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COMMITTEE FOR HEALTH, SOCIAL SERVICES AND PUBLIC SAFETY
Report on the Children
TOGETHER WITH THE MINUTES OF PROCEEDINGS OF
Ordered by The Committee for Health,
Social Services and Public Safety
COMMITTEE FOR HEALTH, SOCIAL SERVICES AND
The Committee for Health, Social Services and Public Safety is a Statutory Departmental Committee established in accordance with paragraphs 8 and 9 of Strand One of the Belfast Agreement and under Standing Order No. 46 of the Northern Ireland Assembly. The Committee has a scrutiny, policy development and consultation role with respect to the Department of Health, Social Services and Public Safety, and has a role in the initiation of legislation.
The Committee has the power to:
The Committee was established on 29 November 1999 with eleven members, including a Chairman and Deputy Chairman, and a quorum of five.
The membership of the Committee is as follows:
TABLE OF CONTENTS
Extension of Committee Stage
Deliberations of the Committee
APPENDIX 1. - Minutes of Proceedings Relating to the Report
APPENDIX 2. - Minutes of Evidence
APPENDIX 3. - Written Submissions
1. The Committee for Health, Social Services and Public Safety met on the dates given below to consider the Children (Leaving Care) Bill (NIA 05/01) that was referred to the Committee on 19 March 2002 for consideration under Standing Order 31(1) of the Northern Ireland Assembly.
2. The Committee had before it the Children (Leaving Care) Bill and the Explanatory Memorandum to the Bill as introduced.
3. The Minister in charge of the Bill, Ms Bairbre de Brún, Minister of Health, Social Services and Public Safety, made the following statement under Section 9 of the Northern Ireland Act 1998:
"In my view the Children (Leaving Care) Bill would be within the legislative competence of the Northern Ireland Assembly."
4. The Committee warmly welcomes the Department's proposals for the new arrangements for young people leaving care, which follow on from the Executive's commitment in the Programme for Government and builds on the existing statutory provisions contained in the Children (Northern Ireland) Order 1995. The Bill will amend the Children (Northern Ireland) Order. It will help young people who are looked after by Health and Social Services (HSS) Trusts make the transition to independent living by making provision for their assessment, preparation and planning for leaving care, including financial support. It will also provide better personal support for young people after leaving care, as well as help with their education and training. The evidence received, both written and oral, was broadly supportive of the Bill, although concerns were raised about some of its provisions. Organizations working with young people were particularly concerned about clause 6 (Exclusion from benefits).
5. The Committee is fully of the view that it is imperative that these young people, who are among the most disadvantaged and marginalised in society, have access to professional help through a co-ordinated multi-agency approach, to improve their life chances and facilitate their transition to independent living. Children leaving care have the right to expect the same level of support from their responsible authority as other children might expect from their parents.
6. The Committee agrees that the development of new legislation, similar to that already introduced in England and Wales, is a positive step aimed at enhancing the support framework for young people once they have left care. The Social Services Inspectorate produced a report in July 2000 that examined young care leavers' specific problems, which confirmed many of the research findings in Britain.  The report showed that one in two young care leavers in Northern Ireland left school without any qualifications, compared to only one in 14 in Britain. Six months after leaving care, a young person was four times more likely to be unemployed than the general population average. Some 20% of young women leaving care are pregnant or have had a child within six months.
7. The Committee's inquiry into residential and secure accommodation in Northern Ireland highlighted the need for a "through-care plan" for all young people in care, to address fully their preparation and aftercare needs.  It is vitally important that this vulnerable group be able to draw upon a wide range of formal and informal support as they face the particularly challenging transition period into adulthood and independent living. These young people are expected to cope with a wide range of issues at a much younger age than the general population, within a short space of time. In this context, the provisions of the Bill to require HSS Trusts to provide a personal adviser and pathway plan for all eligible young people, and to keep in touch with young people who have left care to ensure they continue to receive the support to which they are entitled, is a very positive step.
8. The Committee understands that the Department of Health, Social Services and Public Safety has secured some £0.4m per annum over the period 2001/02 to 2003/04 for the purposes of enhancing leaving and after care services. This allocation would be supplemented by funding to be transferred from the Department for Social Development (equivalent to income support/job seeker's allowance costs) as part of the proposed changes in the social security benefits system to support clause 6 and maintain parity across the social security field.
9. An estimated £0.5m will underpin implementation of the Bill in its first year, with higher amounts in following years. However, in England several hundreds of millions of pounds were provided through the children's social services special grant, through the Quality Protects programme, to support the legislation. In spite of that, Barnardo's have stated that the funds made available in England are already insufficient. Many witnesses voiced concern at the lack of reference in the Department's proposals to the need for additional resources to implement the new arrangements.
Extension of Committee Stage
10. The Committee proposed the following motion seeking an extension to the Committee Stage of the Bill. The Assembly agreed the motion on 24 April 2002.
"That, in accordance with Standing Order 31(5), the period referred to in Standing Order 31(3) be extended to 26 June 2002, in relation to the Committee Stage of the Children (Leaving Care) Bill (NIA 05/01)."
11. The Committee met to consider the Bill on the following dates:
12. Extracts of Minutes of Proceedings are given in APPENDIX 1.
13. The Minutes of Evidence for each of the meetings when the Bill was considered formally are given in APPENDIX 2.
14. The Committee wrote to 127 interested bodies and individuals on 28 September 2001 to seek their comments on the Bill. The 28 substantive responses received were generally supportive of the aims of the Bill. The written submissions are included at APPENDIX 3.
DELIBERATIONS OF THE COMMITTEE
Clause 1 (Further duties of authorities towards children whom they are looking after)
15. The Committee was content with the clause, which places a duty on Trusts to assess the needs of each eligible child to determine what advice, assistance and support the young person will need on leaving care, and to arrange for a child to have a personal adviser. However, there is no detail in the Bill about eligibility criteria, and it is imperative that the Committee and consultees be given a full opportunity to scrutinize the detail in the draft regulations and guidance later in the process. All the relevant agencies working with children must be involved in drawing up the detailed regulations for the young persons' needs assessments. The participation and views of the young people themselves should play a central part in developing, implementing and reviewing their needs assessments.
Clause 2 (Additional functions of authorities in respect of certain children)
16. The Committee was supportive of the requirement under new Articles 34B, 34C, and 34D of the Children (Northern Ireland) Order for the responsible authority to keep in touch with the young person who has left care and, where contact is lost, to continue to take reasonable steps to re-establish it. This will require close co-operation and liaison between HSS Trusts in respect of care leavers who move between Trust areas.
17. Consideration was given to the proposal by Barnardo's that, instead of appointing a personal adviser for each relevant child, a personal adviser should be arranged for them and a named worker appointed. The rationale for this was that choice is extremely important for young people, who should have a right to choose with whom they work and to act in partnership. Barnardo's was also concerned that the word "appoint" appeared to imply a great deal of power for the Trust to make an appointment.
18. The Committee was, however, satisfied with the Department's assurance that the appointment would necessarily take into account the wishes and feelings of the young person. This is by virtue of the fact that paragraph 13 of Article 34C applies paragraphs (2) and (3) of Article 26 of the Children (Northern Ireland) Order 1995. These paragraphs provide that the decision to make an appointment would only be done in liaison with the child, parents and other relevant parties. The Department also underlined the importance of using the word "appoint", as it reinforces the duty that rests with Trusts to ensure that each care leaver has a special adviser.
19. The Committee fully accepted the point by Barnardo's that the personal advisers, whether they be a foster carer, social worker or other, need to have the necessary authority to obtain services. The detailed regulations will need to ensure flexibility as to who can be a special adviser and equip the advisers with the necessary authority, power and status to carry out their functions effectively.
20. The importance of appropriate housing provision cannot be overstated. Around one third of care leavers each year come from children's homes, and their behaviour can be difficult and demanding. The submission from the Social Development Committee, which estimated the proportion of young homeless people from a "care" background as being as high as 40%, underscores the need for multi-agency and inter-departmental collaboration to address this group's specific housing requirements. The Department will need to commit the necessary resources to negotiate with the Northern Ireland Housing Executive and other housing providers to provide a range of suitable housing stock for those leaving care. Particular attention should be given to the needs of young people leaving care who have a learning disability or physical health disability. Again, there will need to be in-depth consultation with the appropriate agencies on the definitions of "suitable accommodation" and "suitability of landlords", having regard to the corresponding legislation in England, which is very detailed.
Clause 3 (Personal advisers and pathway plans)
21. The Committee was content with the new requirement under Articles 34E and 34F of the Children (Northern Ireland) Order for authorities to make arrangements for each child to have a personal adviser and to prepare a pathway plan for each eligible child, which must be subject to suitable review. Detailed guidance is required for the development of pathway plans, in terms of the nature and level of contact and personal support to be provided, and by whom, to the young person. They will need to be flexible enough to respond to the changing needs and circumstances of young people leaving care. The development of regulations in respect of personal advisers will be important in addressing issues such as levels of authority, training, payment and accountability. The Committee looks forward to scrutinizing the detail in the draft regulations.
22. There will need to be significant funding to implement the proposals for the young person's adviser, which must be addressed as matter of urgency, if the Bill is to be effective. The requisite resources must accompany the additional responsibilities for the HSS Boards and Trusts. The Committee will want to see a clear demonstration that Trusts adopt a uniform approach in terms of the levels of financial support to be offered to care leavers. Further discussion and information need to be provided about the exact amount of additional resources to be made available.
Clause 4 (Advice and assistance for certain children and young persons aged 16 or over)
23. The Committee was supportive of this clause, which restates and amends Articles 35 and 36 of the Children (Northern Ireland) Order and adds several powers and duties for Trusts, particularly in respect of young persons' education, employment and training, as well as support for any further or higher education. The importance of the enhanced duties placed on the Trusts to support and maintain contact with care leavers was underlined by the Probation Board of Northern Ireland. It pointed out that a quarter of young people leaving care do so at the age of 16, in contrast with the typical age of young people leaving home at 22 years of age. The 'When Leaving Home Is Also Leaving Care' Report of 1997 found that when authorities made an effort (in a friendly manner) to keep in touch, young people were more likely to seek help and support.
24. Members questioned Departmental Officials on the proposal by Barnardo's that the words "in exceptional circumstances" should be omitted in respect of the provision for the relevant authority to make a cash payment to the person qualifying for assistance. The Committee was satisfied with the explanation that the purpose of the exceptional circumstance provision is to limit responsibility of the Trust while assisting young people in extreme circumstances. The provision permits social services to decide how best to support a child by, for example, paying a bill or buying food. If it were not made clear that the circumstances had to be exceptional, there would be an undue burden on the extent and level of support that social services would be expected to provide. The Committee accepts that the legislation should not be used as a basis for making routine payments to young people, and that to do otherwise would be to broaden the legislation to such an extent that it could impact on other agencies required to contribute to the young person's welfare.
25. The Committee considered an amendment proposed by the Children's Law Centre that would have removed any element of discretion for the relevant authority in providing assistance - albeit undefined - by way of employment, education and training to any person who qualifies by replacing the word "may" with "shall". However, it recognized that to do so would place a direct duty on Trusts to provide assistance regardless of how short a period of time a young person had been in care, and rejected the proposed amendment.
Clause 5 (Representations)
26. The Committee supported clause 5, which inserts a new Article 35D into the Children (Northern Ireland) Order to deal with complaints. Various witnesses emphasized the importance of establishing a procedure for hearing representations, including complaints, from young people who qualify for support under the new arrangements. In the event of a breakdown in the relationship between the young person and their adviser, or discontentment with a pathway plan, the Committee considered that a clear appeal mechanism will be essential to ensure young persons are not disadvantaged. There must be a common approach to the complaints procedure by individual HSS Boards and Trusts.
27. The Committee would expect regulations to be made on this issue and recommended that the clause be amended to leave out the words "(if any)" in line 38, which were deemed superfluous.
Clause 6 (Exclusion from benefits)
28. Clause 6 deals with changes to social security legislation, which is the responsibility of the Department for Social Development. There was widespread concern about the proposal to remove entitlement to income-based social security benefits to care leavers and transfer responsibility for their financial support to the relevant HSS Trust. The Committee considered a number of arguments for and against the proposal with regard to its impact on young people leaving care. The Department's rationale for the change was that a simplified financial package would be better tailored to meet a young care leaver's needs, rather than their having to rely on a confusing mix of social services support and social security benefits.
29. Having carefully considered all the arguments, the Committee took the view, on balance, that it should recommend the removal of clause 6. This decision was strengthened by the absence of a cast-iron guarantee from the Department that all the resources that would be transferred from the Department for Social Development would be defrayed exclusively in the support of care leavers. Members are acutely aware of the legacy of historical under-investment in family and childcare services, particularly through the Committee's inquiry into residential and secure accommodation. Consequently, they firmly believe that assurances need to be given about the additional resources required to deliver effectively on the new range of provisions, both in the short and long term.
30. Several witnesses voiced concern that the transfer of resources from social security to social services would further stigmatize young people leaving care, who have argued that such a move would change the relationship with their personal adviser. Some young people maintained that they would become dependent on their personal adviser for everything and that this would affect their independence.
31. There was also concern that in moving from a social security to a cash-limited social services system, budget considerations could become the basis of decision-making rather than individual need. Witnesses queried how consistently financial packages would be delivered across different Trusts, each of which would have a degree of freedom in developing their specific support arrangements. Many organizations referred to their unhappy experiences of sufficient funding not having been made available to support fully new statutory responsibilities, the Children (Northern Ireland) Order being a case in point.
32. A key concern of some Trusts in relation to this clause was the significant resource implications that would attach to the need for flexible financial administration systems for care leavers. There was also concern as to how the situation would be managed if the relationship between the care leaver and social services were to break down irretrievably. Some argued for the retention of the existing social security system for care leavers, so that social services are not burdened with an additional role that they were not set up to perform; the status quo would enable personal advisers to concentrate on their role as corporate parents and helping the young people to manage their limited finances.
33. The Committee acknowledged a number of important points made by the Department against the dropping of clause 6. In particular, it accepted the worthy intent of the Bill that it should promote the concept of continuing responsibility of a Trust, especially in relation to this vulnerable group of children. It was argued that if resources deployed on benefits were not transferred to Trusts, the ongoing significance of the Trust in the young person's life would be reduced. There was also a question as to whether the removal of clause 6 would limit flexibility as to how resources might be deployed in arranging for housing, further education or training.
34. The Committee noted that the introduction of similar legislation in England was accompanied by a substantial ring-fenced additional budget. The new arrangements under the Children Leaving Care Act were supported by significant additional resources from the Special Social Services Grant under the Quality Protects initiative. However, apart from £1.2m from the Social Inclusion Fund for the period 2001/02 to 2003/04 for the establishment of leaving care pilot schemes, there is no specific commitment as to the overall package of additional resources that will help underpin the implementation of the Bill.
Clause 7 (Minor and consequential amendments and appeals)
35. The Committee considered clause 7 and concluded that it was content with the Clause.
Clause 8 (Interpretation)
36. The Committee considered clause 8 and concluded that it was content with the Clause.
Clause 9 (Short title and commencement)
37. The Committee considered clause 9 and concluded that it was content with the Clause, subject to consequential amendments to subsections (3) and (4), should clause 6 be removed from the Bill.
MINUTES OF PROCEEDINGS
WEDNESDAY, 24 APRIL 2002 AT 2.00PM
Present:Mr T Gallagher (Deputy Chairman)
Apologies:Dr J Hendron (Chairman)
In Attendance: Mr P Hughes (Committee Clerk)
Extension of the Committee Stage - Children (Leaving Care) Bill
Question put and agreed to:
That, in accordance with Standing Order 31(5), the period referred to in Standing
Order 31(3) be extended to
WEDNESDAY, 22 MAY 2002 AT 2.00PM
Present: Dr J Hendron (Chairman)
Apologies: Mrs P Armitage
In Attendance: Mr P Hughes (Committee Clerk)
Children (Leaving Care) Bill: Committee Stage
Assembly Researcher: Mr Rab McConaghy
Mr McConaghy presented the Research Services paper on the Bill, which gave the background to and rationale for the new legislation. The following is a summary of the main provisions of the Bill, which parallels what is happening in England and Wales:
The Bill aims to improve the life chances of young people who are looked after by HSS Trusts as they make the transition to independent living. It aims to ensure that young people should not leave care until they are ready to do so; to improve the assessment, preparation and planning for leaving care; to provide better personal support for young people after leaving care; and to improve the financial arrangements for care leavers.
The Bill places a new duty on HSS Trusts to assess and meet the needs of eligible 16 and 17 year olds who remain in care or those who have left care. It also requires HSS Trusts to keep in touch with young people who have left care, in order to ensure that they receive the support to which they are entitled. The duty will run until the young person reaches 21, or later if he or she is still receiving help from a Trust with education or training.
The Bill requires HSS Trusts to provide a personal adviser and a pathway plan for all eligible young people. The personal adviser will provide a single point of contact for a young person. He will be responsible for overseeing the pathway plan that will help to make the difficult transition to independent living, and for ensuring that the young person receives support in a co-ordinated and accessible way.
The Bill simplifies the arrangements for the financial support of 16 and 17 year olds leaving care. It places HSS Trusts under a statutory duty to support these care leavers while at the same time removing entitlement to Income Support, Housing Benefit or means-tested Jobseeker's Allowance. The resources currently deployed by the Department for Social Development in relation to means-tested benefits for 16-17 year old care leavers will be transferred to the Department of Health, Social Services and Public Safety to help support these young people more effectively.
Detailed guidance would follow the passing of the Bill by way of the Regulations, which would address basic provisions in the legislation. Such guidance, which would be subject to consultation, would include the prescribed period for which an eligible child must have been in care, needs assessment pathway plans, and the functions of the personal advisers.
While the consultation process indicated generally positive feedback on the Bill, there has been some criticism of how the new system has been operating in England and Wales. For example, there is concern as to how a Trust's obligation to "keeping in touch" as specified in the legislation will operate in practice, and how rigorously that will be applied.
In relation to clause 6, concern was raised during the consultation process as to how consistency of approach across different Trust areas could be achieved, to ensure equality of treatment for all young people. There was also concern about whether the withdrawal of social security benefits would negate a young person's entitlement to, for example, free prescriptions and national insurance credits.
Departmental Officials: Mr John Clarke
Mr Clarke confirmed that the intention of the Bill was to firm up the existing provision for leaving and aftercare services in Article 35 of the Children Order. He advised that clause 1 required Trusts to carry out an assessment of the needs of each eligible child in preparation for their leaving care. Pathway plans through the Trusts would cover education, training and career plans to enable the young person achieve their full potential.
Mr Clarke acknowledged the divergence of views in relation to the entitlement to state benefits for 16 and 17 year olds. He stated that the intention was for support for young people to be co-ordinated through a single channel that would address their particular needs.
Mr Clarke stated that the leaving care arrangements need to form part of a wider strategy, and he referred to the Quality Protects initiative in England and Wales. Some £500,000 out of a total of £1.5m made available in the current year to help implement the legislative requirements in relation to child and family care services is earmarked for this area. He undertook to provide an estimate of the projected funding requirement of the leaving care arrangements over the next three years. The Committee underlined the importance of having the relevant details, in order to lend its support to the Budget bid as part of the comprehensive spending review.
Evidence from submissions suggested that the role of personal advisers would be complex and demanding, which would require detailed planning by the Trusts in terms of providing the necessary support.
Mr Clarke advised that the Bill formed the basic framework for the leaving care arrangements and that representatives from the Trusts and voluntary sector would have an input into the regulations setting out the detail for its implementation.
The Clerk will consult members with a view to scheduling a number of additional evidence sessions, in order to meet the 26 June deadline for completion of the Committee Stage of the Bill.
TUESDAY, 28 MAY 2002 AT 2.00PM
Present: Dr J Hendron (Chairman)
Apologies: Mrs P Armitage
In Attendance: Mr P Hughes (Committee Clerk)
Children (Leaving Care) Bill: Oral Evidence
First Key (NI): Ms Paula Keenan, Director
The witnesses gave a brief presentation of First Key's submission to the Bill, highlighting a number of key issues it felt needed to be addressed, including its proposed amendment to clause 6.
Barnardo's: Ms Nuala Ferris
The witnesses gave a brief presentation of Barnardo's submission, including a number of proposed amendments in relation to clauses 2, 3, 4 and 6.
WEDNESDAY, 29 MAY 2002 AT 2.00PM
Present: Dr J Hendron (Chairman)
Apologies: Mrs P Armitage
In Attendance: Mr P Hughes (Committee Clerk)
Children Leaving Care Bill: Committee Stage
Children's Law Centre: Ms Tara Caul
Ms Caul summarised the main points from the Children's Law Centre as follows:
North and West Belfast HSS Trust: Mr Noel Rooney
The main points raised by the Trust are summarised as follows:
The entire proceedings are recorded separately in verbatim transcripts of evidence.
Agreed: The Committee will commence its clause-by-clause consideration of the Bill at next week's meeting.
WEDNESDAY, 12 JUNE 2002 AT 2.00PM
Present: Dr J Hendron (Chairman)
Apologies: Mrs P Armitage
Children (Leaving Care) Bill (NIA 05/01): Committee Stage
Departmental Officials: Mr John Clarke
The Committee commenced its clause-by-clause consideration of the Children (Leaving Care) Bill (NIA Bill 5/01), taking evidence from the above-named Officials. The entire proceedings are recorded separately in verbatim minutes of evidence.
Clause 1 (Further duties of authorities towards children whom they are looking after)
Question: That the Committee is content with clause 1, put and agreed to.
Clause 2 (Additional functions of authorities in respect of certain children)
Additional functions of the responsible authority in respect of relevant children
Articles 34B and D - agreed
The Officials undertook to consider the following amendment, as proposed by Barnardo's written submission:
page 3, line 14
delete "appoint a personal adviser for each relevant child" and insert "arrange a personal adviser for each relevant child and appoint a named worker."
The Officials advised that further work was required in relation to the estimated resource costs that the new requirements will place on Trusts. A reserve of £1.5m has been set up against legislative pressures arising from the Children Order. It had been estimated that £500,000 would allow for the appointment of 15 personal advisers, to enhance the current after care provision. The Committee emphasized the importance of adequately resourcing the new after care arrangements, so that the personal advisers are not overloaded.
Clause 3 (Personal advisers and pathway plans)
The Officials undertook to consider the following proposed amendment by Barnardo's:
page 5, line 21, delete "appoint" and insert "arrange"
in the context of the proposed earlier amendment to Article 34C under clause 2.
Clause 4 (Advice and assistance for certain children and young persons aged 16 or over)
Employment, education and training
The Officials undertook to consider the following proposed amendments by Barnardo's:
page 5, line 26, leave out "may" and insert "shall"
page 5, line 30, leave out "may" and insert "shall".
Clause 5 (Representations)
The Committee was content with clause 5, subject to a recommendation to amend the clause at page 8, line 38, leave out "(if any)".
Clause 6 (Exclusion from benefits)
Agreed: The Committee will consider a paper by the Department setting out a synopsis of the arguments against dropping clause 6 and return to the clause at next week's meeting. The main points in the paper are summarised as follows:
Under the Bill, care leavers would be no worse off in terms of the overall resource devoted to their welfare as if they were in receipt of social security benefits.
WEDNESDAY, 19 JUNE 2002
Present: Dr J Hendron (Chairman)
Apologies: Mrs P Armitage
In Attendance: Mr P Hughes (Committee Clerk)
Children (Leaving Care) Bill: Committee Stage
Departmental Officials: Mr John Clarke
The Committee resumed its clause-by-clause consideration of the Children (Leaving Care) Bill, taking evidence from the above-named Officials. The entire proceedings are recorded separately in verbatim minutes of evidence.
[Clause 1 was previously agreed to.]
Clause 2 (Additional functions and authorities in respect of certain children)
Mr Clarke explained that the reference to "appoint" a special adviser was not in the dictatorial sense of the word and that the decision to make an appointment would take account the wishes and feelings of the young person, their parents and other interested parties. This, he said, implies an element of choice.
He also made the point that the reference to "appoint" was important, because if the term "arrange" were used, nothing need actually have been done. While young people are in care a special adviser can be arranged, but as soon as they leave care an appointment must be made.
Mr Clarke acknowledged the concern raised by Barnardo's that the young person's adviser, whoever they might be, must have the necessary authority, power and status to obtain the relevant services. He recognised the need for flexibility in terms of who can be a personal adviser and for the regulations to make explicitly clear the necessary powers of the adviser.
Question: That the Committee is content with Clause 2, put and agreed to.
Clause 3 (Personal advisers and pathways plans)
Question: That the Committee is content with Clause 3, put and agreed to.
Clause 4 (Advice and assistance for certain children and young persons aged 16 or over)
Mr Clarke explained that the reference to the provision of assistance "in exceptional circumstances" was because the intention behind the legislation was that it should not be used as a basis for making routine payments to young people. The presumption was that such payments should be made where it was necessary to protect the young person's welfare and could not be made by any other agency.
He advised that the reference to "may" as opposed to "shall" assist was to avoid placing a direct and automatic duty in this respect. To remove the element of discretion would, in effect, mean that there would be no qualifying period and that the provision could apply to a young person who had only been in care for one day.
Question: That the Committee is content with Clause 4, put and agreed to.
Clause 5 (Representations)
Question: That the Committee is content with Clause 5, subject to the following proposed amendment:
In page 8, line 38, leave out "(if any)",
put and agreed to.
Clause 6 (Exclusion from benefits)
The Committee considered the concerns raised by various witnesses about the removal of the entitlement to social security benefits to children leaving care until they are 18. Barnardo's had argued that the effect of the clause would be to stigmatise these children by treating them differently from their peers.
Concern was also raised about the removal of resources from an unlimited social security budget to a finite social services budget, on which there would be many competing demands. Some Trusts expressed concern that the transfer of responsibility for benefits payments would involve additional administration and, potentially, affect the relationship between the special adviser and young person - from one of adviser to one of financial arbiter.
The Committee also carefully considered a number of persuasive arguments in support of clause 6, as listed in a paper provided by the Officials. For example, the deletion of clause 6 would limit flexibility as to how resources may be deployed in arranging for further education and training. It was also pointed out that without the transfer to the Trusts of the funds currently deployed in the provision of benefits, there would be uncertainty as to how the duties placed on Trusts could be resourced. The paper additionally pointed out that the intention of the Bill is for the Trust to provide the support that would be given by a good parent. It was argued that if resources defrayed on benefits are not transferred to Trusts, the ongoing significance of the Trust in the young person's life might be reduced.
In view of concerns raised by witnesses and in the absence of a cast-iron assurance from the Department that the resources transferred from the social security budget would be directly committed to implementing the provisions of the Bill, the Committee was unable to support the clause. Members were not prepared to support the clause, as there remained concerns about whether all the resources would be appropriately deployed by Trusts, both immediately and in future years. The absence of such a guarantee would militate against the Trusts' ability to act as parental guide and lead young people along the path to independent living.
Question: That the Committee is content with Clause 6, put and negatived.
Clause 7 (Minor and consequential amendments and repeals)
Question: That the Committee is content with Clause 7, put and agreed to.
Clause 8 (Interpretation)
Question: That the Committee is content with Clause 8, put and agreed to.
Clause 9 (Short title and commencement)
Mr Clarke advised that, in the event of Clause 6 being opposed, there would be consequential amendments to sub-sections 3 and 4.
Question: That the Committee is content with Clause 9, as amended, put and agreed to.
WEDNESDAY, 26 JUNE 2002 AT 2.00PM
Present: Dr J Hendron (Chairman)
Apologies: Mrs P Armitage
Children (Leaving Care) Bill (NIA 5/01) - Draft Report
The Committee deliberated.
Draft Report on the Children (Leaving Care) Bill (NIA 5/01), proposed by the Chairman, brought up and read.
Ordered: That the draft Report be read a second time, paragraph by paragraph.
Paragraphs 1 to 37 read and agreed to.
Resolved: That the Report be the Fourth Report of the Committee to the Assembly.
That the Report should include written and oral evidence from the list of witnesses in Annex A.
Ordered: That the Report be printed.
MINUTES OF EVIDENCE
MINUTES OF EVIDENCE
Wednesday 22 May 2002
Dr Hendron (Chairperson)
Rev Robert Coulter
Mr J Kelly
Mrs I Robinson
Mr Rab McConaghy ) Assembly Research Services
The Chairperson: I should like to welcome Mr Rab McConaghy, an assembly researcher.
Mr McConaghy: This will be a short briefing; I do not intend to look at the Bill clause-by-clause, especially as the Committee is meeting officials later. Everyone should have received the research paper that the Assembly's research section has produced, as well as the explanatory and financial memoranda.
The Children (Leaving Care) Bill was introduced on 4 March 2002, and the Second Stage was agreed on 19 March. On 7 May the Committee sought, and gained, approval for an extension. The period for Committee scrutiny will end on 26 June.
The Bill is aimed at ensuring that children who are 16 or 17 years old and who have been in care are given adequate support that will allow them to adjust to life outside a care environment. The duty extends to the age of 21, but can go beyond that if the young person receives assistance for training and education.
The Bill will amend the Children (Northern Ireland) Order 1995, specifically article 35 of that Order. The 1995 Order allows and requires authorities to offer advice and assistance to young people once they have left care. However, the proposed legislation is a positive step aimed at enhancing that support framework. It will effectively tighten up and formalise the current legislation on the obligations that an authority has to young people leaving their care. Certain things are specified in the legislation, such as a formalised needs assessment; the development of pathway plans to help young people in their last period in care and in leaving care; and the appointment of a personal adviser. There are also specific requirements for the authority, in this case the trust, to look at accommodation needs and the suitability of accommodation in relation to the young person.
A major element of the new legislation, and perhaps one of the more controversial elements, relates to clause 6, which provides for the removal of care leavers' entitlement to standard benefits such as jobseeker's allowance, income support and so forth. Those would be replaced by a package arranged by the trust, using funds that have been transferred from the Department for Social Development. The rationale is that that package would be better tailored to meet a young person's needs. Some people would be excluded from that and would stay on the main benefits system, primarily young care leavers who are lone parents or who are disabled.
The Bill effectively mirrors the Children (Leaving Care) Act 2000 in England and Wales, which amended the Children Act 1989. The background in GB has been quite complex, and goes back to the early and mid-1990s, when there were different reports about childcare, such as that on the scandals in north Wales, and so forth. A lot of work that was done at that time was broadened out to focus on what happens to children not only in homes, but also once they leave.
The Social Services Inspectorate produced a report in 1997 that looked at young care leavers' specific problems, and it mentioned a few pointers, such as lack of academic qualifications and consequent higher unemployment rates, greater propensity to go into more serious adult crime, higher levels of homelessness and frequent changes of addresses.
The Utting Report, which reviewed the safeguards for children living away from home, was a key document at that time. It was produced by a committee chaired by Sir William Utting. It confirmed a lot of the findings of the Social Services Inspectorate. The new Labour Government of 1997 looked at other aspects of childcare and social work and introduced the "Quality Protects" programme and the White Paper, 'Modernising Social Services'. A range of things was introduced at that time, and there was a desire for streamlining. A consultation on the needs of carers went out in 1999, and that led to the Children (Leaving Care) Act 2000 in England and Wales.
Although the Utting Report, which was the basis of the legislation, applied only to England and Wales, John McFall, who was the Minister responsible for health in Northern Ireland, welcomed it. The point was made that because Northern Ireland had more recent legislation in the Children (Northern Ireland) Order 1995, there was a lack of urgency, and less perceived need to develop new legislation. However, it was recognised that the position should be monitored.
The Northern Ireland Social Services Inspectorate conducted similar work to its British counterpart and produced the report 'Promoting Independence', which mirrored the GB findings and was essentially a matter of catch-up work. The report recommended the application of the English and Welsh legislation.
Ms McWilliams: Are we able to follow what you are saying in your written paper?
Mr McConaghy: Yes, most things are covered in the paper.
Ms McWilliams: You are speaking from a set of notes prepared on your research paper.
Mr McConaghy: It is just the summary around that.
Ms McWilliams: I am trying to key in and flag up some of the points as you are going through the paper.
Mr McConaghy: I have tried to keep them in sequence. However, some of the issues that I thought might be better for discussion are re-sequenced slightly in the briefing.
Ms McWilliams: OK.
Mr McConaghy: The Social Services Inspectorate report in Northern Ireland directly recommended the application of the GB legislation. A major research project at that time was the Northern Ireland leaving care project, which was initiated in 1996 and which confirmed many of the research findings in Britain. The statistics showed that one in two young care leavers in Northern Ireland left school without any qualifications, compared to only one in 14 in Britain. Six months after leaving care, a young person was four times more likely to be unemployed than the general population average. That represents the background to the Bill. It is paralleling what is happening in England and Wales.
The legislation is only part of the story. Detailed regulations and guidance will be needed if the Bill becomes law, and there will be a further consultation period for that. The regulations must address the basics in the Bill, such as the prescribed age, and how long a child has to be looked after in order to become eligible. The Committee may find that it has a heavier workload when the regulations and guidance go out for consultation. The needs assessments and pathway plans, along with the personal advisers, will also have to be addressed in the guidance and detailed regulations.
