those are serious and worrying words. They reflect something that I have been saying now for more than 10 years: until and unless someone, some person, is responsible and accountable for consistent direction of what happens to children in custody, we will continue to have uneven performance. We will continue to have the ridiculous situation that incoming governors and directors of establishments are not required to carry on from where their predecessor left off but can do what they like in relation to the targets and performance indicators that they have been given.

As has been mentioned, there is a disconnect between what happens in young offender establishments, run by the Prison Service, secure training centres, which are run by private companies on contract to the Youth Justice Board, local authority secure homes, some of which are run by local authorities and some by the private sector. In this context, I deplore, as I have many times in this House, the abolition of the Commission for Social Care Inspection, which focused entirely on issues such as safeguarding, which the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Leicester just mentioned. Until and unless something is done to improve the overall direction of what happens, we will still go on having to read this depressing catalogue of avoidable failure, which is damaging the young people whose interests all of us in this nation must have at heart. I beg the Government to do something serious to overcome this deficiency.

Photo of Baroness Thornton Baroness Thornton Government Whip, Baroness in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip)

My Lords, before my noble friend stands up to speak, I respectfully remind noble Lords that the six minutes are up when the clock turns to six. Several noble Lords have overrun by a minute—not the previous speaker, who was a model of brevity. However, I remind noble Lords that we will overrun if we do not stick to the time.

Photo of Baroness Billingham Baroness Billingham Labour 12:30 pm, 14th May 2009

My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Massey, for bringing this debate to the House today and I apologise to her and to the House for my mobile interrupting the beginning of this debate.

I am acutely aware of the many areas that need to be covered if we are to take a broad view on the Government's record on well-being. Therefore, I will focus on just one aspect, sport, which I firmly believe ranks with equal importance to apparently more serious areas being covered today. For who can deny the part that sport plays in our society, whether as a fan, an aspiring player or an occasional participant in a huge variety of sport? All that against the increasing awareness of an epidemic of obesity among both young and old and the anger and frustration we feel at not having access or opportunity to take part in our favoured sports.

Years ago, as a young councillor in Banbury, I well remember the scathing attitude of those around me when youngsters lobbied us to provide a skate park in the town—heresy. Many years later it came into being, but only after a very long campaign.

When I reflect on the Government's policies today, I have to remember the starting point in the 1990s. School sport was reduced to a token. Curriculum expansion had almost pushed PE off the timetable. Heads were more concerned with academic league tables and made flimsy defence of sport. Not only that, but extra-curricula activities in state schools had bitten the dust, thanks, in no small part, to the noble Lord, Lord Baker of Dorking—as a fallout of his confrontation with teachers.

What has been done to repair the damage—frankly, an enormous amount. The Government have set up a delivery framework—Sport England, UK Sport and the Youth Sport Trust—which has built up a positive rapport with all the governing bodies of sport in the United Kingdom. Huge amounts of money have been channelled into sport, £2.4 billion, divided equally between sport in schools and the community, the development of young players and encouraging families to return to active sport.

What has been the result? Well, a transformation. Sport in schools, from having virtually no time in the timetable, is now five hours for primary schools and three hours for secondary schools. Extra-curricular sport is flourishing. Clubs, teams and groups are in competition. Competitive sport has regained its proper place in society. There is a genuine broad offer of sport for all with schools and colleges. Volunteering, officiating, running clubs and being coaches are being promoted. All these are essential if we are to build for the future and staff the London Olympics in 2012. Those Olympics have pricked the nation's conscience to get off our sofas.

Links between schools and clubs are essential. Three years ago, the Government created community amateur sports clubs. That is part of the answer, but that bridge is not yet completed. Clubs must change and become less exclusive. Community sports clubs have an inducement of rate reduction. Governing bodies are putting in place a matrix of link officials who work with schools to publicise sport in their area and help identify sports that students can take part in—all this against the alarming rising figures of obesity. Sport not only helps counter that but adds to the social inclusion of many youngsters in society; and it is fun and lifelong. If only noble Lords had come along to watch the match at the Lords and Commons tennis club this Thursday, they would have witnessed extraordinary scenes of aging players thoroughly enjoying themselves, albeit a trifle creaky the following day.

The Government are playing their part and must be determined to continue with a high level of support. The credit crunch puts pressure on all budgets, but this budget line is surely one that must be protected at whatever cost. We cannot slip back to the dark days of the 1990s. I very much hope that the Minister will assure us of that. If I speak with unusual passion, that might be because I spent part of my childhood in care. Sport played a crucial part in helping me to find new friends within the community of sport.

However, I have a most wonderful offer to make to the Minister and to the Government today, with no extra cost and with guaranteed success. If they take on board the campaign to stop putting the clocks back in October, at a stroke, they will give us all thousands of extra daylight hours, after school and work, to make ourselves more active. If they resort to that old chestnut of dark evenings being dangerous, I hope they will quote this month's report from the National Audit Office saying that child pedestrians are most at risk from 3 pm to 7 pm, especially in the weeks after the end of British summertime.

So, let us stop this daylight robbery and give everyone the chance that they need and deserve to create a healthier, more active and happier society—a crucial policy to promote the well-being of children and families, which is the heart of our debate today.

Photo of Baroness Butler-Sloss Baroness Butler-Sloss Crossbench 12:36 pm, 14th May 2009

My Lords, I strongly support the suggestion just made by the noble Baroness, Lady Billingham. I would like to take advantage of this valuable debate introduced by the noble Baroness, Lady Massey, to raise a specific issue about well-being: access to justice for those children whose future is decided in the courts.

As has been said, one of the most vulnerable groups are those children who are in care and those who are the subject of care proceedings with the possibility of permanent removal from their families. All such children committed to care have to have an order, either of a judge or of magistrates, and they have to go through court proceedings. Many such children have been physically or sexually abused or seriously neglected and all have been emotionally abused. Allegations have to be proved and medical and social worker evidence has to be tested to assist the court to decide whether the case for a care order is proved.

Every Child Matters: Next Steps refers to the importance of the family justice system for children. Family lawyers, the Family Law Bar Association, family solicitors such as Resolution and the Association of Lawyers for Children spend long hours preparing these cases with voluminous evidence and difficult and often insoluble problems where their expertise and experience are of great help to family judges, which, as your Lordships will appreciate, was what I was at one time. The work of these lawyers, of barristers in particular, often makes a real difference to the outcome. However, contrary to public belief, family lawyers are not particularly well paid under this legal aid system.

I recently co-chaired a meeting for the Family Law Bar Association with the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, to learn about the Legal Services Commission's proposals to restructure the package of payments to family barristers in the longer cases. Because of a marked reduction in those cases, there will be a most damaging effect on the availability of experienced family practitioners in those cases. There will be fewer family lawyers prepared to do this work. They will vote with their feet and there will be a great disincentive for young barristers coming into family work. As a former family judge, I already advise Bar students not to do family work. Following the Legal Services Commission's proposals, there is about to be a serious and irreparable loss of the pool of expertise.

My concern is not at all for the lawyers; it is for children and the parents who must be represented. The legal aid changes raise issues about the rights and welfare of children. They involve Article 12 of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child and Articles 6 and 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights. There will be a lack of access to justice and a lack of adequate representation of children and of the parents who may be unfairly accused of misbehaviour and may lose their children for ever. Much more important is the grave danger of the loss for children of their parents if these cases are not properly tested.

I cannot overemphasise the potential damage to these extremely vulnerable groups of children. It is worrying that the Legal Services Commission does not recognise children among its stakeholders. I should make it clear that the family Bar is asking not for more money but for a more sensible redistribution of the money that the Legal Services Commission and the Ministry of Justice say will be available. I appreciate that I am taking the Minister by surprise, but I ask the Government to recognise the damage that will be done if the Family Law Bar Association's proposals are not taken seriously. Those proposals should be looked at again. A failure to do so would undermine all the Government's other good policies, which I so very much support.

Photo of Baroness Amos Baroness Amos Labour 12:41 pm, 14th May 2009

My Lords, I thank my noble friend Lady Massey for opening today's debate on an issue that is not only of current importance to our society but crucial to the future well-being of our nation. I shall focus on the interconnectedness between educational achievement, family and community support, and the importance of aspiration and self-belief in our young people. When the Prime Minister announced the creation of the new Department for Children, Schools and Families in 2007, he said:

"Children and families are the bedrock of our society. The Government's aim is to ensure that every child gets the best possible start in life, receiving the ongoing support and protection that they—and their families—need to allow them to fulfil their potential".—[Hansard, 3/7/07; col. WS 82.]

Today, I shall focus on one initiative, Trailblazers, which I have supported for the past four years and which aims to deliver some of these goals in a practical way and to link strongly to the Every Child Matters agenda. Trailblazers was started in 2004 by the Learning Trust, which runs educational services in Hackney. I declare an interest in that my sister works for the Learning Trust in Hackney. Hackney is an inner-city borough, with all the attendant challenges. It is the third most ethnically diverse local authority in the United Kingdom, with a dynamic and constantly changing population and high levels of poverty. It has formidable educational challenges, with young people facing significant pressures to engage in behaviour that makes them vulnerable to harm. As a consequence, the borough suffers from negative stereotyping about its schools, its young people and the wider community.

In focus groups and consultations, students said that their achievements should be celebrated and recognised by the local community. This was in line with the trust's own objective to raise awareness of the positive achievements of young people in the borough, and so the Trailblazers initiative was born. Its objectives were publicly to celebrate the achievements of the young people in the borough, to combat negative stereotypes of Hackney schools, to give examples of excellence, to attract the recognition of the community, to inspire students to reach their full potential through education and to improve GCSE results.

