PARLIAMENTARY DEBATES

HOUSE OF COMMONS

OFFICIAL REPORT

Sixth Standing Committee on Delegated Legislation

DRAFT CHILDREN ACT 1989 (AMENDMENT) (CHILDREN'S SERVICES PLANNING) ORDER 1996

Thursday 29 February 1996

LONDON: HMSO

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The Committee consisted of the following Members:

Chairman: MR. EDWARD O'HARA

Atkinson, Mr. Peter (Hexham)

Bayley, Mr. Hugh (York)

Bowis, Mr. John (Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Health)

Dykes, Mr. Hugh (Harrow, East)

Eagle, Ms Angela (Wallasey)

Evans, Mr. Nigel (Ribble Valley)

Gerrard, Mr. Neil (Walthamstow)

Greenway, Mr. John (Ryedale)

Gunnell, Mr. John (Morley and Leeds, South)

Hughes, Mr. Kevin (Doncaster, North)

Hughes, Mr. Simon (Southwark and Bermondsey)

Hunter, Mr. Andrew (Basingstoke)

McLoughlin, Mr. Patrick (West Derbyshire)

Mahon, Mrs. Alice (Halifax)

Maitland, Lady Olga (Sutton and Cheam)

Marlow, Mr. Tony (Northampton, North)

Michie, Mr. Bill (Sheffield, Heeley)

Milburn, Mr. Alan (Darlington)

Robathan, Mr. Andrew (Blaby)

Mr. F. J. Reid, (Committee Clerk)

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3 Sixth Standing Committee on Delegated Legislation Thursday 29 February 1996

[MR. EDWARD O'HARA in the Chair]

Draft Children Act 1989 (Amendment) (Children's Services Planning) Order 1996

10.30 am

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Health (Mr. John Bowis): I beg to move, That the Committee has considered the draft Children Act 1989 (Amendment) (Children's Services Planning) Order 1996. The order comes under section 17(4) of the Children Act 1989 and relates to the services provided by local authorities under part III of the Act. It relates in particular to children who need that extra bit of help if they are to have a fair chance in life, children whose families need support in parenting and children whose parents cannot look after them, for whatever reason. Children's services plans provide individually tailored services for children and are a challenge for the local authorities which have to plan and provide them It may be helpful if I give the Committee the background to this issue. The Children Act has always required local authorities to provide services to children in need and to publicise them. In 1991, the Utting report recommended that the Secretary of State should issue a direction requiring local authorities to produce and publish plans for children's services, and that the Department of Health should issue guidance on the content of plans and monitor their implementation. In 1992, we issued a circular advising local authorities to produce and publish children's services plans. Two studies since undertaken by our social services inspectorate showed that in 1993, the majority of local authorities were heeding that advice and intended to produce plans and that in 1994, many authorities were seen to have done so. In 1994, the Audit Commission report "Seen But Not Heard", which was the second major push towards establishing planning for children's services, drew attention to the fact that despite the overlap, there was often a lack of co-ordination between health, education and social services departments. It promoted joint planning as a means to make resources go further. The report recommended that the Government take the lead in raising the status of children's service plans by ensuring that they were joint, mandatory and published. At a conference on the report, my response was that I would consider the recommendations in the spirit of "Why not?" rather than "Why?" In June last year, I announced the Government's intention to make 4 an order to make the planning of children's services and the publication of the resulting plans a social services function by amending schedule 2 of the Children Act 1989. The draft circular and guidance issued for consultation in 1995 drew strong support from local authority associations, social services departments and the voluntary sector. The order stresses three matters: planning services, consulting other agencies and publishing the resulting plans. The most important element is inter-agency cooperation. The order requires local authorities to consult a range of other agencies covering health, education and social services issues, as well as the police, the probation service and many other universal and specialist services. The way in which those services work together is crucial for children and their families. We need to bring together the different perspectives and priorities to underpin a willing cooperation between agencies in planning children's services. Good partnership comes not from legislation, but because all the agencies involved realise that it is the best way to deliver good quality, efficient and economic services to children and families. That is what we are seeking to strengthen. We propose to publish guidance on children's services planning. It will be issued jointly by the Department of Health and the Department for Education and Employment and distributed through the national health service executive as well as through local government organisations. The order recognises that the private and voluntary sectors are key players. They have always made a valuable contribution, and their role will continue within this more contractual framework, with tightly specified expectations. Children's services are not "done" to the people who use them—they are designed to suit children and families, not vice versa. Local authorities have to listen to families and children who have been through the systems and to involve them in the planning process and take their views seriously. Thanks to the citizens charter we now have high expectations of public service, and those principles should underpin children's services planning. The mandate for the plans is derived from part III of the Children Act 1989, which is concerned with services for children in need. It is a broad mandate but it could be broadened further, depending on local needs and priorities, bringing in universal services such as screening provided by health departments, pre-school education or youth services. The mandate could be still broader, if local authorities so choose, and include such services as leisure, libraries and transport provision. That is fine and to be encouraged, as long as services for the most needy children are not overlooked. 5 The order offers an opportunity for all agencies concerned with children to plan effective and efficient services to meet the needs. We consulted widely on the proposals last summer and there was strong support from such organisations as the Association of Metropolitan Authorities, the Association of County Councils, the Royal College of Nursing, the Children's Society and the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children. We are taking a good step for children and for our plans to support them. I commend the order to the Committee.