The explanatory memorandum with the Bill shows that there was a positive feedback from the consultation phase held by the Department. There has been some criticism about how these provisions operate in England and Wales, although there has not been time for a full evaluation. The primary criticism was that the language used in the legislation, such as "keep in touch" - a trust would have an obligation to "keep in touch" with someone once he or she has left care - is quite woolly. How would that operate in practice? There is a very open tone, and that is probably necessary in social welfare legislation. However, there is a concern that the language lacks rigour. How would individual trusts and authorities follow it up?
Clause 6 is one of the main clauses concerned with the withdrawal of benefits. There has been criticism about how that would be implemented consistently across different trust areas and how other benefit channels would be placed in relation to young people. For example, in cases where a young person is currently eligible for free prescriptions, would that be taken from them? If they lose other income benefits, they will no longer be making national insurance credits. Such issues have been raised in relation to the English and Welsh legislation.
During the consultation phase, some people asked that more time be given to allow evaluative work to emerge from England and Wales. The Committee must strike a balance between waiting for that work and pushing forward with what is generally seen as a strong piece of legislation.
Legislation on this aspect of childcare in the Republic of Ireland is found in the Child Care Act 1991. That Act loosely states that authorities and boards "may" follow up with young care leavers. However, with the resource constraints in the South, there is a feeling that that is not being carried through to the extent desired by the voluntary sector. There has also been a tendency in the South to focus on homelessness; there is a strong homelessness lobby there. Some good legislation and policy guidance is emerging on homelessness prevention strategies and so on.
The Children (Scotland) Act 1995 also allows for trusts and boards to follow up, but it does not put a requirement on them to do so. Research is ongoing to gauge the success of boards and trusts in carrying that through. Section 6 of the Children (Leaving Care) Act 2000, relating to benefits, extends to Scotland. The benefit shift will be away from social security to a package delivered by the appropriate trust.
The feedback seems to be that this is seen as a positive development and that it strengthens existing legislation. The wording is still open, and detailed guidance and regulations must be developed afterwards. During that period, there will probably be a chance to see some evaluative work from England and Wales. Again, there will have to be a balance between the speed of implementation and allowing that work to feed through.
The Chairperson: Thank you.
Ms McWilliams: One of the issues that seems to be coming up - and I do not know how familiar you are with it - is eligibility for benefits. What does that package look like? Has any work been done in Scotland, England or Wales on the support package?
Mr McConaghy: I am not sure that the package is fleshed out in the guidance. It would be up to individual trusts to work on their own to develop specific packages. Thus, one of the criticisms relates to how consistent those packages would be across different authorities. You may wish to check with the Department, but I do not think that that has been addressed in the guidance. There would be quite a bit of freedom for the trusts to develop those packages. In our search for work from England and Wales, we were unable to get details on this.
Ms McWilliams: There are variations between trusts in Northern Ireland depending on what support and resources they have available. That has been demonstrated in community care. Would this lead to huge differentials depending on what trust you were in, or is there some kind of bottom line?
Mr McConaghy: The Department has drawn down £400,000 a year over the next two or three years from the Executive programme funds. That will be used to look at innovative leaving care packages. The Department sees the rest of the funding as coming from within the existing baseline. However, there is £400,000 a year to develop different packages from within the trusts. There is no detail on the allocation of that money between trusts.
Mrs I Robinson: Does that mean that there would be differentials? Would different amounts be paid? We are again talking about postcodes; different trusts could have different levels of payment. Surely, that would be wrong, morally and in every other way?
Mr McConaghy: Certainly, there is the potential for a postcode lottery, and it has been criticised.
The Chairperson: A postcode lottery would be terrible. You can elaborate on that point afterwards.
Ms Ramsey: The explanatory memorandum says that during the consultation period, the issue of uniformity across trusts was raised. The cost of living in some areas must be taken into account. I am not suggesting that because someone lives in a certain area they should get more or less than someone else. We must ensure that there is consistency. For example, it might cost more to live in Belfast than in another area.
The Chairperson: Clarification on that must be sought from departmental officials.
Mr McConaghy: There may be an issue regarding the cost of living. It is clear from the legislation that practical cash assistance would be available for training, education, travel to and from places of training and education, and so on. The cost of living does not emerge specifically. That might be worth pursuing - what the margins are, and what the possible additional allowances for cost of living might be.
Ms McWilliams: I have read some of the submissions - only a few have been sent in - and there appears to be concern about the provision of personal advisers, such as when they would be appointed, and by whom.
Mr McConaghy: Clause 5 of the Bill allows for representations and a complaints procedure. There was criticism in England and Wales that the balance of power always lay with trusts. That was not clarified in relation to representation - how much input a young person would have in the appointment of an adviser, or in a situation in which they were being pushed down a particular road or pathway plan that they did not think was appropriate, but the trust perhaps wanted to pursue because it was cheaper. Although there is an allowance for a complaints procedure, there may be a feeling that it is not strong enough. The balance of the young person might be in the other way.
The Chairperson: Thank you.
MINUTES OF EVIDENCE
Wednesday 22 May 2002
Dr Hendron (Chairperson)
Rev Robert Coulter
Mr J Kelly
Ms M McWilliams
Mrs I Robinson
Mr John Clarke ) Department of Health,
Mr David McGowan ) Social Services and
Ms Marion Reynolds ) Public Safety
The Chairperson: I welcome Mr John Clarke, Ms Marion Reynolds and Mr David McGowan from the Department of Health, Social Services and Public Safety. Please give the Committee a general overview of the Bill and its explanatory notes and financial memorandum.
Mr Clarke: This is a short Bill with nine clauses. It will provide significant resources for young people leaving the care system. The essential backcloth is the Social Services Inspectorate's report, 'Promoting Independence: A Review of Leaving And After Care Services", that was published in October 2000.
Young people leaving care suffer several disadvantages in practically every area compared with their peers, and they have particular problems with education and accommodation. Essentially, the intention behind the Bill is to firm up the existing provision for leaving and aftercare services in Article 35 of the Children (Northern Ireland) Order 1995.
The Bill will introduce provision for the assessment of young people's needs. A personal adviser will be appointed for them who will act, as it were, as a good parent would for an older child. A pathway plan will be put into effect. That will be, in a sense, an extension of a care plan. It will focus on helping young people make the transition to independent adult living. That is the background to the Bill. Does the Committee wish to go into clause-by-clause consideration?
The Chairperson: I will leave that up to you, Mr Clarke.
Mr Clarke: I have heard that there has been some confusion about the categories of entitlement mentioned in the equivalent legislation in England and Wales. The Bill mentions eligible children, relevant children and former relevant children. I have a prepared an aide memoire, which I will share with the Committee. Sometimes the wording of legislation can be an obstacle.
The Chairperson: Thank you; that would be helpful.
Mr Clarke: The aide memoire basically states what the Bill is about.
Clause 1 introduces the concept of an eligible child, which is a 16- or 17-year-old who is, and has been, in care for a prescribed period. Prescribed periods will be set out in regulations made under the Bill. If we follow the same path as England, then the prescribed period will be 13 weeks. The prescribed age will probably be 14. However, although it is subject to discussion at regulation-making stage, it is something that should be considered now.
Trusts will be required to assess the needs of each eligible child with a view to determining what advice, assistance and support it should provide to young people while in care and when they have left care. It is important to realise that this transition activity will begin with an assessment of their needs and preparations will be made before they leave care. All eligible children will have the right to a pathway plan based on the assessment. The plan will be reviewed regularly and it will cover education, training, career plans and the trust's support in helping young people achieve their full potential.
Do any members have comments on clause 1, or will I move on?
The Chairperson: Please proceed, Mr Clarke.
Mr Clarke: Clause 2 will insert new articles into the Children (Northern Ireland) Order 1995, which will impose new duties on trusts for children and young people that they formerly looked after. Article 34B will introduce the concept of the relevant child as being a 16- or 17-year-old who has left care and was an eligible child whilst in care. Other children who are care leavers would still be entitled to the existing range of aftercare provision.
Clause 2 will also introduce the concept of the responsible authority, which will be the final trust that looked after young people whilst in care: that trust will continue to be responsible for them. That will ensure continuity in the child's life and that they will not be passed from trust to trust and from authority to authority.
The responsible authority will be required to keep in touch with the relevant child and, where contact is lost, it must continue to make reasonable steps to re-establish contact. That will ensure that trusts will no longer be able to forget about children who have left their care; they will have a continuing responsibility.
The responsible authority will be required to appoint a personal adviser for each relevant child if this has not been done already when the child was in care and was, therefore, an eligible child.
Responsible authorities will be required to ensure that the relevant children have regularly reviewed pathway plans based on an assessment of their needs. The Department will be given powers through regulations to prescribe who is to be consulted about an assessment; how it is to be carried out; the recording of results and any other considerations to which trusts must have regard in carrying out the assessment.
Trusts will be required to safeguard and promote the welfare of relevant children by maintaining and accommodating young people, and providing such other support as may be prescribed by regulations.
The Department will also need to prescribe the meaning of "suitable accommodation". There is a concern about the word "regulation" - and I use that word lightly in this context - as regards the types of accommodation young care leavers can end up in. The Department will have to look closely at this when it is implementing the legislation. It will have to be realistic about what can be provided. However, the Department will have to pay due regard to the standards that must be applied to this type of accommodation because it would not fall within the category of children's homes or other dwellings that are currently regulated.
Article 34D will introduce the concept of former relevant children; those who qualified for support as relevant or eligible children and who are now aged 18 or over. I hope that my aide memoire explains the term fully because it has been criticised by legal authorities. In fairness, there was probably no other way of wording the term, but perhaps there could be other titles.
The responsible authority's continuing duties towards care leavers includes keeping in touch, re-establishing contact, continuing the appointment a personal adviser for each former relevant child and continuing to keep the pathway plan under regular review. Legalistically, it is a continuation of the role of good parenting.
Assistance in kind, or exceptionally, in cash will be provided for expenses associated with employment, education and training. That will be particularly important to the long-term future of those young people. In assisting young people with education and training, trusts will be required to disregard any interruption in their attendance on a course if resumed as soon as is reasonably possible. In addition, trusts will be required to provide vacation accommodation, or the funds to secure it, where necessary. Vacation accommodation is a very important area, and young care leavers are potentially disadvantaged when compared with their peers. Accommodation during term time in higher education is relatively straightforward, but there is potential for particular difficulties with accommodation in vacation periods.
The duties of relevant authorities will continue until the young person is 21, except when assistance with education and training is being provided. In that case, assistance will continue until the end of an agreed programme, even if it runs beyond the young person's twenty-first birthday. That is sensible. Throughout that time, trusts will be responsible for keeping in touch with the young people, and providing them with a pathway plan and a personal adviser.
Ms Ramsey: You mentioned the young person's adviser several times. The written submission from Barnardo's highlighted the issue of how that role would be resourced and how the adviser would be kept up to date with changes in housing and benefits legislation. How many young people will be affected? How many will slip through the net before the legislation is in place?
Will there be additional finance for this provision? The Committee's inquiry into children and young people touched on matters such as residential care, and the Committee is aware of the issue about finance to children's services in general.
I know that the explanatory and financial memorandum is not the be-all and end-all. However, paragraph 16: "While many respondents were attracted by the idea of a single system of financial support for 16-17 year old care leavers, others did not support such an approach."
Who is not happy with the approach, and why?
Mr Clarke: I cannot say who, but I can say why.
Ms Ramsey: Uniformity of approach across trusts in respect of finance was discussed briefly following Mr McConaghy's presentation. I agree with that, but has the Department taken on board the issue of the cost of living in different areas here? Many people will have questions about that, and we will return to it next week.
Barnardo's have pointed out - and I am hearing it from the public - that the benefits system in England for care leavers has not worked well. Barnardo's will be raising that as an issue. There is definitely a case for a single benefits system. Please explain the impact that the difficulties with the benefits system will have on young people leaving care.
Mr Clarke: Personal advisers will need to be thoroughly trained and be very familiar with the benefits and housing systems. It is a specialist role. Views differ as to who personal advisers should be; the legislation leaves it open. Some people may see it as being essentially part of a social worker's role, but I do not necessarily agree. The role could be filled by a person with the relevant training - someone with the ability to communicate and empathise with young people and who can provide them with the necessary support. That might take it outside the social work field.
Ms Ramsey mentioned wider considerations in children's services, and there may be an issue as regards the overall supply of trained social work staff. We will need to consider whether it is practical for social workers to take on every conceivable role as regards children.
Ms Ramsey: Young people asked First Key if they would get to choose their adviser: they do not get to choose their social worker.
Mr Clarke: The legislation will not provide for choice. Some young people have told me that they would prefer not to have their social worker. That is their view. Where it is possible to provide choice, it would be reasonable to do so, because we are asking someone to empathise with the young person and whom the young person can be comfortable with. There needs to be an element of choice, therefore, as to whether they want that role to be fulfilled by their social worker or not. It will depend on circumstances. Some young people will want that continuity but others will not. I have spoken to Voice of Young People in Care (VOYPIC) in the past, and some young people were adamant that they did not want their social worker as an adviser. The number of young people involved was mentioned. It is about 200 a year.
Ms Reynolds: The figure would be different if all eligible young people being prepared for independence were included. Some eligible children currently in foster care would not be included in the 'Promoting Independence' report figures. We would need to check that. The number would be greater.
Mr Clarke: There will be a build-up of young people under this legislation. It will immediately affect the 200 young people leaving care at that time. However, there will be an approximate doubling of the numbers in the second and third years as more young people come leave care.
You mentioned the comment in paragraph 16 of the explanatory and financial memorandum, which is really about removing benefits. We have not reached that clause yet, but it is about young care leavers - 16-and 17-year olds - and their entitlement to benefit. We are conscious of the divergence of views, and I know that many people commented on the issue.
The Department's intention is to improve the life chances of those young people and that financial support be co-ordinated through a single channel - that is the principle on which the Bill is based. The concern is that it will be perceived that the Department's intention - through the introduction of the young person's advisor and the new legislation - will be to view young care leavers as people who go on to the benefit system. Resources from the benefit system, which would be drawn into the Department under transfer arrangements, must be co-ordinated in a way that will assist young people in education and training designed to get them a job. I am not being critical of the benefit system. Those young people have particular needs, and resources need to be pooled to bring their future more into line with that of other young people.
Ms McWilliams: The Guardian Ad Litem Agency's submission provides an overview of how the Department might involve itself in a comprehensive children's strategy, and it comes to an interesting conclusion. It states that to implement the legislation will require detailed regulations, a significant increase in funding, an infrastructure that can deliver and a considerable commitment from well-trained and well-resourced staff. The submissions from the trusts state that leaving and aftercare service is very underfunded. How will the legislation work given that we do not have a comprehensive children's strategy in mind?
We have been told that £400,000 in the current budget has been committed for the implementation process yet this seems to be a completely different way forward for this age group and will command an enormous amount of resources. If we are to get this right we need to have a completely different type of worker. In the absence of a comprehensive strategy and an infrastructure that can deliver well-trained and well-resourced staff, how can this be implemented successfully? Mr Clarke was present when Down Lisburn Trust gave evidence to the Committee about things that went seriously wrong with a much younger group. Things have gone seriously wrong in the whole area of children leaving care, and the Committee is concerned about huge promises being made but not delivered.
Mr Clarke: I agree. Undoubtedly the legislation must be placed within a wider strategy. In England and Wales the leaving care arrangements are part of the 'Quality Protects' initiative. That links with residential care and fostering because we are saying that children should be prepared for leaving care and should not be just "thrown out". There are links between all of the services.
The resources allocated for the legislative requirements of child and family care this year amounted to £1·5 million. However, those resources are currently allocated to boards for the enhancement of family and childcare services. The Department has assumed that £500,000 of that money would go to this piece of legislation. The £500,000 would not be for residential care; it would be specifically for these legislative requirements.
The resources have been allocated in advance of the legislation and it will be recurring money. It will go towards laying the foundation for the resources that will be required. With a view to implementing the legislation, we have identified an inter-agency group involving the voluntary sector. It is in a preliminary stage at the moment, since the legislation has not been passed. We will have to map out existing provision and future costs. The current information suggests that £500,000 will be required in the first year with higher amounts thereafter, when more people will become eligible.
Ms McWilliams: Have costs for the next three years been calculated?
Mr Clarke: Yes, but only on the basis of assumptions. A great deal of work has to be done to assess the additional requirement. The assessment comprises the baseline provision together with that of statutory and voluntary groups - no separation has been made. We must be careful that the additionality provided by the Department in this area will not be offset by a reduction in funding in another area. The baseline is important.
Ms McWilliams: I am glad we have reached that issue. We must be certain that we shall not lose funding in other areas, which has been a criticism in the past.
Mr Clarke: That is what I fear also.
Ms McWilliams: The Committee, in scrutinising future budgets, would like to be able to see that the money set down for this legislation has been secured. If that is not done then it will leave the Committee in the position of trying to calculate baselines for one year and projections for the next.
Would Mr Clarke provide the Committee with some indication of costs over the next few years? We are about to carry out the comprehensive spending review, which is based on a three-year prediction. The Committee would like to be able to secure funding for this legislation and ensure that money is not sliced from another area.
One evaluation concerning community care makes some interesting suggestions about personal advisers. First, we are assuming that the personal adviser will have to be a trust employee because the trusts, in their submissions, stated that if trust resources are to be committed, the person would have to be a trust employee. Is that correct?
Mr Clarke: I am not sure whether the personal adviser would be a trust employee or if the job could be created through a fee attracting arrangement. There are a variety of options. Trusts might employ people on a contract basis. I am not saying that would be the case, but it is possible.
Several trusts have said that they envisage the arrangement as being solely part of the existing social work set up. The Department would not want it to be as narrow as that because of some of the issues we have been talking about. We may wish to create a more flexible situation. Trusts would be responsible for ensuring provision but it would also be for them to decide the most suitable method.
Ms McWilliams: Could they sub-contract the work?
Mr Clarke: My view, in advance of detail, is that flexible approaches could be used, bearing in mind that the responsibility would be on trusts to ensure that the provision is made.
Ms McWilliams: Social workers will say that this is another duty being added to an already overloaded agenda.
Mr Clarke: I agree. Some trusts have said that the personal adviser must be a social worker. However, knowing the pressures on social workers, I would have thought that the pragmatic point of view suggests that a range of options be considered. It should not necessarily be assumed that every function involving work with children is necessarily for social workers.
Ms McWilliams: Some submissions have outlined the type of skills that would be required and they suggest that skilled negotiators would be required - people ready to work with challenging behaviour. Some people will be working with young people from offending backgrounds.
This will be a very demanding job if it is to be carried out properly. Community care suggests that it may involve two workers. Thirty young people leaving care were interviewed and they suggested that the best proposal might be to have a combination of social services and a second support worker. Have you heard similar imaginative proposals? If this is to be successful there must be continuity. Young people are being passed from pillar to post. They come from many different backgrounds perhaps never having built up solid relationships. Social workers are telling us that they do have the time to provide such a relationship and that we may need to look at a different arrangement.
Mr Clarke: That is an issue. I spoke earlier about continuity and the importance of continuity of social workers for some young people.
The Chairperson: Clearly we are going to need more appropriately trained social workers.
Mr Clarke: I would not necessarily presume that. The danger in such a presumption is that that the job is seen purely as one for social workers.
The Chairperson: I am concerned about the possibility of contracting out the work.
Ms McWilliams: The current wording in the Bill suggests that a young person's adviser would be one person. The Committee may wish to consider an amendment to facilitate the possibility of more than one personal adviser for a child.
The Chairperson: I would like to bring in other Committee members. I am sorry Ms McWilliams, I know what you are saying is very important.
Ms McWilliams: Could I have a response to my question?
Ms Reynolds: One issue that arose during our inspections with young people is how many people are involved with them. Young people seem to resent that. They are asking for one person to look after their needs for an extended period of time.
The turnover of family and childcare social workers has created considerable problems because children not only have to deal with the changeover of placements but also the turnover of staff. There should be a specialist personal adviser who can be a focal point for the child and take care of all of the child's needs rather than introducing the child to an increasing range of people. We should limit the number of people who come into the child's life at this transitional stage.
Ms McWilliams: It has been suggested that there should be a combination of a social service employee working with a second support worker chosen by the young person. Currently there is a conflict because the word "appointed" is in the legislation, but we will return to that later.
Mr J Kelly: How many children would each personal adviser be responsible for? Will the new arrangements apply to young people previously looked after under an accommodation care order but who are in a juvenile justice setting under a juvenile justice order? In such circumstances clear mechanisms need to be established to ensure that trust assessors meet need and create pathway plans in appointing an adviser. How will that be arranged?
Will young disabled people, looked after within trust disability programmes, be eligible under the legislation? In some circumstances "leaving care" should focus less on making a move forward to independence and more on helping the young person make a smooth and successful transition to adult life.
Will disabled children, in receipt of respite care arrangements over an extended period, qualify under the new arrangements? Under the existing legislation, such children are regarded as being protected by social services.
Mr Clarke: The number of children each young person's adviser would look after would have to be calculated; it will depend on the level of involvement.
Mr J Kelly: You mentioned 200.
Mr Clarke: That is across the whole Province, and there are already leaving and aftercare teams involved. Realistically, I cannot quote you a figure on how many children will be looked after by each young person's adviser, especially as there is a range of options in the number of people that would be involved. We would have to ensure, through implementation, that there are enough advisers to provide the necessary support, and that will vary greatly from child to child.
Mr McGowan: It will also depend on the children because they would be involved in the choice. The trust will be able to draw from a pool of advisers. Each adviser will have a caseload, but we have not identified what that will be.
Mr Clarke: The qualification periods for the new arrangements will continue to operate for children being looked after by trusts under a care order. The timescale criteria will apply as long as the care order is in effect.
Mr J Kelly: Do children in juvenile justice care qualify?
Mr Clarke: The child must be looked after by a trust. Where a trust has a care order, that order will still run if a young person is in the juvenile justice system. The qualification relates to the care order.
The Chairperson: This is a general overview of the Bill. We will be going through the Bill in more detail.
Ms Ramsey: Mr Clarke said that the duty is on the trust to provide a personal adviser. The Bill states that no matter where the child goes the trust is required to provide the adviser. If the trust is in Derry and the child moves to Belfast, would the young person's adviser follow the child?
Mr Clarke: The child remains under the care of the trust responsible. That is part of the continuity.
Ms Ramsey: I understand that; but the Department must be careful about how many children are assigned to each adviser because they could be spread over many areas.
Mrs I Robinson: I am concerned about confusion, overlapping and duplication between the young person's adviser and the social worker. I do not understand how the duties will be separated to avoid confusion. It will take a lot of money to introduce this system and I am worried about how the Department will distinguish between the roles. Where will young people's advisers come from? Surely, they would have to be employed by trusts?
Mr Clarke: The trust will be responsible for providing young person's advisers. The important thing is to ensure that there is continuity for a young person before and after leaving care. That is a fundamental principle that everyone is agreed on.
Mrs I Robinson: Is the young person's adviser not really a social worker with added responsibilities?
Mr Clarke: For some young people the continuity could be established through their social worker. However, that may not work for other young people, as some want to break away from social workers. It will be the trust's responsibility to ensure continuity. The young person will have the choice to part from the social worker. However, the obvious person to act as a young person's adviser is the one who has been working with the child while he was in care. However, for a variety of reasons, that may not be practical.
Continuity is important and this will be emphasised by the fact that work on leaving care must start before the child leaves care. The legislation will provide for a pathway plan, among other things, to be started while the child is in care. The young person's adviser will be introduced before the young person leaves care.
Mr Berry: I would like more clarification about the young person's adviser. I understand that trusts will be responsible for appointing the young person's adviser. There seems to be some confusion. In its submission, Armagh and Dungannon Health and Social Services Trust stated:
"Clarity would be needed as to whether the young person's adviser would be a trust employee".
A trust is asking that question - not the Committee. It continues:
"It would not be possible for a non employee to commit trust resources."
That is a concern, because trusts will not appoint non-trust employees. If the young person's adviser is not a trust employee, a trust worker would also have to be involved, otherwise it would lead to possible duplication and confusion. I am worried that trusts are not fully aware of who will act as young person's advisers. Would you comment on that?
Mr Clarke: Trusts will be responsible for providing young person's advisers and will be responsible for providing the services. There is no question of the young person's adviser spending the trust's resources. It will be the responsibility of the trust to provide the young person's advisor and all the necessary resources. All of those decisions lie with the trusts.
Mr Berry: Why are the trusts asking who the advisors will be?
Mr Clarke: One thing we must be clear about is that this is the legislative framework; the implementation will be carried out by the trusts and the voluntary sector. We have been discussing who the young person's personal adviser would be. The legislation simply provides that trusts will be responsible for ensuring that there will be a young person's advisor.
The detailed arrangements that the trusts are getting into will have to be taken forward when the procedures are being implemented. The appropriate regulations and guidance have to be drawn up, and the implementation group will include representatives of the trust and the voluntary sector. The issues will become clearer as we progress towards implementation.
This Bill is a framework; the regulations and guidance will underpin it. Arguably, that is where the meat will be, and that will be the subject of consultation. The Committee will be interested to see the outcome.
Rev Robert Coulter: I am worried when I hear the word "assumption" at this stage. How many extra staff do you assume will be required, and will they be administrative staff?
Mr Clarke: We do not have an answer on the numbers of administrative staff that will be required. Leaving and aftercare services are already subject to statutory provision, and teams are already in each area due to existing legislative requirements. We are talking about enhancing and realigning that.
Rev Robert Coulter: How many extra staff do you assume will be required to implement the legislation?
Mr Clarke: I do not know whether we can make a precise assumption at this stage. Different areas will have to be looked at during the implementation stage, including whether the young person's adviser would be one person or whether support staff would be needed.
Rev Robert Coulter: We are dealing with a Health Service that is already underfunded, overburdened with administrators and strapped for cash in carrying out its remit. Nevertheless, we are looking at more legislation that will add more staff, and we are not being given a definitive statement about the extra burden that will put on the Health Service.
Mr Clarke: We are working on an assumption, and £1·5 million of extra resources will be provided this year towards legislative requirements arising out of the child and family care services. We are already putting in resources.
Rev Robert Coulter: And those resources will be ring-fenced.
Mr Clarke: That is a wider issue, and the Department's position on ring fencing is known. I cannot add anything to that.
Rev Robert Coulter: Clause 5 says:
"35D. - (1) Every authority shall establish a procedure for considering representations (including complaints) made to it".
Will that be standardised across the trusts?
Mr Clarke: We would wish to see that standardised across the trusts. This is largely a restatement of existing representations and complaints procedures. We did not touch on this one because there is already a general representation and complaints procedure for the services provided.
The Chairperson: Thank you. We will be looking at this important subject again.
MINUTES OF EVIDENCE
Tuesday 28 May 2002
Dr Hendron (Chairperson)
Mr Gallagher (Deputy Chairperson)
Rev Robert Coulter
Ms Nuala Ferris ) Barnardo's
Mr Brendan Nellis )
The Chairperson: The Committee welcomes Ms Nuala Ferris and Mr Brendan Nellis from Barnardo's. Thank you for providing documentation.
Mr Nellis: Ms Ferris and I have over 40 years' experience of working with young people in care and disadvantaged young people. It is important to emphasise that ours are practitioners' perspectives. We are standing in for our project officer and policy expert, who was on leave when the Committee invited Barnardo's to give evidence. Our presentation is based on our experience of young people in care.
I want to focus on the point that Sue Ramsey raised about the article, 34C(2), proposed in clause 2(3). The word "appoint" is not about choice; rather, it involves the allocation of work with a young person. Had the word "arrange" been used, as we wanted, it would have allowed the young person an element of choice as to the personal adviser they wanted. As Ms Coyle and Ms Keenan from First Key (NI) said, choice is important for young people, and our work with them is about working in partnership and allowing choice. Young people are experts on themselves. They should have a right to their say, especially on big decisions that affect their lives. They should have a right to choose with whom they need to work.
Today, we will look at those specific clauses in the documentation if the Committee wishes. We thought that the clauses were self-explanatory when we planned this. With Ms Ferris's support, I propose to go through the 10 points of our submission. Those 10 points are in the legislation, and we will try to elaborate on them from our practical experience.
Point 1 in our submission states that
"Access to benefits is a fundamental right for 16 and 17 year olds."
That means that all young people have a fundamental right to equal treatment. Many of our points parallel what First Key (NI) said, so I will not spend time on that, unless you want me to expand slightly.
The Chairperson: I am sorry to interrupt you, but we had problems getting a quorum earlier because other things are going on, such as an Assembly sitting. Five Committee members are present, which is a quorum, and one or two are under great pressure to get to other meetings. I apologise for asking you, but could you make your points in about six minutes? The Committee will otherwise be inquorate and will not be able to sit.
Mr Nellis: Our first point is about stigmatisation; labelling young people to be different. That would happen in the proposed system. We call it the free school meal syndrome. Young people who got free school meals were sometimes seen as different to those who had to pay for school meals.
In point 2, we note that
"If we remove the right of 16 and 17 year olds to benefits then we move them from reliance on an unlimited social security budget where once their basic entitlement has been proven they will receive an entitled amount to a Social Services budget that is limited."
Our point here is that because there is a crisis in the Health Service, resources are finite. There could be tremendous pressure to move resources to areas where need is perceived to be greater; to the primary-care system, for example. We know that that has already happened in some areas of community care, and we worry that it might happen here.
I hope that point 3 is almost self-explanatory. A right of appeal is very different from a complaints procedure. Barnardo's has a complaints procedure of which we are quite proud. It was formulated after cases such as that in Kincora, where young people did not find it easy to say that things were happening. Our complaints procedure is extremely transparent and open. It is very different from a right of appeal.
Point 4 argues for the retention of a basic right to social security for young people in this category, so that social services do not have to worry about basic income, thus freeing them to work as a corporate good parent and help young people financially with their limited resources.
Ms Ferris: Our experience is that 16- to 17-year-olds who have been in care live in absolute and abject poverty. They live on a subsistence income support allowance of £42.70 a week, from which they must pay for food, clothing, transport and leisure. Social services can currently give those young people any extra finance they need. For example, all young people living alone after leaving care at 16 or 17 must buy a TV licence, which costs over £109 a year. They are already living at subsistence level; they cannot even save for clothes. Please do not think that they can, for they cannot.
Social services act as any good parent would, by helping young people buy clothes and with expenses such as TV licences and insurance policies. If the young people have gathered up TVs or other equipment for their homes, and those things are stolen, they have no means of replacing them, since they are living at subsistence level.
In other words, social services can act as a good parent by giving the young people the extra money. If we move the entitlement to income support to social services, that will put pressure on them to provide the young people with a basic income for food, rent and so on, removing the extra allowances which they also need. Even if they want to socialise or travel, young people currently have very little money for it. The role of social services as a good parent giving money whenever needed is indispensable. That is one of the major points that we want to make concerning young people and poverty.
Mr Nellis: Point 5 concerns the question of passport benefits, which is a question that we shall leave with you. Who will pay and where will the money come from? Perhaps there is an answer, but we do not have it. We are highlighting a matter which is of great concern to us. If the passport benefit is income support, who pays for the free dental treatment and prescriptions for glasses?
In our experience, you must be on some type of income support to gain access to the social fund. For example, a young person going for an interview can apply to the fund. We always encourage them to try for a grant rather than a loan. If they cannot get a grant, they will get a loan, meaning they can buy a suit for the interview. That facility is to be taken from them, with the result that they will be attending the interview in trainers. That is only one issue regarding passport benefits. We worry about exclusion of these young people.
Point 6 concerns the experience in England and Wales; currently, many social-work departments find their funding inadequate. Like the witnesses from First Key, we worry about funding also.
Ms Ferris: Northern Ireland has received £0·5 million to implement the legislation, while the Scottish Executive were given £10 million for young people's education alone. In England, the quality protects programme brought in several hundreds of millions to back up the legislation. Despite that, colleagues in Barnardo's in England tell us that the funds are already insufficient.
Mr Nellis: On point 7, we argue that the legislation should be seen as an opportunity for young care leavers to get out of poverty. We worry about the discretion as to income levels for care leavers. In times of financial stress, we worry that the minimum subsistence will become the norm, not the exception. For example, if is promised that income support payments will not go below £42 a week, that amount will become the norm. Therefore, young people who need extra for whatever reason - every young person is unique and their situations will be slightly different - will find limited resources to help them. That is especially worrying in an atmosphere where there is much financial pressure and squeeze on social services and the Health Service.
That brings me to point 8. There, we are talking about ring-fencing the money. In England, they were able to ring-fence it for two years. We worry about what happens after two years, because other money that was not ring-fenced was moved to primary care. If the money is not ring-fenced, young people are definitely going to lose out in the long term.
Ms Ferris: Point 9 is about restriction. If we make social services responsible for paying out the income to young people, that will remove their current flexibility to assist young people as a good parent. We understand that the Bill makes some provision for helping young people in education, but in one of the clauses it uses the word "may"- social services "may" help them. It should be made a "duty" that they help them. Otherwise, on a stretched budget, it will not be made a priority for these young people.
Mr Nellis: I understand that your submission does not include point 10; I apologise for that. Point 10 should read:
"Managers and practitioners in Leaving and Aftercare Teams share the concern expressed by young people that the relationships between young people and their workers will be grievously undermined."
Social work is by its very nature a therapeutic process. We are working with young adolescents who have been through care and are coming out the other end at the age of 16. Our experience tells us that many manifestations come to fruition at that point. Young people are hurting from previous experiences. They start to work through that during adolescence. It is crucial that they have a firm working relationship with their social worker and other services to help them through that.
