Care Matters: Transforming the Lives of Children and Young People in Care

This Green Paper was launched by the Department for Education and Skills on  Monday 9 October 2006, and consultation closes on Monday 15 January 2007. The summary below was prepared by Nicola Hilliard, Head of Library and Information Services at the National Children’s Bureau, and we are grateful to the NCB for permission to reprint the summary here.

‘The life chances of all children have improved but those of children in care have not improved at the same rate.  The result is that children in care are now at greater risk of being left behind than was the case a few years ago – the gap has actually grown’.

‘We are determined to put the voice of the child in care at the centre both of our reforms and of day-to-day practice. It is only by listening to these children that we can understand their concerns and know whether or not we are meeting their needs’.
Foreword, Alan Johnson

Chapter 1 The need for reform

‘Care must be a positive experience for children’. (1.4)

The State, as corporate parent, has special responsibilities for children in care and, whilst progress has been made, the gap between the outcomes of children in care and those of other children and young people is significant and widening.  This is despite Government initiatives such as Every Child Matters, and developments relating specifically to children in care including: Quality Protects in 1998; the Care Standards Act 2000; the Prime Minister’s adoption initiative; the Children (Leaving Care) Act 2000; the Social Exclusion Unit’s report on the Education of Children in Care (2003); and the duty in the Children Act 2004 for local authorities to promote the education of children in care. 

Clear priorities for reform are identified:

  • Better support for those on the edge of the care system
  • Making sure there is a more consistent adult in each child’s life to fulfil the State’s responsibilities as corporate parent
  • Giving every child in care a stable, high quality placement
  • Getting every child in care a place in a good school and supporting them to continue in education post-16
  • Securing support for all aspects of children’s lives outside school
  • Supporting children better to make the transition to adult life
  • Ensuring clear, strong accountability to make the whole system focus on the needs of these children.

Care Matters wants all local authorities to develop a pledge for children in care (some authorities already do) to include a choice of high quality placements. This might include: 24/7 support from their social worker or an out-of-hours contact; a minimum entitlement to sport and leisure activities; a chance to take part in volunteering; twice yearly health assessments for under 5’s and annual health assessments and twice yearly dental check ups for older children; an independent advocate; the choice of when to move on to enter adult life, up to the age of 18; and the right to have their voice heard and influence the work of the local authority through participation in a ‘Children in Care Council’. (1.6)

There are 60,000 children in care, making up 0.5 per cent of all children.  As many as 85,000 children will spend some time in care over the course of a year.  Only 11 per cent of children in care attained 5 good GCSEs in 2005 compared with 56 per cent of all children. Similar performance gaps exist at all ages both before and after Key Stage 4. At the age of 19, only 19 per cent of care leavers are in further education and 6 per cent in higher education.  Young women aged 15 to 17 who have been in care are 3 times more likely to become teenage mothers than others of their age. Research suggests that 27 per cent of adult prisoners have spent time in care. Over 30 per cent of care leavers are not in education, employment or training at age 19. Black and mixed race children are over-represented and Asian children are under-represented.  Around 3,000 unaccompanied asylum seeking children are cared for by local authorities at any one time. Sixty three per cent of children in care are there as a result of abuse or neglect.

Chapter 2 Children on the edge of care

‘It is essential that services are delivered in a way which families feel comfortable with. There is no point in developing an excellent service which children and families are unwilling to take up’. (2.6)

Care Matters recognises that many children come in and out of care in a short space of time and several spend more than one period in care. This chapter looks at the sorts of interventions which can help to prevent children coming into care in the first place and to resettle them with their families after being in care where that is the best option for the child.  This is where Every Child Matters comes into play – identifying problems early and responding to them quickly by offering sustained, multi-disciplinary support.

