Designated support for family and friends carers

Children and Social Work Bill [Lords] – in a Public Bill Committee at 12:15 pm on 12 January 2017.

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“(1) In the Children Act 1989, after section 17ZI insert—

“17ZJ Designated support for family and friends carers

Each local authority must appoint at least one person as a designated lead for family and friends care, to co-ordinate the provision within their area of family and friends care support services.”” .—(Mrs Lewell-Buck.)

This new clause would provide kinship carers, council staff and other agencies with clarity as to who is the named senior manager with responsibility for family and friends care in the authority and who has responsibility for ensuring that the local authority complies with family and friends care guidance.

Brought up, and read the First time.

Photo of Emma Lewell-Buck Emma Lewell-Buck Shadow Minister (Education) (Children and Families) 12:30, 12 January 2017

I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.

It is me again, Mrs Main—[Hon. Members: “Hear, hear!”] The new clause provides that every local authority should designate a lead person who has responsibility for family and friends carers. As the Minister knows, there are a multitude of arrangements whereby a child may be cared for by extended family or friends. At times there will be no or limited involvement from children’s services in some of those arrangements. That can make it difficult for carers to know who to turn to should they need help or advice or if their situation changes. Having a senior lead manager within local authorities who can ensure that the authority is effectively meeting its responsibilities to all children in family and friends care and complying with statutory family and friends care guidance is important.

DFE statutory guidance on family and friends care states:

The Director of Children’s Services should identify a senior manager who holds overall responsibility for the family and friends care policy. He or she will need to ensure that the policy meets the statutory requirements, and is responsive to the identified needs of children and carers.”

However, a 2015 study by the Family Rights Group examined 53 English local authorities’ family and friends care policies and found that one third made no reference to a senior manager with such responsibility. The new clause seeks for that to be a duty in primary legislation. It should not be an additional burden on local authorities as they should be complying already. In areas where that is not already common practice, the clause would provide family and friends carers and others clarity on who to contact. The duty already exists for adoption; adoption support services legislation states that an adoption support services adviser, whose role is to give advice both to adopters and to the local authority about adoption support and services, needs to be in place in each local authority. I can see no reason why other permanent carers of children under arrangements other than adoption should not be afforded the same support.

Photo of Edward Timpson Edward Timpson Minister of State (Education)

I am afraid it is also me again, Mrs Main—[Hon. Members: “Hear, hear!”] I was not trying to tee that up, but I am grateful to my hon. Friends for their response. I am also grateful to the hon. Member for South Shields for the proposed new clause, which would introduce, as part of the Children Act 1989, a new requirement on local authorities to appoint a designated lead for family and friends care who would be responsible for co-ordinating the provision of family and friends care services within their area.

I am sure we all recognise and appreciate the valuable contribution made by family and friends across the country who care for children who, for whatever reason, cannot live with their parents. It is important that all family and friends carers are aware of and able to access support services so that they can provide the high quality care that children require. Our statutory guidance on family and friends care already requires local authorities to publish a policy setting out their approach to promoting and supporting the needs of all children living with family and friends carers. The policy must be updated regularly and made available widely.

Importantly, the statutory guidance clearly states that a senior manager must hold overall responsibility for family and friends care to ensure that the local authority’s policy meets the identified needs of children and carers. As such, I do not believe it is necessary to appoint a designated lead for family and friends care. Such a requirement would be over-prescriptive and would reduce the ability of local authorities to respond to local needs in the way they consider best.

To ensure that local authorities are fulfilling their duties properly, I wrote to all directors of children’s services in October last year. In my letter I reminded them of their duty to have an up-to-date and comprehensive family and friends care policy, as well as a senior manager with overall responsibility for the policy that others would be aware of. I asked them to send a web link to that policy, and the details of their named lead, to the Family Rights Group. I will ask officials for an update from the Family Rights Group to ascertain how the situation appears as regards the details we have requested.

In addition, we provided £150,000 of funding to Grandparents Plus and three partner organisations in 2015-16 to develop an early help model for family and friends carers, to ensure that they are aware of, and can get access to, the support they need. The model includes website materials and bespoke training for professionals. I believe that that is the approach that is required. I have had the opportunity to have several meetings with the Family Rights Group during the passage of the Bill, and remain open to further constructive discussion about what more we can do with the group to improve practice on the ground. I hope that the hon. Lady is reassured that in the circumstances she can withdraw her new clause.

Photo of Emma Lewell-Buck Emma Lewell-Buck Shadow Minister (Education) (Children and Families)

I was pleased to hear about the Minister’s proactive engagement with the Family Rights Group on the issue, and beg to ask leave to withdraw the motion.

Clause, by leave, withdrawn.

New Clause 22