Exclusion from benefits changes their relationship with the social worker, who becomes more like a civil servant - there to deliver benefits and give income. One young person called him the 'bureau man'. That changes the focus of social work.
Ms Ferris: We are practitioners working with real adolescents in real relationships. We are always acting as a parent. You do not always get cosy partnerships with adolescent teenagers. They are sometimes conflictual, confrontational and difficult.
It is important that the social security system can at least offer independent access to income that is not dependent on a compulsory relationship with their social workers.
Mr Nellis: I want you to know about the young person's perspective. Their voice must be heard. This is work that we carried out with our young users, and their chairperson came up with this.
He said that he was against financial support, as young people would become dependent on the social worker for everything. He mentioned the changing relationship I mentioned, and the idea of a social worker becoming like a civil servant.
He said that a young person must be allowed to flap his or her wings, make mistakes, be brushed down and helped to move on. At one time in his young life when he moved out of care, he did not have money for electricity because he used it on other things. After that he always kept £5 for an electricity card, having learnt from his experience of living in a cold house with no lights. That is not to suggest that all young care leavers should ever have to do that. However, he is saying that if the legislation is based on requirements of the trusts and social services and personal advisers are appointed, it does not allow for that movement. That is a young person's perspective; it is not necessarily my own, although I endorse it.
We have talked about his next point, which is that aftercare should remain voluntary and not compulsory. He went away and came back after a couple of years for more support, then disappeared and came back again. There was no compulsory nature to his aftercare, and he thought that that faith was very supportive. He also said that money should not be mixed up with social support. Young people are forced to stay in the care system for longer whether they want to or not, and that ties up limited resources.
Rev Coulter: Thank you. Your presentation has answered my question.
Ms Ramsey: Point 7 states that the minimum income level set for care leavers is at the discretion of social services. Given that the level of funding for social services across all trusts is poor, does that mean that children served by the North and West Belfast Health and Social Services Trust could receive a lower income than children served by the Foyle Community Trust?
Mr Nellis: That is possible.
Ms Ramsey: In the information you sent us you said that the equality impact assessment failed to identify people under section 75 of the Northern Ireland Act 1998 such as those from ethnic minorities. In the memorandum that came with the Bill, the Department told us that they do not see any difficulties on the equality issue.
Mr Nellis: That depends on how you define equality. Our definition of equality is that all young people, regardless of whether they are homeless, from ethnic minorities or coming from care, should be treated equally. As Ms Keenan said, the detail of equality is about labelling and stigmatisation as well as resource implications.
The Chairperson: Thank you very much for your documentation and presentation.
MINUTES OF EVIDENCE
Tuesday 28 May 2002
Dr Hendron (Chairperson)
Mr Gallagher (Deputy Chairperson)
Rev Robert Coulter
Ms P Keenan )
Ms D Coyle ) First Key
The Chairperson: I welcome Ms Deirdre Coyle and Ms Paula Keenan from the First Key organisation, and I thank them for their helpful documentation. The Committee had a problem getting a quorum, and I apologise for the delay.
Ms Keenan: First Key is grateful for the opportunity to talk to the Committee about the Children (Leaving Care) Bill, as we are concerned about various issues.
You would be forgiven for thinking that First Key is an estate agent - it is not. It is the leaving care advisory service - a voluntary organisation that has worked in Northern Ireland for the past five years. It is totally independent of providers and focuses exclusively on care leavers. You may ask "Why does First Key focus exclusively on care leavers?" I do not want to bombard you with statistics, but one statistic that stayed with me relates to Fred and Rosemary West. You will remember all the stories in England about their reign of horror and terror there. Seven out of their 10 victims were care leavers, and that illustrates how vulnerable such young people are.
First Key is an advisory service. We do not provide direct services to care leavers. Instead, we work closely with care leavers. We train a pool of care leavers in research and evaluation skills, and those people then work alongside us as associates. We mostly work with the boards and trusts, and we advise them on how to develop their services. We provide training, evaluate aftercare services and help the boards and trusts to design their services. That is all based on thorough consultation with care leavers. First Key provides a central reference point for all leaving and aftercare services in Northern Ireland, and it is connected to all of them. One of our important roles is to get people talking to each other.
Over the last five years First Key has learnt that social services alone cannot hope to address or meet all the needs of care leavers, and they should not be expected to. There are needs in relation to housing, education, training, employment benefits, emotional support and community support. The responsible agencies must work together to be effective. That happens through children's-services planning at board level, but there is a big gap at regional level when looking at the whole of Northern Ireland. That is why First Key is engaged in developing a multi-agency aftercare regional consortium. The Department is supporting us, and all the key agencies have signed up to participate in the consortium. That is an important development.
First Key warmly and enthusiastically welcomes the Children (Leaving Care) Bill. It is very good draft legislation. Strengthening the duties of trusts, focusing on assessment and planning, and appointing advisers are very effective measures. They need to be effective because the situation of care leavers is pretty dire. Statistics show that 50% of care leavers in Northern Ireland leave care with no educational or vocational qualifications, compared to about 6% of their peers who are not in care. Some 50% have moved house at least once six months after leaving care, and 20% of young women leaving care are pregnant or have had a child within six months.
We have consulted widely on the proposals and on the draft legislation. We believe that many of the minor concerns raised with us during our consultations will be addressed in the Regulations and guidance, and we are confident in the Department's approach to compiling the Regulations and guidance.
We have two major concerns. Unsurprisingly, the first is that additional resources will be necessary if this legislation is to be effectively implemented - you cannot give boards and trusts more responsibilities without giving them more resources. The second involves the financial arrangements for 16- and 17-year-old care leavers, as outlined in clause 6 of the Bill. This idea, as I understand it, came from the English legislation and was designed to address an English problem. In England there are huge problems with 16- and 17-year-old care leavers disappearing out of the system and losing contact with social services. We do not have that problem in Northern Ireland to anywhere near the same extent; it simply does not happen here to that level. The problem here is that 16- and 17-year-olds leaving care have difficulty accessing benefits. That can be addressed by amending social security legislation - not, as is proposed in the Bill, by taking those young people out of the system. Social security legislation should be amended to give young care leavers of 16 and 17 years of age entitlement to income support. I believe that that is feasible and can be done.
The main messages are coming from the young people themselves. They are saying that they do not want to be stigmatised by being taken out of the system that everybody else belongs to. Also, the boards and trusts are saying that the way that they work with young people will be totally skewed if the legislation makes the boards and trusts responsible for deciding how much basic income support young care leavers should get. The danger is that these services in Northern Ireland are voluntary, with young people signing up to engage and get this support. The legislation would introduce a compulsory element if it were to say that young people's involvement in aftercare services is tied in to their basic living money and rent. Boards and trusts are alarmed at the possibility of that happening.
I do not want to take up too much of your time. You have a copy of our paper, which gives more detail about what we are proposing, and I now welcome the opportunity to address your specific concerns and any questions. If we cannot answer them today, I will supply you with a written answer as soon as possible.
Mr Hamilton: In your presentation you mentioned resources - in fact, you seemed to place a very heavy emphasis on that particular point. Bearing that in mind, do you consider that the money available is enough to make the Bill work? If not, what areas would need additional resources?
Ms Keenan: The money currently available for leaving and aftercare services throughout Northern Ireland is not enough. My basis for saying that is that we have visited every trust and board, and we have evaluated services. Boards and trusts, with the best will in the world, are not resourced to meet all the needs that exist. Some young people in Northern Ireland do not get any aftercare service. Therefore, the present money is already inadequate.
This Bill increases the duties on trusts. It is saying that trusts have to take a range of measures in relation to supporting young people, contacting young people and giving financial support for young people in further education. That increases their responsibilities and costs, and, therefore, I believe that extra resources need to be made available.
The Children (Leaving Care) Act in England has been operation since October last year, and additional resources, made available through the 'Quality Protects' initiative, accompanied it. I recently visited some projects in England, and those involved said that if it were not for the extra money from the 'Quality Protects' initiative, which we do not have as yet, they would not be able to manage.
Ms Ramsey: Thank you for your presentation and the papers that you sent to the Committee. The Committee received a copy of the responses that the Department of Health, Social Services and Public Safety received during the consultation period. Various issues were raised about the Bill. I take on board the fact that First Key broadly welcomes most aspects of the Bill; in my view the Bill has been a long time coming. Although some respondents welcome the employment of young persons' advisers, others are concerned that it might be too intrusive. If the young person lives in Derry when his or her adviser is appointed, does the adviser follow that young person if he or she decides to move to Belfast? That could create problems. I raised that concern with the Department last week. The Department is going to get back to the Committee on that.
You mentioned funding and the benefits based on the English model. I have heard reports that the benefit arrangements are not working in England. I understand where you are coming from, but can you point out where you see problems arising? As I understand it, and I may be wrong, rather than 16-and 17-year-olds applying for benefits from the Social Security Agency, they would apply for them from trusts.
You said that that was a key issue and that young people could be stigmatised. Please outline the process and explain why you see that as a problem. If young people apply to the trusts for benefits, surely they are the only people who will know. In case we have to change any part of the Bill, I would like to understand clearly why you feel that there is a problem. I am not suggesting that a problem does not exist.
Ms Keenan: The Bill states that personal advisers will be appointed for young people. First Key anticipates that those advisers will mostly be social services staff and aftercare workers. Young people already engage with aftercare workers, and the majority of young people are appreciative of the support that they get from those workers. I know of aftercare workers who call on young people at midnight to ask how they are feeling or to help them to move furniture. They do an enormous range of work.
The proposed legislation allows for a young person to choose somebody else to be his or her aftercare adviser. It may be a youth worker that they are close to, a teacher or a member of their extended family - [Interruption].
Ms Ramsey: Sorry to interrupt, but the presentation that the Committee received last week from the Department stated that the Bill would not provide for choice. That is recorded in the transcript of last week's meeting.
Ms Keenan: I am surprised about that.
Ms Coyle: Aftercare provision has to be based on partnership. As Ms Keenan pointed out, it is a voluntary service. These are young people that most need provision, and, if we make the arrangements compulsory and do not provide choice, the service will neither embrace young people nor meet their needs.
My understanding, based on my experience and practice in aftercare, is that choice is a key element in ensuring that young people engage with the workers who are there to support them. Under existing practice, I know of service providers that try to give young people that choice. There are constraints and limits, but the service providers try to accommodate choice as a means of staying in touch with the young people. The Bill states that we should take steps to stay in touch with young people. Therefore, to make the service work, we should make it as user friendly and flexible as possible.
Ms Keenan: Many concerns were raised during our consultation, and I doubt whether we have heard anything different from what the Committee has heard. The devil is in the detail, and many of those concerns can be addressed through the guidance and Regulations. Our agency will certainly be involved, as will Barnardo's and a range of other agencies. That is where the detailed work will be done. We will not necessarily adopt the English guidance and Regulations wholesale. We, and the Department, intend to ensure that they pertain to our situation in Northern Ireland.
At present, 16- and 17-year-olds are often unable to access benefits. They are very vulnerable. The majority of young people who enter care do so for their own protection because they have been abused or neglected. Often, when they reach the point of leaving care, a great many emotional issues start to surface. Those young people have not had the experience of being raised - as, I hope, our children have - in a loving family environment, and they have never had anyone there for them. They have experienced changes of staff, and different people have dipped in and out of their lives. Suddenly they find that they are 16. They want to leave care, and they never want to see a social worker again in their lives. They must, therefore, have some method of income support.
Care leavers have great difficulty in signing up for a training course and receiving the related benefits - something that you would expect ordinary 16- and 17-year-olds to do. They cannot necessarily cope with getting up at 9 am, and they may not have the discipline to turn up, do the work and deal with everything that it entails. At 16 they are coping with emotional turmoil and an enormous transition - with the consequence that they lose out on benefits. It is very difficult for them to work their way through the maze of benefits and ensure that they get the money that they need.
One solution is to say that they can get the money from social services, but I feel that that is using a sledgehammer to crack a nut. The easiest way to ensure that those young people get a basic income and are able to access housing benefit is to recognise them as extremely vulnerable and change the social security legislation accordingly. Their situation is dire, and we must grant them the same automatic entitlement to income support as applies for young single parents. That will work and be clear to everyone. We need not remove the young people from the system or burden the social services with an additional role that they were not set up to perform.
Mr Berry: Thank you for your presentation. In relation to your last point, should we not seek to improve young people's chances of employment instead of having them depend solely on benefits? Some form of employment might help them to get through their problems. Is that not the best way forward? Can you see a better way forward? It would mean that they would not simply be dependent on benefits. They have experienced difficult times, and they will continue to experience them, but the way forward might lie in training them to enter full-time employment so that they are not dependent on benefits for the rest of their lives. Given that they are 16, there are potentially a couple of years available for such training.
Ms Keenan: You are absolutely right; the best thing is for social services, working in partnership with the Training and Employment Agency (T&EA), to devise schemes to get those young people into the workforce. Social services are directing their efforts towards that. However, we must ensure that there is a safety net for those young people who need additional support. They might be 18 before they reach the point where they can cope, so we advocate a safety net. I do not want to see young people on benefits - nobody wants that - but let us have a benefits safety net available. Young people are currently falling through the net.
Our agency is committed to getting the Housing Executive, the T&EA, the education and library boards and the Social Security Agency round a table together, representing all of Northern Ireland and working to establish protocols and schemes to really support those young people.
Ms Coyle: I take your point about our expectation that young people leave care to be dependent on benefits. I strongly agree with you that other measures can be taken. There is earlier intervention in relation to the in-care experiences of those young people, and what can be done in respect of educational outcomes for young people at age 16. I know that educational audits of young people's experiences while in care are taking place. A forthcoming piece of research in England exclusively looks at that.
The years between 16 and 18 are almost like a transitional period. Young people in care seem to need an extended period of adolescence and young adulthood. Because their starting points are so disadvantaged, they need that extended time to work, ideally, towards employment. That will impact on the whole quality and standard of their lives and their expectations for themselves.
The Chairperson: Can you explain how the English system treats 16- to 17-year-olds differently?
Ms Keenan: It is not so much that the social services system is different but that society is different. There are differences between England and Northern Ireland. One aspect relating to vulnerable young people leaving care in England is the attraction of London. We do not have that to nearly the same extent. London is a Mecca for young people. They think that they all they have to do is leave their small towns and go to London, but when they get there they are swallowed up and lose contact with social services. Belfast does not have quite the same attraction as London as a Mecca for young people. Communities are also tighter in Northern Ireland, and people notice more.
Social services teams and trusts are smaller. Northern Ireland is the same size as one local authority in England. Social workers have smaller areas to deal with, which, coupled with closer relationships and tighter communities, means that the same problem does not arise here.
The Chairperson: Thank you very much for answering our questions. Thank you too for your presentation and helpful documentation.
MINUTES OF EVIDENCE
Wednesday 29 May 2002
Dr Hendron (Chairperson)
Mr Gallagher (Deputy Chairperson)
Rev Robert Coulter
Mr J Kelly
Ms T Caul ) Children's Law Centre
Mr L Mackle )
The Chairperson: We will now consider the Children (Leaving Care) Bill. The Committee's briefing paper contains submissions from the Children's Law Centre and the North and West Belfast Health and Social Services Trust. I welcome Mr Liam Mackle and Ms Tara Caul from the Children's Law Centre. Thank you for your documentation. I appreciate that this is an extensive topic and that the issues are important, but we would appreciate it if you could give us main headings rather than details. That will give my Colleagues time to ask questions.
Ms Caul: I thank the Committee for asking us to speak this afternoon. My colleague and I are from the Children's Law Centre in Belfast. I propose to briefly address some of the points in our main submission, which we have updated and provided for you today. Mr Mackle will then deal specifically with the proposal to exclude young people from the benefits system.
As you will be aware, the Children's Law Centre is an independent charity established in 1997. We provide training, information, research, advice and representation on children's law. We often advise young people who are looked after, and we thank you for the opportunity to speak to you about these matters.
I want to address our main submission. The first point that we made relates to the consultation process. In our submission to the Department, we said that there should be consultation with children and young people on the Bill. We remain of the view that young people should inform the decision-making process, perhaps particularly in relation to their proposed exclusion from the benefits system.
I will give people the opportunity to look at the document.
The Chairperson: Does anyone wish to comment at this point? It would be better if you finish your points, and then my Colleagues will comment.
Ms Caul: Everyone has the document?
The Chairperson: Yes, we have.
Ms Caul: We welcome the introduction of a duty to assess and meet needs, which obviously strengthens the position of care-leavers under the Children (Northern Ireland) Order 1995. We recommend that that new duty should apply to as many young people leaving care as possible, and that any discretionary element should be removed. There is no detail in the current Bill about eligibility criteria, and it is essential that consultees be given the opportunity to address the detail required for regulation at a later stage in this process. In particular, we recommend that the category of relevant children include children and young people who, when they reach the age of 16, are detained in hospital or in a juvenile justice or young offenders' centre.
We are concerned about the comment, on page 11 of the initial consultation document, that, under the new arrangements, existing spending on aftercare services and benefits would be drawn together and used by trusts to provide support and assistance. In our opinion, the issue of additional resources must be addressed as a matter of urgency before this Bill is enacted. In England, the introduction of similar legislation was supported by new funding from the children's social services special grant, which was set up by local authorities as part of the quality protects programme. In our view, for the proposals in this Bill to be effective, additional funds must be allocated to support its implementation.
My next point concerns emergency assistance. The trust must retain the power to help young people in an emergency or where there has been a breakdown in relations with a social worker. We recommend that it be a duty of trusts to prepare and review pathway plans for all young people leaving care, and that that duty last until the young person is 21, or 24 where the young person is continuing in education. We believe that the current Bill purports to do that.
The task of the young person's adviser appears exceptionally onerous. We therefore ask whether substantial and significant funding will be provided to introduce them. We also recommend that the adviser have an advocacy role on behalf of the young person and should contact an independent advocate or solicitor should matters in relation to pathway plans not be agreed.
The Bill should reflect the need for assessment and planning to be carried out in whatever manner is in the child's best interests, rather than being driven by financial considerations. We are keen to see regulations introduced to govern suitable accommodation for care-leavers. There must be detailed consultation about what constitutes suitable accommodation for a care-leaver. The Bill does not outline minimum standards for financial support, and the term "maintaining" must be defined more specifically.
We shall deal with the issue of exclusion from benefits after we have dealt with the point about education.
We believe that there should be a legal duty on trusts to assist with the costs associated with a young person's education until they are 24, and that the proposed new article 35B should be amended to use the word "shall" instead of "may".
My colleague Mr Mackle will address the issue of exclusion from benefits.
Mr Mackle: One of the Bill's professed aims is to streamline the whole system of financial payments to young people. Under the current system, young people leaving care may be able to claim income support in some circumstances and jobseeker's allowance in others - and, more often than not, allowances for training programmes that they undertake. We support the submission made by First Key that the current proposals are not the best way of streamlining the financial arrangements for children leaving care and that a far more satisfactory provision would be to amend schedule 1B to the Income Support (General) Regulations (Northern Ireland) 1987 and add "relevant 16- to 17-year-olds" as a group entitled to income support.
That would remove from the trusts the onerous responsibility of taking care of these people's financial considerations as well as their welfare. The social security system already has the technical capabilities to deal with this, but a whole new tier of administration would be created by transferring those responsibilities to trusts. The number of people in this group in Northern Ireland is small compared to that in England and Wales. In Northern Ireland, we may be dealing with fewer than 1,000 young people a year. It would not be cost-effective to transfer those responsibilities to the trust, so the Social Security Agency should undertake this work. Removing the financial considerations would leave the young persons' advisers free to concentrate on other aspects of the pathway plans, such as education, building independent living skills and building capacity for coping with adult life. We support First Key's proposals on the financial provisions made yesterday.
The Chairperson: Ms Caul, in your submission you recommend
"that the new duty to assess and meet needs should apply to all of the above young people and that any discretionary elements should be removed."
All of your points are important, but that one is particularly so. Following consultation on the Bill, did the Department take your views into account? If not, what are your concerns?
Ms Caul: It is important to say that, overall, we welcome the Bill. We have been involved in the consultation process with the Department, and our document reflects a position that has been updated since the drafting of the Bill, so certain points have been taken into consideration. This document details the matters that have not been changed. We have tried to indicate where the Department has taken on board issues that we raised.
Mr Berry: With regard to former relevant children and education, other submissions have argued that young people leaving care need at least as much ongoing care and support in, for example, education and training beyond the age of 18, as children in a stable family environment do. Given what your submission says about education, you may not think that the Bill delivers in this area. Will the Bill ensure that trusts provide the level of support needed for young people beyond the age of 18? Is that what you are referring in the section on education?
Ms Caul: Yes. In the section on education, we refer to a change to a proposed new clause in article 35B of the Children (Northern Ireland) Order 1995. We recommend that the word "may", which implies discretion, should be deleted and replaced with the word "shall" which would strengthen the duty.
Mrs Courtney: Exclusion from benefits is one of the key issues. The Department intends the Bill to bring together all of the resources available for children leaving care. It will be the duty of trusts, acting in place of the parent, to safeguard and promote the welfare of a relevant child by providing financial assistance, as well as giving advice and support. This is linked to the expectation that children leaving care move straight on to the benefit system. The aim should be to improve their chances through education and training systems and bring them into full employment, rather than have them rely on benefits. You support the proposal by Barnardos to delete clause 6 of the Bill and amend the Income Support (General) Regulations 1987 to entitle 16- and 17-year-old carers to claim income support. How would this improve the situation for young people? Surely it is better to keep them out of the benefit system?
Mr Mackle: This provision is supposed to ensure that 16- and 17-year-olds have some financial arrangement for their weekly maintenance. Neither the current system nor the proposals as they stand adequately achieve that. When training placements fail, entitlement to income support is essential. It is also important to cut away much of the current system, as, when such a situation arises, young people and their social workers have to fish through the social security system for something that will provide an income.
The current system places rigorous training demands on vulnerable young people such as care leavers while they are making that transition from care to independent living. When that falls apart the social security system is not there to pick up the pieces. The proposals for income support will provide a stable weekly income provided through the social security system, which will remove any questions about their entitlement to a weekly allowance rather than social security dependency. It is a weekly allowance at the age of 16 and 17 to get those young people through that transitional period. There seems to be no better proposal for dealing with that, and to place other considerations on top of those that already exist is not the best way to proceed.
Mrs Courtney: I agree with that.
Rev Robert Coulter: Many of your concerns are naturally to do with how the Bill will work in practice. Are you content with the Department's proposal for developing provisions in the Bill such as the use of regulations to define accommodation, the appointment of personal advisers and a complaints procedure? Can you give us some steer on what those definitions should be?
Ms Caul: We are happy with the regulations as long as there is consultation with the appropriate agencies to comment on, for example, the definition of suitable accommodation. In England, regulations are very detailed on eligibility criteria, accommodation, the role of personal advisers and the complaints procedure. We are particularly concerned about those areas, and we hope that there will be widespread consultation on them.
Mr Gallagher: You seem to be concerned about the role of trusts in emergency situations or protecting the duty of trusts to help out in an emergency. Do you remain concerned about how that has been handled in the Bill?
Ms Caul: Yes, particularly when a young person moves from one trust area to another and perhaps arrangements in that other area fall through very quickly. We would like an emergency provision in the Bill to deal with that and also to deal with financial support.
Mr Gallagher: Would you like a provision to deal with young people who are caught up in an emergency situation?
Ms Caul: Yes, perhaps when accommodation falls through and there is a need to move on, or when payments do not come through for housing benefit.
Mr Mackle: One worrying aspect of the Bill is the absence of a safety net for young people who fall out with their personal advisers or have bad experiences in care, and they become estranged from a trust or do not want to engage with it beyond the age of 16. They are excluded from the benefits system, and if they are not minded to approach the trust there is no support available for them. That is very worrying, and it defeats the whole purpose of the proposed aims of the Bill.
The Chairperson: Your documentation states that people going into care are entitled to a guardian ad litem and a solicitor, and it seems that young people moving out of care would also need that sort of legal advice.
Ms Caul: Part of the young person's adviser's role would be to tell young people that if there is a fundamental disagreement on the content of a pathway plan, they can approach a suitably qualified solicitor or someone to advocate on their behalf. I am thinking, for example, about additional moneys for an education placement that is not agreed by the trust or might cost more than a placement provided by the trust.
Rev Robert Coulter: What happens to a young person of 16 years of age who comes out of care and gets married? Are any provisions made for that instance?
Mr Mackle: There is nothing in the Bill to address that. There may be social security benefits available to a 16-year old in that situation, but the rules are complex. There may be some way of accessing the social security system, but the rates of benefit for married couples under 18 years of age are very low. The situation is unclear: it is not dealt with in the Bill.
Rev Robert Coulter: There does not seem to be any consideration of any kind for a 16-year old who leaves care to get married.
Mr Mackle: Involvement with a trust or any other form of support would end if that person were to marry someone over the age of 18.
The Chairperson: Thank you.
MINUTES OF EVIDENCE
Wednesday 29 May 2002
Dr Hendron (Chairperson)
Mr Gallagher (Deputy Chairperson)
Rev Robert Coulter
Mr J Kelly
Mr Noel Rooney ) North and West
Mr Tommy Boyle ) Belfast Health and
Mr John Growcott ) Social Services Trust
The Chairperson: I welcome Mr Noel Rooney, Mr Tommy Boyle and Mr John Growcott from the North and West Belfast Health and Social Services Trust. Thank you for your documents, which have been very helpful. Please go over the the main points so that my Colleagues will have time to ask questions.
Mr Rooney: I thank the Committee for the opportunity to speak about the Children (Leaving Care) Bill. Mr Boyle and Mr Growcott will say something about our response and will be able to answer questions in detail and I will make several key points about the issues we have raised in relation to the legislation.
We welcome the principles and direction suggested in the proposed legislation and the opportunity that it offers as regards those principles. There are around 380 children in care in our trust area; one of the highest number in any trust area in the Province. It is projected that approximately 10% of those children will leave the care system every year. In other words, around 38 children will leave the care system in our patch annually, and we must make provision for them.
Integrated planning needs, and how we cope with those 38 children leaving care given their life histories and emotional stability and their social and intellectual strengths, are reflected in the legislation. The availability of informal support, including contact with extended families, is a major issue for us.
Given the importance of training and education, our trust particularly welcomes the emphasis on an inclusive, comprehensive, planning pathway for the transition from care to independent living. That emphasis is underpinned in the Children (Leaving Care) Bill by an individualised needs-led assessment model, the promotion of training and educational themes, and the proposed role of the personal advisor.
We are concerned about the proposed financial arrangements and how they could negatively impact on the young person's relationship with the trust. We are especially concerned about the proposal to move income support from the Social Security Agency to the trusts, because that will impact on the independence of young people who leave care. We will talk about that in more detail. It also changes the relationship between the social worker and the young person.
The resources that will be required to implement the legislation must be considered. Young people who leave care require intensive, well-resourced, diverse and flexible provision. Research carried out in England suggests that children who leave care find themselves in difficult situations; they may become homeless or find themselves in prison. It is, therefore, important that the correct provision is put in place.
The participation and views of young people are central to ensuring responsible and effective service. An integrated, dynamic and robust collaboration between all agencies, including those that deal with education and housing, is important and will inform the strategic vision that addresses the role of the voluntary sector too. It will also provide an integrated model of service delivery, which is imperative.
Thirty eight children a year leave care in our trust area, which indicates how many young people do so in Northern Ireland each year. Moving a child from care to independent living is a cost-intensive process. Although it is a small number of children overall, it will cost the trusts a substantial amount to fulfil the requirements of the legislation. Therefore, adequate resources are essential.
The Committee will be aware of the problems encountered in the implementation of the Children (Northern Ireland) Order 1995 because adequate resources were not provided. The Committee was involved in the report 'Children Matter: A Review of Residential Child Care Services in Northern Ireland and in the inquiry into residential and secure accommodation, which both highlighted measures that should have been funded by the Order. We had serious problems as a consequence.
Mr Growcott: Mr Rooney referred to the planning process, which from the trust's perspective is one of the great strengths of the propsed legislation. It mandates a multi-agency inclusive approach that acknowledges the centrality of a young person's perspective and their role in planning for themselves. It is a dynamic process that will demand a response from the agencies involved by forcing them to recognise its needs-led dimension. It should be individualised, with a pathway plan developed with the young person.
The key theme that the staff group discovered through talking to young people is the sense of isolation, loneliness and vulnerability that is so typical in young people who leave the care system. The continuum of need is substantial. The trust has experience of exceptionally damaged young people who require intensive support and of young people who have successfully managed their lives and careers. The trust has several young people at university. We must, therefore, provide a service that straddles that continuum of need and is responsive to the circumstances of young people.
We wish to highlight the importance of appropriate accommodation provision and, as noted in the legislation, the significance of employment and education. Young people who are without family and who in many respects lack the social competencies and maturities that are expected of young people of their age must have accessible and responsive services available to them on their terms. Those services must respect their autonomy and their right to make decisions about their own lives and seek to provide for their needs through balanced and supportive parenting.
Mr Boyle: I will briefly concentrate on areas where the trust could have difficulties in implementing the proposed legislation.
One area, which I am sure has been commented on, is the transfer of moneys from social security to social services. That is a potential problem, not because of the administrative bureaucracy and difficulties that it would cause the trust, but from a young person's point of view. Young people are already stigmatised when leaving care and may be further stigmatised by their peer group. They will have different circumstances to other 16-and 17-year-olds who claim income support.
We understand why that provision is built into the legislation. Many young people leaving care drift away from the trust or social services, and having an income is a means of keeping them tracked on board; as a corporate parent, it is important to do that. There may be particular difficulties in relation to the income provision in the legislation and linking it with social services. It may also, as Mr Rooney said, cause further difficulties with the social worker/young person relationship. The legislation has a participative theme in that it aims to bring young people along. There is a paternalistic aspect to the income support provision.
Another point worth highlighting is the resource issue. Mr Growcott mentioned the differentiated group - those leaving care. In our trust area around 40 young people leave care every year, and one third of them come from children's homes. Their behaviour can be particularly difficult and demanding, and they may also be in conflict with the law. Some current provision comprises hostels such as Starting Points Hostel and Hostels provided by the Simon Community, which may not be able to meet those young people's demanding behaviour. We will need resources to negotiate with the Housing Executive and other housing providers to have a range of provision for those young people leaving care.
The Chairperson: The Bill will impose extra duties on trusts. How prepared is your trust to meet the needs of young people leaving care? The Homefirst Health and Social Services Trust is well on its way with pathway planning.
Mr Rooney: We support the concept of integrated care and pathway planning, which covers being in care, through the transition to independent living. We have an aftercare team currently operating in north and west Belfast, which is funded by some of the money that the trust received from the Children (Northern Ireland) Order 1995. That aftercare team will help us to facilitate the transition in legislation needed because of the porposed legislation. We are preparing for that.
Mr Growcott: We have a model of review that, in many respects, pre-empts the pathway plan. There is a review structure for each young person in our care, and we are developing a system to capture, regularly review and update the progress of young people who have left our care system. The Trust's leaving care team will play a key role in this process. We encourage young people and agencies that work with and represent young people to attend reviews. We want to develop advocacy arrangements for young people to ensure there is an independence element. Hopefully our practice shadows the proposals in the legislation, which capture best practice. We are striving to reach those standards.
Mr Berry: Thank you for your presentation. How will trusts determine when a young person is ready to leave care? Will that impact on your resources? Will the Bill pressurise trusts to move young people out of care before they are ready to make way for incoming young people?
Mr Growcott: The decision to move a young person on is one that must be paced on the basis of the young person's needs. The notion of volition - of a young person acceding to being involved intricately in the decision - is critical. Therefore it is inappropriate and over paternalistic for someone to decide that a young person's time in care had come to an end. It must be paced to meet and reflect a young person's needs. The review process is in situ and the pathways planning process seeks to reinforce that.
As Mr Boyle and Mr Rooney mentioned, there will be pressure on the current resources to provide appropriate facilities and on the development and expansion of a resource base to meet those commitments. As part of our ongoing residential strategy and the development of services in the trust we wish to address that matter as proactively as we can. As far as any coercive dimension is concerned, it is not our practice to impose a decision on a young person, which they were not party to.
Mrs Courtney: Your submission highlighted the resource implications of the Bill, and the Department of Health, Social Services and Public Safety has had to bring together the existing resources of the trust; the funds from the Department for Social Development, £500,000 to underpin implementation in the first year, with higher amounts in future years, and a further £1·2 million from the Executive programme funds over three years to establish leaving care and aftercare services. Is the money currently available enough to make the Bill work? If not, which areas need further resources?
Mr Rooney: The Committee will be well aware of the problems we have with the implementation of the Children (Northern Ireland) Order 1995. The Committee has been instrumental in bringing us resources to implement that Order over the past couple of years, and we are grateful. We have put several systems in place in the aftercare team; the leaving care team is a recent development based on some of the resources available.
It is the correct way to capture all the resources. Whether it be housing, social security, juvenile justice and social services; we must get together to ensure that young people do not "fall between the stools" when they leave care, which is a problem across the UK. They tend to fall between the different agencies once they reach 17-or 18-years-old. It is a good idea to fuse those resources, and we agree with the principles behind that. However, the difficulty for trusts is that we will develop, for example, different types of accommodation, and we will have to work with the Housing Executive in a different way. The Housing Executive already finds accommodation for older people and adults with mental health difficulties: now they will also have to find accommodation for young people who are leaving care. Resources will be needed to work closely with the Housing Executive.
