Editorial : Time for Change

We welcome the publication of the White Paper, Care Matters, Time for Change. It says the right things about the needs of children and young people in care and contains a large number of measures and suggestions that should improve the lot of those in care dramatically.

In particular, it was good to see that the role of residential care was acknowledged, even if it was seen as limited and its potential was not fully recognised. It was good also to see that the concept of pedagogy had been sufficiently accepted for it to be piloted. It will apply only in the residential sector rather than as a unifying concept for the profession as a whole, but it’s a start.

Our report in this issue contains more of the detail of the White Paper. Perhaps the overall message is that children and young people in care have been seen as important by the Secretary of State, and a head of steam has been built up to do something about their needs.

Mainly, it is the needs of the children and young people which have been acknowledged in this initiative. Every now and then, though, economic arguments creep in about the savings which will be achieved with better care services, and the Government is well aware of the financial impact of an adult requiring life-long health, care or penal services as against the tax-earning capacity of an employed person whose problems were resolved in childhood.

A key point on which the Government should be commended is the extent to which they consulted the children and young people themselves. It has been a model exercise, with meetings, written evidence and quotations from the children and young people littering the Government’s publications.

Alan Johnson says the Government’s intention is to “transform once and for all the experiences and prospects of children in care”. This is a laudable aim, and we are reluctant to poor cold water on high intentions, but realistically the most the Government can hope to do is to have a marked and significant impact on the scene. If they set themselves the target of transforming things “once and for all”, they are dooming themselves to fail. It will take time to introduce measures and improve standards; there will be shortcomings and failures; it is in the nature of working in such a complex area of the people business.

We would, of course, like to be proved wrong, and we do, of course, want to see improvements. Although our welcome has included some caveats, the measures being proposed should do an enormous amount for children and young people in care. Now that Alan Johnson knows he won’t be Deputy Prime Minister, let’s hope that he’ll make his mark on history by seeing the White Paper through and making life better for children and young people in care.

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