  • Publish new research on identifying neglect early and effectively, and develop a training resource for practitioners on how to do this (2.9)
  • Explore the implications of, and models for, extending access to the Integrated Children’s System on a ‘read-only’ basis, to partners outside the local authority such as schools and health services (2.13)
  • Through the Commissioning Framework (due for publication in December 2006) describe how PCTs can work with local authorities to strengthen local strategic needs assessment, with a particular focus on meeting the needs of vulnerable groups (2.16)
  • Publish joint evidence-based guidelines, through SCIE and NICE, for adults’ and children’s health and social care services on parental mental health (2.16)
  • Explore the benefits of a co-ordinating role akin to the ‘lead professional’ working across health services and adults’ social care for adults with complex or long-term needs (2.17)
  • Test out a model of intensive whole-family therapy which aims to keep families together where possible (2.20)
  • Create a Centre of Excellence for Children’s and Family Services (announced in government’s action plan on social exclusion ‘Reaching Out’) in order to identify and spread evidence-based solutions to the problems experienced by families whose children are on the edge of care (2.25)
  • Require local authorities to lodge with the court at the outset of care proceedings an outline plan for permanence for the child (2.30)
  • Promote the use of Family Group Conferencing through a programme of national events and training (2.33)
  • Encourage local pilots of specialized family drug and alcohol courts (2.40)
  • Establish a working group on the future of care to set a clear vision for the next 10-15 years. (2.45)

Chapter 3 The role of the corporate parent

‘What children need more than anything is a stable, confident parent able and willing to be vocal on their behalf’. (3.2)

Children’s social workers embody the corporate parenting role on a day to day basis.  However, there is a high turnover rate and they lack the autonomy to be strong advocates for children in care.  To redress this, there are proposals for:

  • Exploring the feasibility of piloting new independent ‘social care practices’ – small independent groups of social workers who contract with the local authority to provide services to children in care (3.20)
  • Establishing a working group to explore the feasibility of piloting social care practices including how to set in place a robust system of performance management (3.29)
  • Piloting the use of individual budgets for each child in care to be held by their lead professional – the social worker (3.34)
  • Issuing revised guidance to local authorities clarifying the role and use of care plans (3.41)
  • Requiring that care plans for all children in care must set out long term ambitions, agreed with the children (if they are of a suitable age and level of understanding) and what will be done whilst in care to help the child achieve them (3.42)
  • A revitalization of the independent visitor scheme in order to provide ‘independent advocates’ for children in care. (3.50)

This chapter looks in more detail at workforce and training issues, ensuring that social workers spend more time working with children and their families.

Chapter 4 Ensuring children are in the right placements

‘It is vital that every child is given a choice of placements which meet their needs, create a good learning environment and offer value for money’. (4.9)

Around 1 in 10 of the children who ceased to be in care in 2005 had 9 or more placements while in care, and only 65 per cent of children who had been in care for over two and a half years had been in the same placement for two years or more. (4.5) Nearly a third of children in care are in placements outside the local authority area which cares for them.

Care Matters sets out proposals to reform the placements system to ensure that children are not subjected to frequent moves which impact on their education and other areas in their lives.  The plan would be to improve the recruitment and status of foster carers and to ensure that children are only placed in residential children’s homes which meet high standards of care.  Proposals:

  • Publish guidance in 2007 for managing local placement markets (4.17)
  • Work with individual local authorities who are experiencing difficulties with commissioning to improve their practice and the value for money they secure (4.17)
  • Pilot new regional commissioning units to secure better value for money and introduce placement choice for children (4.19)
  • Offer a choice of suitable placements for each child, leaving final decisions about individual placements in the hands of social workers in discussion with children themselves (4.21)
  • Introduce a tiered framework of placements to respond to different levels of need, underpinned by a new qualifications framework for foster and residential carers, fee structure and national minimum standards (4.30)
  • Improve the recruitment of foster carers, from a diverse range of backgrounds, through specially tailored recruitment campaigns (4.35)
  • Consider whether foster carers should be included within the Homebuy scheme in their area (4.40)
  • Include specialized professional development modules on working with vulnerable groups, such as disabled children and unaccompanied asylum seeking children, within the proposed national training framework (4.42)
  • Revise the assessment process and support for family and friends care to recognise that most will only ever care for one child (4.43)
  • Explore ways of encouraging more use of concurrent planning (4.44)
  • Introduce a requirement that local authorities can place children out-of-authority only if no suitable placement exists (4.45)
  • Local authorities should be required to consider, in consultation with parents, whether disabled children in residential placements should have looked after status (4.46)
  • Include analysis of the characteristics of excellent residential care within the remit of a working group on placement choice (4.50)
  • Introduce a new ‘special measures’ regime to ensure swift action where standards are not met in children’s homes (4.52)
  • Reintroduce a statutory duty for social workers to visit children placed in children’s homes, with a greater frequency of visits for those placed out of authority. (4.54)

Chapter 5 A first class education

‘We know that lack of qualifications is strongly linked to poor outcomes in adult life’. (5.2)

Few children in care access the full range of early years education provision; many children in care move between care placements or educational settings too often; and most have high levels of need which are too often not recognised and addressed.  Twenty seven per cent of children in care have a statement of special educational needs. Care Matters sets out how the government will work with local authorities as corporate parents and with schools to secure the very best education for children in care. Every child in care needs to be in a good school and given the support to make the most of being in school and in further education. 