Advocacy on behalf of young people, for example, will create substantial resource implications right across the trusts - and particularly in our patch because of the higher number of young people leaving care. We will need resources over and above the existing pockets that are available, and that has to be taken into consideration.
Mr Boyle: One resource issue would be around the young people leaving care who may have a learning disability or physical health disability. Although it would be a small number, it would be a huge draw on resources.
Rev Robert Coulter: You have stated that the provision will ensure that trusts do not lose contact with care leavers, but may promote overdependence and stigmatise them. Is that a realistic expectation? How do we reconcile these opposing outcomes?
Mr Rooney: It is a vital issue for us. On one hand we have a corporate parenting responsibility for the 380 children that I referred to, and we have to discharge that responsibility.
Under existing legislation, once children reach the age of 18 they are no longer our responsibility. They drift off to different places, and all of the evidence shows that there are significant problems. On the other hand there is the issue about how we keep in contact with those young people. The Bill proposes that if trusts were to be responsible for young people's benefits once they reached the age of 18, they would keep in contact with us. However, young people believe that they are entitled to the same independence as everyone else.
The Chairperson: I am sorry to interrupt you, Mr Rooney, but I am afraid that someone's mobile phone is on and it is interrupting the transmission. Would everyone please make sure that his or her mobile is switched off? Thank you.
Mr Rooney: The transfer of funding would ensure that contact was not lost between the Department of Health, Social Services and Public Safety and the young people. There may be a third way; after all, social security payments are the entitlement of all children, particularly those who leave care. There may be other ways of maintaining the relationship between social services and children after they leave care. For example, an aftercare fund could be established to enable us to provide funds.
Mr Growestt mentioned the example of three children in our care who have gone to university. As corporate parents, we provide support while they are at university. There is no reason why we cannot develop a fund to assist the development of young people who have reached the ages of 17 and 18. It will not necessarily mean that their social security income transfers to us as well. It should be possible to create special circumstances to maintain the relationship.
The Chairperson: Thank you very much, Gentlemen, for your interesting and informative presentation
MINUTES OF EVIDENCE
Wednesday 12 June 2002
Dr Hendron (Chairperson)
Mr Gallagher (Deputy Chairperson)
Rev Robert Coulter
Mr J Kelly
Mrs I Robinson
Mr J Clarke )
Mr D McGowan ) Departmental Officials
Ms M Reynolds )
The Chairperson: I welcome the officials, Mr John Clarke, Mr David McGowan and Ms Marion Reynolds. We must complete our consideration of the Bill by Wednesday 26 June and may need extra meetings. We shall begin with clause 1. Perhaps you will explain it, Mr Clarke.
Clause 1 (Further duties of authorities towards children whom they are looking after)
Mr Clarke: Clause 1 introduces the concept of an eligible child, one of the key terms used in the legislation. An eligible child is one who has been in care for a period and from an age prescribed by regulation. The consultation period indicated that the probable prescribed period was 13 weeks and the probable prescribed age 14. However, those are not mentioned in the legislation itself.
The Bill also provides, under 34A(4), for the Department to include or exclude groups through regulation. It places a duty on trusts to assess the needs of each eligible child to determine what advice, assistance and support the young person will need on leaving care. All eligible children are to have a pathway planned from their sixteenth birthday based on the assessment. A pathway plan is in a sense an extension of a care plan covering the transition to independent adult living.
The Chairperson: Do you intend to specify the required period by regulation? If not, should it not be in the Bill?
Mr Clarke: We intend to prescribe the period by regulation.
The Chairperson: Clause 1 inserts a new article, 34A, into the Children (Northern Ireland) Order 1995, and deals with preparations for their ceasing to be looked after. There are 10 paragraphs. Are members content with paragraph 1?
Ms McWilliams: You are asking us to move through each of the clauses today. Perhaps we might return to them after the officials have given their evidence.
The Committee Clerk: Mr Chairman, the officials have already been before the Committee about the Bill's general intent, along with witnesses. The intention today was to allow Members to consider each clause in turn to ensure that they are content with them and sign them off.
The Chairperson: That is the idea.
Ms McWilliams: That might be the easiest way to do it. Maybe we could go through them after the officials have given their evidence.
The Chairperson: The Committee Clerk and his colleagues will explain the content of each clause. A lot of the people we consulted were in agreement, but clause 6 is a problem, and we will come back to that.
The Committee Clerk: The Committee has an opportunity, today and next week, to consider the Bill clause by clause. We expect to have that completed by 26 June, when we will seek approval of the draft report. The benefit of having officials here as we move through the clauses is that they can answer questions. One of the reasons for scrutinising the Bill now is that the oral and written submissions received by the Committee largely supported it. However, some questions were raised about how it would be implemented and what guidance would be issued. One or two possible amendments have been put forward by witnesses, and they are tabbed. The prime concern was clause 6, 'Exclusion from benefits'. That was raised by two or three organisations. This opportunity enables members to ask officials about the consequences of, for instance, removing that clause.
The Chairperson: I had hoped that we would get through a few of the clauses today.
Ms McWilliams: That is fine. We will look at the uncontentious clauses and come back to the others.
The Chairperson: Clause 1 is to insert new article 34A after article 34 of the 1995 Children Order. There are 10 paragraphs in article 34A, and, if agreed, we will move through the clause fairly quickly.
Paragraph 1 says that the existing duty of an authority is to advise, assist and befriend a child in its care. Paragraphs 2 and 3 place additional duties on the authority and define an "eligible child" as a 16- or 17- year old who has been looked after for a prescribed period. Paragraph 4 enables the Department to make regulations to include or exclude particular groups from the definition of "eligible children", for example, children who normally live at home with their families. Paragraphs 5, 6 and 7 require an authority to assess the needs of each eligible child; to prepare pathway plans for each child; and to review those plans regularly. Any such review may be carried out at the same time as a review of the child's case under article 45 of the Children Order. Paragraphs 8 and 9 enable the Department to make regulations about needs assessments, and paragraph 10 requires an authority to arrange for a child to have a personal adviser.
Ms McWilliams: Was paragraph 10 contentious?
The Chairperson: Evidence has supported the intent of the clause.
Ms McWilliams: We will come to that later; that is fine.
Clause 1 agreed to.
Clause 2 (Additional functions of authorities in respect of certain children)
Mr Clarke: Clause 2 amends article 25 of the Children Order 1995. It introduces the concept of the "relevant child", which is a 16- or 17-year old who has left care. An "eligible child" is a child who has been in care and who fulfils the definition in the proposed article 34A. A relevant child has left care, but was an eligible child while in it. The clause introduces the concept of the "responsible authority" as being the last trust that looked after the young person while in care.
That trust would remain responsible for the young person wherever he or she moves to live. Some of the duties of the responsible authority towards a relevant child are stated generally in the clause. The authority must keep in touch with him, and, where contact is lost, the trust must continue to take reasonable steps to re-establish it. The intention is to prevent the child drifting away and losing contact with the trust's responsibility. The clause we dealt with mentioned arranging for a personal adviser, and the trust must appoint one for each relevant child.
Clause 1 says that the responsible trust must ensure that a relevant child has a regularly-reviewed pathway plan, based on an assessment of his needs. The Department, by means of regulations, may prescribe who is to be consulted in relation to an assessment, the way in which an assessment is carried out and the recording of the results and any other considerations to which the trust must have regard. Additionally, the responsible trust must safeguard and promote the welfare of a relevant child, supporting, maintaining and accommodating him and providing other such support as may be prescribed by the Department. Prescribing suitable accommodation by the Department is significant, because there is always concern about the accommodation in which young care-leavers find themselves. Again, those regulations are subject to consultation.
Mr Berry: Is it realistic for a trust to take steps to re-establish contact with a relevant child until it succeeds?
Mr Clarke: The trust has a duty to try. It is difficult for legislation to say "you shall maintain contact". It may be possible. The point is that an attempt must be demonstrated, and if the attempt fails, the trust will not have been failing in its duty. Life is like that.
Ms McWilliams: Much of the representation has concerned appointing as opposed to arranging. The Department must have seen that evidence. What is your view on the amendment?
Mr Clarke: The arrangement is the lead-up to appointment. An appointment is required.
Ms McWilliams: I assume you have seen the amendment suggested by Barnardo's. It proposes that, instead of appointing a personal adviser for each relevant child, a personal adviser should be arranged for him and a named worker appointed. Why is such an amendment not acceptable?
Mr Clarke: That means a named worker and a personal adviser.
The Chairperson: Barnardo's proposed amendment seems reasonable.
Ms McWilliams: The concern was that there would be no input into the role of the personal adviser and that some kind of partnership would be preferred.
Mr Clarke: It depends on the exact definition of the role of the personal adviser. There is a possibility of duplication. I have no problem with the suggestion that two people be involved with a child.
Ms McWilliams: One of the good practice pilot projects that I read about suggested that that policy is not ruled out.
Mr Clarke: No, it is not. Although it has yet to be implemented, the Bill will enhance provisions that already exist. In implementing the Bill, we must be careful to remember that leaving aftercare teams already operate. Barnardo's and others suggest that the fact that there is an identified person in the trusts responsible for leaving aftercare should be recognised. There is no great difficulty with that.
The Chairperson: Would it be helpful if you were to consider that as a possible amendment?
Mr Clarke: The only problem is that another person with a statutory responsibility would be created whose role we might have to define. The role of a young person's adviser will be defined in Regulations. I do not reject the proposed amendment. Groups and consultees would like to see it included, but we must consider it in a legislative sense.
The Chairperson: So, you are happy to look at that again.
Ms McWilliams: The need for a detailed estimate of costs and the implications for trusts have come up in every piece of legislation that we have looked at so far. Have you made an estimate?
Mr Clarke: We have more work to do on that. We mentioned it generally. We had set up a reserve of £1·5 million against legislative pressures, but, as part of the implementation, we will have to refine it.
Ms McWilliams: Is the £1·5 million set aside for all legislative pressures facing your division or just for this Bill?
Mr Clarke: No. This Bill will have resource implications for trusts. The proportion of the £1·5 million will have to be determined. As a rule of thumb in the lead-up to the introduction of the legislation and before the requirements kicked in, we estimated that £500,000 would be a reasonable amount to cover the legislative pressure. That sum would equate to about 15 personal advisers.
Ms McWilliams: So £500,000 has been set aside for 15 personal advisers. How many children leaving care need a personal adviser?
Mr Clarke: Approximately 200 young people leave care each year. These are enhancements to a system to support care for leavers that already exists.
Ms McWilliams: Will 15 children, out of the 200 leaving care, be selected to have personal advisers?
Mr Clarke: No. Each adviser will deal with several children. It will not just be those 15 extra people who will be dealing with the children. People already work with them in leaving and aftercare teams. The sum of £0.5 million would allow you to enhance the system with 15 extra people.
Ms McWilliams: This is the crunch: it all depends on the cap on the funding, and, given that a substantial sum needs to be found to do that adequately, a lot of children may be attached to one personal adviser.
Mr Clarke: I always imagined several children for each personal adviser. It would never be a one-to-one.
Ms McWilliams: Fair enough. Have you a target for how many children a personal advisor would have?
Mr Clarke: We have not set a target.
Ms McWilliams: Have you set a cap on the funding?
Mr Clarke: We have bid for funding. At this early stage we must make assumptions about what is reasonable. However, we have bid for £1·5 million to deal with legislative pressures in advance.
Ms McWilliams: Could we do with some money? You have £500,000, which you think will provide for 15 staff, and 200 children leave care each year: that is about 13 young people to each adviser. Am I right?
Ms Reynolds: That would only happen if the services currently provided to the children by leaving and aftercare social workers were stopped. A group of staff already provides aftercare support to these children. The 200 children would not, therefore, all require new personal advisers.
Mr Clarke: It is important to note that this is enhancing something already in place. We are not inventing leaving and aftercare services; these are amendments to those provisions that already exist. That is how we want to enhance the service prior to assessing what is needed in the longer term.
Ms McWilliams: That is excellent, but it will only work if it is well resourced. We will expect the personal advisers to make pathway plans, follow-up and maintain contact, and if we overload them, the spirit of the legislation may never be implemented.
Mr Clarke: There are several matters that we must be careful about. For example, who are the young person's advisers? Some young people do not want a social worker as their advisers, and there are issues to do with how that is implemented and how we use the resources. Apart from the financial resources, there is the pressure on social work staff. There is a suggestion in England and Wales that a young person's foster carer could become his adviser, giving a continuing relationship. Most children in care are looked after by foster carers. There is a variety of options.
The Chairperson: Article 34C subparagraph 11(b) requires the trust to continue to take steps to re-establish contact with a young person classified as a relevant child until it succeeds. Is that realistic? We are not going to get through article 34C today, but we can clear parts of the clause leading up to that. Subsection (1) of clause 2 amends article 25 to allow an authority to provide accommodation for a child who has left care, and its doing so, classifies the child as still being looked after.
Subsection (1) agreed.
Subsection (2) agreed.
The Chairperson: Subsection (3) inserts new articles, 34B, 34C and 34D. Article 34B has five paragraphs. Paragraph (1) provides for an authority to have the functions set out in the new Article 34C.
Paragraphs (1) to (5) of subsection (3) on article 34B agreed.
The Chairperson: We will have to return to the part of the clause that refers to article 34C. We can move on to article 34D, which deals with continuing functions in respect of former relevant children. It sets out the duties of the responsible authority towards former relevant children. It is a similar provision to those set out in article 34C and contains 10 paragraphs. Paragraphs (1), (2), (3) and (10) place similar responsibilities on authorities to those in article 34C, and paragraphs (4) and (5) require authorities to provide financial and general assistance with employment, education and training. Paragraph (6) provides for the duties to last until the person reaches the age of 21.
Paragraphs (1), (2), (3) (4), (5), (6) and (10) of subsection (3) on article 34C agreed.
Ms McWilliams: I am trying to follow this. Have we evidence that any of this is problematic?
The Chaiperson: No. Evidence from organisations including the Human Rights Commission supports the intent of the clause.
Ms McWilliams: Is it correct to say that concerns have been raised only about article 34C and that we can therefore proceed with clauses that do not cause any problems?
The Chairperson: That is correct. That is why we will return to article 34C at a later date.
The Committee Clerk: If article 34C has an impact on article 34D we will consider that before we agree clause 2.
The Chairperson: Paragraphs (7), (8) and (9) provide for assistance to last beyond the age of 21 where a programme of education or training is already under way and for any interruption to that programme to be disregarded where reasonably practicable.
Paragraphs (7), (8) and (9) of subsection (3) 0n clause 34D agreed.
The Chairperson: We will return to article 34C later. We cannot agree clause 2 until we have dealt with that.
Clause 3 (Personal advisers and pathway plans)
The Chairperson: Mr Clarke, can you explain what this clause is about?
Mr Clarke: You have rattled through this very quickly. I am still trying to read the detail of the clause.
The Chairperson: We will return to clause 2 next week to deal with article 34C.
Mr Clarke: The Department may, by regulations, set out details on the provision of personal advisers and pathway plans. Regulations may be made to allow other individuals aged between 16 and 21 to have a personal adviser in addition to those children and young people covered in clauses 1 and 2. Paragraph 2 provides for regulations on the functions of advisers appointed under the Bill. We will give guidance to deal with, among other things, how personal advises are to be selected and what to do should the relationship between a child and his adviser break down.
Article 34F deals with the content of pathway plans and provides for regulations to give more detail on what they are to cover and how they are to be reviewed. These are enabling powers.
The Chairperson: Evidence has been supportive of the clause's intent, although questions have been asked about the implementation of personal advisers and pathway plans. That is to be covered in the guidance.
Mr Clarke: It will be covered by regulations and guidance.
The Chairperson: Will those regulations be brought before the Committee?
Mr Clarke: I am told that they will. I accept that these are enabling provisions and that they are not saying a great deal. Their meat will be set out in regulations and guidance and it will be important for the Committee to look at them.
The Chairperson: Who will the advisers be responsible to?
Mr Clarke: The personal advisers will be the trusts' responsibility.
The Chairperson: The trusts that appoint them are responsible for the advisers?
Mr McGowan: The trusts will have a duty to appoint the personal advisers.
The Chairperson: I presume that they are paid posts?
Mr Clarke: Returning to what I said earlier, we want to give people a choice. Some could be foster carers, and they would have to be compensated for carrying out that function. I am trying not to get tied down to their all being more and more social worker posts. It is important for many reasons that they are not just viewed that way.
Mr Berry: Pathway plans should be flexible enough to respond to the often quickly changing circumstances of young people. How will they be involved in that?
Mr Clarke: Pathway plans should be agreed as far as possible with the young people, and there is provision for them to be reviewed regularly. I accept entirely the point. Everyone's life changes quickly, but for this age group changes are frequent, even changes of intent by the young people. They may not have such fixed notions as older people, so it is important to keep the plans under review.
Ms McWilliams: Will it just say that the plans will be kept under review? Is there a timescale for reviewing them?
Mr McGowan: They are to be reviewed at least every six months or earlier if requested.
Ms McWilliams: That will be in the guidance?
The Chairperson: And it will be in the regulations, which will come to the Committee.
Mr McGowan: There will be a review at least every six months, but it can be sooner if a personal adviser or young person requests it because of a change of circumstances.
Mr Clarke: It would be an imposition on a young person if the plans had to be reviewed every month, for example. That would be too frequent, but they will be kept under review.
Ms McWilliams: If many children are attached to one adviser, the adviser could have a backlog. The regulations say that they must carry out a review every six months. What happens if they do not do so?
Mr Clarke: They will be required to do a review every six months. We do not want to burden advisers and young people with constantly having meetings to review things that do not need to be reviewed. However, if a young person wants the plan reviewed in less than six months, that should be done.
The Chairperson: Clause 3 inserts the new articles 34E and 34F. Article 34E is on personal advisers and has two paragraphs that enable the Department to make regulations to allow individuals aged between 16 and 21 to have a personal adviser and to regulate their functions. Paragraphs 1 and 2 are agreed.
Article 34F describes the pathway plans. Paragraphs 1 and 2 define them and enable the Department to regulate what may be included in the plans and how they will be reviewed.
The Clerk: Barnardo's submitted a consequential amendment to clause 3. In article 34E, line 21, the word "appoint" is used. Barnardo's suggested that the word "arrange" would be better. The Committee should consider that change in the context of article 34C and the earlier proposed amendment, so rather than signing off the clause formally today, we should come back to it next week.
The Chairperson: That is agreed.
Clause 4 (Advice and assistance for certain children and young persons aged 16 or over)
Mr Clarke: Clause 4 restates and amends articles 35 and 36 of the Children (Northern Ireland) Order 1995. Paragraphs 1 to 3 restate the definition of a person qualifying for advice and assistance, which is contained in the Children Order. Where a young person who has left care qualifies for advice and assistance, paragraph 4 establishes a new duty on the trust that last looked after him to keep in touch with him as it sees fit. That will apply to children who leave care but do not qualify for the full package of support under the Bill. It could be called a "catch-all" for the other children, and it restates a large part of the provisions in the Children Order. It is technical to follow.
Mr McGowan: As Mr Clarke said, clause 4 essentially restates the existing provisions in Articles 35, 36 and 37 of the Children Order. However the clause places some new powers and duties on trusts in respect of qualifying persons in relation to education, employment and training and accommodation for higher and further education. So, although the clause is restating certain provisions in the Children Order, it goes beyond the existing provisions and provides additional powers and duties on the four new articles.
Mr Clarke: We must bear in mind that the new provisions relate to young people who must be eligible under the terms of the Bill and that the provisions in clause 4 relate to other young people.
Mr McGowan: It will provide for those who do not qualify because they do not meet the eligibility criteria -
Mr Clarke: They never were eligible.
Mr McGowan: It will also provide for those who were in care after the age of 16 for a short time but do not reach the qualifying period. In many ways it is a safety net for children who may not receive the full benefit of the previous articles.
Ms McWilliams: Did you get evidence on the exceptional circumstances referred to in article 35A, paragraph 5.
Mr McGowan: That provision is not new; it is provided for in the Children Order.
The Chairperson: Which parts are new, as opposed to the provisions in the Children Order?
Mr McGowan: Articles 35 to 35C are similar to current provision. The new provisions are spread throughout those articles.
Mr Clarke: The main point is the difference between the new legislation and the Children Order. What concerns people who qualify for advice and assistance are a repeat of the 1995 Order. That is not new. Responsibility for a young person on the part of the trust that last looked after him is.
Ms McWilliams: Is it presently the case that assistance can be given in cash where necessary?
Mr McGowan: In exceptional circumstances.
The Chairperson: What does exceptional circumstances mean?
Mr Clarke: The point about exceptional circumstances is that the Children Order did not intend them to be a substitute for support. In other words, there was not an ongoing maintenance arrangement. If a washing machine broke, for example, a young person could get money under exceptional circumstances to have it fixed. Trusts did not have a duty to support young people through regular cash payments. That might have raised questions about their responsibilities. The provision is in the Children Order, and that is why the words "exceptional circumstances" are used.
Ms McWilliams: I understand that, but sometimes "exceptional" becomes "normal", because it happens so often. Is it the case that, although it is in previous legislation, it is has turned out to be a frequent occurrence? The evidence that we have suggests that we might do well to drop that.
Mr McGowan: First, the reference to exceptional circumstances refers to the circumstances of an individual young person rather than the general policy.
Ms McWilliams: So it is infrequent?
Mr Clarke: "Exceptional circumstances" are clearly intended in legislation to indicate infrequency.
Ms McWilliams: But is that what happens?
Mr Clarke: It happens that the exceptional circumstance provisions in the Children Order are used and sometimes abused to make regular payments. However, that is not the intention of the legislation. If we did not make it clear that the circumstances were exceptional, we would be placing a duty on social services to provide support for everything. From that point of view, the purpose of the exceptional circumstance provision is to limit responsibility while assisting young people in exceptional circumstances. The words should mean exactly what they say.
Ms Reynolds: The phrase "exceptional circumstances" does not relate to regularity or frequency but to a young person's circumstances. The phrase has been carried through from the Children and Young Persons (Northern Ireland) Act 1950 and the Children and Young Persons (Northern Ireland) Act 1968 to the Health and Personal Social Services (Northern Ireland) Order 1972. It is intended to indicate that there is no automatic right to a cash payment. Social Services might want to help a child in kind, so that food is available or a bill paid. The provision allows social services to decide how best to support a child.
Ms McWilliams: I remember some overlap in the past with social security where exceptional circumstances turned out to be a regular occurrence. Exceptional needs payments were not exceptional.
Mr McGowan: Children getting exceptional circumstances payments will still be eligible for social security benefit. Under social security legislation, payments made under these provisions by trusts would be disregarded.
Ms McWilliams: Deducted?
Mr McGowan: No, they would not be deducted, because they were made in exceptional circumstances. One of the reasons for retaining "exceptional" is that social security could not deduct the money pound for pound. Any payments made are excluded from income or capital.
The Chairperson: I presume the advisers will have some influence on what constitutes exceptional circumstances?
Mr McGowan: I would have thought so, yes.
The Chairperson: Let us move on to Article 35(b), paragraphs 1 and 2, page 7, line 26. Line 30 is to be amended by replacing "may" with "shall". The word "may" is frequently used in legislation, but "shall" is stronger. It is proposed to replace "may" with "shall" in Article 35B, paragraphs (1) and (2).
Mr Clarke: Use of the word "may" could be seen as weakening the provision.
Mr McGowan: Children will qualify for help if they spend perhaps a week in care after age 16, so to place a duty on a trust for a child who has spent an exceptionally short period in care would be rather much.
Mr Clarke: Consider what the use of the word "shall" will mean. To say that the relevant authority shall give assistance to anyone does not create a great entitlement - it could mean giving £5, which is not what the suggested amendment presumably intends. It could still give the trust a discretion.
Ms McWilliams: I differ with you on that. I have negotiated many clauses. When the word "shall" is used, it is much less discretionary than the word "may", which leaves a provision up to the individual.
Mr Clarke: The intention behind the proposed amendment is clear. A person reading the provision in legislative terms would ask what it entitles someone to. This legislation is not only for individual young people, but for all young people.
Ms McWilliams: The word "may" could be substituted by the word "will", and the clause would then read "that the relevant authority will give assistance to any person who qualifies for advice and assistance."
Mr Clarke: The difference between "will" and "shall" would be up to the draftsman.
The Chairperson: Could clarification of the words "may" and "shall" be included in the legislative guidance?
Ms McWilliams: It is a very important legislative term.
Mr Clarke: The guidance will address that. However, if people are saying that the provision needs to be strengthened by the word "shall", including it in the guidance will not address that concern. Trusts would still be given discretion.
Ms McWilliams: If I were a child who qualified for assistance and came to you and the legislation provided that you may give me assistance, it would be entirely up to you whether you did so. However, if the legislation provides that you will give assistance, I will have some legal backing.
The Chairperson: That is an important point. Will you consider that?
Mr Clarke: I will. The intention is clear. By inserting the word "shall", there will still be discretion. I accept that the word "shall" will strengthen the provision, but it will not create an absolute entitlement to a particular level of support.
The Chairperson: We can come back to clause 4 on that point.
Ms McWilliams: Mr Clarke is not averse to accepting the word "will", and I take his point about the level of assistance.
Mr Clarke: It does strengthen it.
Ms McWilliams: It gives a ceiling to the level of assistance, but there is at least a basic level.
Mr Clarke: I do not want to argue strongly against it because I know why people are suggesting the amendment. If the word "shall" is used, there may be an element of needs-led legislation which would be running ahead of an assessment of need. That raises a question about how the assessment is conducted and the discretion that will creep in.
The Chairperson: We will come back to that, and you will investigate it for us.
Clause 5, which concerns complaints, seems to be straightforward. It aims to insert a new article, article 35D, into the Children (Northern Ireland) Order 1995. It requires authorities to establish arrangements for dealing with complaints about its services under articles 34B and 34D and article 35B(2). Paragraph(1) of the new article requires authorities to establish a procedure for hearing representations, including complaints made by young people, while paragraph(2) requires authorities to comply with departmental regulations. Evidence that has been submitted supported the intent of the clause. Do you have any comments to make, Mr Clarke?
Mr Clarke: No. Essentially those additions reflect provisions that are already in the Children Order, but the Bill needs guidance because there are issues regarding complaints about personal advisers, for example. That may make the Bill unique, but it is a restatement of a provision that already exists.
Ms McWilliams: The only concern was that there should be a common approach to the complaints procedures, and paragraph(2) gives the Department discretion to make regulations that require authorities to comply with any procedure for making complaints and representations.
Mr Clarke: The complaints procedures that already exist are Province-wide. Individual trusts and boards implement them while trying to ensure a common approach. They are legally separate, but in practice they are not, and I do not expect that to be so under the Bill. Issues about complaints about personal advisers must be addressed, and existing guidance may not cover that sufficiently.
Ms McWilliams: That raises concerns if the complaints procedure varies depending on where one lives.
Mr Clarke: No, I am saying that the four boards implement that procedure.
Ms McWilliams: I know; I heard that, but they are all different.
Mr Clarke: Although the structures are in place, boards and trusts are legally required to implement the procedures, because they are what we have in practice. They all reflect each other, and they come together. It is a pedantic distinction between the legal requirement and what actually happens.
The Chairperson: Clause 5(2) states:
"In considering representations under paragraph (1), an authority shall comply with regulations (if any) made by the Department for the purposes of this paragraph."
The words "if any" puzzle me.
Mr Clarke: That seems to give the Department some discretion. I have no doubt that we will be making regulations. I would have no problem with removing those words.
The Chairperson: The words seem a bit odd.
Ms McWilliams: OK; we should remove them.
Mr Clarke: The words "may make regulations" are usually used.
Mr McGowan: That paragraph is not about regulations per se; it states that an authority must comply by considering any representations that are made to it by a child.
The Chairperson: Do you suggest that we leave those words in the paragraph?
Ms McWilliams: No, because the parenthesis comes after the word "regulations".
Mr Clarke: If people wish to remove the words, I do not see any problem. I have no doubt that we will be making regulations - I cannot see how not making regulations is an option for the Department.
Clause 6 (Exclusion from benefits)
The Chairperson: Clause 6 has caused some acrimony. Perhaps, Mr Clarke, you could explain why it is in the Bill, because those with whom we have consulted have said that it should not be.
Mr Clarke: I was unsure whether we would get to clause 6, but I have written a short note on it  . The Department does not think that the Bill would collapse without clause 6, but the Committee should be mindful of those things when considering it. I do not want to push it any further.
The Chairperson: Various bodies are unanimous in asking why clause 6 exists or in saying that it should be removed, so if someone can explain why it should be there, the Committee might agree with it.
Mr Clarke: Even before we brought forward the Bill, voluntary organisations had seen the equivalent in England and Wales, so they raised the issue, and we have always been aware of it. First, we are talking about planning for a young care leaver's future, but do we want to plan for him to go into the benefit system before he has even left care? Is that our expectation for those young people? Secondly, all resources, existing and additional, would be deployed in a way which would assist a young person to progress to independent living. Deleting clause 6 may limit flexibility in how resources are deployed, for example, in arranging further education or training.
If this clause stands, we will have to get resources transferred from the Department for Social Development. If clause 6 is accepted, it is incumbent upon us to ensure that the resources deployed by the Department for Social Development are done so in a way that best meets the needs of young people. I apologise - this seems very trite, but we must look at the holistic needs of young people. There is a possibility that removing clause 6 would lead to a fragmented approach increasing the number of agencies and individuals involved with young people.
With regard to the extent that the needs of young care leavers can be fully addressed in the system, there have been suggestions that care leavers could be made a special case in social security legislation. Again, what does that say about our expectations for young care leavers? With regard to the practical aspects in the Bill, it is not necessarily disastrous, but the provision for the trust to provide a young person with suitable accommodation may be prejudiced by cutting off those funds. Those requirements in the Bill need to be examined carefully because we are placing a statutory requirement on people.
The Chairperson: Having listened to what you have said, there are points that I have not thought out. The information that you have given us has been very helpful, and the Committee will think about it.
Mr Clarke: I got the thrust of the argument, and I do not want to go overboard. I am trying to put to the Committee the arguments that would counter its removal. It is a fine judgement at some levels.
Mr Berry: I am concerned that some people might become dependent on benefits, which is the last thing that the Committee wants. The Committee wants those children to get into a more stable environment, with an education and a job. The children should be taken through a proper system gradually rather than being suddenly cut off from the system, and the Department should work in partnership with the agencies on that.
Mr Clarke: The Department is not taking anything away from them because they would not be entitled to anything.
Mr Berry: It is about the Department and the agencies working in partnership.
Mr Clarke: I can see why clause 6 is there, and also possible implications of it not being there. There are arguments for and against it.
Ms McWilliams: The Department's argument is that the children would still be in receipt of the same amount of benefit. However, evidence suggests that the Department would be putting a dependence on trusts that they may not wish to have. I am also concerned that there may be an increased level of stigma attached to the benefits - and there might already be. Not everyone understands what social security is and that it is a universal benefit. This is just a different way for the children to receive funds from their peers, and they will be immediately identified as having left care.
I have a third concern, which did not arise in evidence sessions. People on jobseeker's allowance can graduate to other forms of allowance. Therefore, if the young people have not been on that benefit they may be denied some types of training.
Mr McGowan: I need to check with the Social Security Agency about other allowances. We must remember that sanctions can be applied to young people on jobseeker's allowance who do not take up offers of training or employment. Their jobseeker's allowance could be reduced or extinguished if they do not take up offers of training or employment.
Ms McWilliams: It can work both ways.
Mr McGowan: If a young person did not take up an offer of training or employment, sanctions could be applied by the Social Security Agency. Young people are allowed a couple of refusals, but after that sanctions will be applied which might lead to a withdrawal of benefit.
Ms McWilliams: At present, the young people have some support and assistance. It is hoped that whoever is advising the young people, and taking care of their assistance in the care system, will make representations on their behalf. Have some young people had their benefits denied to them? Why move to this system? If it is the case that young people are denied benefits and then told by the trust that they may get a benefit because they were in care, then that is a good rationale for moving to this system.
Ms Reynolds: Most children at that age are dependent on their parents. Part of the rationale for the financial arrangements in the Bill is to give effect to the notion of corporate parenting. At present, children in the care of the trust, or who have just left that care, are moving around agencies and social security offices looking for housing and other benefit, and then going to the trust for exceptional help. The clause seeks to have those children comprehensively dealt with.
The Chairperson: It is taking a more parental approach.
Ms Reynolds: Yes. It is to underscore the parental duties of the trust. The trust cannot cast aside these children just because they are 16-, 17- or 18- years of age, because most children in their own family situations would be living with their parents or still dependent on them much later than that age.
The Chairperson: If trusts were totally responsible, the social security aspect would work alright. However, it is this parental responsibility.
Mr Clarke: We have pointed up arguments that we would use in favour of the clause. I know that trusts may view clause 6 in terms of a burden, but another way of saying this is that it places responsibility on them for every aspect of the young person's life. There are two competing arguments, but there is an element of distance between them.
Ms McWilliams: I am concerned about that. In the light of what you have said regarding young people's mobility - particularly when leaving care - dealing with such movement between different areas will entail a great deal of bureaucracy if they are to rely on one trust.