The trust began by identifying young people who had achieved across a range of different areas. Importantly, it looked not only at young people who were academic but at those who were making significant progress in other areas, including behaviour. The early stage of the campaign included an advertising campaign on buses and billboards that asked Hackney citizens to support Hackney children. The campaign was entitled "Hackney is with you all the way", and was run just before the children's exams. Hackney residents could not miss it.

What a success it has been. To date, more than 600 super-achieving students have been nominated by secondary schools as trailblazers across the categories of academic achievement, sports, creative arts, musical excellence and personal development. They have become the voice and role models for Hackney youth. All Hackney secondary schools have participated in the campaign. Trailblazers became the model for the London Challenge—the London-wide schools recognition programme. A student was sponsored to attend Gordonstoun School, five university students have been sponsored and revision publications have been used by students and parents across the borough.

A head teacher said: "People need to look behind the headlines declaring that Hackney schools are failing their children, and you will see a totally different story". A young woman said: "Hackney students are tired of being considered second-class citizens. We want everyone to know that we are achieving excellence". The then chair of the Learning Trust said: "In Hackney, we are no longer happy with mediocrity but genuinely aspire to excellence".

Students have achieved the highest marks in GSCEs in the county. Their talents are endless. The campaign was a simple idea that was driven by the passion of students in Hackney. All its materials featured students or their work and led to spin-off activities in schools. It has captured the imagination of local people and acted as a call to action that was accepted by students and the teaching community. The success of this programme rests on its co-ordinated approach. It engages students, parents, teachers, administrators and the whole community in recognising that we all have potential and that there is a need to nurture and support talent and to celebrate achievement. I have been privileged to host an annual event for Trailblazers in this House, which has been supported by other noble Lords.

I ask the Minister to tell the House what initiatives the Government have supported to promote community support for educational achievement and to live up to the department's ambition to promote the wider contribution of young people to their communities.

Photo of Baroness Howarth of Breckland Baroness Howarth of Breckland Crossbench 12:48 pm, 14th May 2009

My Lords, I, too, congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Massey, on securing this debate and on an opening speech of such clarity and width. She is a tireless advocate for children and their families and I can testify to the fact that she also encourages other Members of this House.

Families come in all shapes and sizes and, although we all hope that every child can be brought up in a stable environment, we know that family breakdown happens. Most parents manage to make good arrangements for the care of their children when divorce or separation occurs, but for the 10 per cent who fail to come to an agreement the family courts must help and intervene.

I shall spend my few minutes this afternoon talking about the children and family courts system and about the Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service and the social workers who try to help the families who come before it. CAFCASS is a non-departmental public body that comes within the framework of the Department of Children, Schools and Families; it is therefore part of the government framework. I declare an interest as its present chair and previous deputy chair for five years.

It is no secret that CAFCASS has had a difficult journey and that we still have much to do. However, we have consolidated 113 organisations into one national CAFCASS and we have built a corporate identity as a service provider and an employer. We have much to do in the areas of standards, but we are working on it. We must remind ourselves that we have a statutory responsibility to ensure that children and young people are put first in family proceedings, that their voices are heard properly, that the decisions made about them by the courts are in their interests and that they and their families are supported throughout the process.

As such, the organisation plays a key role in family life within the legislative framework set by Parliament. We are involved with some 80,000 children a year and have a staff of around 2,000, most of them social workers. Care and separation proceedings are fraught with conflict. For many, it is about winning a battle where the children have been either the victims or weary bystanders. Much of our work is about helping families to see the conflict through the eyes of the child and to seek a resolution.

In private law, divorce and separation start with the presumption that it is in the child's best interests to maintain contact with both parents, unless there are good reasons to the contrary, such as domestic violence or neglect. We must remind ourselves, particularly this week, of the importance of protecting women and children from domestic violence. There is a view, however, that the law treats non-resident parents unreasonably in the family courts. This view has led in part to the opening up of the courts to the press. The Government's own research, however, and our most recent gender outcomes statistics show that there is,

"no evidence that non resident parents as a group are systematically unreasonably treated by the family courts".

On the contrary, it looks as though fathers are taking more part in the lives of children. We in CAFCASS work closely with support groups such as Families Need Fathers, which has done excellent work in supporting the role of fathers and, indeed, now separated mothers. Of course, there is a small minority of cases where a parent is determined to continue the relationship battle whatever the detriment to the child. Ending contact in these cases can save that child from emotional harm.

In public law, where children are likely to be removed from both parents for care reasons, CAFCASS carries out some of its most high-profile work, as the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss, mentioned. Key to this, as in all our work, is the role of safeguarding—ensuring that children are properly protected. In the aftermath of the case of the murder of Baby P, the number of care applications has escalated sharply. The trend continues. It represents a shift in intervention threshold by local authorities. We have found that there is an increase in the number of cases coming to court of children who are already known to local authorities and where chronic neglect is the main feature.

Each child and family needs intensive help, clear assessment and decisive plans. My concern is that none of the agencies is meeting this requirement at the present time, as reflected in the second report of the noble Lord, Lord Laming. Work with chaotic, disordered families, where there is poverty linked with alcohol or drug abuse, or both, and where parents have limited emotional ability, requires the highest-skilled workers, either to keep the family at home or to make the difficult decision to remove the child. One thing is certain: the social worker who will undertake this task on behalf of us all will be damned if they do and damned if they don't.

The Secretary of State has made a commitment to supporting social workers and I hope to hear the Minister today reiterate her support. We have to come through this crisis of backlogs and difficulties. We have to come to the point where we can find other ways of helping families and their children. The debate introduced by the noble Baroness, Lady Massey, is a useful way of focusing on many ways forward. Government policy and the Every Child Matters agenda must mean every child because, as my chief executive Anthony Douglas put it:

"Each child is not a statistic but a person with complex and long-term needs which the State has a duty of care to meet".

In these difficult times, I know that the Minister and the Government will do everything possible to meet those needs; we in CAFCASS will do everything in our power to play our part.

Photo of Baroness Hollis of Heigham Baroness Hollis of Heigham Labour 12:55 pm, 14th May 2009

My Lords, I want us to think again about the structure of the welfare state and social security as it affects women and their families.

We need to go back 100 years, to Lloyd George's introduction of national insurance. He refused to accept that sickness, unemployment, old age and so on were a lack of moral fibre to be dealt with by charity. He would have preferred universal provision and a decent poor law but the stigma of that was unacceptable. So he went for contributory national insurance for the head of the household—for the working man. That kept out the rough and the idle, and women. His principles were continued by Beveridge, who worked for Lloyd George. As long as the man held on to his 40-year job and his wife held on to him, they were okay. National insurance, revamped poor law, filled in the gaps for the uninsurable, the lone parent, the widow. The bones of that system—contributory national insurance for men underpinned by means-tested benefits for women—still scaffold our welfare state, wrongly in my view. Why is it wrong? Because it has continuously discriminated against women.

Let us think about it. Benefits assume that you are either in full-time work or out of it. That is fine for men but impossible for most women, who can manage only part-time work. What about pensions—save for 40 years, save early, save enough, do not touch it? That is fine for men, because pensions depend on full-time work, but impossible for most women. Economics and demographics have rendered this model of Lloyd George and Beveridge pretty much obsolete. Yet we still expect women to get their benefit and pension cover either from husbands, even though half of women in their 50s or 60s are not married, or, if they are without a husband, to behave like men even though most will have children, grandchildren or elderly parents to care for.

All Governments have recognised the problem and sought to tweak the system. Since 1997, the Government's record has been admirable. They have made it possible for mothers, particularly lone parents, to work. The minimum wage, the tenth anniversary of which was yesterday, has benefited a million people, mostly women. Tax credits, childcare provision and the right to request flexible working have made work possible and work pay. As we all know, the only way to address child poverty is to bring up the child in a working family.

As for pensions, five years ago 90 per cent of men, but generally only 20 per cent of women, could retire with a full basic state pension. As a result of the great work of James Purnell, the number of years required for a basic state pension is down to 30. Those caring for older people and, to my delight, those caring for grandchildren for more than 20 hours a week will receive a national insurance credit. This is a real recognition of family values and the dependence of one family generation on another. Above all—thanks to your Lordships—the Government have allowed people, mainly women, to fill in their pension gap through the buy-back of missing national insurance years. One hopes that within the next decade or so both women and men will have similar coverage, perhaps of 85 or 90 per cent, in their pensions.

We have travelled a long way. And yet, why keep the state pension contributory if fairly soon almost all will be covered but in unnecessarily complicated ways? Why not go for a universal state pension based, say, on 20 years' residence? This would be simple, popular, inexpensive and save 3,000 jobs administering a redundant system. Why continue to police a contributory system to keep people out when, on the other hand, we then use credits to bring them back in again?

As for working-age benefits, income support—a woman's benefit which recognises unwaged work—is being replaced by jobseeker's allowance, which is a man-seeking-full-time-work benefit. Given that three-quarters of unemployed men voluntarily return to work within six months, JSA's tough conditionality has been designed for the 22-year-old who is reluctant to get up in the morning. That is fine: a 22 year-old can be expected to work under JSA rules and to travel an hour and a half to seek work. But a job that starts at 9 am and is an hour and a half away is not fine for a lone parent with two children whose school opens at 8.45 am. The JSA has financial sanctions for the 22 year-old; but apply those to the lone parent and you also sanction the child. You can pressure the 22 year-old into full-time work, but often all that the lone parent can manage is a patchwork of mini-jobs of, say, 12 hours a week. As her benefit is deducted pound for pound it may not be worth working, so either she will not work or she will not declare it. And yet those mini-jobs may be the best preparation for her to go into full-time work when her children are older. We make her fit the benefit regime of the 22 year-old instead of devising a benefit regime that fits the realities of her life, which requires a tapered approach to benefit rather than the male model of being in work or out of it.

The time has come to restructure social security by holding up the gender filter and building it around the lives and needs of women as well as those of men. I believe that we would all win from it.

