MPs and campaigners savage ‘ludicrous’ debate on Children Bill

With the Children Bill set to affect the life of every child and
young person, MPs and campaigners are voicing concerns that the
bill is ambiguous and has not been sufficiently debated.

Many who followed the four days of committee stage debates on the
bill earlier this month say its progress was far too rapid. Many
amendments and clauses were not discussed at all.

Labour MP Hilton Dawson describes the debate as “ludicrous”. “It
was one of the worst committees I have been on,” he says. “We
didn’t have time to debate large sections.”

Amendments and clauses on child prostitution, improving advocacy
services and a minimum allowance for foster carers were among those
that passed through without debate.

Pam Hibbert, principal policy officer at children’s charity
Barnardo’s, was dismayed.

“Given the breadth of this bill we are disappointed more time
wasn’t given over to debating the issues in committee stage because
they are very important,” she says.

The lack of detail on the information-sharing databases on all
children the bill will set up is another point of contention. The
databases may include “information as to the existence of any cause
for concern” in relation to a person, but the bill doesn’t explain
what this means.

“The term ’cause for concern’ is both meaningful because everyone
understands something by it but meaningless because it means
different things to different people,” says Kathy Evans, assistant
director of policy at the Children’s Society.

The government rejected an amendment tabled by the Liberal
Democrats’ children spokesperson Annette Brooke to remove the term
from the bill, but it has issued a consultation document to gather
stakeholders’ views on aspects of the database, indicating it is
undecided on the term.

The document, published last week, asks stakeholders if there is a
better term than “concern” for the indicator a practitioner puts on
a child’s record.

The consultation does not close until mid-January but the bill must
be enacted before November’s Queen’s speech if it is not to

Evans says: “It’s wrong for the ’cause for concern’ term to go into
statute when the government itself is saying it may not be a
relevant term for operating the database and may choose another

She adds that the Children’s Society is not opposed to
professionals flagging up anxieties about a person to other staff,
but wants the “cause for concern” term removed from the bill and
for further detail on what it means included in the government’s
database regulations.

A Department for Education and Skills spokesperson responds: “If
the findings of the consultation suggest that there is preferable
language to describe the same concept [as “cause for concern”]
there is no inconsistency in making regulations accordingly.” He
adds that parliament decides how much time an issue receives, not
the government.

As Community Care went to press, the government tabled a new clause
to introduce a minimum allowance for foster carers to be debated in
report stage.

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