  • Enable carers to access early years support for children (5.15)
  • Provide local authorities with the power to direct schools to admit children in care, even when the school is fully subscribed (Education and Inspections Bill) (5.21)
  • Encourage local authorities to place children in care in the top performing schools in their area whenever they need to move school (5.22)
  • Undertake a review of the location of children in care in schools (5.22)
  • Consult on whether the use of boarding provision for children in care could usefully be expanded (5.27)
  • Create a presumption that young people in care do not move schools in years 10-11, unless it can clearly be demonstrated to be in the young person’s best interests (5.32)
  • An enhanced entitlement to free school transport to ensure that when children do move placement they do not necessarily need to move school (5.33)
  • Strengthen existing guidance to encourage schools not to exclude children in care and ask Ofsted to investigate examples of poor or good practice (5.38)
  • Rationalise the planning process so that wherever possible a single review and planning meeting is held to cover all issues and plan for the child’s future education (5.48)
  • Continue to encourage schools to give a special priority to the needs of children in care as they spend the additional £990m personalisation funding (5.50)
  • Investigate with the British Educational Communications and Technology Agency (BECTA), the feasibility of an on-line learning resource for children in care (5.53)
  • A dedicated budget (around £500) for each social worker to spend on improving the educational experience of every child in care (5.56)
  • Facilitate a pilot project, funded by HSBC, to provide private tutoring for children in care (5.56)
  • Placing the Designated Teacher for Children in Care on a statutory footing (5.59)
  • A ‘virtual headteacher’ in every local area responsible for driving up the performance of schools in relation to children in care (5.65)
  • Develop a new, nationally available training module for governors on how schools cater for children in care (5.73)
  • Work with the Learning and Skills Council to ensure that the needs of children in care and young people making the transition from care up to the age of 25 are taken into account in developing and delivering local learning opportunities (5.76)
  • Create a new entitlement for all children in care/care leavers to have access to a personal advisor until the age of 25 (5.79)
  • Improve the collection of data on children in care in Further Education colleges and introduce mandatory training on children in care for new FE principals as part of their qualification criteria. (5.80, 81)

Chapter 6 Life outside school

‘Children in care must have the chance to participate in sports, volunteering and the arts, and be supported to remain healthy and safe, and to avoid damaging or anti-social behaviour’. (Summary)

Care Matters has a range of proposals for ensuring that children in care have access to all types of positive activities and support. 

  • Encourage local authorities to provide free access for children in care to all their facilities including leisure centres, sports grounds and youth clubs (6.13)
  • Ask local authorities to help young people in care access information on positive activities through the new positive activities information service proposed in Youth Matters (6.16)
  • Disseminate the lessons from the Paul Hamlyn Foundation ‘Right to Read’ programme for use by all authorities (6.16)
  • Offer a model of how local authorities, NHS providers and Primary Care Trusts should work in partnership to deliver excellent support to all children in care (6.20)
  • Update the guidance on Promoting the Health of Looked After Children (6.20)
  • Ask Strategic Health Authorities to fulfil their role as key regional players in identifying services to improve outcomes for vulnerable groups in their area (6.23)
  • Every child in care should have a named health professional to help ensure their needs are being met (6.24)
  • Include specialist development modules on meeting children’s physical and mental health needs in the training framework for carers and social workers (6.26)
  • Provide guidance and training for foster and residential carers and designated teachers, setting out their responsibilities for offering sex and relationship education to children in care (6.28)
  • Offer a Personal Advisor to every young woman in care, or making the transition from care, who becomes pregnant (6.31)
  • Introduce screening for substance misuse as a routine part of regular health assessments and include training on identifying and responding to substance misuse in the integrated training framework(6.34,35)
  • Build approaches to managing behaviour, based on evaluated practice such as restorative justice, into the framework of training and qualifications for carers (6.39)
  • Develop a protocol on how children’s homes should work with the local police and Youth Offending Team to manage anti-social or offending behaviour by children in care (6.40)
  • Provide extra help for young people in care who enter youth custody. (6.43, 44)

Chapter 7 The transition to adult life

‘It is time to leave behind the unhelpful idea of “leaving care” and recognize that every young person needs continuing help to make a smooth transition to adulthood’. (Summary)

Children in care are over-represented in a range of vulnerable groups, including those not in education, employment or training post-16, teenage parents, young offenders, drug users and prisoners.  This vulnerability continues with their transition to adult life.  Twenty eight per cent of young people still leave care at 16. Only 59 per cent of care leavers are in education, employment or training compared to 87 per cent of all young people at 18 to 19.