Photo of The Earl of Listowel The Earl of Listowel Crossbench 1:00 pm, 14th May 2009

My Lords, I, too, warmly thank the noble Baroness, Lady Massey of Darwen, for securing this debate and for her chairmanship of the children's group. I am most grateful to her, and to other noble Lords, including the right reverend Prelate, for speaking at length today about the needs of children in care. As vice-chair of All-Party Group on Children and Young People in Care, perhaps I may advise the House that, on Wednesday 20 May, there will be a meeting of the group at which the Children's Legal Centre will discuss its advocacy for children and young people in care. I would be grateful for your Lordships' support for that meeting. I declare my interest as a trustee of TACT, a not-for-profit foster agency, and the Michael Sieff Foundation, a child welfare organisation.

I thank the Minister for the attention that she has increasingly been giving to the children's workforce, especially child and family social workers. I am grateful for the establishment of the social work taskforce and look forward very much to its recommendations this autumn. Moira Gibb, chief executive of Camden local authority, has been appointed to lead the taskforce and is highly regarded by all the professionals I have spoken to. As the vacancy rate for child and family social workers in London is 20 per cent we know that her work is vital. I also thank the Minister and her colleagues for the recent additional investment of £58 million in child and family social work. However, given the concerns that we all continue to have about children's social care, I hope the Minister will continue to give thought to the need to ring-fence and increase the funding for these services.

I shall speak about access to mental health services for the carers of young people in care, for young people in care and for care leavers. On Tuesday I had the privilege of attending a discussion at which the Minister spoke. In the audience were a number of care leavers, foster carers, social workers and adoptive parents. Channel Four showed excerpts from its documentary "Lost in Care"—which was referred to earlier in the debate—in which care leavers spoke about having 15, 20 or 30 different placements while in care. That was not a representative sample. However, the trauma that children experience prior to entering care, which is sometimes compounded by trauma experienced while in the care system, gives rise to high rates of mental disorders within this group.

In its 2002 survey, the Office for National Statistics put disorder rates as high as 45 per cent for children in foster care and 72 per cent for children in residential care. As they are children, they may recover quickly. However, if their needs are not met, these disorders may harden into adult personality disorders which can be very hard to treat. Often the best treatment for such childhood disorders is a warm and stable relationship with a caring adult, as the right reverend Prelate so elegantly said. It is therefore absolutely right that the Minister places such high value on stability and that the Government have set a target for placement stability. At the same meeting on Tuesday, Stuart Hannah, a child psychotherapist at the Tavistock and Portman NHS Foundation Trust, drew attention to the important work of therapeutic children's homes such as the Mulberry Bush School. Key to the success of such facilities is ongoing consultation by a child psychotherapist or appropriately skilled clinical psychologist or psychiatrist with the staff group.

Children who have been traumatised may often sabotage future relationships with adults and avoid intimacy and love at all costs because of the pain that it has given them in the past. Given these children's resistance to forming stable relationships with carers it is essential that residential child care workers should be supported in their task by the best mental health professionals in the field. It is deeply regrettable, given the level of need and the inexperience of those working in the front line, that all children's home staff do not enjoy ongoing support from these kinds of consultants.

There needs to be appropriate high quality mental health provision throughout residential care. Consideration also needs to be given to providing such support to adoptive parents, child and family social workers, foster carers and GPs. The very best services already provide this. Kids Company, which was also referred to at our meeting on Tuesday, forges relationships of trust with our most neglected children. Staff do so while receiving regular support themselves from child psychotherapists. Such support was once a regular feature of child and family social work, as I think my noble friend Lady Howarth may be able to attest.

The final report of the national CAMHS review, Child and Adolescent Mental Health Service, published last December, recommended increased integration of CAMHS services with other services and a push to educate the childcare workforce in child development. The Government have established an independent advisory board to implement these recommendations. Will the Minister consider meeting the board—perhaps with her colleague, the noble Lord, Lord Darzi—and me to discuss the concerns that I am expressing today? What progress has been made in the integration of CAMHS with children's homes? How many children's homes offer ongoing consultation for staff by child psychotherapists or other clinicians? How is the quality of this consultation monitored?

Given that improvements in public care are still at an early stage, what assessments and access to services are offered to care leavers who may have mental health issues arising from abuse prior to care or from instability in the care system? Is there an infrastructure of support for self-help groups for care leavers, perhaps facilitated by a mental health professional, so that care leavers can resolve earlier trauma? Is individual therapy for care leavers made available and promoted? I look forward to the Minister's reply.

Photo of Lord Griffiths of Burry Port Lord Griffiths of Burry Port Labour 1:07 pm, 14th May 2009

My Lords, we are in the debt of my erstwhile mentor, my noble friend Lady Massey of Darwen, for giving us this opportunity to share such a wide expression of views on this general subject. I am delighted to offer mine in the midst of expertise of a rare order, and I stand as a general practitioner in the midst of consultants. As a church minister, my daily work is to visit families in their homes, to climb the stairs of those inner-city dwellings and to sit and eat humble fare sometimes with such families. I allow my mind to see the two little children in this small one or two-bedroomed accommodation when they have grown up and their home will be bursting at the seams. I sometimes hear that a pregnancy will make it likely that there will be three children before very long.

I try to deal imaginatively with some of the problems that ensue. For example, I deal with inner-city schools which make provision for people who come from these sorts of homes. I am the minister of a flourishing church with more than 400 members. We have a large number of families from many ethnic groups. My only qualification for contributing to a debate like this is that I know and I visit those families. They matter to me and, through the way we organise our church, we try to offer safe space for children to have activities that enhance their well-being.

I hope that it will not be thought to be a little tendentious or pedantic on my part to qualify the wording of the Motion before us. Although my awareness of child-centred government policy began with the Children Act 1989 and therefore goes well beyond the lifetime of this party's Administration, I want to congratulate the Government on much that has happened. Rather than call attention to the policies on,

"the well-being of children and families",

I shall consider making provision for such well-being or to offer a legislative framework to enhance the well-being of children. Governments of course cannot and do not do it. It is those of us who live in communities and respond at ground level to the opportunities that legislative frameworks and systems of care offer who have to turn the good thinking, the lofty thinking, and the idealism of Governments into practice.

I am full of admiration for the children and young people whom I see day by day and week by week. I see the noble Lord, Lord Stewartby, almost in his place. His family trust helps us to achieve real funding for an effort in the borough of Haringey—it is worth dwelling on the fact that it is Haringey—where children are encouraged to play, to develop cultural ways of behaviour, to learn about each other's cultures through drama, and to enact responses to the burning issues of the day on the street. A young man, a member of my church—I have known him since he was 10 and he is 23 now—is funded by that trust. He organises workshops that look, for example, at substance abuse, the carrying of knives, gang activities on the streets, and so on. It is a brilliant piece of work.

Another young man—a big boy—was passing by when a gang with baseball bats and knives were about to leave yet another victim on our streets. He simply went in and knocked a few heads together and knocked a few people out of the way, and they ran like scared rabbits. He will be presented, in church, at a suitable time, with one of the top awards that our Boys' Brigade unit has to offer. He is about to undertake his A-levels.

There is another young man, completing his degree—he was 21 last Sunday—who is the only male teacher in our Sunday school. Incidentally, I notice that there are six male participants in a debating list of 23 today, and that those organising this debate have bunched them together for solidarity, which I find very encouraging. So thank you very much.

My admiration is unbounded for children and young people, and for families who courageously try to bring up their children with dignity, often in difficult and constraining circumstances, turning them out so well and wanting them to become responsible citizens. Because they arrived here from other places, these families often do not have many of the benefits they aspire to for their children. It really is imaginative and brilliant.

We were represented by one of my colleagues earlier this week at a faith forum in the borough of Islington. Members of faith communities advised social workers, doctors, nurses, those concerned with housing policy and its implementation, and people from the voluntary sector and the police, about how those who have faith—or how the values that come from faith—impact on some of the social problems that present. To have an opportunity for the voluntary sector and the sector of faith to have practical interaction with the providers of the services which legislation in this area makes possible seems to me to be very positive indeed.

Photo of Lord Elystan-Morgan Lord Elystan-Morgan Crossbench 1:13 pm, 14th May 2009

My Lords, I have found this debate, as all these debates are, to be richly inspiring. I, too, warmly congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Massey, on initiating this debate and having placed the community once more in her debt for the most distinguished efforts she has made for so long on behalf of children and young persons.

It is inevitable that this debate should, to some extent, be in the shadow and gloom of the Baby Peter case, which has already been referred to today. I am very grateful to the Government for the swiftness and dedication with which they have approached this horrible situation, and for the promptness with which they have reacted to the report of the noble Lord, Lord Laming. That report, to my mind, is the fruit of assiduous and thoughtful study. The Government have accepted all 58 recommendations and have set in train very many relevant and splendid initiatives.

I want to make three general points. First, the inquiry of the noble Lord, Lord Laming, splendid though it is, has been on a rather narrow basis: that was the basis on which he was invited to report. He was asked to consider the systems in existence for the protection of children and to ask whether those systems were now operating as they should, and what the difficulties were. To my mind, there is justification—and this will have to be attended to sooner rather than later—for looking into whether the systems now in existence are relevant to the needs of the 21st century. I hope that the Government can give some assurance that that is a matter very much in the forefront of their mind.

Secondly, tragic, ironic and shocking as was the case of Baby Peter, there was nothing unique nor, I am sorry to say, outstanding in the loss of that child's life. The statistics do not always tally, but taking a conservative view, one would come to the conclusion that about 100 children lose their lives every year, possibly as many as 150. In other words, two or three young children a week die of neglect or abuse.

My third point is closely tied up with the question of at-risk registers. The registers, on which there are the names of thousands of children in England and Wales, form some sort of a potential statutory shield of protection for those children. But it is a sad fact that 80 per cent of children who are killed or who die of neglect do not have their names on a register. How can we improve that situation?