Ms Reynolds: One of the safeguards would be that, because the trust has to keep in touch and fund such children, fewer young care-leavers would be lost in the system. From the Fred West case in England we know that many care-leavers were killed without social services being aware of what had befallen them. Part of the legislation aims to develop a much more comprehensive and long-term strategy so that children do not fall between stools.
Ms McWilliams: I hope that happens with the pathway and the assistance. However, it sounds like the long arm of the state saying that it will keep a tag on someone dependent on it for his or her income.
Ms Reynolds: I hope I do not sound naïve but these children are very vulnerable young adults who need state assistance. It is not so that they become dependent on benefit or the state, but ensuring that, in moving them on to independence, they have the support and help to make it worthwhile and achieve quality of life.
The Chairperson: We shall not agree clause 6 today. Your comments have been very helpful, since they have shown us another point of view. There are two strong opposing opinions. My colleagues have read the documentation from the various bodies, and what you have said in addition has been very helpful. Since we shall not agree the clause today, perhaps my colleagues might re-examine the evidence, allowing us to return to the issue next week.
The Committee Clerk: I suggest we conclude consideration.
The Chairperson: Since the matters following are straightforward, we shall do so. Mr Clarke, Mr McGowan and Ms Reynolds, thank you very much. We shall see you again next week. We have made as much progress as we could, taking in all the points.
MINUTES OF EVIDENCE
Wednesday 19 June 2002
Dr Hendron (Chairperson)
Rev Robert Coulter
Mrs I Robinson
Ms M Reynolds )
Mr D McGowan ) Departmental Officials
Mr J Clarke )
The Chairperson: I welcome Mr John Clarke, Mr David McGowan and Ms Marion Reynolds to speak to us again regarding the Children (Leaving Care) Bill. I am sorry to have kept you waiting.
The contents of clause 1 were agreed on 12 June.
Clause 2 (Additional functions of authorities in respect of certain children)
The Chairperson: We agreed subsections 1 and 2. Subsection 3 introduces the new articles 34B, C and D. Articles 34B and 34D were agreed on 12 June, and article 34C remains to be agreed. We should appreciate your speaking on that, Mr Clarke.
Mr Clarke: The issue is whether the reference should be to appointing or arranging the appointment of a personal adviser. The word "arrange" is used in the new article 34A, which was inserted by clause 1. The reason is that 34A deals with the situation before a young person leaves care and is purely preparatory. To use "arrange" in new article 34C would mean that the young person could leave care before being provided with a personal adviser; the word "appoint" is more specific. Barnardo's is concerned about the word "appoint", which appears to imply a great deal of power for the trust to make an appointment.
Paragraph (13) of the new article 34C draws into the provision paragraphs (2) and (3) of article 26 of the Children (Northern Ireland) Order 1995, which make it clear that the decision to make an appointment would be made only in liaison with the child, its parents and various other parties. It would not be "appoint" in the dictatorial sense of the word. I can provide the Committee with copies of the articles.
The Chairperson: Perhaps it might be helpful if we asked the Clerk to read out what Barnardo's said.
The Committee Clerk: Barnardo's provided evidence on 28 May, and Sue Ramsey raised a point at the time. It said that the word "appoint" is not about choice; rather it involves the allocation of work regarding a young person. Had the word "arrange" been used, as it wanted, that would have allowed the young person an element of choice in their personal adviser.
Barnardo's goes on to say that choice is important for young people, and its work with them is about working in partnership and allowing choice. Young people are experts on themselves, and they should have a right to their say, especially on big decisions which affect their lives.
Barnardo's suggested arranging a personal adviser for each relevant child and appointing a named worker. Last week it was asked whether that adviser and named worker were the same person. There was some confusion as to whether it referred to different people. Barnardo's suggested that it could be two separate people, and that is why its proposed amendment was framed that way.
Mr Clarke: There are two points. My first was about "arrange". The element of choice is introduced, since, in making the appointment, paragraph (13) of the new article applies paragraphs (2) and (3) of article 26 of the Children (Northern Ireland) Order 1995. Those paragraphs make it clear that such an appointment would be made taking into account the wishes and feelings of the young person. That is how the element of choice is introduced. It is not simply an appointment with which the young person is stuck. The wishes and feelings of the young person and the views of various other people must be taken into account.
It is important to use the word "appoint"; if "arrange" had been used, nothing would be done. While young people are in care, that can be arranged, but from the date they leave care an appointment must be made.
Mrs I Robinson: It stresses that a personal adviser must be appointed when the child leaves care.
Mr Clarke: It refers to the contrast between the first two sections. The authorities must "appoint" someone for that stage.
Mrs I Robinson: It is a stronger word than "arrange".
The Chairperson: Do you have any more points on 34C, Mr Clarke?
Mr Clarke: We have touched on the subject of the named worker. One individual should have the lead role in co-ordinating services for the young person. The function of the personal adviser will be prescribed under the new article 34E(2), which would be inserted into the Children (Northern Ireland) Order 1995 by clause 3 of the Children (Leaving Care) Bill. We have not prescribed anything yet, but we envisage that the functions will include advice, support, participation in the needs assessment and the preparation of the pathway plan, co-ordination of the provision of services and taking steps to ensure that the young person avails of such services.
I have had discussions with Barnardo's, as I was uncertain of its intention. There may be a problem with inserting the phrase "a named worker", since the functions of that named worker would have to be prescribed. That could mean some legislative untidiness. Barnardo's was concerned that the young person's adviser might be a foster carer without the necessary clout to obtain the services. We must create some flexibility as to who can be a personal adviser. He or she must have the necessary authority, power and status, and that has to be made clear by the regulatory powers. The insertion at every juncture that each child must have a personal adviser and a named worker would not make the legislation any clearer.
The Chairperson: We accept your point, Mr Clarke. I shall go through each paragraph of article 34C. We have agreed most of clause 2.
Paragraph 34C(1) states that
"An authority shall take reasonable steps to keep in touch with a relevant child for whom it is the responsible authority, whether he is within the authority's area or not."
Mrs I Robinson: Mr Chairperson, what are we following here?
The Committee Clerk: We are on page three of the Children (Leaving Care) Bill. The Chairperson is taking the Committee through each paragraph in article 34C to ensure that members are content with the provisions. Paragraph (2) is relevant, since it contains the phrase "shall appoint a personal adviser for each relevant child".
The Chairperson: I refer to paragraphs (2), (3), (4) and (7), as well as paragraphs (5) and (6) enabling the Department to make regulations on assessment. Paragraphs (8) and (9) impose a duty on the authority to safeguard and promote the welfare of the relevant child. Paragraph (10) enables the Department to make regulations about the meaning of "suitable accommodation" and the suitability of landlords. Paragraph (11) places a duty on the responsible authorities to take reasonable steps to keep in touch with the relevant child. Paragraph (12) applies article 18 to assistance that may be given under article 34C. Paragraph (13) ensures that an authority must have regard to the wishes and feelings of the child and others who are relevant.
Clause 2 agreed to.
The Committee was content with clause 3, which deals with personal advisers and pathway plans. It was agreed that it might need a consequential amendment following any action to amend article 34C introduced by clause 2. We are not amending that, for we have already agreed the clause.
Clause 4 (Advice and assistance for certain children and young persons aged 16 or over)
Clause 4 restates existing articles 35 and 36 of the Children (Northern Ireland) Order 1995 and divides them into four (articles 35, 35A, 35B and 35C) to make them simpler to follow. They have also been amended to take account of the new concept of the responsible authority.
The Committee Clerk: That was another clause for which amendments were suggested. Perhaps members might turn to clause 4 under article 35A "Advice and assistance" on page 7 of the Bill. Paragraph (5) at line 20 states that
"The assistance may be in kind or, in exceptional circumstances, in cash."
Barnardo's proposed that "in exceptional circumstances" should be left out. The Department commented on that last week, something referred to on page 6 of the clause-by-clause briefing note.
The suggested amendment to article 35B was to be made to the first lines of paragraphs (1) and (2) where the word "may" is used. The Children's Law Centre suggested that "may" be replaced by "shall" to make it more prescriptive.
The Chairperson: Mr Clarke, would you like to comment on the proposed amendment to article 35A(5) to take out "in exceptional circumstances"?
Mr Clarke: We touched on the matter last week. Our view is that the legislation should not be used as a basis for making routine payments to young people. The presumption is that any such assistance would be provided where necessary to protect the young person's welfare and could not be made available by any other agency. The intention is not to use the provision for anything other than exceptional circumstances. To do otherwise would broaden its scope enormously and have an impact on other agencies which would be required to contribute to the young person's welfare.
The Chairperson: The second amendment is to line 26 to line 30 in paragraphs (1) and (2) of article 35B on page 7, where it has been suggested that the word "may" should be replaced by "shall". Do you have any comment on that, Mr Clarke?
Mr Clarke: We have avoided placing a direct duty to assist, which would mean any care-leaver who had been in care for any period after reaching the age of 16. If the amendment to replace "may" with "shall" was inserted, it would mean that the provision would also apply to a young person who had only been in care for one day. There would be no qualifying period. It would be more open in comparison to the earlier provisions, which were concerned with eligibility standards. To insert those words would imply that there was no standard qualifying period whatsoever.
The Chairperson: Paragraphs (1), (2) and (3) in article 35, which is introduced by clause 4, restate the definition of "a person qualifying for advice and assistance" which is found in the Children (Northern Ireland) Order 1995.
Paragraphs (4), (5) and (6) provide for an authority to have a duty to keep in touch with a young person, defines which authority is to be responsible for providing services and prescribes the meaning of terms used in paragraph (5).
Article 35A has six paragraphs. It restates, with amendments, the powers and duties of authorities in respect to qualifying persons. Paragraphs (1) to (3) place a duty on the relevant authority to consider whether a qualifying person needs its assistance. The authority is required to advise and befriend a young person. Paragraph (4) provides that an authority may also give assistance to a young person. Paragraph (5) provides that assistance may be in kind or, in exceptional circumstances, in cash. Paragraph (6) applies article 18 of the Children (Northern Ireland) Order 1995 to any assistance given under articles 35A or 35B.
Article 35B has six paragraphs. It restates and amends the powers to provide assistance with employment, education and training currently found in article 36 of the Children (Northern Ireland) Order 1995. Paragraph (1) provides for an authority to give assistance to a person under 21. Paragraphs (2) and (3) provide that an authority may give assistance to a person under the age of 24. Paragraphs (4) and (5) enable an authority to disregard any interruption in a young person's attendance on a course and require the authority to provide suitable vacation accommodation. Paragraph (6) gives the Department a regulation-making power.
Article 35C has two paragraphs and provides for the necessary communication and liaison between authorities. Paragraphs (1) and (2) extend the existing notification obligations under article 37 of the Children (Northern Ireland) Order 1995 and restate the provisions in the article.
Clause 4 agreed to.
Clause 5 (Representations)
The Committee considered and was content with clause 5, as amended. The Committee recommends that the clause be amended as follows: in clause 5, page 8, line 38, the words "if any" should be omitted. That was agreed at the last meeting.
Clause 6 (Exclusion from benefits)
We were given a helpful briefing paper on clause 6. Mr Clarke gave an explanation on clause 6 last week. Colleagues should study the briefing paper from the Department or perhaps John Clarke may like to speak on it. It deals with the transfer of allowances from the Department for Social Development to the Department of Health, Social Services and Public Safety.
The Clerk: On page 8 of the clause-by-clause briefing note to members there is a short summary of the concerns raised by Barnardo's, the Children's Law Centre and First Key about clause 6. Those three organisations have asked for clause 6 to be removed, and several other bodies, such as trusts, have voiced concern about its operation in practice.
Ms McWilliams: Having read the briefing paper and having consulted all the groups, I am still in favour of deleting clause 6. There is much concern about removing the entitlement to benefits. The groups are concerned that, given what we have heard about the limited resources for children in care, there may be no additional funding packages. What they have at present is at least legislated for and available. They argue that clause 6 is a step backwards. Entitlement to benefits for 17-year-olds is a matter for the Department for Social Development. If it were ever returned, the change would be made throughout the United Kingdom. I asked the groups whether they were still unhappy about the clause, given that young people are not entitled to as many benefits as they once were. They said that they still preferred to retain what they had.
The Chairperson: I respect Monica McWilliams's expertise. I read this part of the Bill carefully; I read the document, and I listened to what was said last week. The idea of a trust acting as a family for a young person is very important. The last few lines of the synopsis of arguments against dropping clause 6 state:
"There may be concern about whether all resources transferred would be deployed appropriately by Trusts, but it is suggested that that is a different matter than a right to claim benefits."
It may be a different matter, but I am concerned about it. The fact that trusts use funding for different reasons has been mentioned at other meetings. Funding would be transferred to enable a trust to act as a parental guide to lead young people along the pathway to independence. Would the funding be ring-fenced beyond all doubt? If not, I would have more sympathy with Monica's view.
Mr Clarke: You will appreciate my difficulty in answering questions on ring-fencing money, Mr Chairperson, because it is such a big issue.
The Chairperson: This is such an important matter.
Mr Clarke: The issue would not be entitlement to benefits, but entitlement to the benefit of the money transferred. What is important is that young people do not lose out. The money must benefit the people to whom it is transferred. I understand that concern.
The Chairperson: If a guarantee cannot be given that that money will be ring-fenced, I am totally sympathetic to Monica McWilliams's view.
Ms McWilliams: The Assembly has just passed legislation dealing with protecting the rights of elderly people in residential care, although this may not be Mr Clarke's field. The legislation moved the responsibility from the Department for Social Development to the Department of Health, Social Services and Public Safety so that the rights of elderly people in care would be protected. The money was transferred in the first year along with the responsibility. I asked the Minister what would happen in years to come, and she said that the Department would have to find it from its own resources. We are dealing with the same issue in this legislation.
Mr Clarke: I am very conscious of the issue. I have many concerns about securing provision in a wider sense, including provision by voluntary organisations. There is a danger that bringing in money from one source simply reduces the money available to other organisations. It is important to secure the territory. I agree that there is a risk with transferred money, and it would be wrong of me to say otherwise.
The Chairperson: I appreciate your forthrightness. However, these children must be protected by law, which is what the Committee is trying to do. I am sympathetic to the points made in this document, but the last four lines drew my attention to the problem. A legal guarantee must be given.
Mr Clarke: There are ring-fenced arrangements in England, although I cannot say how well they work. However, they are part of a ring-fenced budget.
Ms McWilliams: Was that budget not substantially higher? These groups say that when the legislation was passed in England substantial funding was set aside for the transition, and that may be why there was no public outcry.
Mr Clarke: Funding was set aside.
Mr McGowan: The money that was ring-fenced in England was not just additional money: it was already in the local authority system. The ring-fenced budget consists of existing money and additional money that was secured.
Mr Clarke: Mr McGowan has explained the matter better than I. Money must be ring-fenced and secured, but if care is not taken it could quickly displace other money. Ring-fencing tends to broaden out. In fairness, that is part of the general attitude to ring-fencing, which people already know about.
Ms McWilliams: If there were additional funds to be ring-fenced that would be slightly different from ring-fencing money because the Department may find itself having to take the money from elsewhere to do that.
Mr Clarke: The Department is wary of ring-fencing one pot and leaving other funds without ring-fencing. We may say that we have ring-fenced one set of funds, but that does not mean that the money has not disappeared from somewhere else.
The Chairperson: The money from the Department for Social Development and from social security is secure. Therefore that money is ring-fenced - if that is the appropriate word. Will these young people be guaranteed this money when it is transferred? I understand your point about ring-fencing and money being diverted from other areas. However, if the Committee were to accept clause 6, how would it be sure that, by law, those young people would get the appropriate funds?
Mr Clarke: Ideally, the Department would like the legislation to stipulate that young people leaving care would not be any worse off than their peers by the transfer of resources. However, legislatively, that is incredibly difficult. The money would have to be secured in another way - by ring-fencing. It is not a purely legislative matter; ring-fencing cannot be legislated.
Ms McWilliams: You have affirmed the Committee's view. Unless any Committee member disagrees, I propose that clause 6 be deleted. If other Committee members wish to speak in favour of retaining it they should do so rather than continue the argument in favour of deleting it.
The Chairperson: These points raise concerns; had it not been for them I would have been in favour of retaining clause 6. The thrust of the Bill is that a trust acts as a parent and helps the young person along the path to independence. However, if financial support cannot be guaranteed, then it is flawed.
Mr Clarke: There are arguments on both sides. I understand that the Committee wants an assurance on money that is transferred under clause 6. Rather than drop clause 6, would the Committee be satisfied if that assurance were given?
Ms Ramsey: The Committee is concerned that young people will be stigmatised because they have to go through the trusts and do things differently. Despite the Department's assurances, I am concerned that even though some boards and trusts have more money than others they could be given more. This is major concern for the Committee, and it seeks assurances from the Department.
Ms McWilliams: I am grateful for Mr Clarke's response. However, having seen the budget, I am not sure that the Department can give that assurance.
Mr Clarke: I cannot give you that assurance, unfortunately.
Ms McWilliams: Even if the Department said that it would try to protect the money, the Committee remains concerned about the long-term implementation. Even proposals that the first year's money would be protected cannot be guaranteed. In the absence of a guarantee we cannot be certain that funding would be found. We would be doing harm, and my principle on legislation has always been: do no harm.
The Chairperson: Ms McWilliams has proposed that we do not accept clause 6, and Mrs Robinson has seconded it. If the Committee opposed clause 6, the Minister, or any future Minister who so wished, could revisit it with a completely different attitude. It is not set in stone. The Committee therefore opposes this clause.
Question proposed: That the Committee recommend to the Assembly that the clause be amended as follows: In page 9, delete all from line 1 to line 21 - [The Chairperson.]
Question put and agreed to.
Clause 7 (Minor and consequential amendments and repeals)
The Chairperson: Clause 7 has six subsections that make consequential amendments to the Children (Northern Ireland) Order 1995.
The Committee Clerk: Clause 7 identifies minor and consequential amendments and repeals; no comments have been made against it.
Clause 7 agreed to
Clause 8 (Interpretation)
The Chairperson: Clause 8 defines the term "the Children (Northern Ireland) Order 1995", and no comments have been made against it.
Clause 8 agreed to.
Clause 9 (Short title and commencement)
The Chairperson: Clause 9 has four subsections that set out the title of the Bill; it gives the Department the power to make a Commencement Order to bring clauses 1 to 5 and clause 7 of the Bill into operation. No comments have been made against the clause.
Clause 9 agreed to.
The Chairperson: That finishes this part of our scrutiny.
Mr Clarke: There would be a consequential amendment. In clause 9 dealing with the short title and commencement it says:
"Section 6 shall come into operation on such day as the Department for Social Development may by order appoint."
That would fall if clause 6 were deleted.
The Chairperson: That is a fair point. Thank you very much.
List of Written Submissions
1. Armagh and Dungannon HSS Trust
3. Causeway HSS Trust
4. Children's Law Centre
5. Craigavon and Banbridge Community HSS Trust
6. Department of Education
7. Down & Lisburn HSS Trust
8. Eastern Health & Social Services Board
9. Family Bar Association
10. First Key
11. Green Park Health Care Trust
12. Guardian Ad Litem Agency
13. Homefirst Trust
14. Housings Rights Service
15. Newry & Mourne HSS Trust
16. Nexus Institute
18. North & West Belfast HSS Trust
19. North Eastern Education & Library Board
20. Northern Health & Social Services Board
21. Northern Ireland Assembly Education Committee
22. Northern Ireland Assembly Social Development Committee
23. Probation Board of Northern Ireland
24. South & East Belfast HSS Trust
25. Southern Health & Social Services Board
27. Ulster Community & Hospital Trust
28. Western Health and Social Services Board
Explanatory Memorandum (clause 6)
The Department of Health, Social Services and Public Safety
WRITTEN SUBMISSION BY
18 October 2001
New and enhanced duties must bring new money to Trusts. Historically and currently the Leaving and Aftercare service is very under funded. There must be significant additional resources to make the proposed changes meaningful. Otherwise improvement will not be possible.
Agree that the Trust who last looked after the young person should have responsibility.
Clarity would be needed as to what length Trusts need to go to "keep in touch" with Care Leavers. Some Care Leavers do not wish to be kept in touch with.
Need clarity as to whether the young person's advisor would be a Trust employee, ie an aftercare social worker. It would not be possible for a non-employee to commit Trust resources. If the YPA were not a Trust employee, a Trust worker would also have to be involved otherwise it could lead to possible duplication and confusion.
It is noted that the new income for 16 & 17 year olds to be provided by Trusts must cover accommodation, maintenance, travel and leisure etc. This is to be resourced by transfer of Social Security Benefit Funding. Is it therefore suggested that Social Security Benefits at present are sufficient to cover all of the above? It would be suggested that benefit levels to young people have been at or below poverty levels and that this has been deliberate policy in order to get young people off benefits and into training/employment. How, therefore, would this be sufficient to provide an enhanced service? Will there be set amounts which Trusts will be expected to pay? What do we believe to be an adequate income for young people? What is the standard of living we are seeking to achieve? Please also note that Trusts will need to be resourced to administer and monitor payment systems.
It is noted that assistance in cash or kind for 18-21 year olds changes from a power to a duty, including a duty to provide or fund vacation accommodation. Again this will require additional funding.
Cost implications - "Any additional resources which might be secured." This does not seem a very firm basis on which to establish legislation to enhance and improve an already under-resourced service. There needs a clear recognition and firm commitment to provide the additionality.
MR R E HAMILTON
WRITTEN SUBMISSION BY
Please find attached Barnardo's NI response to the Children Leaving Care Bill.
Barnardo's are the biggest providers of leaving and after care services in Northern Ireland and we are concerned that the Bill may not adequately protect the rights of young people in care and may lead them to a disadvantage particularly in the area of benefits.
We are equally concerned that it is being implemented in the absence of Quality Protects or a similar framework. Indeed that it is proposed to implement the Bill in a climate where residential and foster care are under extreme pressure and it is in our view essential that this is also addressed before in the same context as the Bill.
We have raised a wide range of issues in our response to the Bill and would be happy to give evidence to the Committee on this issue if they feel that would be helpful.
If you would like any further information please do not hesitate to contact me.
Barnardo's is the largest children's organisation in Northern Ireland. We work with 6,000 children and their families every year and provide over 30 services. Our work is grouped around the following six building blocks that we believe are needed to ensure every child has a happy and healthy childhood.
Barnardo's is one of the largest voluntary sector providers of services to children and young people leaving care. Our leaving care project has bases in Belfast and Ballymena and provides services to over 100 care leavers each year. Our response to this Bill is based on our experience of providing this service for 15 years. It is also based on the experience of our family centres, professional fostering service, pact service and service for adolescents at risk, all of whom work with young people who have had experience of the care system.
We are aware that a very similar Bill has been introduced in England. However, we want to express our concern that the context in which this Bill is being introduced in Northern Ireland is very different and in particular the lack of Quality Protects or a similar set of quality standards in Northern Ireland means the wider framework is absent. We believe that it is essential that work is put in progress now to research and identify a framework for establishing quality targets for looked after children and young people in Northern Ireland.
There are serious issues in relation to children and young people looked after as identified by the Review of Residential and Secure Accommodation undertaken by the Health Committee. The lack of residential care provision, low educational attainment of children in care, pressures on fostering and generally poor outcomes for children in care all need to be addressed and resolved in the same context as this current Bill if real progress is to be made.
Article 35 Children NI Order
We believe that this article is at present too discretionary and that it is imperative that Trusts do have a specific duty to assess and meet the needs of each individual young person leaving care.
However, we do not believe that duty should be differentiated among young people of different ages or indeed children from different categories. We believe that all children and young people leaving care regardless of whether or not they have been looked after by a voluntary organisation, accommodated by an education and library board or in a nursing home or hospital should all have the same rights upon leaving care.
We would question whether or not amending article 35 to incorporate the new duty and ensuring the eligibility of all children might not be a more effective route for addressing this issue.
In any respect Barnardo's wish to register their concern in relation to the regulations and want to be consulted fully on the detail of the regulations in this regard.
The Best Interests of the Child
If the legislation is not dealt with by amending the Children Order then any new legislation must include the need for assessment and planning to be carried out in a way that is consistent with the best interests of the child and not on the basis of limited budgets.
It is essential that any changes to legislation requires Trusts to provide suitable accommodation for young people leaving care and that suitable accommodation is appropriately defined. Barnardo's does not view suitable accommodation as bed and breakfast accommodation or hostel accommodation. There are particular issues regarding suitable accommodation for young people who have disability, mental health difficulties or are pregnant or single mothers. In particular we believe that provision like Barnardo's PACT Project should be made available to young women leaving care pregnant or becoming pregnant within a few months of leaving care.
The duty to provide appropriate accommodation must apply right up to age 21.
It is essential that this issue is addressed through a specific regulation and legal duty and that these are consulted upon.
We are very concerned at the implication that this legislation is to be introduced without any additional spending. While we can report from our practice an improvement in the provision of services across a number of Trusts there is still much to be done. The research in Northern Ireland shows that young people are leaving care too young, with little or no educational attainment, a higher rate of teenage pregnancy and with high levels of poverty and homelessness. These issues cannot be adequately addressed without the commitment of additional resources. We note that in England this legislation and Quality Protects has been supported by extra resources of several hundred million pounds and believe that at least similar pro rata funding is required for Northern Ireland.
Trusts must retain the power to help all young care leavers in an emergency regardless of their age.
We welcome in principle the specific duty to assess and meet needs as it replaces a previous discretionary situation but would like the option of amending Article 35 explored. We believe this duty to meet needs must also be extended to 18-21 year olds.
Young Persons Advisors
The Young Persons Advisor role seems particularly onerous and we would have concerns about the real choice that would be involved in this given the range of tasks to be undertaken. The proposal does not make clear if the Young Persons Advisor will be a paid role and how it will be resourced. How will the YPA be kept up to date with changes to benefits, housing allocation, grant entitlement etc.
How will the YPA be given appropriate authority to call inter-agency meetings. For example, if a young person chooses a foster carer as their YPA would they have enough authority to be able to call trusts, education boards and the housing executive to account if they didn't feel they were meeting the young persons needs appropriately.
Our other concern is in relation to appeal. Our understanding is that in the original consultation document proposed an Independent Review Tribunal that could fast track complaints in relation to pathways plan. We believe that such a Review system is essential in ensuring disagreements in relation to Pathways Plans are appropriately resolved.
Barnardo's recognises the need to encourage young people leaving care to prepare and plan for their future. However, we also know that for some young people it can take some time to work out exactly what they want to do or that often they need to change route. The Pathway Plan must be flexible enough to allow the young person to do this.
We have some concerns that it might prove difficult to get young people at the upper end of the age bracket to attend such meetings as in our experience this age group are less likely to keep in contact and less likely to attend reviews.
We believe that it would be helpful to include a Family Group Conferencing approach in the planning process for the discharge of young people. Our experience is that young people often return home in the first instance of leaving care only to find that it breaks down within a year. We believe that a Family Group Conferencing approach could help prevent this happening and also provide the young person with greater support.
We have some serious concerns about the changes to the system of financial assistance for 16 and 17 year olds. In particular removing from them the right to claim benefit is something that we believe may not be beneficial for young people. We are concerned that 16 and 17 year old care leavers would have removed from them their right to access the social security system.
We are concerned that the proposals outlined give no real indication of how much and for what 16 and 17 year old care leavers would be given assistance. In our experience young care leavers often claim benefits and receive additional assistance from Trusts. We believe that rather than removing their right to benefit this should be left intact and the duty and responsibilities of Trust to provide financial assistance and for what purposes be clearly outlined. We also have concerns about the core assistance for young people being removed from the unlimited budget of social security to budget limited social services. How would this money be ring fenced for care leavers and how would a situation similar to that for care of the elderly be prevented from arising; ie how would you prevent budget considerations from taking over and becoming the basis of decision making rather than the individual need.
There is a real issue for young people leaving care about budgeting on much lower levels of income. Practitioners in Barnardo's have raised the issue of the clothing allowance of £90 per month provided for children in care on top of their weekly pocket money allowance of £13. They have suggested that at least a proportion of the clothing allowance be kept and saved for the young person in the last couple of years that they are in care to allow them to use it for emergencies once they have left care.
We believe that the whole issue of the financial support of young people in the care system and leaving care requires much more thoughtful consideration and that this should be further developed with a greater degree of detail and re-circulated for further consultation.
On a more practical level we think there are some serious administration issues in relation to social services managing this budget and would like detail on how this will be addressed.
Barnardo's believe that the issue of financial support for 16 and 17 year olds has not been clearly addressed and requires more detail and further consultation.
We also believe that the additional financial support that Trust will provide to 18-21 year olds should be further clarified. It is important and necessary that young people have clear guidelines about the kind of support Trusts can and will give.
Barnardo's believe that Trusts should have a duty to continue to provide financial support to 18-21 year olds and that further detail should be provided and further consultation undertaken.
It is essential that guidance is developed in relation to the education of children in care and the ongoing education of care leavers. Education represents a real route out of poverty for care leavers and they must receive the appropriate support to allow them to fully access it.
There is a serious deficit in terms of access to education for 16 year olds still in full time education but who are leaving care. They do not get any social security benefits if they are still in full time education but this acts as a real dis-incentive for them to continue. This situation must be urgently addressed.
Trusts should have specific duty to assist care leavers with education and training up to age 25. We would like further information on how this duty might be drafted and the regulations accompanying it.
Young people should be provided with a payment to cover their out of term accommodation to allow them a choice of whether to stay on campus or choose other accommodation. Trusts should also have a duty to provide appropriate vacation accommodation if this is what the young person chooses.
Equality Impact Assessment
The Equality Impact Assessment has failed to identify key issues for a number of the section 75 groupings. In particular it does not address at all the specific experience or needs of children in public care from minority ethnic groups, the particular care needs or experiences of children with a disability. Neither does it address how equality of opportunity will be promoted between those with and without dependants; given the high number of young women who leave care pregnant or become pregnant within a few months we believe it is crucial to address the issues these young women could face. For example, how will the needs of a care leaver who is also a single mother be addressed in terms of housing, access to education and childcare. These have not been considered within either the main document or the equality impact assessment and we believe the impact assessment must be re-evaluated to take these into account.
Barnardo's remains extremely concerned at the proposal to adopt this legislation ahead of the development and implementation of a set of quality standards for children and young people in the public care system in Northern Ireland.
We are also concerned that the resourcing implications have not been fully addressed.
We believe this Bill requires further detail on the specific regulation and guidance and a further round of consultation.
We could not support the introduction of this Bill in its current form until these issues are fully addressed.
WRITTEN SUBMISSION BY
31 October 2001
The Trust welcomes the Children Leaving Care Bill with its overall aim to place new and enhanced duties on Trusts to support care leavers until they are 21 at least. Young carers are indeed amongst the most vulnerable people in our society and the Department's aspirations that the support provided by a Trust should be akin to that which a young person can normally expect to receive from parents is ambitious. We hope that sufficient resources will be made available in due course to ensure that this aspiration becomes achievable.
Here are some brief comments in respect of the Bill's contents;
1. Whilst the principle of needs assessment is accepted the obvious question relates to availability of resources to undertake this duty.
2. The proposal of Young Person's Advisors is interesting and we look forward to future consultations in respect of selection and recruitment etc in respect of young Person's Advisors.
3. The principle of Pathway Plans is laudable but the expectations as listed in respect of what these plans should include inevitably raises the issue of the Trust's capacity to deliver these plans in a meaningful way.
4. In respect of the issues of the proposals re. eligibility and financial support the Trust has had the experience of the transfer of responsibilities for such matters as under the Community Care Order and it would be important that similar consideration is given to the transfer of adequate funding to ensure that Trusts can put in place appropriate infrastructure for the implementation of these new responsibilities.
Finally it is clear from the proposed legislation that significant additional responsibilities will be transferred to Health and Social Services Trusts. Our response to this consultation may appear rather guarded but our experience to date is one where sufficient funding has not always been made available by government to fully implement new statutory responsibilities. Given the current pressure within Family and Child Care services in Northern Ireland the introduction of the Children Leaving Care Bill must be fully resourced otherwise these challenging and exciting responsibilities will be perceived by front line staff as yet a further series of aspirations which are unlikely to be fulfilled.
MR W S TWEED
WRITTEN SUBMISSION BY
The Children's Law Centre is an independent charity established in September 1997 founded on the United Nations Convention On The Rights Of the Child. We provide training, information, research, advice and representation on domestic and international laws affecting children and young people. We often advise young people who are looked after and leaving care and we are therefore aware of the complexity of many of the difficulties faced by young people. Thank you for affording us the opportunity to comment on these proposals.
We welcome the Children (Leaving Care) Bill and hope that its implementation will improve the lives of our young people leaving care.
We recommended in our response to the Department that consultation should take place with children and young people with experience of the process of leaving care, particularly in relation to financial support. We remain of the view that children and young people should inform the decision making process and should be directly consulted in relation to their proposed exclusion from the benefit system.
DUTY TO ASSESS AND MEET NEEDS
Article 35 Children (NI) Order 1995 at present only refers to advising, assisting and befriending. This is a discretionary power.
We welcome the introduction by The Children Leaving Care Bill of a duty to assess and meet the needs of each individual young person leaving care.
DUTY TO APPLY TO ALL CHILDREN AND YOUNG PEOPLE LEAVING CARE
The Children (NI) Order 1995 makes a distinction at present between different categories of young people leaving care. Those who have been looked after by a Trust or accommodated on behalf of a voluntary organisation are owed a duty by the Trust in terms of advice and assistance. The Trusts retain discretion in relation to the provision of such a service to young people who have been accommodated in a children's home, privately fostered or accommodated for a consecutive period of at least three months in Education & Library Board accommodation, residential care home, hospital, nursing home or any prescribed accommodation.