The government wants to abandon a system where young people are forced to leave care as early as age 16 and that rather than talk about them ‘leaving care’ they are supported to move on in a gradual, phased and above all prepared way. 

  • Piloting a veto for young people over any decisions about moving on from care before they turn 18 (7.10)
  • Piloting allowing young people to continue to live with foster carers up to the age of 21 and to receive the support they need to continue in education (7.10)
  • Ensuring that payments made to foster carers in relation to young people who have legally left care are not taken into account in calculating the carer’s entitlement to benefits (7.13)
  • Disseminating evidence about the outcomes of models of volunteering-based work for young people who have been in care (7.15)
  • Developing training modules for carers on how to teach children and young people practical life skills (7.19)
  • Evaluating existing models of supported housing for care leavers and establishing a capital investment fund to support the provision of dedicated accommodation (7.21)
  • Issuing good practice guidance for children’s services and housing authorities in co-operation to support young people and families with children who are homeless or at risk of homelessness (7.24)
  • Providing a top-up (£100 per year) of the Child Trust Fund accounts of young people in care (7.28)
  • Introducing a national bursary (£2,000) for young people in care who go on to higher education; giving young people a choice of vacation accommodation and encouraging them to attend open days, and take part in summers schools and other outreach work (7.33)
  • Asking the Office for Fair Access (OFFA) to raise awareness of the under-representation in higher education of children in care and to help promote the Quality Mark developed by the Frank Buttle Trust (7.35)

Chapter 8 Making the system work

Care Matters sets out a new accountability framework to work with the forthcoming Local Government White Paper to ensure that the failings for children in care are identified and addressed. 

  • Asking Ofsted to carry out a regular inspection of how each local authority is meeting the educational needs of children in care (8.14)
  • Introducing an annual national stock-take by Ministers of the progress of children in care (8.16)
  • Making clear in statutory guidance the responsibilities of Directors of Children’s Services and Lead Members for children’s services to children in care (8.20)
  • Asking Ofsted to pay particular attention in school inspections to how the needs of children in care are being met (8.25)
  • Ensuring School Improvement Partners (SIPs) provide effective challenge to schools whose performance data suggests the needs of children in care are not being adequately met (8.25)
  • Encouraging the local authority, where concerns about a school are raised by children, carers or social workers, to raise their concerns with Ofsted and exploring the introduction of a new power by which local authorities could issue a warning to a school that fails to respond to challenge from the SIP or virtual head teacher about the poor performance of the children in care at that school (8.25)
  • Expecting every local authority to set up a ‘children in care council’ through which children’s views would be provided directly to the Director of Children’s Services (8.30)
  • Asking every Director of Children’s Services (DCS) to develop an annual feedback mechanism, working alongside the Children in Care Council, to ensure that every child has the opportunity to provide their views to the DCS (8.30)
  • Making Independent Reviewing Officers more autonomous (8.34)
  • Making the education of children in care one of the key national priorities for local government. (8.37)

Chapter 9 Delivering our vision

The consultation exercise, which includes a Children and Young People’s Guide to the Green Paper, will include conferences, roadshows, workshops and events throughout the country and the setting up of four working groups to look at:

  • The future of the care population
  • Social care practices
  • Placement reform
  • Best practice in schools. (9.10)

A range of partners in the public, voluntary and community sectors will be involved in the delivery of these events to children and young people, carers, social workers and all other stakeholders.

After the consultation, the government will publish an initial response, including a version for young people. Final decisions on proposals with cost implications from 2008/09 onwards will be taken in the context of the 2007 Comprehensive Spending Review.  Local authorities will be identified as ‘Beacon Councils’ to act as centres of excellence in delivering the vision of local service delivery outlined in Care Matters.

Annexes A, B and C give children’s views on care; a glossary of key terms; and key data (population of children in care, length of time in care, placement type, reason for being in care, school exclusions, educational attainment, young offenders etc.). 


Leave a comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.