Care orders have been mentioned. I agree completely with everything said so eloquently by the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss. It is inevitable that there will now be what the chief executive of CAFCASS has described as a bulge in applications for care orders. In October of last year, the number of applications in England was 496, whereas in March of this year, that figure had risen to 733 and is bound to rise further.

The point I wish to make—and I do this, in common with all noble Lords, with the utmost regard for social workers and those who administer the care system—is that there is an institutional failure here. It is failure in the sense that it has not been possible to bridge and narrow that gap between children in care and those not in care. That gap, if anything, is getting wider. The dismal statistics are known to all Members of this House—how in every league of achievement they fail, and how, in every statistic of underachievement and dismality, they are overrepresented.

It is well known that, of all prisoners aged under 25 in our prisons at the moment, half of them have, at some time or another, been in care. Many noble Lords will say, "Isn't that to be expected? They are damaged children and have suffered terribly in the battle of life". That is perfectly true. A very high percentage of them—something of the order of one third of those who have been in care for more than a year—are the subject of educational statementing. They are educationally subnormal in almost all those cases. One can quote statistic after statistic suggesting that the situation is almost inevitable, but it is not. In Denmark, Norway, the Netherlands and Germany, the gap is being narrowed substantially, and we can do the same. I congratulate the Minister on initiatives taken in relation to the pedagogic attitude towards childcare.

We have a great challenge to face, but also a great opportunity presented to us. There is a strong tide of feeling running on behalf of children and young persons. If we take that tide, it can lead to great progress and happiness so far as children are concerned. If we miss it, we should remember the words of the Bard:

"Omitted, all the voyage of their life

"Is bound in shallows and in miseries".

Photo of Baroness Uddin Baroness Uddin Labour 1:20 pm, 14th May 2009

My Lords, I, too, am grateful to my noble friend Lady Massey for allowing us to debate this important matter. I thank and salute her for all her work as chair of the Children's Group and the NTA. My remarks concern the effects of addiction on families, in particular on children living in households where the parents take drugs and drink alcohol. I should like also to register my interest in that I am remunerated by and work with a national charity concerned with families. I have worked with vulnerable children and on child protection issues for much of my professional life, especially with children caught up in the midst of domestic violence, often directly as a result of parental substance and/or alcohol misuse. More recently, I have had the privilege of working with those who provide treatment and support to individuals and families trying to recover from their substance and alcohol addiction, and it is the lessons I have learnt from that experience that I should like to share.

As has been recognised, there has been a dramatic increase in the variety of services available since the 2005 Hidden Harm report and the Government's subsequent report published in 2008 entitled Drug Strategy. It is recognised that the family needs to be at the heart of good practice. At least 1.3 million children in the UK are growing up in families where their mum, dad or both have chronic drug and alcohol problems. Concerns remain about the resources being directed at support for families beyond drug and alcohol misusers, even when there is the possibility of children being taken into care.

In coming to the debate, I have spoken to a number of workers on the ground. They say that it is a simple but ignored truism that drugs have a big impact on families. The person who develops a problem with drugs or alcohol is also someone's son, daughter, brother or sister. It is also a fact that families dealing with substance misuse often live in an atmosphere of secrecy where children tend to bear much of the burden. Workers say that evidence suggests that angry, irritated, scared and bewildered children are shut out of rooms and often told to go away while unexplained activities take place. Imagine a six year-old accidentally stumbling across syringes on top of the fridge or microwave as an ordinary occurrence. They say that children are reluctant to raise the subject of substance use for fear of causing more aggravation or tragedy in their already volatile environment either with other family members or in school, resulting in their further isolation. They also say that many children become carers responsible for their parents and siblings.

That 1.3 million children are frequently denied regular education and the opportunity to take part in mundane childhood activities, that their good days and bad days are determined by how their parents behave under the effects of drug taking or drinking alcohol, means that many of these children feel different. Having been exposed to conversations about drugs, they feel guilty, worthless and often ignored by the actions of their parents. They often experience bullying both at home and at school. Research shows that children know far earlier and in more detail about drugs than their parents believe, and that some people are likely to engage in sexual activity earlier where there is inadequate parental involvement or support.

These descriptions do not come from novels, they are the harsh reality of children's words. What is shocking is that they come from the experiences described by children once they become engaged with services. Tackling these problems is not the work of a magic wand. The parents and children I am referring to have complex, long-standing problems that need intensive intervention from a wide range of services. I agree with my noble friend Lady Massey that despite significant local and national initiatives, there remains a vast inconsistency between services for children caught up in these families. A family culture of denial and secrecy has major consequences for whether children seek services.

All too often, the drug user's problem is seen as the cause of difficulties rather than as a symptom of a range of problems, each of which needs to be addressed before a parent can become capable of taking care of their children. Indeed, the frequent chaos of family life, coupled with the long-term nature of drug use and an atmosphere of denial, can mean that the work to stabilise one family may take a year or more. Yet despite these pressures, we know that less than 1 per cent of the drug treatment budget is currently spent on family support. Needless to say, the reality is that where family work is funded and available, many children need not be burdened with caring responsibilities and indeed may feel able to take advantage of support from a range of services, including from teachers and other welfare agencies. Work by leading organisations in the field shows that change is possible if there is a strong family focus when working with drug and alcohol misusers.

As a result of my current professional involvement in this work, I am aware of independent ongoing research that is looking at the impact of the work being done with over 300 families. Early indications are that the majority of clients, 88 per cent of those being monitored, showed a reduction in substance misuse and harmful behaviours, and an improvement in social and parenting skills. They are also more successfully prioritising the well-being of their children. We need more input into building family support and services, and the new Drug Strategy launched last year is a step in the right direction. I wonder whether my noble friend the Minister would consider undertaking a cost-benefit analysis of some of these successful interventions.

It is true that drugs and alcohol are life choices for adults, but 1.3 million children have not chosen these parents. It is critical that we commit ourselves to working jointly to ensure that the well-being of children living with parents who misuse drugs and alcohol are given our paramount consideration so that they can break free from the generational cycle of substance misuse themselves.

Photo of Baroness Howe of Idlicote Baroness Howe of Idlicote Crossbench 1:27 pm, 14th May 2009

My Lords, I add my thanks to the noble Baroness, Lady Massey, securing this debate and, as other noble Lords have said, for the many valuable things she does for children. At a time when the economic situation is grim and the Government have had to drop their target for the elimination of child poverty by 2020, it makes every kind of sense to address the best way those of us speaking think the Government can achieve their many valuable plans for the well-being of children and families. I hope to concentrate my remarks on two areas where I believe that the Government could give an even higher priority.

First is the need for more effort and resources for the early—and I do mean early—prevention of family breakdown. Secondly, if that fails and offending has meant imprisonment, far greater concentration needs to be placed on returning the offender, especially a young offender, to their community with maximum support plans in place to prevent any reoffending. In both these situations, it is for the local authority, indeed for the whole local community, to support these plans, their reward being that if the horrendous financial cost of keeping a child in care followed by a lifetime in prison is averted in even, say, 10 per cent of cases, substantial sums of money can be saved. But of greater importance is that if a family's "cycle of deprivation" has genuinely been broken, the result is that the individual's life and talents will benefit not just their own family, but also the whole community in which the family subsequently settles. If that happens, the five outcomes that children and young people themselves have identified as necessary for well-being in childhood and later life will have been achieved.

First, early support and prevention with a known deprived or disadvantaged family. Once a pregnancy is known, planned support should begin. If a family is not already known to the authorities, then the statutory health visitor or midwife visiting after a child's birth may well be the first point of contact able to alert other authorities.

I need hardly say, and others have mentioned, that social workers are an even more important community resource, but they are in dire straits. We all know the appalling history of Baby P, but we should acknowledge that social workers have taken the blame for much that is the shared responsibility of others, not least primary health trusts. It will take time before government plans for upgrading their pay status and training turn social work, once again, into a natural choice for graduates leaving university. A better approach to the problem, and resources to deal with it, must begin now. Equally, there are nothing like enough foster carers available when children need to be taken into care. Their training and involvement in an individual child's plan need upgrading.

In today's world, there are other aspects that warrant extra attention if support and prevention of family breakdown are to be effective. One example is for more employers to offer flexible working for both sexes, which will enable parents, and I mean men as well as women, to work and share the practical side of bringing up the next generation to be well adjusted, responsible citizens. The Equality and Human Rights Commission has just published a report on this, entitled Working Better. Their research makes clear that men increasingly want these facilities as much as their partners do.

Many other examples spring to mind about how to help today's families to combine the important roles of workers and parents, but time is limited and I want to turn to my second priority, which is where prevention has failed and imprisonment begins. The Corston report points to the immense danger done to families if a mother is imprisoned. With male overcrowding, women prisoners are housed well beyond the recommended 50 miles from their homes. Worse, with the family break-up and with all the children taken into care, the inevitable cycle of deprivation begins again.

A limited form of Corston is under way, but it is essential that, except for really violent and dangerous offenders, all women should be helped, and treated for their drink, drug and often severe mental health problems, as the recent Bradley report recommended, within their local communities, while the local authority and third sector continue to support other measures necessary for the rehabilitation of the whole family.

For those whom we have failed already, and who are now in prison, the Government's original end-to-end offender management may still have some potential if the plans are realistic. The Government's latest Education and Skills Act has, thankfully, placed responsibility for providing education for young offenders, up to the age of 18, firmly on the shoulders of the local education authority. No longer can the individual prison governor pay prisoners more for working in the kitchen than for attending those vital education classes.

Many of them also have totally inadequate skills and qualifications. Thankfully, the new plans for 14 to 18 year-olds include a reinvigorated apprenticeship strategy, which could well start to begin within the young offender institution. Like my noble friend Lord Ramsbotham, if I had one wish that could be granted, it would be to persuade this or any future Government to test all children, at the very start of their schooling, for signs of dyslexia or other learning problems. The earlier a plan to deal with this is worked out, the sooner it is likely to be successful.

