We’ve had the consultation through the Green Paper, Care Matters : Transforming the Lives of Children and Young People in Care, and the Government’s response to the consultation. Now we have the Government’s plans.
In the Foreword, Alan Johnson, Secretary of State for Education and Skills, introducing the White Paper, speaks of the needs of children who require care and the drawbacks of the current system which can seem “cold and aloof”, promising to spend a further £300 million a year on services.
The reason for the whole process is that, in the care system to date, “outcomes for children and young people in care have not sufficiently improved. There remains a significant gap between the quality of their lives and those of all children”. The proposed solution is a whole raft of measures, extra money and new ways of working such as partnership with local government, the voluntary and private sectors and with the children’s workforce.
Of the children and young people it is said, “We must have high ambitions and expectations for them. We must help them to reach their potential by providing excellent parenting, a high quality education, opportunities to develop their talents and skills and effective support for their transition to adulthood.”
The White Paper says that children and young people in care have attachment problems and lack of resilience, and it goes in some detail about these problems and their impact.
Children and young people in care have:
- poorer educational outcomes than other children
- poor health
- lack of access to activities
- worse records of offending than other children.
The impact of these factors is that 30% of 19 year-olds who were in care are not in education, employment or training (NEET). Some groups have special problems, such as disabled children or those from some ethnic minorities.
Care for and care about
A major theme in the White Paper is those in care should be cared about, not just cared for. A variety of mechanisms is therefore suggested to ensure that the children’s interests remain at the top of the agenda:
- Councils need to acknowledge their roles as corporate parents, and the National Children’s Bureau has produced guidance on the subject.
- Every Council will have to have a Children in Care Council to enable consultation with the children and young people in their care.
- Local authorities will be required to draw up a pledge for their children in care.
- The Director of Children’s Services and the Lead Member for Children in each Council will be expected to offer leadership in developing services.
- There will be an annual stocktaking, and an inspection programme.
- Councils will be expected to prepare analyses of the needs of children and young people in their areas, and Multi-Systemic Therapy programmes.
At operational level in social work and social care, a number of measures are designed to help children, young people and their families:
- £280 million will be spent on giving short breaks for parents with disabled children.
- More consideration will be given to using relatives as carers.
- There will be a requirement to involve parents in care planning.
- There is recognition of the need for stable placements that match children’s needs, and they will be found through Regional Commissioning Units.
- Placements outside local authorities will not be ruled out but will need to be justified, because of the disruption which distance causes to links with families and social workers.
- Foster care will be improved and the National Minimum Standards will be revised.
- Standards will be set for social workers to visit children in their placements.
- There will be pilots in the use of the social pedagogy model in residential care.
The education of children and young people in care has been very poor and so it is a high priority:
- There will be early years educational opportunities for little children in care.
- Schools may be directed to take children, in order to get the best education for them.
- There will be measures to reduce disruption.
- Designated teachers will be put on a statutory footing.
- There will be personalised budgets for individual tutoring for children in care who are at risk of losing out.
- Emphasis will be put on reducing school absences and exclusions.
- Overseeing the education of children and young people in care in each authority there will be virtual heads.
Health measures will include:
- the improvement of health care,
- help for pregnant girls and young mothers,
- teaching on sex and relationship education.
Included among the health proposals there is the intention to develop a new indicator concerning the emotional and behavioural difficulties of children as part of the local authorities’ overall performance management framework.
For the first time emphasis will also be placed on activities, such as music tuition, and local authorities as corporate parents will be expected to ensure that the children and young people have access to positive leisure activities.
The transition to adult life gets proper attention, with a number of measures to ensure that local authorities fulfil their obligations to young people as they move into adulthood:
- Local authorities will be prevented from discharging young people from care against their wishes.
- Young people will have the right to a personal adviser up to the age of 25.
- They will be able to stay with foster carers till they are 21.
- £2000 bursaries will be available to young people for higher education.
- Local authorities are asked to consider providing employment opportunities for young people who have been in their care.
The importance of the workforce is recognised. (Curiously, field social workers are usually referred to as “practitioners”.) It is intended:
- to remodel the social work workforce so that they have more time with children,
- to teach social workers child development,
- to create a new type of worker with Newly Qualified Status, getting more support.
To keep the services up to standard and give children and young people in care a voice, there are additional measures:
- Independent Reviewing Officers are to be more independent, and to act as checks on local authorities.
- Children will have access to independent visitors and, when making complaints, to independent advocates.
To achieve all of this will require:
- legislation – as soon as possible,
- finance with over £300 million promised over the next three years,
- the development of a partnership with private sector.
This paper has given the headlines; next month we will follow up some of the issues in greater detail, identifying the new ideas and the potential weaknesses.
Care Matters : Time for Change CM 7137 £20