We recommend that the new duty to assess and meet needs should apply to all of the above young people and that any discretionary element should be removed. We recommend detailed consultation in relation to the regulations, which will be drafted in relation to "eligible children" and "relevant children" and prescribed periods.
There is no detail in the Bill about eligibility criteria and it will be essential that consultees are given the opportunity to address the detail required for Regulation at a later stage in this process.
In particular, we recommend that the category of "relevant" children includes children and young people who at the time they reach the age of 16 are detained in hospital, or detained in a juvenile justice centre or young offenders centre (either on remand or on a juvenile justice centre order) and immediately before being detained were accommodated by the Trust.
It is also important that young people who are sentenced to the new custody care orders pursuant to Justice (NI) Bill (see Article 55 Justice (NI) Bill) are entitled to benefit from these new proposals and care should be taken to ensure that these children are included as "relevant children".
We are extremely concerned by the comment on page 11 of the consultation document, which reads as follows;
"Under the new arrangements existing spending on aftercare services and benefits would be drawn together and used by Trusts to provide support and assistance"
The issue of additional resources must be addressed as a matter of urgency before this Bill is enacted. The purpose behind this Bill should be to improve the lives of young people leaving care. We need to acknowledge that despite some excellent work being carried out by leaving and aftercare teams and voluntary organisations in N Ireland that the reality is that services in this area are under funded. Research in N Ireland has shown that young people are leaving care too young, they are leaving with lower educational attainment, they often experience periods of homelessness and they often live in poverty or on a very limited income.  There needs to be an open acknowledgement that the reason we need further legislation is because in the past not enough has been spent on our care leavers.
"Adding the money currently spent together will not produce the better outcomes we are looking for" 
We note that in England the introduction of a similar Bill was supported by new funding from the Children's Social Services Special Grant, which was set up by Local Authorities as part of The Quality Protects Programme.
It is our view that in order for the proposals in this Bill to be effective, there must be additional funds allocated to support its implementation. We are concerned that a simple amalgamation of budgets will lead to care leavers in fact being financially worse off than they are at present.
The Trust needs to retain the power to help young people in an emergency.
We support the introduction of a statutory requirement to provide a pathway plan for each young person leaving care. We suggest that again there needs to be detailed consultation about Regulations in relation to assessments carried out for a pathway plan and in relation to mandatory contents of a pathway plan. For example, we would suggest that Regulation or Guidance in this regard makes specific reference to consultation with the young person about the Pathway Plan. The Regulations should also require that discussion about pathway plans with young people begin at least a year before the child/young person is due to leave school to allow for input from school and the education sector.
We recommend that it should be a duty on Trusts to prepare and review pathway plans for all young people leaving care and that the duty to review should last until the young person is 21, or 24 where the young person is continuing in education.
YOUNG PERSONS ADVISERS
The task of the young person's adviser appears to be a very onerous one.
We therefore need to know whether substantial significant funding will be provided to implement young persons advisers.
We note that the young person's adviser has the task of negotiating an agreed pathway plan for the young person. Is the YPA totally independent of social services? We note from the original consultation document in England, Me, Survive, Out There? that there was a proposal for an Independent Review Tribunal, which could fast track complaints in relation to pathway plans. As we all know, agreement is not always possible and in our view the role and remit of the YPA needs to be very carefully defined. There also needs to be a clear method of redress for a young person if agreement cannot be reached, for example if the young person chooses to go to a college which is a further distance than the local college and the Trust will not pay the bus fares or the young person has identified property, which is perhaps slightly more expensive than usual, but is in an area where the young person will be close to relatives etc.
Young people who are going into care are entitled to a Guardian Ad Litem and a solicitor to represent them. Surely young people leaving care should be entitled to separate representation if a disagreement arises also? We would recommend that the YPA has a role to advocate on behalf of the young person and to advise the young person to contact an independent advocate/ solicitor should matters not be agreed.
We endorse the comments made by The National Deaf Youth Association in relation to the support of deaf young people leaving care.
THE BEST INTERESTS OF THE CHILD
The bill should reflect the need for assessment and planning to be carried out in a manner, which is in the child's best interests and not driven by financial considerations.
We note from the Northern Ireland Leaving Care Factsheet prepared by First Key NI recently that whilst a few Trusts have semi independent flats linked with children's residential homes, voluntary organisations are the only providers of specialist leaving and aftercare accommodation (most of which is in the Eastern Board area.)
It is essential that this Bill requires Trusts to provide suitable accommodation for care leavers. Suitable accommodation is not bed and breakfast accommodation or hostel accommodation for homeless people. There are specific issues in relation to what constitutes suitable accommodation for young single mothers or for young people with mental health difficulties.
The issue of accommodation is not dealt with in the Bill in any detail. In our view there needs to be specific regulation and a specific legal duty to provide suitable accommodation and "suitable accommodation" needs to be defined. We note that new clause 34C 10) enables the Department to make Regulations about suitable accommodation and we would welcome further consultation on the Regulations in this regard.
At present the provision of financial assistance to care leavers is discretionary under The Children (NI) Order 1995 and unfortunately there is no regionally agreed protocol in relation to the amounts payable to young people for setting up home or for travel expenses/ educational expenses. The current Bill needs to address these difficulties.
We would welcome further clarification in relation to the amounts of money payable to care leavers under the new system. The amounts set will have to recognise that young care leavers need help with furnishing their homes, education, clothes, socialising, sports, hobbies etc as well as assistance with day-to-day living costs.
The Bill states at clause 2 inserting new clause 34C 8) Children (NI) Order 1995 that the responsible authority shall safeguard and promote the child's welfare and, unless the authority is satisfied that his welfare does not require it, support him by a) maintaining him, b) providing him with or maintaining him in suitable accommodation and c) providing support of such other descriptions as may be prescribed. It also states that assistance under this section may be in cash.
The Bill at present therefore does not outline minimum standards for financial support .The term " maintaining" needs to be more specifically defined.
EXCLUSION FROM BENEFITS
We support the amendment proposed by Barnardo's in respect of the exclusion of young care leavers from social security benefits. We recommend that Clause 6 of the Bill should be deleted in its entirety.
However, we agree with the position of First Key (NI) that a step further needs to be taken and that care leavers in the category covered by clause 6 ie "relevant" for the purposes of Article 34B should be automatically entitled to Income Support. This would require an amendment to Schedule 1B of The Income Support (General) Regulations 1987.
We recommend that it is stipulated in the Regulations referred to in new clause 34F 2) that educational matters are addressed in pathway plans.
There should be a legal duty on Trusts to assist with costs associated with a young person's education up until they are 24. The section of the Bill entitled employment, education and training inserts a new clause 35B into The Children (NI) Order 1995. We recommend that the word "may" should be deleted and replaced with the word "shall" in new clause 35b1) line one and again in 35 B 2) line one.
This should include the payment for books and for "out of term time" accommodation (young person should be able to receive the payment themselves and choose accommodation). We note that the payment for the provision of out of term time accommodation has been included in the Bill at new clause 35B 5) and this is welcomed.
It is important that care leavers have access to careers advice and guidance and the plans for accessing guidance should be incorporated into the requirements for the leaving care plan.
There needs to be some flexibility in the eligibility criteria to provide financial assistance to young people who have left care, but who do not immediately go into further education. Where there has been a break, the young person will need financial assistance at an older age to continue with education and this needs to be provided for.
We welcome the efforts made by the Bill to address these situations at new clause 34D 7) and 35 B 4).
We generally welcome the proposals, which have the overall intention of improving the lives of young people leaving care in Northern Ireland.
There are, however, two major issues, which concern us at this time.
Firstly the proposals implemented in England in The Children (Leaving Care Act) 2000 were part of the wider initiative of Quality Protects and the legislation attracted considerable additional funds for implementation. Children leaving care was identified as one of the six priorities for use of the £375 million allocated under The Children's Social Services Special Grant. It has been indicated in the proposals for The Children (Leaving Care) Bill in this jurisdiction that budgets will be joined together, which suggests that there will be no additional monies allocated. It is impossible to see how the legislative amendments proposed could possibly be nil cost. In our view many of the proposed services should be in addition to the work of the leaving and aftercare teams already in existence.
Secondly, The Quality Protects Programme in England covers both children looked after and children in need generally and as part of this initiative an assessment framework for children in need has been implemented in England. We are not suggesting that it is necessary to duplicate the entirety of Quality Protects or the assessment framework, but we certainly see the need for research to be carried out as to how to implement appropriate initiatives here.
It is difficult for us to address the issue of children and young people leaving care in the absence of a wider framework. There are serious related issues in relation to the lack of provision of residential care, the implementation of Children Matter, the difficulties associated with accessing special educational needs services and mental health services for children and young people in care, the low educational attainment of many children in care, which all need to be addressed in the same context as this current Bill if real progress is to be made.
In future it would be helpful if policy and legislative initiatives for children could be set in the context of the Assembly's wider strategic framework for improving the lives of our children and young people.
We thank you for affording us the opportunity to comment at this stage and we would welcome being involved in discussion in relation to the detailed proposals for the associated Regulations and Guidance.
WRITTEN SUBMISSION BY
16 October 2001
In response to the Department's memorandum dated 28 September 2001, I would offer the following comments:-
(a) Point 7. "A Trust has a duty to advise and befriend any young person under the age of 21 who was looked after by social services at any timebetween the ages of 16 and 18". Need to specify timescales ie Article 35 for a period of 3 months.
(b) Point 9. "Its main aims are: to delay young peoples discharge from care until they are prepared and ready to leave care". Don't disagree in principal but its also about respecting young people's wishes to leave and them having some element of choice.
(c) Point 10. "or those who have left care". Again we need some timescales/structures to enable us as a Trust to manage such resources.
(d) Point 13. Its about ensuring that the transfer of funds is adequate to meet the need. Refer to my paper. (attached)
(e) Point 24. "vacation accommodation". Refer to my paper.
(f) Doesn't highlight the particular needs of L.A.C. with a disability, especially post 21.
(g) Need to consider the financial implications of supporting carers who wish to continue to offer care, post 18 and this is assessed by the Trust to be in the best interests of the young person.
This response is on behalf of the Southern Health and Social Services Board, Children's Services Plan working Group for "Young People Leaving Care/Those Requiring Aftercare Services and Homeless Young People" which is part of the Southern Area Children's Services Planning process. This process is the inter-agency strategic planning process for services for vulnerable children and young people, which is led by the Southern Health and Social Services Board. The Working Group comprises representatives from the Southern Health and Social Services Board, the three Community Trusts and a wide range of agencies (statutory, voluntary and community).
We welcome the document which provides a basis and framework, that will hopefully lead to better co-ordinated services and better outcomes for young people leaving care and those who have left care. Some of the recurring themes contained in our submission relate to
Below are detailed comments and vies on the various sections and sub sections of the Departments proposal document.
SECTION 4 NEW ARRANGEMENTS FOR 16 AND 17 YEAR OLDS
(a) Young People's Advisors
Greater guidance needed around who can be a Young People's Advisor and their role. If we assume that the Young People's Advisor could be a social worker, where are they to get the time to carry out this role? They are already overstretched and under enormous pressure of work. If it was a foster parent this could have implications for their relationship with the young people and could adversely impact on their role as a foster parent. If the role is taken on by someone outside Social Services, it has implications for levels of skill; training; payment; accountability etc. These issues must be addressed within the legislation and the accompanying Regulations and Guidance and should clearly specify what authority the Young People's advisor has, to ensure a multi-agency assessment is undertaken and to challenge those who fail to provide a service.
(b) Pathway Plans
There would be a contention that the elements contained in the Pathway plan are addressed (at different levels) in the young person's care plan, through the LAC review and subsequent aftercare reviews. Everyone is struggling with the bureaucracy of the current system and we certainly don't need another layer created. What we need is to develop and streamline our systems, to provide a continuous and seamless service which is user friendly and young person focused.
In relation to the "multi-agency assessment", there is a need to spell out what this will entail and the accompanying expectations (be it voluntary or mandatory) of what each agency will commit to the process. It's about clear guidance and levels of accountability.
The opportunity to underpin the Children's Services Plan process as a vehicle to take forward the "multi-agency assessment" work.
Guidance on when the Pathway Plan should be completed: reviewed and who attends.
If young people want to challenge elements of the Pathway Plan, will this be addressed by way of an independent system, or by way of the Trust's current community complaints procedures?
Pathway Plans need to be flexible enough to respond to the changing needs and circumstances of young people leaving care and in aftercare.
The extension of the new arrangements in section 4.13 is welcomed but has clear resource implications.
(c) Financial Support
For any young person moving between care and justice, clarification is needed around the respective roles, responsibility and accountability of the Juvenile Justice Centres and the Trust.
This "single system" approach is welcomed. However the Department will need to invest in staff systems and training, to manage and administer the new system. Also in terms of ensuring a smooth transition leading to an effective, efficient and hopefully less bureaucratic system.
Section 4.16 refers to "transfer of resources to Trusts". The need to ensure this is properly and adequately funded, so that any young person is not financially disadvantaged by the new arrangements. There are concerns that there is not sufficient fund allocation and/or uptake in the current system (Department of Health and Socials Services; Northern Ireland Housing Executive). This created a "false economy" and technically means transferring funds which do not reflect the total levels of need. This funding should be ring fenced.
Concern that the new financial arrangements could introduce a compulsory element to young people's involvement in an aftercare service and negatively impact on the aftercare workers relationship with the young person. There are clear ethical and professional considerations to be addressed here.
Some young people in the 16-17 age groups will have broken links or not engaged with Social Services. Such young people can be very vulnerable. Clarification is needed on how these young people's needs will be met within the proposed arrangements. Will there be a financial 'safety net' for these young people?
How will 16-17 year olds who are participating on an unemployed training scheme be taken into account in the new arrangements? Will the training provider continue to pay these young people and if not, who will?
Section 4.17 refers to "special groups". The view is that this should include young people with mental health problems and those with a mild to moderate learning difficulty. What about young asylum seekers, should they be considered?
Will the new arrangements mean that 16 and 17 year olds in and leaving care will lose their entitlement/ access to related housing or health services?
The general consensus that the "existing spending on aftercare services and benefits" is wholly inadequate to meet the diverse range of needs and must be uplifted. When introduced in England the new arrangements under the Children Leaving Care Act will be supported by significant additional resources from the Special Social Grant under the Quality Protects initiative.
(d) New Arrangements for 18 - 21 year olds
The emphasis in 5.3 needs to be on the Trusts, in collaboration and partnership with the Housing Executive, helping the young people to find suitable accommodation. Within the Children's Services Plan Working Group we are working on trying to agree and develop a common definition on "suitable", that will be acceptable across all agencies. This clearly has implications for the provision of more housing.
The key roles of the Young People's Advisor as outlined in section 5.4 would already fall within the remit of the aftercare worker. Greater clarification and guidance is needed here to differentiate the respective roles and responsibilities (especially if the Young People's Adviser was someone other than the aftercare worker).
In relation to help with "start up costs" (Section 5.4), young people currently leaving care receive a Setting Up Home Allowance. Are new and additional monies going to be made available via Article 35 to help meet these "start up costs". This is particularly important in relation to work, training or higher education. As part of this the current Setting Up Home Allowance rates need urgently reviewed and uplifted. The Southern Health and Social Services Board has endorsed and given a commitment to implementing "Guidelines and Safeguards, Good Practice in Relation to the Provision of Financial Assistance Towards Setting Up Home" paper developed at a regional level by aftercare practitioners.
Section 5.5 makes a positive statement in acknowledging that things can and do go wrong for young people moving into independent living. If there is an expectation that Trusts should provide "temporary assistance" then there is a need for a clear definition and guidance on what this entails, plus adequate funding (in Article 35) to meet the demand and need.
We endorse the proposals in Section 5.6 in terms of providing support and assistance for young people on education or training programmes beyond the young people's 21st birthday. Again this is about additionality and has resource implications in terms of staff and finance. The same arguments apply to Section 5.7 and the need for clear guidance about what is expected from the Trusts.
There is a need for wide ranging discussions between the key agencies in terms of how the Trusts are to find and provide suitable "vacation accommodation" for young care leavers in higher education. This also raises an issue around young people in foster care (post 18) and in higher education, being able to stay in or return to their foster placements. There is a potential conflict here in terms of pressure on placements for younger children. This would also have implications for additional funding.
(e) Inter-agency Co-ordination
It is well documented (Social Services Inspectorate report - Promoting Independence (2000), and Department Of Health Me Survive Out There? (1999) that present interagency co-operation is not sufficient to meet the needs of care leavers. There is over reliance on reliance on relationships between individual practitioners in Health and Social Services and other agencies, leading to informal arrangements and lack of agency ownership.
In the Children's Services Planning process we are identifying the inter-agency roles and responsibilities which are needed and are identifying a clear need for inter-agency policy and protocols setting out each agency's responsibility for parts of the support needed by care leavers.
The Children's Services Planning Group encompasses all relevant agencies and is working towards the appropriate protocols. However, difficulties remain which relate to individual agencies' legislative remits (or lack of remit) in this area.
The Children's Services Plan Working Group hope that the Minister and the Department find our contributions constructive and useful in working towards developing services that will improve the life chances of young people preparing for leaving care and those who have left care. We totally endorse and welcome the main thrust of the proposal paper and the need for wide-ranging and ongoing debate at all levels and amongst all agencies.
To summarise, in taking the consultation document forward, there is a need for:-
1. Clarity and direction on the compulsory elements of the leaving Care Bill
2. Detailed Regulations and Guidance that will spell out people's roles, responsibilities and accountability.
3. The legislation must clearly require all relevant agencies to co-operate at strategic and operational levels to address the needs of care leavers. It would work well if the guidance and regulations referenced the children's services planning process as the appropriate strategic planning mechanism within which to achieve this.
4. A commitment to achieving easily accessible services with clear, simple and transparent Policies and Procedures that are young people focused.
5. The need to ensure that any proposals or provisions contained within the Leaving Care Bill are aligned to other regional developments e.g. the Northern Ireland Housing Executive Supporting People's Initiative.
6. The development of a Regional Strategy for Children and Young People that will underpin and copper fasten at all levels the powers and duties contained with the Leaving Care Bill.
19 October 2001
P3. (Point 9) "Delay young people's discharge from care until they are prepared and ready to leave".
Does this mean possibly delaying post 18 and post "Care Orders"?
P3. (Point 10) the 'duty' of assessing and meeting the needs of young people leaving care rests with the Trust where the young person was last looked after.
What if young person moves a long distance from the Trust e.g. England etc?
P4. (Point 11) Support through University education perhaps over 21? Is this feasible?
Resources are of course the Big Issue!
REPORT ON CHILDREN LEAVING CARE BILL
WRITTEN SUBMISSION BY
1 November 2001
You asked for any comments this Department may have on the proposed Children (Leaving Care) Bill. I apologise for missing your deadline.
The provision of additional services to this group of young people is to be welcomed: these are among the most marginalised and disadvantaged young people in society. The paper rightly points out that young people often leave care without the educational attainments necessary to underpin successful inclusion within their community and wider society. To date we have not been able to target intervention strategies to improve the educational progress of children in care, for a number of reasons. First, because we cannot always track them: schools do not always know if children are in care. Secondly, because they are not, of course, a homogeneous group; not every child in care has the same needs: the quality, stability and duration of their care placement, like any child's home background, can have a significant impact on their educational attainment.
Together with DHSSPS we are, however, tackling the problem by establishing within DHSSPS a database which will track the individual child and relate his or her circumstances in care (number, type and duration of placements) to his or her educational attainments. This is obviously a long-term project, but it should help inform policy in both our Departments by, for example, putting us in a better position to understand the diverse nature of the group, identify trends, problem areas and perhaps also suggest target groups of young people on whom we might focus specific intervention strategies.
The Proposed Legislation
It is proposed that the Bill will place a new duty on Trusts to assess and meet the needs of eligible 16 and 17 year olds who remain in care or who have left care (Trusts currently only have this duty where a young person has asked for help). We will be interested to see, in the details of the Bill and its supporting Regulations, how eligibility is defined.
Finally, the paper recognises that these proposals will have cost implications - these are new duties upon Trusts, not powers, so additional services will entail additional costs. The paper suggests a variety of sources for funding, but it is clear that Health does not currently have PE cover to fund the full additional costs anticipated: the Executive Programme Fund cover mentioned is timebound to 3 years, whereas the costs of providing these services will be ongoing indefinitely. There is no indication in the paper of how these costs will be met once the EPF funding runs out. While this is undoubtedly a worthy policy proposal, fully consistent with PfG and NTSN objectives and actively promoting social inclusion, in the absence of estimates of the cost implications it is not possible to make a judgement on the likely impact on the rest of the Block.
However, it is very likely that one of the outcomes of the policy, by supporting young people on a personal basis and providing financial assistance with education and training, will be to encourage such young people to remain within the education/training pathway for longer and with more successful outcomes, and this is an objective we would certainly support.
WRITTEN SUBMISSION BY
19 October 2001
This Trust has already made a detailed response to the Consultation document on the proposed Children (Leaving Care) Bill in a letter to the Department of Health, Social Services and Public Safety in a letter dated 8th June 2001. I enclose a copy of that letter which sets out in general and in detailed terms our response to the proposed Children (Leaving Care) Bill.
In relation to your memorandum we would wish to make the following comments:
We fully and enthusiastically endorse the statements in this paragraph which outline precisely what we are trying to achieve in this area of work and the rationale for so doing.
We look forward to "new and enhanced duties" to support care leavers until they are at least 21 years old but these duties must be accompanied by the means to carry them out.
We are concerned about the practical implications of the proposal that the duty to provide after care will rest with the Trust which last looked after the young person wherever he or she lives. This implies a world wide remit and at least implies a vigorous tracking procedure throughout Northern Ireland, in the Republic of Ireland and throughout Britain.
The proposals in respect of the provision of a Young Persons Advisor (YPA) and a Pathway Plan pose many practical difficulties. It would appear that young people in care have no option but to have a YPA although their agreement is required as to frequency of contact. It may be that in some cases they will wish this frequency of contact. It may be that in some cases they will wish this frequency to be nil thereby effectively excluding the YPA. Much of the role of the YPA would also be the role of the social worker if the Young Person was in care thereby creating duplication of roles. If the YPA was not from a statutory organization the role would be extremely difficult in terms of accessing and liaising with services provided by other statutory organizations. If the reviews are led by the YPA this might mean that a Trust process could be led by someone from outside the Trust. This would be unacceptable in that a statutory requirement of the Trust and a process that might have resource implications would be led by someone with no formal accountability to the Trust. While we support the concept of Pathway Plans we are concerned that they may run parallel to care plans. This will mean on occasions two separate processes dealing with the same issues.
The Trust has major concerns about the proposed transfer of responsibility for benefits payments to Trusts. This proposal would fundamentally alter the relationship between Social Worker and care leaver from one of financial advisor and advocate to one of financial arbiter. It would also remove the existing appeal mechanisms available and would set this particular group of 16 and 17 year olds apart from their peers. Transfer of responsibility for funding may also mean a loss of entitlement to associated benefits and would adversely affect the partnership nature of work with young people.
In relation to the comments about implementation issues and clarification, the detail in respect of some of the issues outlined above is important in that some of the proposals eg YPAs may be possible or impossible to implement depending on the detail.
This Trust would stress that the proposals outlined in the proposed Children (Leaving Care) Bill will have major financial implications for Trusts and it will not be possible to implement the proposals without considerable additional financial resources being made available.
See comments on paragraph 13 above.
As previously stated this Trust as major concerns in relation to the funding of the proposed Children (Leaving Care) Bill. Our current resources are barely enabling us to meet our existing statutory duties in relation to young people leaving care. An example of the funding pressures in this area of work would be the fact that homeless young people who are assisted with accommodation become "looked after" and therefore eligible for after care. While we are opposed to the responsibility for benefits payments being transferred to Trusts for the reasons outlined earlier, if responsibility is to be transferred it should be at the optimum level rather than existing take up level as our Trust will be in contact with all of the young people to whom this financial provision will apply. We do not consider that "Any additional resources which might be secured" deals adequately with the considerable additional cost implications of the proposed Bill.
I hope the above comments and the attached earlier submission will be of assistance to the Committee in their scrutiny of the proposed Bill. I would be happy to clarify any of the above issues if necessary.
MR J COMPTON
WRITTEN SUBMISSION BY
29 October 2001
I refer to your letter dated 28 September 2001 on the above and now attach for your information the response of the Eastern Health and Social Services Board in relation to the proposed Children (Leaving Care) Bill.
The Eastern Health and Social Services Board welcomes the emphasis the proposed Leaving Care Bill places on the support of vulnerable young people who are preparing to leave care as well as those who have left care. It has been recognised that the legislation will considerably increase the Board's responsibilities in providing services to young people up to at least the age of 21 and potentially 25 years of age and it is essential that work is put in progress to research and identify a framework for establishing quality standards and targets for looked after children and young people in Northern Ireland.
I would like to raise some issues and concerns and therefore my submission includes detailed points referenced against the various paragraphs.
Paragraph 6 states that the Children Order provides the current legal basis for the provision of leaving and after-care services. The Bill is to take effect from 1 November 2001. The Board expect that legislative change will be considered by the DHSS&PS with regard to the implications of the Children Leaving Care Bill for the Children Order. Can you indicate when you intend to seek legislative time to make consequential amendments to the Children Order?
If, there is going to be a considerable time delay in doing so, resulting in conflicting legislation for a period of time, it would be helpful if the Department would consider issuing interim guidance so that Boards/Trusts are informed regarding what they should do in these circumstances.
There appears to be a lack of clarity within the Bill with regard to discharge from care and leaving accommodation provided by the Trust. I expect this will be clarified in the guidance. It is essential that any changes defines suitable accommodation for young people leaving care.
It is indicated that there is a legal requirement for Trusts to maintain contact for Children who have left care in order to make sure they will receive the support to which they are entitled. This duty will run until the young person reaches 21 or later if they receive help from the Trust with education and training.
However, by making this compulsory the Board would query if this might infringe Article 8 of the Human Rights Legislation, as effectively a choice is being denied to a young person. It may also be considered possibly as a breach of their privacy. Perhaps some further consideration should be given to this matter.
The Board would query how the pathway plan fits with the LAC process. Clearly guidance will be issued in relation to clarifying this matter. We expect that the guidance will provide clear advice in relation to the authority of the YPA, an indication of who will appoint and vet them, whether they will be paid or given training expenses and an indication who they will be accountable to. It is critical for Trusts to have a clarity about these matters as the YPA will provide the key link between a young person and their Trust. There will clearly be Human Rights and Equality issues in respect of the employment of YPAs. There is no indication of the provision of additional resources to assist eg Board or Trusts with administration costs in setting up systems for recruitment or training of YPAs.
Section 13 and 18
The Board would expect the guidance will advise as to what Board's and Trusts are expected to provide in respect of the range of services ie accommodation, maintenance or leisure once children have left the care system.
The Board would also query if there could be an equality issue in relation to the proposal, in that the resource currently deployed by the DSD, in relation to means tested benefits for 16-17 year old care leavers, will be transferred to the DHSSP&PS. This would effectively make young people leaving care access a different social security system. This appears to indicate a differential treatment of this group because they are in the care system compared to other children of similar age who live at home with their parents. The Board have concerns about the current social security budget being removed from the unlimited budget of social security to a budget limited social services 'pot'. Is it intended that the DHSSPS will ring-fence this budget for care leavers in their allocation to Boards. The administration issues in relation to social services managing this budget will also need to be carefully addressed/resourced.
Whilst the Board acknowledge that guidance will be issued, it is important that the Board relies on some early indication of what this guidance might include, so that preparatory work can be considered in relation to appropriately costing the services required and subsequently bidding for the requisite resources to assist in the Bills implementation from the DHSS&PS. Sufficient revenue will be dependent on the number of young people eligible and the quantity, type and range of accommodation options required. It is important that Trusts have clear guidelines about the kind of supports they can and will give. For your information the Eastern Board in their CSR bid in April 2001 did some preliminary estimates which indicated an additional 8 whole time social work staff to develop the young people's advisor role with an anticipated bill of approximately £220,000. The further costs of an initial 50 after care packages for young people (ie the anticipated number of people leaving care in a year at a cost of £10,000 per person ie £500,000). This provides some preliminary estimate of the amount of funding which would be required if the Board are to fully implement the legislation. It must be emphasised however that the above is an initial estimate and the cost of providing after care services across a potential period of 5 years ie from 16th - 21st birthday may even be greater than the above.
The funding identified in the Executive Programme's Social Inclusion - Community Regeneration Fund is for a three year pilot only. The Board will need a guarantee of ongoing revenue sufficient to mainstream and continue this volume of service provision to ensure any continuity of service position.
Response to paragraph 10 and 12 in this letter suggests Human Rights implications in implementation.
Equality Impact Assessment
It would be of interest to the Board to see the outcome of the consultation exercise. However implementation of the Bill's proposals will need to be considered in the light of Section 75.
The Board would strongly recommend a delay in implementation of this Bill until amendments have been made to the primary Children Order legislation, the guidance and regulations are issued, adequate funding made available for implementation and a set of quality standards and targets agreed.
DR M P J KILBANE
REPORT ON CHILDREN LEAVING CARE BILL
WRITTEN SUBMISSION BY
In general terms, we are enthusiastic about and supportive of the policy objectives of the proposed Bill. We recognise the need for a better level of support from public sector agencies towards young people leaving care. We also recognise the lacuna that presently exists in the provision of such support which can often be counter-productive to the very necessary work undertaken with children while in care.
The Memorandum states that young care leavers are among the most vulnerable young people in society (paragraph 4). We acknowledge this but we are concerned that this should not be simply accepted as a fact. We are concerned that the reasons for this should be identified and that the core problem should be addressed.
In particular we are concerned at the current deficiencies of the care system in Northern Ireland, for example, the very limited number of secure accommodation places available and the lack of professional expertise in Northern Ireland in dealing with children most in need of professional help. We respectfully suggest that if the core problem was addressed, then the task of providing support to those leaving care might be significantly lessened.
The new proposals place duties upon the Trusts. There shall be a duty to assess and meet the needs of eligible 16 and 17 year olds who remain in care or those who have left care. There is a duty on the Trust to keep in touch with young people who have left care, a duty which might continue until the young person reaches the age of 21. We seek further information on these duties. For example, what if the young person does not consent to being be-friended and does not welcome an assessment of his or her needs? Is there an obligation on the young person's part to comply with the Trust's obligation/duty to provide such as service?
We are concerned that if there is such an obligation on the part of the young person, what happens if the young person does not comply. It is essential that this is clarified.
Connected with the issue raised above, we require further information on the proposals about new financial arrangements for 16 and 17 year old care leavers. Income would be provided by the Trusts. Why? What is the reason for taking this responsibility away from the Department for Social Development? Who would control payments? What would be the criteria for qualification for benefits? Who decides what is appropriate accommodation and what allowances should be granted for travel? If the young person does not cooperate with an assessment, would his benefit be withheld?
For example, if a Trust has a suspicion that an 18 year old is travelling from his flat in a village to the local town to buy alcohol, is he to be denied travel costs? Who makes that decision and based on what criteria? If a 20 year old wants to rent accommodation close to his adult brother who has a criminal record and who is regarded by the Trust as a bad influence on the young person, will his request for rent allowance be denied?
We are concerned at the level of control which would seem to pass to the Trust under the new proposed financial arrangements. We believe that these may raise Human Rights issues.
We appreciate that like other Respondents, we have raised issues that are really "in the detail" and which will be addressed in regulations and guidance once the primary legislation is in place. In our view however, this is tantamount to closing the stable door after the horse has bolted. Greater clarification is required prior to the implementation of the primary legislation and we see no reason why this could not be addressed at this stage.
Nor do we see any reason for rushing this piece of legislation through. In our view any delay is purposeful. Not only can clarification be provided (and hence greater precision achieved in the long term) but also the effects of the equivalent legislation just introduced in England and Wales could be observed and monitored.
FAMILY BAR ASSOCIATION
REPORT ON CHILDREN LEAVING CARE BILL
WRITTEN SUBMISSION BY
17 April 2002
FURTHER COMMENTS ON THE PROPOSED CHILDREN (LEAVING CARE) BILL
I am writing to you regarding the above and in response to your letter dated 27 March 2002. As you know, First Key (NI) provided a detailed response to the Department of Health, Social Services and Public Safety consultation on the proposal Bill.
We forwarded copies of our response to the Committee in October 2001 and highlighted a number of key issues we feel need to be addressed when considering new arrangements for care leavers.
An 'inclusive' approach needs be taken when determining eligibility criteria under the new arrangements. Particularly in relation to ensuring looked after disabled people, those with mild to moderate learning difficulties, mental health needs and/or leaving 'care' from youth justice settings will be entitled to the full range of leaving and aftercare services being proposed.
We also highlighted the need to obtain detailed baseline information on care leavers and ensure adequate resources are in place to fully implement such arrangements. With that in mind, First Key (NI) has been working closely with Health and Social Services Boards and Trusts gathering information on:
We are also in the process of further discussions with managers, practitioners, service providers and young people on the proposed new arrangements, particularly in relation to the complex issues and 'pros' and 'cons' of proposals to remove eligible sixteen and seventeen year old care leavers entitlements to benefits.