For the future, and particularly for the priority group of young offenders, it is also vital to return them to the community with three essential elements in place, all of which take full account of the wishes of the young person concerned. These are an educational plan, a safe and stable place in which to live, and a probation officer or, at the very least, a mentor, probably from the third sector, to help with the process of settling in. I believe that we will see real and measurable success from everyone involved if these plans are put in place.

Photo of Baroness Thornton Baroness Thornton Government Whip, Baroness in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip)

My Lords, the last four speakers over-ran their time, and it really is not fair on everybody else in the debate. I ask the next lot of speakers to stick to time. When the clock says six, please stop speaking.

Photo of Baroness McIntosh of Hudnall Baroness McIntosh of Hudnall Deputy Chairman of Committees, Deputy Speaker (Lords) 1:35 pm, 14th May 2009

My Lords, I shall have to try to make sure that I stop at a full stop. I thank my noble friend Lady Massey and I assure the House that her domestic science skills have improved since she was at school. Her report card showed that, despite difficulties, this is a topic on which the Government have a good story to tell, and it would be a terrible catastrophe for families, and in particular for children, if all the good work that has been achieved in the past decade were to be compromised in the next few years, blighting the life chances of a generation, as happened a generation ago.

I will concentrate my remarks on the role of arts and culture on the well-being of children, and I will refer to two organisations with which I am connected: the Roundhouse in north London, and Artis, which is a small but perfectly formed business that recruits and trains performing artists to deliver specially developed programmes linked to the national curriculum and to the Every Child Matters agenda in primary schools and, more recently, in secondary schools.

I am afraid that what I say will overlap significantly with the eloquent words of the noble Baroness, Lady Warnock, and the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham. I hope the House will forgive me. The noble Baroness, Lady Warnock, referred to the review of the primary curriculum by Sir Jim Rose, in which he referred to the necessity of emphasising the importance of speaking and listening. The review talks about the possibility of needing formal lessons in spoken English. Command of language is one of the most powerful tools we have. It can be used for good or, of course, for ill, but without it we are denied access to our imaginations, and to the expression of our most complex emotions. A child impoverished in this way will remain at a disadvantage throughout life.

There are few more effective ways of developing language skills than through engagement with the arts, and I refer to a report that was published last month by the Culture and Learning Consortium, which is made up of a number of arts and cultural bodies. The report, Get It: The Power of Cultural Learning, is a compilation of feedback and recommendations from a wide public consultation among practitioners working in the cultural and learning sectors in England, directed toward a new approach to cultural learning. The report has an excellent set of recommendations focused on improving outcomes for children and young people. I was going to share with noble Lords some of the marvellous quotations that are peppered throughout it, but as I am a bit afraid of the Whips, I will not do so. However, two jumped out at me. The first is from Sir Alan Ayckbourn, a great playwright, who said:

"When you are young, the arts afford you a glimpse of the world through the senses of others, while helping you to make sense of yourself".

The second is almost my favourite. It is from Doreen, aged nine, and is a tribute to my noble friend Lady Massey. After a school visit to the Unicorn Theatre for Children she said:

"I am telling you, theatre is better than TV".

Amen to that, say I, though of course I am biased, but I believe nothing beats participating in a live experience. The Government, to their enormous credit, are piloting the Find Your Talent initiative, which aims to ensure that all children and young people, no matter where they live or what their background, have the chance to participate in at least five hours per week of high quality culture, in and out of school. The key phrases are "participate" and "high quality". To be candid, this is a very ambitious plan, but it is really important that the current economic situation does not result in such ambition being stifled. I hope that my noble friend, when she comes to reply, will be able to reinforce the Government's commitment to maintaining this initiative.

The two organisations that I mentioned at the beginning of my remarks, Roundhouse and Artis, are both contributing significantly in different ways to using arts and culture to develop skills and confidence in children and young people. Again, I would give examples of this but I am not going to because I want to raise one other point. I will say only that the quiet work that Artis does, which reaches 25,000 children a week in primary schools, and the rather noisier and more ebullient work that Roundhouse does in engaging with the young people who have come thorough its pioneering studio programmes, which resulted in it creating, producing, managing and delivering an entire weekend's worth of work at the Roundhouse last weekend, are important indicators of what can be achieved. There are many more, too, but we have some way to go before the benefits of learning through cultural experience are fully embraced in our educational and social policies. I hope that we shall not lose ground on this issue in the years ahead.

I want to talk about radio. I am a lifelong radio addict. I started with the pirates and Radio 1, but now I am in the arms of Radios 3 and 4. That may conform to a very comfortable middle-class stereotype that suggests that this is not really what children and young people today are interested in, but I do not think that is true. What the noble Baroness, Lady Warnock, said about the potential power of radio is important, and we should take it seriously. Speech radio for children is a medium that engages imagination and reinforces the power of language, and it encourages listening skills, which are essential to the development of complex language skills. I ask the Government, when they publish their Digital Britain report, to recognise the contribution of high-quality speech radio for young people and make sure that they encourage the BBC to reinvest in it.

Photo of Lord Northbourne Lord Northbourne Crossbench 1:41 pm, 14th May 2009

My Lords, I, too, am most grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Massey, for introducing this debate. With her agreement, I am going to speak for a few minutes not so much about the Government's programme but about the way in which we in this House as a group try to influence their programme. I want to see whether my thoughts have any resonance with your Lordships.

Those of us who are speaking today and those who are not but wish that they were—perhaps those who often speak about children—comprise a voice for disadvantaged children in this House. In effect, we are an informal lobby group for children and together we have an enormous reservoir of expertise. My concern is that, in spite of all this, we as a group may not be as effective as we might be in achieving change. An equally informal disabled lobby often seems to be more powerful in its advocacy and more successful in achieving change. An example that is fresh in my mind is the Second Reading of the Welfare Reform Bill last week, when five or even six speakers talked about the problems that the Bill would create for the disabled, whereas only one, who happened to be me, talked about the potential disadvantages for children.

There are two principal ways in which we in this House bring our influence to bear on the Government: one is to chivvy them and the other is to amend their Bills. There is plenty of work to do on the chivvying front, of course; lots of things need to be addressed, such as shortages of staff in children's social services, the problems of looked-after children, children in prison and so on—many things that noble Lords have mentioned today. But I shall concentrate on the revision of Bills.

Among the members of the children's lobby there is no lack of dedication or knowledge. The problem is not a lack of dedication or enthusiasm but, in my view, a lack of organisation, co-ordination and support. The current position on support in this House is roughly as follows. We have an admirable research facility in the Library, but there are limits to what we can ask it to do. Sometimes it does the right thing but does not tell anyone; as we walked into the Chamber today, my noble friend Lady Howe told me that it had done a Library note on this debate. It would have been nice to have known a little sooner.

Then there are the children's charities. They send some of us briefings, but most of those are focused on the particular interests that the charity has at that time, rather than on the broader implications of the Bill for children. Then, of course, there are the political parties. The parties have their own priorities, which often include the best interests of children, but I suggest that, although there is overlap, we should not have to rely on the Front Benches to lead us on children's issues.

There was a time when the National Children's Bureau was funded to undertake a series of child impact statements on all Bills. Its report was an elaborate legal statement; it was too expensive to produce, took too long to read and often came too late. Anyhow, that service funding has come to an end.

We need a part-time co-ordinator for the children's lobby whose job would be to scrutinise all likely Bills well in advance for their potential impact on children; to summarise the issues and circulate a note of no more than two pages to Members; to identify Members who were interested and who were able to be involved; to co-ordinate their inputs—whether they were going to speak at Second Reading or in Committee or just vote, or do the lot; and, when necessary, to help with research. If any noble Lord agrees that such a service would be valuable and that these thoughts are worth pursuing, would they please contact the noble Baroness, Lady Massey, or me? If there is sufficient enthusiasm, we will try to pursue the idea.

I take credit from the Whips for being probably the only person who has spoken within their allotted time.

Photo of Baroness Afshar Baroness Afshar Crossbench 1:47 pm, 14th May 2009

My Lords, I add my thanks to the noble Baroness, Lady Massey, for keeping the question of the welfare of families and children always at the forefront. I also thank the noble Baroness, Lady Hollis, for mentioning that the business of working, as well as the business of raising children, is affected by gender, and that the way in which policies are introduced often does not take into account the gender nature of work.

I shall refer to my own experience. When I had my first child, it coincided with the time when nurseries were closed, parental leave was curtailed and so on, and I ended up having to pay for the care of my child while I was in full-time employment. After paying for domestic help—I must admit that I had no training in domesticity, so I would have been very bad at it—and all the childcare provision, as a full-time lecturer at a university I earned £5 a week. It shows the triumph of hope over experience that I had a second child and continued working, but then we all suffer from various kinds of madness.

I was enormously grateful to this Government for recognising the importance of childcare and for introducing measures to help with it. However, I was saddened to see that, when my daughter had her first child, she decided to give up working as the head of a faculty to go part-time in a primary school because she found out that to carry on would cost her more than she would earn. Her view was: why should she work so hard in order for someone else to enjoy her children? She decided to go part-time not least because she discovered that, because she had taken maternity leave for one year, her income was reduced every month. Had she as a teacher chosen to take leave for a year because of stress, she would have been paid full-time. Motherhood does not seem to be recognised, valued or rewarded; it is certainly not remunerated.

Recent research at the University of York's mother and babies unit says that middle-class women can afford at most the costs of childcare for one child and that childcare for two children becomes unaffordable. If professional women in full-time employment cannot afford good childcare, what happens to working-class women who have very few options?