10.36 am

Mr. Alan Milburn (Darlington): The Opposition welcome the order, which was recommended by the Audit Commission in its "Seen But Not Heard" report. The order has also been welcomed by local authority associations, by voluntary organisations and by the Association of Directors of Social Services—an unusual consensus, perhaps, but one that is extremely welcome. I hope that the order will give greater coherence and co-ordination to children's services. Local authorities and others have sometimes taken the view that children's services and the delivery of the provisions of the Children Act are purely the responsibility of one organisation—the social services department. That is not the case, and the order helpfully reminds us all that children's services, particularly for vulnerable groups of young people, are the responsibility of a host of organisations operating co-operatively and collectively at a local level. The order will involve more fully the police and probation services, education and, of course, health services, in the planning—and therefore, one hopes, in the delivery—of coherent children's services. That is 6 especially important because there has been a tendency for one service at a local level to conflict with, and undermine, another. For example, decisions taken by local education authorities on the exclusion of pupils from schools can have an adverse impact on the roles and responsibilities of police services, probation services and social services departments. As more and more young children are excluded from our schools, sometimes permanently, and left to roam the streets, they can cause a great deal of harm both to themselves and to others. Unfortunately, it tends to be local communities, the local police service and local social services departments that pick up the tab for such failures of co-operation. We now have a basis on which to plan children's services jointly, to secure inter-agency co-operation and to ensure that plans and priorities work cooperatively rather than in conflict. The order is long overdue and helps to build on best local practice—precisely such arrangements already operate in many areas. The order gives best local practice national scope for the first time. For that reason, we warmly welcome it.

10.39 am

Mr. Bowis: In that spirit, all I need to do is to welcome the welcome.

Question put and agreed to.

Resolved, That the Committee has considered the draft Children Act 1989 (Amendment) (Children's Services Planning) Order 1996.

Committee rose at twenty-one minutes to Eleven o'clock.

THE FOLLOWING MEMBERS ATTENDED THE COMMITTEE:

O'Hara, Mr. Edward (Chairman)

Atkinson, Mr. Peter

Bowis, Mr.

Dykes, Mr.

Evans, Mr. Nigel

Greenway, Mr. John

Gunnell, Mr.

Hughes, Mr. Kevin

Hunter, Mr.

McLoughlin, Mr.

Milburn, Mr.

Robathan, Mr.