We would welcome the opportunity to meet with members of the Committee to share our 'findings' and discuss the implications these may have for ensuring the new legislative provisions and arrangements for their implementation will lead to significantly improved life chances and outcomes for care leavers in Northern Ireland.
We wish Committee members well in their task of scrutinising the Bill.
Looking froward to hearing from you.
25 October 2001
FIRST KEY (NI) RESPONSE TO THE DEPARTMENT'S PROPOSALS FOR A LEAVING CARE BILL
I am writing to you regarding the above.
First Key (NI) hosted an Information Event on the new proposals on 1 May 2001 in Belfast. We attempted then to provide a framework of issues and questions designed to help us and others provide a focused response to the Department. We held two consultation workshops with care experienced young people.
I have enclosed a copy of our submission which includes young peoples' views and comments (see italics), The paper was also circulated to a wide range of agencies responsible for, or interested in supporting or advocating for, young people in and leaving care in Northern Ireland.
We note that the Department's Memorandum on the proposed Children (Leaving Care ) Bill includes some very limited feedback on the consultation. This feedback has not been sufficiently detailed to allow us to assess whether the majority of the issues we raised and points of clarification we sought will be addressed.
In light of this we would wish to draw Committee members attention the key points set out in the attachment below with respect to the proposed new legislation.
May we take this opportunity to thank members of the Committee for inviting us to respond to their request and also wish them every success in the coming weeks and months in overseeing the passage of this important legislation.
Please do not to hesitate to contact us should you require any further information or points of clarification.
FIRST KEY ISSUES ABOUT THE PROPOSED
Clearer and firmer legislative duties toward care leavers
The new proposals should help firm up and clarify HSS Boards/Trusts duties and powers toward care leavers through amending Arts 35 and 36 of the Children (NI) Order and certainly help such young people and those who assist them be clearer about what they are entitled to.
First Key hopes that, once implemented, the new legislative provisions would mean more looked after young people would be eligible for more comprehensive services including financial support with accommodation, education, training and employment.
Implementation and the inadequacy of resources - 'resizing the pot'
We are concerned that there has been insufficient resources committed to Boards/Trusts to date to fully implement the existing leaving and after care provision of the Children (NI) Order 1995.
The Department note that the new arrangements for care leavers would be funded from three sources a) existing Trust resources b) resources from DSD in respect of benefit entitlements for 16 & 71 year olds and c) any additional resources which might be secured. In the case of the latter they make explicit reference to Social Inclusion/Community regeneration Executive Programme funding.
However, the Department seem to fail to acknowledge the need for additional core resources to assist Trusts/Boards fulfil their statutory obligations under the new legislative provisions. Trusts will need additional resources to cover set up and running financial and administration systems, undertake needs assessments and recruiting and training staff and Young People's Advisors - let alone additional resources for individual young people under the new arrangements.
We are very concerned there might be an under-estimation of the resources that need to be transferred from the DSD with respect to 16-17 year olds means tested benefits. A range of social security related benefits need to be taken into account in this calculation along with (Transitional) Housing Benefit together with related policy initiatives like the DSD/NI Housing Executive led 'Supporting People' initiative.
All this is in stark contrast to the situation in England - where clear policy direction and additional funding for supporting care leavers has been made available under the National Priorities/Quality Protects initiative and Special Social Services Grant.
Accountability & Ring Fencing
There has been a lack of effective mechanisms of accountability and monitoring whether legislation and policy are being implemented and/or whether funding and services are being directed/delivered to support services for individual care leavers. The legal status of a 'care plan' is unclear.
There should be a 'ring fencing' mechanism for ensuring benefit resources (for 16 and 17 years olds) transferred to Trusts is spent on what is intended for (and not diverted to other areas of Trusts health and social services).
Obtaining Accurate Baseline Information
In their consultation document and Memo the Department refer to baseline information on leaving and aftercare as set out in the Social Services Inspectorate report 'Promoting Independence'. The audit report includes details of the numbers of young people aged 16-18 leaving the care of the 11 HSS Trusts (1996-1999) and attempts to quantify the level of human and financial resources currently committed by trusts to the running of services.
However, the SSI report does not include figures on the numbers of young people in receipt of aftercare services (aged 18-21 and over) or complete information from all Trusts on committed resources or indeed whether this comes from core budgets.
It is essential to obtain more accurate, complete and detailed information to realistically determine the level of resources needed to implement the new provisions. The information needs to include:
First Key intends to gather this information independently and as part of our commitment to ongoing work in Children's Services Planning in each Board area.
WHAT AND WHO IS MISSING?
Independent Review Panel & Pathway Planning
First Key believes an accountability mechanism should built into Pathway Plans in order to ensure actions, commitments or resources set out and agreed are in fact followed through and provided and, in contested cases, provide a means for negotiation, advocacy and ultimately independent review, if needed.
Where informal negotiations fail an Independent Review Panel (IPR) could play helpful role where able to hear case quickly and easily. Access to an IPR consisting of lay people and those with social work experience and a care experienced person would provide a useful mechanism for ensuring quality, accountability and equity of new arrangements. Decisions by Panel should be binding on the Trust with clear time scales and balanced composition to ensure independence is established, schedule to the statute and clear relationship to complaints and court procedures.
Eligibility - the new provisions should apply to/include:
Young people previously looked after (accommodation or under a care order) but placed in a juvenile justice setting under a Juvenile Justice (NI) Order.
Young disabled people looked after within Trust Disability Programmes and disabled children and young people in receipt of respite care arrangements over an extended period of time.
Note under existing legislation such children and young people are regarded as being looked after by social services. In some circumstances 'leaving care' will need to focus less on disabled young people making a move toward 'full independence' and more about helping the young person make a smooth and successful transition into Adult services.
Loss of entitlement to income support /social security related benefits under these arrangements should not mean 16 and 17 year olds will also loose their entitlement/access to - health services such as free prescriptions and dental and eye treatment, sickness benefits etc - or entitlement to subsidies in using public transport - to other housing related support services ('floating support') being developed under the 'Supporting People initiative
Lack of Safety Net - the compulsory nature of these arrangements puts at risk 16 and 17 year olds in care or leaving care who are estranged from their parents and social services - their 'corporate parents'. Although small in number such young people require a 'safety net' or special provision to ensure they will not be driven into poverty, crime or prostitution.
There should be no sharp drop in income when a care leaver reaches 18 years -Trusts ensure young people are not disadvantaged should they have to join the benefits system at this stage.
We would urge the Department to include young people in and leaving care involved in both part time and full time further education, vocation training or initiatives addressing personal / life skills development within these arrangements.
Research indicates that relatively few young people who leave care make it into higher education and many young people find themselves trapped and having tomake a choice of either education or benefits.
Consultation on Guidance and Regulations
The terms of reference for consulting on Guidance and Regulations should be inclusive and include developing a clear, simple and transparent system of financial need assessment and allocation needs to be established and applied equally to young people. The systems should recognise individual situations and levels of needs, while ensuring equality of access to financial support.
Consequences of not providing adequate support to care leavers
Research and practice in Northern and further afield clearly indicates along a wide range of socio-economic, material' and pycho-social' dimensions the very high costs of not providing adequate support and assistance to young people leaving care.
Trusts, and those who work with them and on their behalf need to act as 'good parents'. Who sits back and watches their son or daughter leave school without any qualifications, drift from place to place - rootless, trying to survive on little or income with few opportunities of finding meaningful work - and with no place or people to fall back on?
It is not hard to see how the resulting costs in terms of health, mental health, social security, housing, future social services involvement, police, courts, probation costs which are not years away - but can be only round the corner.
LACK OF A SAFETY NET FOR THE MOST VULNERABLE YOUNG CARE LEAVERS
Ineligibility for benefits and the impact on care leavers re: other related policy initiatives
Will ineligibility for housing benefit will mean care leavers will lose their entitlement/access to other housing related services eg the 'floating support' and other types of accommodation and supports services which will develop under the 'Supporting People initiative' currently being considered by the Department of Social Development and Northern Ireland Housing Executive.
When things go wrong for care leavers, they can go wrong very quickly! We would seek clarification under the proposed new arrangements as to whether Trusts 'should' fulfill the role of a responsible parent and provide temporary assistance to the young person in crisis.
Q. If the crisis leads to a young person moving to live in another Trust area on a temporary basis (for example due to a threat issued from an paramilitary organisation or other person) would their Advisor continue to provide for them.
Young people in after care often experience the 'trap' in relation to being excluded from benefits while undertaking full time course in further education. They have to decide to continue to full time education and take on part time work (late at night or anti-social hours) to supplement their income or go into part time and remain eligible for benefits. It is also the case the many young people including care leavers to not return to education until they are in their early or mid twenties.
More and more opportunities arise for (looked after) young people and those in aftercare to become involved in 'projects' - often on a short term (10 -12 week) basis. Such projects are often designed to build skills, personal development, self esteem and provide young people with employable skills and experiences.
The proposals should take these factors into account and extend the duty on Trusts to provide assistance to care leavers up to 25 years of age who (re) enter a course of education, further education or vocational training.
WRITTEN SUBMISSION BY:
25 October 2001
Thank you for sharing the Proposed Children (Leaving Care) Bill.
Green Park Healthcare Trust would endorse the new proposals as the way forward, to improve the life chances of these young people.
It is assumed that the young people leaving care referred to in the proposals will also include those with learning disabilities and that this group will also have equal rights to these opportunities.
It is particularly heartening to note that the proposed Bill will have a positive impact on Targeting Social Need.
WRITTEN SUBMISSION BY:
22 October 2001
The Northern Ireland Guardian Ad Litem Agency (NIGALA) welcomes the opportunity to respond to the proposals for a Children Leaving Care Bill. The role of NIGALA, as expressed in the Agency's Mission Statement, is to advise the Courts of children's wishes and feelings and to independently represent and safeguard the interests of children in Specified Public Law and Adoption Proceedings in Northern Ireland. One of the duties of the Guardian ad Litem in Specified Proceedings is to consider and comment upon a Trust's care plan which outlines how a child's needs are going to be met. In this respect, arrangements for young people leaving care will be very pertinent.
THE NEEDS AND RIGHTS OF YOUNG PEOPLE LEAVING CARE
National and local research, together with government reports, identify the variety of needs young people leaving care have:
In addition to the needs of young people leaving care, the rights of such young people as expressed in the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child must also be upheld. Of particular relevance here will be Article 27:
"States Parties recognise the right of every child to a standard of living adequate for the child's physical, mental, spiritual, moral and social development."
and Article 39:
"States Parties shall take all appropriate measures to promote physical and psychological recovery and social reintegration of a child victim of any form of neglect, exploitation or abuse, torture or any other form of cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment; or armed conflicts. Such recovery and reintegration shall take place in an environment which fosters the health, self-respect and dignity of the child."
In broad terms NIGALA welcomes these proposals as they seek to build on the provisions of the Children (NI) Order 1995 and improve leaving and aftercare services. As the consultation document emphasises, young people leaving care experience an extensive range of disadvantage in terms of education, employment, housing and family support. In order to turn this appalling situation around NIGALA believes that new legislation is required, accompanied by detailed Regulation and Guidance.
In order to translate the ideals of these proposals into reality which can properly deliver services to young care leavers, NIGALA believes that a sufficiently resourced infrastructure is required. This infrastructure should ensure that a co-ordinated approach is taken to assessing and meeting the needs of this group of young people. In this respect, the question as to whether the services to young people leaving care should be delivered by Trusts or by a separate agency/voluntary oganisation requires further debate.
3.8 The statement that
"the Department believes that the support provided by a Trust should be akin to that which young people can normally expect to receive from parents"
is one which NIGALA fully endorses, but the ramifications of this will be considerable. In particular, it should be recognised that for most people, leaving home is a process occurring over a period of time, often years. Leaving home requires flexibility from parents as well as continuing practical and emotional support. Clearly enabling Trusts to act in a manner akin to parents requires a great deal of imagination, energy and resources.
4.2 Young Person's Advisors. The introduction of Young Person's Advisors to act as a single point of contact for the young person is viewed as a positive step by NIGALA. However, a range of issues require to be addressed before such a measure is implemented. These involve the following questions:
In examining the proposals for the role of the Young Person's Advisor, it is clear that such a professional will need to be a multi-skilled confident worker. The YPA, in playing the key role in ensuring the young person's needs are comprehensively assessed and a "Pathway Plan" is agreed and reviewed, will require the ability to develop appropriate relationships with the young person and a range of professionals and organisations. The YPA will require an in-depth knowledge of the systems with which the young person interacts and be skilled in negotiation, advocacy and ensuring the provision of practical help. The role also needs to include working with young people from offending backgrounds and those with challenging behaviours.
In order to recruit and develop YPAs of sufficient calibre, consideration needs to be given to the specific training and such workers will require to carry out their role effectively.
4.9 "Pathway Plans". The proposal to draw up "Pathway Plans" to map out a clear pathway to independence is supported by NIGALA. While it is essential that the development of the pathway plan will be based on a multi-agency assessment of need, the involvement of the young person in drawing up the plan and ensuring his views are clearly expressed in it are central elements to the success of the implementation of the plan. The young person must feel that the plan is his and that it meets his needs.
4.20 Funding. The proposals state that
"under the new arrangements, existing spending on after care services and benefits would be drawn together and used by Trusts to provide support and assistance."
The simplification of this system in relation to 16 and 17 year olds is welcomed but two points arise. Firstly, Trusts, in taking on these financial arrangements, must ensure they have structures in place so that young people can rely on getting their payments at the expected time and that the amount of money to which they are entitled is clear and included in the Pathway Plan. Secondly, in attempting to reverse the disturbing range of disadvantages that young people leaving care experience and to come close to the principle expressed in paragraph 3.8 that
"the support provided by a Trust should be akin to that which young people can normally expect to receive from parents"
it is abundantly clear that significant increased funding will be required.
NIGALA, in carrying out its functions, upholds the principle that the voice of the child or young persons should be heard. Recent research undertaken by Stewart Russell, a family placement worker working for Portsmouth Social Services, seeks to do this by asking care leavers what they want from Social Services departments in the light of the government's guidance 'Me, Survive, Out There?' published by the DOH in 1999. Russell's findings are based on the replies of 30 young people, as well as responses from social work staff and carers. A summary of these findings can be found in Community Care 19-25 April 2001. The following relate specifically to the young people's responses:
Russell concludes the Community Care article in this way:
"Many (though not all) of our more disaffected young people would respond more positively if they knew that social services departments actually wanted to look after them until they were genuinely ready to leave, rather than being given the message that adults don't really want them. After all, if you don't want me, why should I want you?" 
NIGALA welcomes the proposals for a Leaving Care Bill and looks forward to further opportunities for consultation as these proposals are fleshed out. The need for new legislation based on the needs and right of young people leaving care is clear. This legislation should be set in the context of a comprehensive children's strategy. Its implementation requires detailed Regulation and Guidance, a significant increase in funding, an infrastructure which can deliver and considerable commitment from well-trained and well-resourced staff. Central to the whole process should be a willingness to listen to what young people themselves say they want.
WRITTEN SUBMISSION BY:
2 November 2001
With reference to your letter of 28 September 2001, our leaving and after care team has been established for approximately three years and has been proactive in developing an innovative service for the young people that it is responsible for. Service user involvement in planning and implementing provision for young people having care has been at the forefront of practice and was instrumental in the award of a Charter Mark last year. As such, we welcome the broad aims and objectives of the proposed Bill, but would be concerned that the statutory duties dictated may, in effect, drive away many clients who would see this as a threat.
The voluntary nature of the relationship between young person and social worker has proved to be extremely valuable both in empowering those leaving care and enabling them to have some control in this relationship.
I would like to make the following comments in relation to the new proposals.
9. This mentioned delaying young people's discharge from care until they are prepared and ready to leave and improving preparation and planning for care leavers. This concept is a positive one in terms of dictating the provision of a continuum of services for the young person leaving care, including accommodation. It should be clearly identified, however, that simply keeping young people for longer periods in residential homes or foster care will not necessarily assist them.
Separate leaving care facilities would be needed, although some foster placements would be suitable, and the young person involved clearly given the message that they cease to be in care once they reach the age of 18 as many regard this label as stigmatising.
11. This places a duty on the Trusts to keep in touch with young people who have left care. As with the previous recommendation, the imposition of services could cause problems with some young people. Trying to trace and engage what can be a very mobile population would also be difficult, especially if they are not willing to respond.
Trusts should preferably have a duty to offer services to young people who have left care, and if this legal obligation can be framed as such, it would appear to be a lot less threatening whilst not diluting the responsibilities placed on the statutory bodies.
12. The proposed Pathway Planning is virtually in place in the Trust given that we can plan after care services for the young people in our care in time for preparatory work to commence.
Young peoples advisors (YPAs), as outlined by the Bill, occupy a very important role for the young person. We would envisage that YPAs need to be professionally qualified individuals, preferably social work trained, who are very much in tune with the legislation, procedures and policies surrounding young people in care. They would require a broad knowledge and experience of the difficulties facing those leaving care and a practical network involving those agencies who could potentially be of assistance. Most important of all, they would need the skills to engage teenagers who are amongst the most needy and dysfunctional within their age group.
There is a risk attached with using unqualified or inexperienced people in this role, in that the young person would not receive the same quality of service.
It may be feasible for a voluntary agency to provide a number of suitable individuals as YPAs but they would find it very difficult to meet the needs of all of the Trusts in Northern Ireland. This at least would offer the young person some degree of choice if they wanted a totally independent advisor.
13. The proposals for new financial arrangements have caused a number of concerns.
A knowledge that income support is available through their social worker may prove to be a dis-incentive for some young people to sign up to work schemes or to find employment.
Having social services continuing to provide financially for young people may paradoxically result in the leaving care arrangements extending the dependency that many young people develop when in care. There is most definitely a case for ensuring that this group of young people are provided with the support that their peers who live with their families normally receive. However, careful planning will be needed to make sure that dependence is not protracted by this process.
There will be additional work for staff to administer benefits and how this proposal would be linked to the range of other benefits normally available to those on income support would need to be clarified. There are obvious resource implications for the Trust in terms of developing and maintaining such a system.
15. It would have been useful to consult with the young people who would be the subject of this Bill.
20. There are clear cost implications from the proposed Bill and additional resources would be needed, not only in the implementation stages, but on an ongoing basis.
I trust these comments are helpful.
REPORT ON CHILDREN LEAVING CARE BILL
WRITTEN SUBMISSION BY:
1.1 Housing Rights Service is an independent organisation working to promote homelessness and eradicate poor housing in Northern Ireland. We provide a range of practical support services to promote the rights of individuals in housing need and seek to influence policy to achieve decent, safe and affordable housing for all.
1.2 One of our core services is the provision of advice, advocacy and representation to people who are experiencing housing problems. Over the last 12 months our advisers have dealt with over 5000 enquiries, approximately 1200 of these were from young people under the age of 25 and around 150 from young people aged 16 -17. From this practical experience we are aware that many young people do face the risk of homelessness and we believe that young people leaving care are particularly vulnerable to this risk. The detail of our response is informed by our experience obtained from advising young homeless people and also from consultation with member agencies involved in the provision of frontline services to young people leaving care.
2.0 THE NATURE OF HOMELESSNESS AMONG CARE LEAVERS
2.1 The 'Promoting Independence: A Review of Leaving and Aftercare Services' report concludes that young people leaving care are at a disadvantage to their peers in areas of educational achievement, employability, and will have higher levels of emotional disturbance and higher level of dependency on state benefits  . The report identified accommodation as one of the core needs for young care leavers.
2.2 Housing Rights Service endorses this view and believes that securing appropriate accommodation is a crucial step for any young person in making a successful transition from the care environment to independent living. It is the experience of our clients however that the current arrangements for meeting the accommodation needs of young care leavers are wholly inadequate. Similarly, the statistics of one of our member agencies, Starting Point (a voluntary organisation providing support for young people in a housing crisis) show that almost one in ten of their clients last year were care leavers, illustrating the high dependency of care leavers on additional forms of support to social services.
2.3 There is clearly a need to address the failure of the current statutory framework to meet the needs of these vulnerable young people and we therefore endorse the policy objectives outlined in the memorandum on the proposed bill to place new and enhanced duties on HSS trusts to provide adequate levels of support to care leavers.
3.0 THE PRESENT POSITION
3.1 Within Northern Ireland at present, care leavers do not automatically attract any statutory priority for social housing. Responsibility for securing accommodation for young people is included as one element of the Children (NI) Order 1995. This places a mandatory duty on Boards/Trusts to accommodate 16-17 children "in need" in certain circumstances. The legislation also includes some enabling powers in relation to securing accommodation for other groups of young people.
3.2 In practice, we have experienced serious difficulties in using this legislation effectively on behalf of young clients, primarily for the following reasons:
(1) The Boards/Trusts do not control the allocation of housing. Their ability to access accommodation for a young person therefore depends on developing a robust agreement and a good working relationship with the Housing Executive. In keeping with this ethos of partnership working a draft agreement was formulated in 1996. This set out the arrangements for compliance and co-operation in relation to the assessment and allocation of housing. These protocols between social services and the Housing Executive have however never been formalised and are rarely implemented. Subsequently despite the legislation, the accommodation needs of young people (including 16-17 children "in need", to whom a statutory duty is owed) often go unmet.
(2) There is a lack of awareness amongst some practitioners within social services of their role and the responsibilities placed on them by the Children (NI) Order 1995. The Order does not appear to have been implemented in a uniform manner and consequently the response to a young person's request for help has largely depended on the Board/trust area in which they sought assistance.
4.0 THE PROPOSED NEW LEGISLATION
4.1 Clarification on detail
While Housing Rights Service supports, in principle, the government's intention to offer additional protection to young care leavers by way of the new legislation, it is difficult to offer more specific comment without the detail of the Bill and the supporting regulations. From the outline of the key features provided in the memorandum, there are a number of issues, in particular, requiring further clarification.
(1) The scope of the Bill - will it extend to individuals who have been in care for a short period or who have become estranged from care? The 'Promoting Independence' report also states that 'while a significant number of young people on leaving care return home, a considerable amount of these placements break down within the first three to six months'. Housing Rights Service is concerned that these young people may not qualify for the new proposals, and believe that the proposals should include assurances that anyone who leaves care will be supported and their progress monitored for an agreed period to ensure that if any arrangements break down, there is still a level of support available for the individual.
(2) The criteria to be used to determine whether or not a young person is "eligible" for a needs assessment.
(3) The transitional arrangements, if any, for young people leaving care before the provisions of this bill are implemented.
4.2 USER INVOLVEMENT
We welcome the proposal to provide a Pathway Plan for all eligible young people but believe it is vital that the young person is actively involved in the development of this plan.
4.3 New financial arrangements for young care leavers
4.3.1 Housing Rights Service is concerned at the blanket removal of the right of young care leavers to claim benefits such as Income Support, income based job seekers allowance and housing benefit. We feel this could impact negatively on individuals who, for whatever reason, have become estranged from social services, and yet are dependent on certain benefits for support. Further consideration needs to be given as to how the situation would be managed if the relationship between the care leaver and social services irretrievably breaks down. We do not believe denying access to financial resources should be used as a control mechanism to compel a young care leaver to continue the relationship against their wishes.
4.3.2 As receipt of means tested benefits are often the passport to free access to other services e.g. dental care, prescriptions etc there is a need to ensure that these are also protected.
4.4 Resource implications of the new proposals
4.4.1 Housing Rights Service is concerned about the lack of reference to how the proposals will be funded.
4.4.2 The 'Promoting Independence' report suggested that the reason for a decrease in the amount of 16-year-olds leaving care is that there are fewer places available for their care in the first place. Housing Rights Service believes it is essential that care is available as an option for those who need it and whilst we warmly welcome the creation of Young Person's Advisors and other proposals contained in the Bill, we are concerned that the funding for this initiative will come from already stretched budgets. We do not consider this enhanced level of commitment can be delivered without additional resources and feel it is important to accurately project the cost of this new approach and secure the additional funding necessary.
4.5 Enforcement/monitoring/review arrangements
It is our view that there has been a failure to effectively implement the Children (NI) Order 1995 in keeping with the spirit of the legislation. We are therefore concerned that this proposed legislation could suffer a similar fate. Introducing the legislation should only be viewed as a first step towards improving support for young care leavers. It is imperative that adequate arrangements are also put in place to enable its implementation to be monitored. Likewise consideration needs to be given to the recourse available, including access to independent review, for young people who do not subsequently receive the service to which they are entitled.
4.6 Need to link with changes in forthcoming housing legislation for N.I.
The Children (Leaving Care) Act 2000 came into force in England on 1st October 2001. It contains similar provisions to the Bill being proposed in Northern Ireland. There has however been recognition in England of the need to also introduce corresponding changes within the "priority need" categories contained in the homelessness legislation. To safeguard the position of young people leaving care, similar changes will be required to the legislation governing the rights of homeless people in Northern Ireland. Whilst the new Bill will entitle 16 & 17 year old relevant children to accommodation from social services, the homeless priority need categories will need to be extended to all 18 to 21 year olds who are former relevant children under the Children (Leaving Care) Bill.
5.1 We endorse the view that young people leaving care are at risk of severe social exclusion and that any government strategy for this client group must have as its goal, continuity of support to allow them to develop towards achieving eventual independence.
5.2 Young care leavers face genuine obstacles in particular areas, such as finding accommodation, often without a family network to support them. We believe increased rights to an enhanced level of support at the appropriate time could prevent many of these young people from becoming homeless.
5.3 Whilst we accept that the lead responsibility for co-ordinating services for this client group should be placed with HSS, the trusts cannot meet the needs of young care leavers without co-operation from other public sector agencies such as the Housing Executive. The negative experience of our young clients seeking assistance with obtaining accommodation under the Children (NI) Order 1995 demonstrates forcefully the need to ensure ALL relevant legislation within both Health & Social Services and housing is complementary and also the importance of establishing effective working arrangements in practice.
5.4 Current accommodation options for eligible care leavers include places in B&B's, homeless hostels and isolated properties in low demand housing estates. Housing Rights Service believes there is a need to:
In their "Homelessness Strategy and Service Review" consultation paper, the Housing Executive has recognised these issues and identified the need to be more responsive to the individual circumstances of care leavers. Implementation of their recommendations would inevitably have a positive impact on the ability of HSS trusts to meet their enhanced duties to care leavers but will require an investment of additional resources.
5.5 Housing Rights Service believes that adoption of a multi agency approach is necessary at both a strategic and operational level, to adequately safeguard the welfare of the more than two hundred young people who leave care every year. Such an approach should include the Trusts, social services, health boards, the Housing Executive, housing associations and other organisations within the voluntary sector that work with, and on behalf of, young care leavers.
6.0 CONTACT DETAILS
For further information or clarification on any of the points contained in this document please contact either Grainia Long or Janet Hunter at:
Housing Rights Service, 72 North Street, Belfast, BT1 1LD
WRITTEN SUBMISSION BY:
12 October 2001
I respond to your letter dated 28th September 2001 requesting comment on the Department's proposals.
I am quite surprised to note that in item 22 no human rights implication has been identified. I refer to section 13 of the notes and the proposals regarding new financial arrangements which will treat this age group differently from all others. Would there be a suggestion that the elderly programme should administer old age pensions. I would have serious concerns that the approach outlined runs contrary to equality legislation also. The whole direction will further de-professionalise social work by making it the payer of benefits for this age group. The matter of benefits is highlighted also in section 18. The origin of the financial problems for teenagers lies in the draconian social security system as it applies to this 16/17 year age group. The changes to the system forced thousands of young people onto the streets because it wasn't economically viable for parents to keep them at home. In essence government is "laundering" the problem through Trusts rather than tackling the core problem. Any change should be resisted with some lobby for amending the social security system so that these children get a fair change and a proper entitlement from the state as of right.
As with every piece of legislation in the last twenty years, I would be satisfied that there will be insufficient resources available to deliver on the very excellent aspirations as set out. Ultimately, Trusts will be blamed for the failure in implementation. There needs to be a clear recognition that this group of young people are among the most demanding with regard to investment of time and that while the £400k per year for three years sounds good I await to be convinced. The assumption in section 20(a) is that Health and Social Services Trusts' resources are adequate to meet current situations ahead of new legislation which is patently not the case in many Trusts.
I hope these comments are useful.
WRITTEN SUBMISSION BY:
22 October 2001
We at the Nexus Institute feel that any proposal recognising the needs of care leavers to age 21 is welcomed. Whilst the document recognises that 22 is often a typical age to leave home, this age is rising, and that those who do so often do in the knowledge of continued family support. Thus even at 21, the care leaver is vulnerable and disadvantaged. It would therefore seem tat initiatives regarding 'citizenship' and embracing self-esteem and self- development should be considered and might be proffered via the voluntary sector and dovetail with the proposed Pathway Plan.
It also seems that a important aspect of preparing young people for independent living is that of 'mentoring', especially as many of these young people have had poor experiences of adults. This might be considered an aspect of each Trust's Young Person's Advisor.
Whilst fostering has not had the hoped for impact, perhaps a voluntary mentoring bureau could be considered through which each care leaver could have access to non-statutory 'families' for support, experience of caring and sharing and things most of us take for granted, eg the occasional hot meal, bath etc. The support, experience and example of knowing they are not completely alone.
Young people leaving care have particular needs over and above those of other young people, and any support service(s) should be tailored to meet those needs. Appropriate research and consultation with the young people should identify these needs.
Young people leaving care are a vulnerable group who may well have a higher incidence of sexual abuse than other groups of young people. The Nexus Institute can provide specialist counselling, information, education and training in relation to sexual abuse etc from the age of 17 up. Will the new Bill allow for the release of funding for this purpose to enable young people leaving care to avail of our services?
The Nexus Institute considers this to be an essential element in providing adequate support to this group of vulnerable young people.
WRITTEN SUBMISSION BY:
26 October 2001
On behalf of NIPSA's Social Services Sub Committee I would wish to make the following submission in response to the Children (Leaving Care) Bill Consultation Paper which was issued recently.
NIPSA welcomes the proposed developments to improve the range of support available to young care leavers and which puts best practice of the Children (NI) Order 1995 onto a statutory basis. However, this has substantial resource implications for the Boards and Trusts at a time when they are often unable to meet existing statutory functions (i.e. child protection, family support, fostering and adoption, childminding, public and private law). Northern Ireland experiences severe economic and social deprivations, poor educational deprivation and social exclusiveness and given the poor record of the care system it is essential to improve the life chances of the young person with in it.
The New Proposals
(Reference Paragraph 10)
NIPSA welcomes the extension of the duty placed on Boards and Trusts to assess and meet the needs of eligible 16 and 17 year olds in care or those who have left care. However, given that the leaving care duties under the Children (NI) Order 1995 have not been adequately financed, the extension of this duty to a statutory function must be properly resourced.
Reference Paragraph 11
Whilst in principle NIPSA supports the duty to extend care duties until a young person reaches 21 years, this presupposes that the individual will wish to avail of such a service. This has implication for the human rights of a young person.
Reference Paragraph 12
In principle NIPSA fully supports pathway plans and 6 monthly reviews. However, NIPSA requires further information as to the role and function of the young Person's Advisor and the interface of the field social work staff. In particular the issue of accountability needs to be addressed particularly if the young person wishes to have a Young Person's Advisor independent of the local Trust. Consideration will also have to be given to the resource implication in terms of:
(i) Direct costs i.e. payment to the young Person's Advisors for their services;
(ii) Indirect cost i.e. costs of supervision and monitoring Person's Advisors for their services.
(iii) Indirect costs i.e. costs of supervision and monitoring.
Reference Paragraph 13
NIPSA has strong reservations about the new proposed financial arrangements for 16 and 17 year old care leavers.
NIPSA has difficult with the removal of 16 and 17 year olds for the benefit system because:
(i) it reinforces the marginalisation of young people from their peers;
(ii) it does not empower young people through enabling them to access their benefits (their own right).
(iii) it will change the ethos of relationship between the young people and the Trust;
(iv) it will transfer responsibility for Social Security from an agency with the relevant skills/experience;
(v) it will require a significant administrative framework with Trust to operationalise;
(vi) this would impose unacceptable expectations and risks on social work staff. Social Security staff fulfil this function under secure conditions and still are subjected to threats of factual violence. It is NIPSA's view that without a significant change of culture and orientation, Trusts could not achieve this.
Furthermore it is NIPSA's view that the core benefit arrangements remain unchanged and that the Trust should supplement any additional resources required under Article 35 Children Order (NI) 1995.
A clear framework for the calculation of a "ring-fenced" budget needs to be devised with recognition that the re-framing of existing expenditure would be insufficient without the identification of additional resources.
Reference Paragraph 14
NIPSA is in agreement with the need to provide continuing support for 18-21 year olds, recognising the corporate parenting responsibilities on Trusts. NIPSA also recognises that support is needed across a number of areas and relates also to 16-17 year olds.
(i) Accommodation - a range of properly funded supported accommodations including specialist fostering, supported lodgings, supported hostels, move on flats with floating support arrangement and rent deposit schemes.
(ii) Temporary Support - "safety net" responsibility to provide temporary support in times of crisis.
(iii) Education, training and other support - NIPSA recognises the need for young people to avail of appropriate training opportunities at their level of capacity, either through vocational courses or access to higher education. A realistic level of support is needed to encourage and support young people and should include:
(iv) Young Parent Support - NIPSA would propose that a Positive Intervention Strategy in the model of Surestart should be resourced for young care leavers to support them in their parenting role.