I am worried about the proposed link between welfare and work. What kind of work, as the noble Baroness, Lady Hollis, asked, can these mothers do when they are constrained by school hours? That is particularly a problem given that there is nothing so deskilling as motherhood; when you have been out of the workplace, you cannot get any work. Women who try to do flexible, part-time work experience difficulties. I have had quite a few e-mails from nurses whom I know telling me that it is all very well for us in the House of Lords to talk about the glass ceiling; they talk about the bedpan ceiling. If you happen to want to combine part-time, flexible work with childcare, you stay at the bottom rank. There is no movement anywhere for such mothers.

Good children are raised in good families where there is support but also a bit of money. Of course, low incomes do not necessarily mean a poor childhood, but they have a connection. I ask the Minister whether it would be possible to give women on benefit, who stay at home, the funds that would otherwise be spent on supporting their children. This would also valorise the work that women do. If this is not an alternative, we need to go much further down the route of providing good, high-quality childcare locally. I applaud the support that is offered by grandparents and by family, but there is a worry that that kind of support is not open to any kind of analysis or evaluation. Many grandparents are wonderful, but there is no way of weeding out those who are not or who do not have the expertise. We need to work on those fronts and I wonder whether any of these ideas will go any further.

Photo of Baroness Walmsley Baroness Walmsley Spokesperson for Children, Schools and Families 1:52 pm, 14th May 2009

My Lords, I thank and congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Massey, in particular on battling against the shortcomings of the digital age in her excellent speech.

There is no finer investment that we can make at any time, not just during a financial crisis, than investment in our children. This country's success in the world will depend on the quality of our people and we must invest in that. Therefore, anything that prevents our children from fulfilling their potential and leading happy, successful lives must be eradicated. Unfortunately, recent sad cases have demonstrated that we have not yet got it right for children. We are still not putting enough resources into their safeguarding, their mental and physical health or their education. That must change. These are cost-effective measures, as the noble Baroness, Lady Morris, emphasised. I accept that this Government have done more for children than any Government, but the numbers of needy children are rising and the complexity of the pressures on their lives is growing. None the less, many of the Government's policies are moving in the right direction. I particularly support the five principles and six objectives of the Children's Plan.

There are many aspects of children's well-being, so I shall concentrate on just five issues from the debate. The first of those is child poverty, as mentioned by the right revered Prelate the Bishop of Leicester. The Government made an ambitious commitment in 1999 to halve child poverty by 2010 and to eradicate it by 2020. Although progress has been made, I know that the Government are disappointed that they did not meet their interim target of a 25 per cent cut by 2005. I suppose that that is not entirely surprising, since the ways and means of achieving it are very long term.

Paying parents large amounts of benefit is neither affordable in the short term nor sustainable in the long term and, therefore, it is quite unrealistic. They say that it is far better to give a poor farmer a tractor and some seed than to give him a bag of grain to feed his family. On the other hand, if you do not give him a bag of grain as well as a tractor, his family will die of starvation before the crop can be harvested. I think that your Lordships will follow what I am saying, which is that the Government must address short-term poverty while at the same time putting into place those measures that will enable families to support their own children adequately in future.

This is where we come, as the noble Baroness, Lady Garden of Frognal, mentioned, to the education of the parents, in particular the mother. In developing countries, funders know that the best way to help children is to educate their mothers so that they can bring up their children well. Even in this highly developed country, we know that a woman with a good education is more likely to have fewer children and a stable family structure and be able to get a job to help to support them. She is less likely to make poor health choices that will harm her children, such as smoking or drug and alcohol abuse, as the noble Baroness, Lady Uddin, mentioned, all of which can destroy children's lives as well as those of their parents. She is more likely to appreciate the importance of education and to do everything that she can to support her children's learning. In the mean time, her education will help her to feed them well without great expense, understand their health and social needs and learn from those who have found effective and positive ways of parenting without resorting to violence.

So why has it taken the Government 10 years to agree to make personal, social, health and economic education a statutory part of the curriculum? Of course I welcome that, but they have wasted 10 years since Tony Blair made that commitment, without realising that such education would be one of the levers that would help the Government to achieve their child poverty target. Will the Minister tell us how the Government are getting on with the implementation of the new policy and with the training of the teachers and say whether parenting skills will be included in the curriculum?

Secondly, I should like to mention the importance of continuity for children, to which the noble Baroness, Lady Massey, referred. Most families, rich and poor, are loving and caring, and the best continuity for the child is to leave it with its family. However, some families, as we have recently had brought home to us most sadly, are downright dangerous for the child. For those families, very difficult judgments have to be made by social workers, as the noble Baroness, Lady Howarth, said, as to whether the child's best interests are served by staying with the family, with support, or going into care.

A couple of years ago, the cost to a local authority of taking care proceedings rocketed and the number of cases brought to the courts fell substantially. If that was because more families were being supported and it was safe to leave the children at home, that would have been a good thing. However, the fact that there has been a doubling in the number of cases since Baby Peter died suggests that that was not the reason. The implication is that many vulnerable children have been left in danger. I do not underestimate the cost and difficulty of taking these children into care. Many of them have been very damaged and need foster carers with very special skills and support. Sadly, most foster carers do not get either the training or the support that they need to do and carry on doing this very difficult job.

Thirdly, the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss, has made the case brilliantly about the family courts. I agree with her wholeheartedly; it is a matter of the rights of children to be properly and independently represented and supported in court proceedings. However, the current proposals will discriminate against women and BME practitioners, just as the law was becoming more diverse. I think that that is very sad.

Fourthly, I will say a word about speech and language difficulties. The noble Baronesses, Lady Warnock and Lady McIntosh, and the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, spoke most effectively about the benefits of helping children with these problems, especially, in the case of the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, about those in young offender institutions, where there are rather a lot of them. It is vital—and cost-effective—that the service in custodial settings should be properly funded. However, prevention is better than cure. If more resources were put into communication problems in the early and primary years, that would probably avoid many of these young people getting into trouble in the first place and save us all a good deal of grief and money. Will the Minister say how the Government are getting on with the job of implementing the Bercow report?

Last week, the Government told all primary schools to place more importance on speaking and listening skills, following Sir Jim Rose's review of the primary curriculum. I have read about I CAN's primary talk project pilot in schools in Somerset, Bradford and Walsall, which accredits schools for creating "communication-rich environments". Heads say that it is making a real difference, but the chief executive of I CAN said that she was frustrated over delays in implementing the Government's speech and language strategy. Can the Minister say what is being done to support such projects and implement the strategy?

Does the Minister also share with me and others a regret that the BBC has found it desirable to cut its budget for children's radio programmes such as "Go4It", which is to be axed next week? I must declare an interest as a BBC pensioner. One of my earliest, happiest memories was of sitting in front of the fire with my mother after lunch and listening for that most familiar tune, which your Lordships of a certain age will recognise as the signature tune for "Listen with Mother". If we are to give children every opportunity to improve their oracy, which must always come before literacy, surely children's radio must play its part. Last year the BBC spent £460 million on radio, but only £1.6 million went on young listeners. The numbers listening to children's programmes may not be large but they will be hooked on radio for ever and become dedicated radio-listening adults, so they deserve their space in the schedules. It is patronising to children to suggest that all they want is TV soaps and pop music. They do not. Just because fewer children choose to eat fruit and vegetables, we do not remove them from the menu in school canteens. Children's radio has an important place in our efforts to ensure that the next generation grows up able to communicate verbally as fluently as possible. I hope that something can be done to stop the rot.

Finally, I draw the Minister's attention to child trafficking and the report published today by the Commons Home Affairs Select Committee, which asks for more investment in police teams to track down victims and bring traffickers to justice. It says that immigration judges and border officials need to be better educated to recognise trafficking and that there needs to be more safe accommodation and psychological support for victims. The committee concludes that:

"In effect, traffickers may be using the care home system for vulnerable children as holding pens for their victims until they are ready to pick them up".

This must end. UNICEF, in which I declare an interest as a trustee, has for a very long time urged the Government to open their eyes to this abuse. I hope that this report will ensure that the Government do so.

b

"Paying parents large amounts of benefit is neither affordable in the short term nor sustainable in the long term and, therefore, it is quite unrealistic."

There are so many laws which work against ordinary people just trying to scrape out a living for themselves in honest work that they end up first getting mentally sick, and then, physically sick, and so end up on benefits. You people make it so hard for everyone else less well off to scrape out a living.

Why is there so much red tape in this country? Even the WI has been stopped from raising money with their homemade cakes, it is just bonkers!

Submitted by barbara richards

Photo of Baroness Verma Baroness Verma Shadow Minister, Innovation, Universities and Skills, Shadow Minister, Children, Schools and Families 2:03 pm, 14th May 2009

My Lords, I join all noble Lords in congratulating the noble Baroness, Lady Massey of Darwen, on initiating this timely and pertinent debate. Like all noble Lords, I believe that to achieve health and prosperity in our country we must ensure that our children and young people, and their well-being, are at the heart of any government priority. I declare an interest as a provider of social care.

I have visited many schools, children's centres and local community groups, which has enabled me to meet remarkable parents, children and young people—parents seeking to do the best for their children and children wanting to achieve their aspirations, excel and make the most of their lives. One of my most recent visits was to Shadwell children's centre in Tower Hamlets. Meena Hoque and her team work against a very challenging backdrop and need to be congratulated. Yet, sadly, for many families, while there is a desire to achieve aspirations, unfortunately, personal circumstances greatly reduce opportunity and choice. For some there are no children's centres or community groups.

Many families have become institutionalised to state dependency, worklessness and poor or zero educational attainment. Children born in these circumstances face such enormous challenges that they often resign themselves to failure and the cycle continues. I join wholeheartedly with the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Leicester in arguing that the Government should look closely at inner cities, where problems are aggravated by language difficulties and lack of cultural knowledge.

We have had initiative after initiative and report after report, but very little progress has been made in narrowing the gap to enable real economic mobility to work among the most disadvantaged families. Britain rates 24th out of 29 developed countries in the University of York's measurement of child well-being, produced in April 2009. My noble friend Lady Morris of Bolton referred to that report. Sadly, we are still failing our children. The Child Poverty Action Group found that countries with a higher GDP tend to have more children reporting high-quality life satisfaction. Britain is one of the exceptions to this rule. Despite a high national GDP, our children report a low level of life satisfaction. France, with a similar GDP, ranks nine places higher. Research into well-being shows us that as economic pressures increase well-being decreases. With Britain's poor track record of well-being, and the OECD predicting that unemployment in Britain will rise at a faster rate than in other G7 countries, it is crucial that the Government act robustly to slow down the added disadvantage facing struggling families.

UNICEF defines well-being as being adequately clothed, housed, fed, supported, loved and protected and where families and children are not disadvantaged in that their circumstances do not prevent them participating fully in the world and opportunities around them. But well-being is not a list of qualities against which we can tick boxes; it is a matter with real long-term consequences for many people. My noble friend Lady Morris of Bolton passionately recorded the findings of the report. I agree with her that little has changed since it was published. Many children today cite themselves as unhappy, more children are showing signs of depression at an earlier age and the lack of participation in collective activities has brought isolation and created rising obesity.

Through his excellent work with the Centre for Social Justice, my right honourable friend Iain Duncan Smith has shown us that society is becoming more and more broken, and that the state alone cannot hope to fix it without individuals being supported to take responsibility and play an active part in it. Time and time again we have been shown that children do better and are happier in stable family structures. They are more confident and are more likely to achieve better educational attainment. Therefore, it is vital that in supporting families we ensure that appropriate systems are in place to provide children with the outcomes that we all desire.

Early year support is particularly important to parents and children. The Government plan to create a children's centre for every community by 2010. In 2007, the target for 2010 was 3,500 children's centres. Will the Minister say whether this target will be met? Will she also say how centres are being monitored to ensure that they are responding to the needs of the local community? Between 2003 and 2006, the proportion of privately-owned nurseries declined from 78 per cent to 65 per cent. The number of childminders has decreased by nearly 40 per cent since 1997. There has been a continued decline in childminders. Nursery closures arise as the Government have reduced funding to PVI nurseries. While maintained nurseries receive £3,800 per pupil per year, the PVI sector receives just £1,800 per pupil per year. Good quality early years provision is one of the most important steps in equipping families with the information and support they need to bring up their children and to give children the early opportunities to lead a happy and fulfilled childhood. It is certain that if parents are to be encouraged into employment, affordable childcare places will have to be easier to access.

I welcome the Government's play strategy launched in December 2008, which set out that the Government would invest £235 million over 2008-09 to 2010-11 to develop play facilities for children of all ages. What progress has been made in developing the facilities? How many play facilities do the Government aim to develop by 2011? There are more children suffering on the well-being scale in Britain as British society is more unequal than ever before. This is visibly apparent in the education system. More than 3 million children have left primary school without the basics in maths, reading and writing since Labour came to power. Since 1998, the Government's expected level 4 in reading, writing and maths at key stage 2 has not been achieved by 3,114,000 children. Last year, almost 230,000 did not achieve this standard. Can the Minister say why she thinks that there has been so much prolonged failure? Will the Government reverse their wish for themed teaching and implement a primary curriculum that is rigorous and protects proper subject teaching.

It is the most vulnerable who are worst affected by this unequal education system. Government figures released in April show that only one child in seven in care reached the Government's expected standard of educational achievement at the age of 16. The gap in educational achievement at GCSE between children in care and other children has risen again this year and has widened by more than a quarter since 2001. Will the Minister say what the Government are doing to improve the education of children in care? Will they take up the Conservative proposals to set up residential academies to help children in care to fulfil their potential?

Many of the hard-working and bright children I have met at under-performing schools and schools in deprived areas are working incredibly hard to achieve good marks in their GCSEs and A-levels. Teaching staff and head teachers dedicated to teaching their pupils still struggle against the cultures of poor outside experiences. If we wish to create equality, this is an area that needs real will and direction. Children need to have confidence to participate in activities that develop different skills.

I turn briefly to the young people in, or on the edge of, care who are not getting the help they need. Part of this is due to high social worker vacancy rates and part due to excessive bureaucracy. According to figures from the Minister's own department, 34,000 new children were put on the child protection plan in 2008. Sadly, we tragically saw, with the case of baby Peter, how important it is that children do not get lost in a system mired in bureaucracy and poor training. The lessons of baby P must teach us that the Government must take an axe to social work red tape so that professionals can spend the bulk of their time with children in need, not tied to their desktops. Can the Minister say what the Government are doing to reduce bureaucracy and red tape in social care so that frontline staff are able to do face-to-face work? I put to the Government our suggestion that there should be in place a chief social worker. Will the Minister say whether there are discussions to review requirements needed by social workers to leave their desks and move forward into face to face with multi-agency working?

The 2009 Institute for Fiscal Studies report informs us that the Government would have to spend an additional £4.2 billion to meet the 2010 targets for child poverty reduction. Currently, the Government are on course to miss the target by 600,000 children. Sadly, we in Great Britain have the highest rates in Western Europe of binge drinking, teenage pregnancy, drug abuse and sexually transmitted diseases among our young people. While we have increased in material wealth, we have increasingly become poorer in time and human contact. Children may have the latest hand-held gadget, plasma screen or designer wear, but the loss of family structures, extended families, neighbourhood activities and safe and secure streets constantly threaten the happiness and well-being of our children.

This debate raises many questions. I will listen very carefully to the Minister's response.

Photo of Baroness Morgan of Drefelin Baroness Morgan of Drefelin Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Children, Schools and Families, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Children, Schools and Families) (Children, Young People and Families) 2:13 pm, 14th May 2009

My Lords, I join all noble Lords in congratulating my noble friend Lady Massey on initiating this debate. She has encouraged us to think about our experience of domestic science. Sitting here, listening to the debate, I recall that, when I started at my comprehensive school in 1972, the girls were allowed to do domestic science but the boys were not. I was so outraged that I was not allowed to do woodwork or metalwork that I organised a little campaign. Shortly afterwards, we were all allowed, boys and girls, to do domestic science or woodwork. I loved my woodwork, as well as my domestic science.

This debate has been a great occasion. I have very much enjoyed—as the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, suggested—being chivvied on a range of very important issues. I have listened very carefully to all the contributions made. My noble friends Lady Amos and Lord Griffiths of Burry Port brought to my mind a very important thing that we must all remember to do and that is to celebrate the success and the contribution of our young people in our society. They explained very eloquently the possibilities for communities to nurture and celebrate their young people. We should all do this and the Government should play their part in promoting this. I feel enormously encouraged by their words. I will make sure that when the department looks at plans to develop campaigns to change the perceptions of young people and to work with the children's commissioners and other stakeholders, it will take note of their words and the example, in particular, of Hackney. To this end, we are also piloting celebration events across the country and looking at what role National Youth Week could play in celebrating the achievement of our young people.

We were all taken with the thoughts of the noble Baroness, Lady Warnock, and my noble friend Lady McIntosh on the concept of linguistic deprivation. I have to declare an interest as someone who has for many years enjoyed listening to "Go4it" on the motorway back from Wales with my daughter on a Sunday night. The quality and contribution of children's radio is something that I would be very proud to celebrate. The Government very much support the principle of high-quality children's radio. We recognise the concern over provision. This has been raised by the independent regulator Ofcom and by the Government's own interim Digital Britain report, as my noble friend asked. The BBC has a duty, as part of its charter, to provide educational content for children. However, noble Lords are aware that it is up to the BBC to determine how this is provided. I reassure my noble friend Lady Macintosh that we have a very strong commitment to the find your talent initiative. I am very happy to reiterate that and to take note of her comments on quality.

The noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, drew attention to the Bercow review. The Government have committed £12 million to implement the recommendations made by the honourable Member for Buckingham. A further £40 million will support speaking and listening in the early years; we have heard about the Every Child a Talker programme today. Invitations for the commissioning of pathfinders he recommended went out in March. Subsequently, we issued a tender for an organisation to support the communication champion and the communication council.

The noble Baroness, Lady Afshar, talked about the importance of motherhood. I reassure her that the Government have a very strong commitment to the provision of quality childcare, particularly for children in areas of deprivation. As of March 2009, there were more than 1.3 million registered childcare places, more than double the figure in 1997. In 1997 there was one registered childcare place for every eight children; now there is one for four children under the age of eight. Taking into account turnover, at August 2008, more than 664,000 new Ofsted registered places have been created since 1997.

The noble Baroness, Lady Verma, asked about Sure Start children's centres. These have been evaluated and recognised as being high achieving. We now have 3,000—we celebrated the opening of the 3,000thlast week. We expect to achieve 3,500 centres by 2010. That is, I believe, one in every community.

Many noble Lords talked about the importance of getting it right for children in custody. In particular, my noble friend Lady Massey, the noble Baroness, Lady Howe, and, of course, the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, talked to us most forcefully and eloquently on this subject. We will have further debates on the Bill. Of course, custody for under-18s is a last resort for only the most serious and persistent offenders to prevent offending in the community and to protect the public. The Government have developed a range of non-custodial sentences to deal with young offenders, and we are working hard to reduce the size of the population of young people in custody. I want to put it on the record that we are committed to improving the safety and welfare of all children and young people in custody, and I hear very clearly the noble Lord's comments about the importance of accountability and responsibility. I look forward to working with him further on taking those thoughts forward.