NIPSA welcomes the intention of the proposed Bill in terms of making good practice a legislative requirement. Models of good practice exist which need to be properly supported and resourced and which reflect the complexity of the leaving and after care process. The framework for comprehensive assessment, pathway plan with regular review and designated Advisors for young people aged 16-21 is fully supported although the identity of Young People's Advisors and their specific role requires clarification. NIPSA has serious concerns with the withdrawal of benefit entitlement form 16-17 year olds in terms of human rights and equality, ethos of leaving and after care support and, not least logistics.
It is NIPSA's belief that a clear regional benchmark for service provision for care leavers is important to ensure equality for access for all young care leavers. However, this needs to be properly resourced recognising the complexity of the task. If not, the aspirations of a comprehensive support service to help young care leavers make the best possible transition will founder at an early stage.
The proposed Bill should not be implemented in a piecemeal fashion but should be part of an overall children and young person policy. NIPSA note that there are currently consultations underway regarding the establishment of a Childrens Commissioner. We would suggest that this Bill should be referred to the Commissioner when established.
This concludes our submission.
I trust you will find these comments helpful.
WRITTEN SUBMISSION BY:
24 October 2001
In response to your correspondence of 28 September 2001 regarding the above-mentioned, the Trust welcomes the opportunity to make comment on the Memorandum from the Department of Health, Social Services and Public Safety which outlines the background to the Children (Leaving Care) Bill and Policy Objectives.
The Consultation Document for the 'Children (Leaving Care) Bill', was received positively by North and West Belfast Health and Social Services Trust. It is seen as an acknowledgement, by the Government, of the vulnerability of young people in transition from being 'looked after' to 'independent living'. The introduction of this legislation highlights specific needs of young people 'leaving care' and aims to promote their social inclusion and active engagement in society. The refining of legislation to ensure a clear statutory responsibility in providing for the needs of young people leaving care must be welcomed.
The Memorandum from the Department in its background to the Bill acknowledges the range of disadvantages, which such young people face in their transition from/to 'independent living'. It takes into account the broader, social, economic and political spectrum placing more responsibilities upon Health and Social Services Trusts and recognising the need for a more co-ordinated effective response from public sector agencies. The implementation of a multi-agency approach amongst the key statutory, voluntary and community agencies is essential to the effective working of this legislation.
The current position in relation to Leaving and After Care Services under the provisions of The Children (NI) Order 1995 have been widely interpreted. It is envisaged that the new legislative framework for the Children (Leaving Care) Bill should form the basis to build on the existing statutory provision and lead to development and improvements of Leaving and After Care Services.
The new proposals outlined in the Memorandum from the Department, recognise the need for young people to remain in care for as long as is required to prepare them for independent living and that new arrangements should reinforce this. The Trust recognises the importance of young people having access to a range of services designed to meet their needs. Under the new arrangements highlighted in the Memorandum, Trusts should keep in touch with young people who have left care in order to ensure that they receive the support to which they are entitled. This does not take into account that young people may wish to terminate their contact with Social Services Trusts and may view this contact as intrusive. This is a viewpoint expressed by many young people as they come to leave the care system.
Outlined in point 12 of the Memorandum, the new proposals highlight the appointment of a 'Young People's Advisor' and the introduction of 'Pathway Plans'. This is an important strategic development for Leaving and After Care Services. These proposals take into account the young persons needs and circumstances and acknowledge the need for a flexible approach to working with Young Care Leavers, which should be reflected in their Pathways Plans. The Memorandum points out that the appointment of a Young Persons Advisor would provide the key link for the young person with their Trust. It has also been made clear that clarification of the Young Person Advisor role and function will be provided within regulations and guidance of the Children (Leaving Care) Bill. However, Young Person Advisors would require skills in working with 'Care Leavers' and effective supervision. This would have obvious training implications. The young person's view should also be considered in the appointment of their Advisor. This enhances partnership and participation in service development and delivery and will ensure a greater acceptance of the role by young people themselves.
Point 13 of the Memorandum refers to the New Financial Arrangements for 16-17 year old 'Care Leavers'. The present system has been described as somewhat confusing. However, investing means tested social security benefits within a single system operated through Trusts, ensures that the Care Leavers do not lose contact with the Trust. The Department has recognised that these young people have specific needs. However, the compulsory nature of young care leavers returning to Social Services to receive benefits may ironically promote dependence and result in further stigmatisation and labelling by their peer group. The implementation of this system may profoundly affect the relationship between the young person and their worker. Concern exists too that the Social Worker role will be lost to that of a benefit provider.
The transfer of responsibility of the Trusts for financial supports to young care leavers (16/17 year olds) raises a number of concerns.
The transfer of responsibility to the Trusts for financial supports to young care leavers (16/17 year olds) raises a number of concerns.
The ethos of the legislative proposals is essentially empowering and participative yet investing financial management responsibility in the Trust is unlikely to enhance this process and could indeed serve to add to dependence of young people upon a system.
Resource implications have been addressed in point 20, however the benefits system would require additional support to both implement and maintain it. Further considerations may need to be given to the process of a young person's right to appeal financial support decisions. The new arrangements for 18-21 year olds as outlined in the Memorandum regarding the provision of temporary assistance in times of crisis and assistance with education, training and support are viewed as positive steps in promoting this groups 'life chances'. Recognition needs to be given to a small minority who have reached 21 years yet struggle with the concept of independent living and continue to require support from adult services.
In considering the deferment of The Children (Leaving Care) Bill until the equivalent legislation in England and Wales is operational would have limited merit, in that, Northern Ireland has its own unique circumstances which impact on young care leavers. In particular, young people living in the area of North and West Belfast may have experienced trauma due to high levels of conflict and need specific supports to redress the difficulties they have experienced.
Overall, the consultation process for the Children (Leaving Care) Bill has to undertake an holistic approach in its attempt to target social need. This should continue to be expanded in developing Leaving and After Care Services. The Government have recognised the vulnerability of these 'young people' in their transition from 'Care' to 'Independent Living'. In attempting to streamline, target and develop Leaving and After Care Services within Health and Social Services Trusts, the legislation will promote employability and life chances of this group and attempt to combat social exclusion.
As with other children's legislation the resource implications of this Bill must not be under-estimated. If the benefits to young care leavers recognised within the Bill are to be delivered, adequate resources must be forthcoming.
I hope that you find these comments to be useful.
R G BLACK
REPORT ON CHILDREN LEAVING CARE BILL
WRITTEN SUBMISSION BY:
25 October 2001
I refer to your letter dated 28 September 2001 seeking comments on the Department proposals set out in the memorandum on the above Bill. The Northern Health & Social Services Board believes that this Bill will fulfil a very important function by placing arrangements to support young people leaving care on a statutory basis.
Additional resources will be required to ensure a full implementation of this new legislation as there will be significant cost implications for Trusts arising from their responsibilities to co-ordinate financial and other support for care leavers.
I trust you will find this satisfactory.
MARGARET BLACK (MRS)
REPORT ON CHILDREN LEAVING CARE BILL
WRITTEN SUBMISSION BY:
23 November 2001
The Committee for Education has considered the Memorandum on the Proposed Children (Leaving Care) Bill and would make the following comments:
1. The Committee welcomes the provision of additional services for this group of young people who are among the most marginalised and disadvantaged young people in society.
2. There is evidence that the educational attainment of young people and children in care is poorer than average. One of the outcomes of the proposed Bill is likely to be to encourage young people to remain with in education and training programmes for longer and with more successful outcomes. The Committee would fully support this as being consistent with Programme for Government and New Targeting Social Need objectives.
3. In its response to the Health, Social Services and Public Safety Committee's Inquiry into Residential and Secure Accommodation, this Committee highlighted that a more coordinated approach between the various Departments/ Agencies regarding children in care was required. We also noted there was a lack of detailed information regarding a child's placement, educational attainment etc. to assist in identifying appropriate strategies. The Committee is pleased to note that the Department of Education together with the Department of Health, Social Services and Public Safety is establishing a database which will track individual children and relate their circumstances in care to their educational attainments. This database should be progressed as quickly as possible.
4. The Education Committee notes that the proposals have cost implications. These must be fully assessed and appropriate long-term sources of funding identified to assist the success of the policy whilst avoiding any possible detrimental impact on other important policies and objectives.
REPORT ON CHILDREN LEAVING CARE BILL
WRITTEN SUBMISSION BY:
29 October 2001
Your letter of 28 September refers.
The Social Development Committee considered the proposals in relation to this Bill at its meeting on 25 October and agreed that I should respond to you about two particular issues, namely, "accommodation on leaving care" and "amendments to the social security benefits system".
Accommodation on Leaving Care
The Committee has asked me to draw your attention to the fact that the Northern Ireland Housing Executive, in partnership with the Simon Community, commissioned research (in 1999) to examine the experiences of, and housing options available to, young care leavers. The Social Development Committee suggests that you may wish to invite written and/or oral evidence from the Northern Ireland Housing Executive and the Simon Community on the basis that some of the recommendations arising from their research included:
Accommodation options for young care leavers should be increased, with appropriate levels of support.
Statutory and voluntary agencies should adopt a more flexible approach in allowing young care leavers to return to 'supported accommodation' if it is clear that they are unable to cope in permanent housing.
Statutory accommodation providers should consider reducing the hurdles for young care leavers trying to access housing by, for example, giving priority to 16 and 17 year olds, on the grounds of age.
The Rent Guarantee scheme should be extended to facilitate access to the Private Rented Sector and that the affordability and quality of this type of accommodation should be monitored.
Joint assessment panels should be established between the Northern Ireland Housing Executive and the HSS Trust to ensure the provision of suitable housing accommodation and support packages.
Efforts to prepare young care leavers for the transition to independence, at an earlier age, should be increased.
The Social Development Committee takes the view that references to "support" should be interpreted as being both practical and financial and welcomes the broad thrust of the proposed legislation. However, and for example, it was pointed out that 16 and 17 year olds living at home or in student accommodation were likely to enjoy access to television without having to pay the costs of a television license, whereas this might not be the case for young care leavers making the transition from residential accommodation. The Social Development Committee noted that young care leavers might expect to receive help with "travel and leisure costs" and suggests that help with a television license would represent a meaningful and pragmatic measure of support.
Amendments to the Social Security Benefits System
The Committee is not aware of the detail of these proposals and has written to the Minister for Social Development seeking clarification of what is intended. The Committee will consider the Minister's response and may decide to write to you again in due course.
STEPHEN J GRAHAM
18 April 2002
In response to an approach from your Committee Office, the Committee for Social Development reviewed the response it made to the Health, Social Services & Public Safety Committee, on 29 October 2001. We agreed that there were no further points to be added. However, Members underlined the requirement to provide suitable levels of support to these young people; we suggest that these levels of support need to be clearly defined and monitored. I was also asked to remind you that I wrote to you on 12 March to highlight the need to ensure proposed housing legislation was properly aligned with the Children (Leaving Care) Bill.
WRITTEN SUBMISSION BY:
2 November 2001
The Senior Management Team of the Probation Board of Northern Ireland carefully considered the proposals for the support of children leaving care and broadly welcomed them as a means of ensuring that children leaving care are prepared for independence and support in their transition to adult life.
The proposals give a much clearer picture than at present where responsibility lies for supporting young people who have left care. We note that a quarter of young people leaving care did so at the age of 16 which contrasts with the typical age of young people leaving the family home at 22 years of age. This underlines the importance of the point made in paragraph 5 that there would be enhanced duties placed on HSS Trusts to support care leavers until they are at least 21 years old. On a daily basis the Probation Service deals with young people who are without family support and have turned to offending as a means of survival. This has implications for them throughout their informative years and extends into their young adulthood.
The four main aims of the proposals are welcomed. The delay of young people's discharge from care until they are prepared and ready to leave will ensure that decisions on discharge are related to the individual rather than to an arbitrary age limit. This will be further assisted by the improved assessment, preparation and planning for leaving care which will put young people in a position where they have the best chance of making a success of independent living. The provision of better personal support for young people after leaving care is much more aligned to the reality for people who are leaving stable family environments. It is not untypical for young people leaving home to seek the support and often to return to their families while they find their feet. The proposal to improve the financial arrangements for care leavers will address one of the fundamental causes of young people becoming involved in offending when they have left care. In many cases it is financial hardship and poor financial management which lead to an involvement in offending.
We note that the Bill and supporting regulations will determine who will or will not be eligible under the new arrangements. It is important that this is carefully worked out to avoid people falling through any safety nets of support. We believe that any errors should be made on the side of including too many children rather than excluding any needy ones. Although this may incur unnecessary costs at times it will be a better way of avoiding the costs of young people becoming involved in offending through lack of support.
The duty on HSS Trusts to keep in touch with young people who have left care is an important one. Many of the young people we deal with lead nomadic lives which are motivated by having no family connections in a specific area. It is in these circumstances that they lose touch with supporting agencies and will be in a position where they will turn to offending.
The creation of the posts of Young Persons Advisor and the Pathway Planning Process are particular welcomed. This will give much more consistent support to young people than is currently provided. The briefing document did not specify the competencies and qualifications which would be required by a Young Persons Advisor. We would expect that the Advisor would have some knowledge of the impact of institutional care, the needs of young people and experience of working with them in the community.
The new financial arrangements for 16 and 17 care leavers would make the HSS Trusts their primary source of income. We would expect that the income they receive could be flexible according to their needs. This would avoid them being trapped in the rigidity and inflexibility of the benefits system and would much more closely reflect the type of support that young people from stable families would receive from their parents in many cases. Again we would emphasise that it is financial hardship and crisis which often leads to young people becoming involved in offending and can lead to putting themselves at risk. When young people get beyond the age of 17 and their source of income is not primarily the HSS Trust we believe that financial assistance should still be available to them. We note that there is a requirement of HSS Trusts to continue to provide general assistance for young people which we welcome. We also welcome the support that would be provided for young people which again emulates the typical arrangements for young people from stable families when they are in full time education. The link between offending and poor education or employment opportunities is clear and the support of young people through education and training is essential.
Paragraph 16 indicates that consultation comments asked for the proposals to be set in the context of an overarching strategy for children services and we would support these calls. It is important that there are special arrangements for young people leaving care but also they can avail themselves of services available to children generally.
In paragraph 19 it is noted that there was a proposal that the legislation should be delayed until there was equivalent legislation in England and Wales. We believe that the proposals outlined are extremely constructive and there should be no delay in providing the type of help proposed. There does not seem to be any benefit to be gained from waiting until equivalent legislation is introduced in England and Wales.
We are sure that if these proposals are implemented in a way which ensures that qualified people are working to a designated plan then the likelihood of young people leaving care and becoming involved in offending will be dealt with much more effectively than at present.
WRITTEN SUBMISSION BY:
IINTRODUCTION - PRESENT SITUATION IN SOUTH & EAST BELFAST HSS TRUST
South and East Belfast Trust has a well developed Leaving and After care Service. The core of the service lies within the leaving and After Care Team, based at 92 University Street. The team draws on the support of numerous other partners in the provision of services, including Residential Social Workers and Foster parents. The team consists of a team leader, 2 Social Workers and an after care assistant.
Strong partnership in respect of supported accommodation Schemes, exist with the Barnardo's Leaving Care Project, the Mulholland House After Care Services (M.A.C.S.) and the Belfast Central Mission. There are close working relationships with other accommodation providers such as the Simon Community and the Housing Executive. The Trust also contracts with the Give and Take scheme, which offers supported entry to the workplace for the most vulnerable young persons.
The Leaving and After Care team presently works with a caseload of approximately 77 young people; as a young person matures and moves on in his or her life the role of the Leaving and After Care Social Workers inevitably changes. Such however is the "parental" philosophy underpinning the team's operation, that young people often stay in a relationship with Social Work personnel over several years up to and beyond the age of 21; as such caseloads are always rising.
The critical function of the Leaving and After Care Team is to enable young people to successfully make the transition from a looked after situation to a position of independence. A series of activities flow from this function. These are:-
a) Well developed and co-ordinated working with other relevant public service bodies to ensure each young person receives appropriate supports.
b) Close networking with family member and/or agencies and persons involved in a young person's life to ensure fundamental needs are met.
c) Practical, financial and emotional support in all aspects of the young person's life e.g. education, employment, housing, health etc. The support is provided through direct work and partnerships e.g. mentoring with M.A.C.S.
Although Leaving and After Care Services have already been relatively well developed in South & East Belfast Trust, and staff are both proud and enthusiastic about their services (see introduction) the picture across Northern Ireland is clearly very patchy and as such this needs redressed. Chapter 2 points the following picture:-"Young care leavers are among the most vulnerable young people in our society. These young people experience a range of disadvantages in terms of education, employment, housing and family support. It is of particular concern that a quarter of our care leavers are aged only 16, and have to survive alone in the community, generally on benefit and without the support afforded to other young people by their families. This is an unacceptable challenge that 16 year olds should not have to confront".
This chapter is broadly welcomed in that it clearly identifies the real importance of developing "targeted" and "co-ordinated" services for a group of people who are "amongst the most vulnerable in Society".
The broad statement made in section 2.7, that the "Department believes that young people should not leave care until they are ready to do so", is however a concern to practitioners.
This although practitioners both share and aspire to the goal it is important to note that for some older adolescents in the 16+ age group their behavioural difficulties are such as to place them beyond safe management in traditional car and supported living situations. As such developing and managing alternatives strategies to achieve the goal will pose resources issues (e.g. landlady and hostel provision targeted to the needs of young people, as well as risk management problems).
Furthermore it is also important to recognise that this goal will only be attainable if the volume of resources is such as to remove the present pressure on Trusts to move young people out of Care, to ensure placements are available for new admissions to Care.
South and East have developed a comprehensive service for Care Leavers, the permissive nature of existing duties and powers within the Children's Order means in practice there are too many "may dos" in the legislation and as such a wide variation in practice exists across Northern Ireland, particularly around financial support.
This chapter highlights the importance of the co-ordination of services at a strategic level across a range of agencies, such as housing, social security, education, youth, employment and social services. Although good working relationships do exist between the Leaving Aftercare team, and these pubic agencies, further strategic work is required. Thus the development of inter agency policies and protocols, setting out the respective agencies' "corporate parenting" roles and responsibilities in providing services to meet the needs of care leavers, is necessary. The Trust has recently commissioned the First Key organisation to work with the leaving and Aftercare Team to run an inter agency conference, later this year, in order to begin to address these issues.
NEW ARRANGEMENTS FOR 16 AND 17 YEAR OLDS
The Children Leaving Care Bill proposes a specific duty on Trusts to assess and meet the needs of 16-17 year old who remains in Care, or those who are care leavers.
The specific duty is welcomed in that in theory a more uniform service across Northern Ireland should develop, providing the resources are available to implement the service. It should be noted however that a significant number of Trusts across Northern Ireland do see there existing powers, under the Children Order, as a duty.
These new mechanisms are proposed
a) the development of Young Persons Advisors (YPA)
b) Pathway Plans for each young person (PPs).
Thus it proposed that Trusts will have a duty to provide 16/17 years in care with a YPA, who will ensure the implementation of an agreed pathway plan for each young person. These plans will be drawn up by a young person's 16th birthday and will involve a co-ordinated approach with other agencies.
Essentially the broad outline of these proposals are welcomed in that they given affirmation to existing good practice, as found in the concept of the present Leaving Care Plans, implemented by the Leaving and After Care Social Work Team.
1) Young Persons Advisors
The new proposals do however have significant differences which if implemented would have resource and practice implications. In particular the proposals suggest a greater element of choice for the young person as to the YPA should be. Thus the proposals envisage the possibility of non professional staff, or staff with already defined duties such as field Social Workers or residential Social Workers, becoming YPA 's as opposed to specific Leaving and After Care Social Work Personnel. Although the principal of flexibility around who should or could be a YPA is understandable, to enable choice etc, the concern is that if this role is not largely defined as part and parcel of the leaving and Aftercare Social Work role (working in conjunction with significant others) then a patchy inefficient service may develop. This is especially the case as YPA's will be expected to oversee Pathway Plans for up to 5 years i.e. 16-21 years of age.
E.g. (a) If a residential social worker becomes a YPA responsible for implementing and co-ordinating a pathway plan beyond the young person's care placement, how would this square with existing duties - there would clearly be a resource implication.
(b) If a foster parent became a YPA, major issues such as training, support, accountability etc would need to be addressed.
The concept of pathway planning as identified in the Leaving Care Bill essentially affirms and gives definition to what should be good practice.
In addition to the proposed duties for Trust regarding YPA's and Pathway Planning, Chapter 4 contains proposals to radically alter the existing way of financially supporting 16-18 year old young people in care or leaving Care.
Thus the Bill proposes that rather than these young people being dependent on a confusing mix of social services supports and Housing Benefit, they should be supported by Trusts. This is viewed as a simpler system.
The proposal has major implications at a financial and organisational level for Trusts, as well as impacting on the nature of the relationship between the Trust and the young people in question.
a) Financial Impact
It is proposed that existing spending across Social Security, Housing Benefits and Social Services be drawn together and used by Trusts to provide support and assistance for all areas of the lives of these young people i.e. accommodation food, clothing, domestic bills, pocket money, counselling, advise, support, practical assistance, transport and some help with education and employment.
In effect the Trust will become additionally responsible for housing Benefit and Social Security payments, (as they are now) payable to this client group, as it already services many of the above needs.
At present the Trust has a population of 106 young people age 14 plus, who will be eligible for such support during the next 3 year period. Projected additional spending estimates are difficult as this does not include new referrals in this age band (presently running at 10 per year) or ther fact that some young people will generate their income through employment: however a present calculation could be that over the next 3 years, under the new arrangements the Trust could face additional expenditure demands £9000 combined Housing and Social Security Benefit between the ages 16-18.
With such a large projected level of additional expenditure it would be critical to ensure that sufficient funding would be transferred from Social Security and Housing Benefit agencies, to ensure that neither the client group or the Trust were disadvantaged.
The above financial calculations do not make reference to the costs incurred by a young person in further education. This variable should be costed separately with a built in allowance for these costs to increase significantly.
b) Organisational Impact
In order to administer Housing and Social Security Benefit, the Trust, would need to set up an appropriate administrative apparatus. There are clear resources implications here regarding the employment of administrative staff.
c) Nature of relationship between Young Person and the Trust
Young people in this client group, will have little choice but to be tied into the Trust, as corporate parent until they are 18. This may set up new and difficult tensions between young people and their Social Worker.
For some young people their eligibility for Leaving and After Care support will be established as early as the age of 15, even if they have returned home - are these young people tied to the Trust regarding finance until they are 18?
The principal underlying Chapter 5 of the Bill, is to identify that Trusts should act as responsible supportive parents to young Care Leavers between the ages of 18-21 as they enter the adult world.
The principle is broadly welcomed as it reflects the present aspirations and operation of the After Care Services. However one again it is important to draw attention to real resource implications. Thus for Trusts to provide support for 18-21 year old Care Leavers, as responsible parents do will require the people to do it, and the finances to enable it. This is particularly relevant in respect of education costs and projected expenditure figures will be necessary.
There is a temptation to respond from the Trust's point of view that "if it's not broken don't fix it", but in recognition of the difficulties which have traditionally faced Care Leavers, given patchy service delivery across N. Ireland, then the development of a complete and properly targeted/co-ordinate service for Care Leavers is to be welcomed. However in view of the fact that England has recently introduced legislation similar to that which is proposed by this Bill, it would be prudent to assess the impact of the legislation in England before implementation here.
The Trust may also wish to respond cautiously in respect of the financial implications. Much care will certainly be necessary in ensuring adequate funding is made available and adequate resourcing in terms of Social Work and Administrative personnel. Inevitably with increased legislative duties will come increased levels of departmental expectation regarding standards/monitoring etc.
Finally it is important to recognise that whereas Trusts should act as responsible parents it is important that some common definition be put around what constitutes responsible corporate parenting in the fact of often very challenging behaviours and inevitably limited resources.
WRITTEN SUBMISSION BY:
26 October 2001
I refer to your letter of the 28 September 2001 enclosing the memorandum on the proposed Bill. The Board have previously submitted a response to the consultation exercise you refer to and a number of these matters are commented upon in the memorandum.
The Board welcomes these new proposals and consider that they would make a significant contribution to young care leavers for whom we all have a corporate responsibility.
The issue of resources has been mentioned. It is however vital that additional funding is made available if these proposals are to become a reality. There are already concerns that the resources to be transferred from the Department for Social Development will fall far short of what is required.
I note the reference to Executive Programme Funds. Whilst any funding is welcome these are however of a short term nature and are being allocated to the Board on a non recurrent basis in year. This does not allow for service development. It is my view that the services for care leavers should receive mainstream funding to ensure that Trusts can deliver on their statutory function. I would ask that this issue is given serious consideration.
B P CUNNINGHAM
WRITTEN SUBMISSION BY:
25 October 2001
As outlined in our response to the original consultation document we welcome and fully support the Executive's commitment to introducing legislation to support young people leaving care. We wish to endorse the contents of the memorandum detailing the Department's proposals.
We urge that in the Assembly's considerations the mental health issues that the transition from care to independent living arouses be fully recognised. Many young people on leaving care re-experience significant transitional trauma which limits their capacity to develop relevant life skills to manage independent living. We strongly feel that these young people and the multidisciplinary teams working with them need specialist support in order to work through this successfully.
We would welcome an opportunity to further discuss such support interventions.
WRITTEN SUBMISSION BY:
2nd November 2001
I refer to your letter dated 28th September 01 regarding the above subject and, as requested, enclose copy of the Trust's original submission to the Child Care Unit in June as part of the consultation process.
I feel much of what was said then still applies today, however I would add the following comment.
The issue for the Trust is still on seeking assurance on the transfer of not only undertakings from Social Security Branch but to ensure adequate and matching funds come as well. Secondly, in relation to this, is the hidden cost of administering benefits and the likely implications in terms of having administrative support to do the job, has this been considered as a resource issue? Will money or administrative staff be re-deployed? Finally, I a concerned how this particular role will affect the working relationship between social workers and the young people if we are seen as a benefit office.
I hope these comments are helpful in your deliberations.
14 June 2001
Mr J Clarke
Dear Mr Clarke
PROPOSALS FOR CHILDREN LEAVING CARE BILL - CONSULTATION DOCUMENT
Thank you for the opportunity to comment on the implications of the above proposed legislation. In general terms the Ulster Community & Hospitals Trust welcomes the proposed Leaving Care Bill. While the Trust would wish to endorse the ethos of the Leaving Care Bill, there are important resource implications for the application of the Bill in terms of providing and managing envisaged services. The Trust while accepting the ethos of the Leaving Care Bill has identified a number of points which require clarification.
1. Children "looked after" or in care are those subject to a Care Order. Children who are deemed to be "looked after" without a specific Care Order are considered to be accommodated. The children in both categories are looked after by definition within the Children Order. Clarification is required in relation to whether the proposed Bill applies equally to children "looked after" or only those who are subject to a Care Order.
2. Clarification is required in relation to the application of the proposed Bill to children "looked after" by HSS Trusts and to children "looked after" in the youth justice system.
3. Paragraph 1.3 of the proposed Bill states that care leavers should receive support until they are at least 21 years old. It is considered that guidance would be helpful in respect of the age which services would cease to be provided.
4. Guidance is also requested in connection with the level of support which should be provided. Similarly while the Trust accepts the principle that young people should not leave care until they are in a position to do so. The Children Order states that young people cannot remain in care after they have attained their 18th birthday. Leaving care is a process and not an event, and it is acknowledged that young people require support after their 18th birthday.
5. Article 35 of the Children Order places a duty on Trusts to support young people when they leave care. The type of assistance to be provided is noted in Article 36 which is recognised to be permissive and not mandatory. The DHSSPS could make Article 36 mandatory which could make the requirement for new legislation somewhat unnecessary.
6. The proposed Bill will have implications for facilities which are primarily used for housing for homeless young people. To adhere to the requirements of the proposed bill and the Children Order, such accommodation for homeless young people will have to be registered as Children's Homes. The financial implications for the change of status of such facilities will be significant for both Board's and Trusts.
7. Clarification is requested in relation to the role of the envisaged Young Person's Advisors particularly in the context of Trusts which have the delegated statutory responsibilities for young people. In relation to the Young Person's Advisors and the appointment process, a number of issues merit attention:
8. The linkage between the Pathway Plan and the Looked After Child Review requires clarification. Will the Pathway Plan with the YPA replace the looked After Children Review which is the responsibility of HSS Trusts?
9. Financial support as suggested in the consultation document raises concerns about resources available to Trusts. Resources available at present including housing benefits and Social Security benefits would not be sufficient to implement the services set out in the consultation document.
In concluding, it is the considered view of the Trust that the proposed Leaving Care Bill is a welcome development. There are resource implications which are required to implement the requirements of the Leaving Care Bill. Without additional resources, it will not be possible to fully implement the recommendations of the proposed Bill.
It is hoped that the foregoing comments are helpful and inform deliberations on the development of the Leaving Care Bill.
J P FERGUSON
WRITTEN SUBMISSION BY:
22 October 2001
I refer to your letter of 28th September 2001. The Western Health and Social Services Board, as you are aware, provided detailed comments on the consultation document circulated in the Spring of 2001. The Board broadly welcomed the proposals as providing the basis for a strong, robust and properly mandated and resourced Leaving and After Care Service. Whilst we are pleased that a number of our comments have been addressed, we continue to have reservations about the proposal to create a single system of financial support for 16-17 year old Care Leavers which will be vested in Trusts, rather than concentrate on a better co-ordinated, interagency approach.
We would also wish to emphasise the need for additional, recurrent resources to underpin the development of high quality Leaving and After Care Services.
WRITTEN SUBMISSION BY:
The following is a synopsis of the arguments against dropping clause 6. It is not suggested that dropping the clause will make the legislation unworkable, though such a course may weaken it significantly.
Clause 1 inserts a new Article 34(A) into the Children Order. Paragraph (5) of the new Article requires a Trust to carry out an assessment of need for every eligible child and to determine the advice, assistance and support it would be appropriate for the Trust to provide under the Order. If clause 6 were removed the presumption would be that the pathway plan would include provision that the young person would enter the benefits system. This does not suggest a positive plan for the young person's future.
The principle is that all resources, existing and additional, would be deployed in a manner which would assist the young person to progress to independent living. To delete clause 6 will limit flexibility as to how resources may be deployed - for example in arranging for further education or training.
The intention of the Bill is that the needs of the young person can be assessed and met in a holistic fashion. Removing clause 6 will lead to a fragment approach, increasing the number of agencies and individuals involved in planning. To have housing and other support needs assessed separately from needs in relation to other matters such as education, training etc. does not appear to be the best approach.
A question has to be asked as to what extent the needs of young care leavers can be fully addressed within the benefits system. If the benefits system is simply modified to make care leavers a "special case" what message does this send in terms of society's expectations for young care leavers?
Clause 2 inserts a new Article 34C into the Children Order. This includes provisions that the Trust will, unless the young person's welfare does not require it, maintain the young person and provide him or her with suitable accommodation. Without the transfer to Trusts of the resources currently deployed in the provision of benefits it would be uncertain as to how the duties placed on Trusts could be resourced.
If resources deployed on benefits are not transferred to Trusts, the ongoing significance of the Trust in the young person's life will be reduced. Support from the Trust as a "good parent" will be weakened; it will mean that the support from the Trust will be viewed as less than central to the young person's life. The intention is that the Trust would provide the support which would be given by a good parent. If 16-17 year olds go into the benefits system, the position of the Trust will be peripheral and the links between the Trust and the young person will be much weaker.
Whilst in care 16-17 year olds cannot claim benefits and the Trust is responsible for their welfare needs. The Bill is intended to promote the concept of continuing responsibility of a Trust, particularly in relation to this particularly vulnerable group. To limit a Trust's responsibilities, a consequence of dropping clause 6, could promote a perverse incentive for the Trust to get the young person out of the care system - on the assumption that support functions will be the responsibility of other agencies. The Bill is intended to support the concept of a continuity of responsibility for a young person looked after by social services which extends beyond the time the young person is looked after.
There needs to be clarity as to whether opposition to clause 6 arises because the "right" to claim through the benefits system is seen as something different to, and of greater importance than the actual level of support provided. Under the proposed arrangements, resources committed to the benefits system in relation to 16-17 year old young care leavers would be transferred and be deployed in supporting these young people. Under the Bill care leavers would be no worse off in terms of the overall resources devoted to their welfare. There may be concern about whether all resources transferred would be deployed appropriately by Trusts, but it is suggested that that is a different matter than a right to claim benefits.
 Promoting Independence: A Review of Leaving and Aftercare Services, Department of Health, Social Services and Public Safety, 2000
 Inquiry into Residential and Secure Accommodation for Children in Northern Ireland, HSS&PS Committee, NI Assembly, 2000
 The Department of Health, Social Services and Public Safety provided an explanatory memorandum on the rationate for clause 6, which is listed under the written submissions at page 69.
 Meeting the Challenge; 1996;Pinkerton, J and Mc Crea, R
 P 26 Me, Survive, Out There? Department of Health.
 The full transcript of Stewart Russell's research is available at www.portsmouthcc.gov.uk/depts/socialservices/leavers.htm
 'Promoting Independence: A Review of Leaving and After Care Services', Social Services Inspectorate, July 2000.
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