The noble and learned Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss, spoke eloquently about the importance of getting family law right and about the changes to the legal aid system and its impact on children and families, and family lawyers. Child protection is the overriding priority and I am advised that our changes are about redirecting £4.4 million to ensure that some 3,500 child protection cases will receive funding, that there are more than 3,000 family legal aid barristers and that we are confident that their services will not be significantly affected. But I heard loudly her caution—I am very committed to working with family lawyers to make sure that we can make the system work in the best interests of children.

The noble Baroness, Lady Howarth, talked about the work going on in CAFCASS. I note very carefully her commitment to put children at the centre of its work and to work with both parents and fathers. However, I am watching very carefully the trends in the level of care proceedings cases and we will be working with all those in the system to see how, as the noble Lord, Lord Laming, recommended, we can reduce delays in the system and deliver the best possible outcomes for children who are potentially to be taken into care.

Many noble Lords talked about looked-after children, including my noble friend Lady Massey, the noble Baroness, Lady Morris of Bolton, and of course the noble Baroness, Lady Garden of Frognal. I absolutely agree that stability is one of the most fundamental issues and we need to ensure that looked-after children can experience stability in their care placements. We have, as the Select Committee recently pointed out, a very comprehensive Care Matters programme which is looking at every aspect of the care system to ensure that we can achieve the best possible outcomes for looked-after children. Yes, the outcomes for them are improving in terms of stability, educational outcomes and the number of young people who leave the care system going into jobs and suitable accommodation. However, this is far from anything like enough. Much more needs to be done, and we are committed to doing that.

The noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, talked about child trafficking. I will look at the report published today and we will take it extremely seriously. It is a very worrying issue and, like her, it concerns me deeply.

The noble Earl, Lord Listowel, talked about the importance of mental health services. We are issuing revised statutory guidance on promoting the health and well-being of looked-after children. This talks about CAMHS and we will be involved in a consultation.

My noble friend Lady Uddin spoke about the impact of drugs and alcohol on families and children. We are extremely committed to tackling this. The family intervention projects that we promote are being significantly invested in and are creating some significant results. We hope that they can be more widely implemented across our communities.

However, my noble friend Lady Massey started this debate by talking about a report card. This is something that as a department we are very interested in looking at. When we talk about looking at the results from our schools and education system, I am very interested in how a report card could be used in the education system to take account of well-being. I hope that we will be able to debate that in the future.

As many people have asked: what do children think and have to say about their experiences? The department's TellUs3 survey involving 150,000 children in England is a very sharp instrument for understanding what children think. It found that 69 per cent of young people say that they feel happy about life—sometimes we can have a glass that is half full. Some 90 per cent agreed that England is a good place to grow up in. Sadly, I am talking just about England, although I am sure that Wales and Scotland would reflect a similar experience. Despite all the changes that have occurred in society over recent decades, a recent poll conducted by the BBC suggests that three-quarters of British families are optimistic about the future; that is 24 per cent higher than when the same question was asked in 1964. It is worth bearing that context in mind when we debate support for the family, children and child well-being.

This House is very well aware that the Children's Plan puts children and families at the centre of everything that the Government do. It is the first of its kind. The plan is underpinned by the general principles of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child. The plan aims to give every child the best chance in life and to make this country the best in the world to grow up in. As the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, said, the plan is underpinned by the widely acclaimed Every Child Matters outcomes. These are about children being healthy, safe, enjoying and achieving, making a positive contribution, and achieving economic well-being, which has featured strongly in this debate. Those outcomes provide us with a means of measuring our progress towards that objective. It is important to remember that these aims reinforce each other. As my noble friend Lady Massey pointed out, it is about how all this meshes into improving the real experience of children. A child who is healthy is likely to do better at school; a child who enjoys life is likely to go on to make a positive contribution to the lives of others.

We do not achieve our aims unless we can create a new culture that puts the child or young person at the centre of the process—as the noble Baroness, Lady Howarth, said as regards CAFCASS—and giving them more say about issues that affect them. Listening and responding to what they tell us is important. That in turn will require everyone providing services for children and families to work more collaboratively by sharing information and operating across professional boundaries. That is an essential theme of our approach. That is what we are aiming to empower the children's workforce to do through our 2020 children's workforce strategy, which is all about helping to create common language and a social work profession that is empowered, knows its role and contribution, and is not tied up in red tape, as the noble Baroness, Lady Verma, suggested. That is how we will deliver on the commitments to our communities that we made in the Children's Plan.

That is the approach we are taking on children's health, for example. Earlier this year we published the first ever children's health strategy; Healthy Lives, Brighter Futures, setting out the high-quality health services children and their families have a right to expect from birth through to the age of 19. We commissioned a review of child and adolescent mental health services, and have accepted the majority of the review's recommendations. We are working on all of them, including individualised care packages for vulnerable children, which I know the noble Earl, Lord Listowel, is very concerned about. We have also made £60 million available to fund a programme of targeted mental health services in schools. That is about taking a universal service and making the most of helping child and young people access special mental health services.

We are also working across Government to tackle obesity, which my noble friend Lady Billingham talked about and is one of the most pressing health concerns affecting young people. Since the publication of the Government's £372 million Healthy Weight, Healthy Lives strategy in January 2008, we have introduced tough food standards in primary schools, and we are extending them to secondary and special schools in the autumn. We have highlighted and tightened up regulations on broadcast advertising of foods high in fat, salt and sugar. But we cannot act on obesity simply by looking at what children eat. We also need to encourage them to be more active, so our action on obesity goes hand in hand with our action on play and sport. As we have already heard, the Children's Plan announced the biggest ever investment in outdoor active play by the Government: £235 million over three years. I assure the noble Baroness, Lady Verma, that we have achieved 500 new or refurbished play schemes. We are on target to achieve the plan's results. That will allow every local authority to develop or improve play areas in line with local needs.

We have also improved opportunities for high-quality sport and PE within schools, with 90 per cent of five to 16 year-olds now doing two hours a week. I cannot comment on the daylight robbery that my noble friend Lady Billingham spoke about, but I agree that sport is key. I do not wish to stray out of my knowledge or expertise, but this debate will be continued in the House of Lords. As I have seen during my time here, it raises passions.

Everyone here will be familiar with the circumstances that led to the commissioning of the recent report by the noble Lord, Lord Laming, on safeguarding procedures. We are all extremely mindful of the tragedy and the tragic death of Baby Peter. We have promised to act swiftly to implement his recommendations. As the noble Lord, Lord Elystan-Morgan, said, it is essential that all 58 recommendations are acted on swiftly, and we are committed to doing that.

One of the noble Lord's most significant conclusions was that childcare professionals and everyone else with a safeguarding role must work more closely together if children are to be protected; again, the theme of my noble friend Lady Massey comes out across a number of issues. The noble Lord, Lord Laming, recommended that we have in place robust policies on which to build. He looked carefully at the policy foundation of Every Child Matters and recommended that there is a consensus among professionals and all those involved in safeguarding that the Every Child Matters reforms set the right direction. However, while there is excellent practice in many areas of the country, in others the picture is less good. We recognise that, which is why we have taken action.

As the noble Baroness, Lady Howarth, suggested, I am particularly glad to restate the Government's commitment to reforming the social work profession. We agree that we must move further and faster in order to make arrangements in this country for protecting children and to make sure that they are the best in the world. It is perhaps in the area of economic well-being that the benefits of working across boundaries are most obvious. Money is not the cure for all ills, but families with inadequate financial resources are likely to find the normal challenges of raising children even harder. As my noble friend Lady Hollis said, as eloquently as ever, we have made a commitment to eradicating child poverty within a generation, a target that has not been dropped. I am proud that we can show real progress, but we have much more to do. The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Leicester made clear the challenges that we face.

The Child Poverty Unit is leading this work across Whitehall, and between 1998-99 and 2007-8, 600,000 children have been lifted out of relative poverty. The measures announced in the 2007 Budget will lift a further 500,000 more children out of poverty. We will be receiving in this House a child poverty Bill, which I hope will make the ending of child poverty a goal of future UK Governments.

In the economic downturn, our priority is to support all families and to protect jobs. Significant additional support for lower income families has been announced over the past year, including lower VAT, and a further £25 tax cut for basic rate taxpayers. Those are contributions. Tax credits benefit around 6 million families and 10 million children. We have brought forward increases to Child Benefit, which is important to support all families across the UK.

In many ways you could argue children have never lived so well, but we must recognise that there is an enormous amount more to do. This has been an extremely important debate. I am grateful to my noble friend Lady Massey for introducing it and for setting out her themes and making an important opportunity for the Government to receive some gentle chivvying, some important lessons and some contributions. I look forward to working with all noble Lords who have taken part in the debate to make sure that we can make this the best country in the world for children to grow up in.

Photo of Baroness Massey of Darwen Baroness Massey of Darwen Labour 2:35 pm, 14th May 2009

My Lords, I hope I will not again be the victim of technological problems. I was hoping that this microphone would deliver the test score, but it has not. As I expected, this debate has been brilliant and varied. We have had everything, including a bit of singing. I thank all noble Lords who have taken part for their many wise words and for their obvious practical experience of the issues. I could not possibly acknowledge all those contributions, but I will write to noble Lords afterwards.

There has been great emphasis on vulnerable children and examples of success as well as of shortcomings. We should not forget that not all children are from chaotic backgrounds. We need to be concerned for all children. Those who have special needs clearly need special interventions. We have a duty to make sure that those interventions are fast and effective. We should also celebrate the achievements of our young people. I am glad that there has been an emphasis on language development, on creativity, including sport, on personal relationships, on equality including gender equality, and the experience of children in custody and in care. As I said earlier, the connections between services, systems and integration is vital, as is vision and commitment at a local level, which was well described by my noble friend Lady Amos.

I thank the Minister for her sympathetic response. The issues raised here today will not go away. The children's lobby is persistent. Government commitment is well recognised but there is some way to go. I beg leave to withdraw the Motion.

Motion, by leave, withdrawn.