Select Committee on Children, Schools and Families Written Evidence

Memorandum submitted by Dr Roger Morgan OBE, Children's Rights Director for England

  This submission is made in my capacity as Children's Rights Director, representing the views ascertained from children and young people, and not on behalf of Ofsted. It does not necessarily represent the policy or views of Ofsted.


  1.  The Children's Rights Director for England is a statutory post, previously hosted by the National Care Standards Commission then the Commission for Social Care Inspection, and since 1 April based in the new Ofsted. The post is required under section 120 of the Education and Inspections Act 2006, with functions determined by the Office for Standards in Education, Children's Services and Skills (Children's Rights Director) Regulations 2007.

  2.  The main statutory function of the Children's Rights Director is to ascertain the views of children (and where appropriate their parents) about services for children living away from home, receiving children's social care services, or leaving care. Consultation methods include randomly invited discussion groups in child-friendly venues and in children's establishments and services, national children's conferences, web surveys, written "question card" surveys, and a mobile phone texting panel.

  3.  Consultation topics are determined by the Children's Rights Director, from issues raised by children themselves, or raised through the inspection work of the current host inspectorate, and (increasingly) at the invitation of DCSF officials and Ministers to provide an independent children's voices input to policy developments. A recent, and most relevant, example has been consultation with children to feed into, and comment upon, the Care Matters Green Paper.

  4.  Consultation work has resulted in a series of "Children's Views" reports, written to be readable by both children and adults. 27 Children's Views reports were published during the three years the Office of the Children's Rights Director was hosted by the Commission for Social Care Inspection. Reports are circulated to the children involved, to councils with children's social care responsibilities, to Ministers and opposition spokespersons, to DCSF officials, to the UK Children's Commissioners, and to a list of children's organisations and interested individuals and policymakers.

  5.  The Children's Rights Director also has the function of giving statutory advice on children's rights and welfare. Within his remit, he acts as the statutory advisor to Her Majesty's Chief Inspector in relation to Ofsted carrying out its new statutory function to have particular regard to safeguarding and promoting the rights and welfare of children.


  6.  The purpose of this submission is to assess the extent to which the Children and Young Persons Bill, within the context of the White Paper, reflects the views and concerns of children and young people obtained through Children's Rights Director consultations with children and young people. The submission also refers to significant children's rights and welfare issues raised with the Children's Rights Director by individual children, and possible responses to those issues.


  7.  There is much within the provisions of the Children and Young Persons Bill that responds directly to the views and concerns of children in public care. I will indicate where some of the measures could be strengthened further in the light of concerns raised by children, and identify areas where children's concerns suggest further measures.

  8.  Throughout, it is essential to children that their individual experience is what is intended by the legislation, and that the authorities and staff responsible for delivery of the relevant services to children are able to, and do, deliver intended improvements. Children have consistently told us that their experience of existing services is variable and not consistently what was intended by legislation (for example, in the field of care planning).

  9.  Children have consistently expressed their wish for increased access to their social workers, to be able to secure visits from their social workers when they need them, and for consistency rather than frequent turnover of social workers. The value for children of Section 1 of the Bill is therefore dependent on whether such arrangements would meet these aspirations in practice.

  10.  Children have strongly supported the following provisions, now in the Bill:

    —  assessing in all cases whether placement with family and friends is practicable and consistent with the child's welfare (Section 7);

    —  local authorities providing accommodation in their own areas; accommodating children near to home; and, accommodating siblings together, provided that these are consistent with the child's welfare (Section 8). Children have stressed that these are appropriate objectives, but must in each case, as provided in the Bill, be subject to consistency with individual welfare at the time for each child concerned (eg each sibling of a sibling pair or group);

    —  provision of accommodation near to a looked-after child's school where this is consistent with the child's welfare (Section 9). However, this section is not as worded fully consistent with children's views as expressed to the Children's Rights Director. When asked to comment on the last time children had to change school because of a living placement change, approximately half the children stated that the new school was either educationally or socially better for them. This argues for a further exemption from the preservation of attendance at the same school or schools; where the authority considers, having where practicable taken the child's views into account, that a change of school is likely to benefit the child educationally, socially or with regard to welfare;

    —  additional safeguard of a required statutory child care review which must apply before a child can be placed outside the area (Section 10). The most frequent welfare issue raised by individual children with the Children's Rights Director is however of children already placed outside the area and told that they must return from that placement for policy or financial reasons rather than for their own best interests. It would respond to these children's concerns and experience if an additional provision were made in this section requiring that return from a placement made out of area should also be subject to a statutory child care review with the purpose of ensuring that the return is in the best interests of the child concerned, taking his or her views into account. Such a provision may of course also act as a further caution to making out of area placements;

    —  requirements for social workers to visit looked-after children (Section 13);

    —  entitlements for formerly looked-after children going on to university (Section 18); and

    —  providing further assistance and advice to formerly looked-after young people remaining in education or training (Section 19).

  11.  One issue raised by children themselves is that of the action they can take if their local authority is, in their view, failing to make an appropriate care plan, failing to keep to their agreed care plan, or failing to provide appropriately for them or to safeguard and promote their rights or welfare.

  12.  The Independent Reviewing Officer provision, and the facility for the Reviewing Officer to refer matters to CAFCASS, has long existed, but we have found that this is very little known amongst children, and it is hardly ever used, even though children often raise with us issues where they consider their authority is not in their view acting appropriately. Children also make little use of complaints procedures which take complaints back to their local authority. They tell us that they find such procedures inaccessible and unlikely to produce a timely rectification where their concerns relate to the actions of the authority considering the complaint.

  13.  The provisions of Section 11 do not specifically resolve the lack of use of Independent Reviewing Officer and CAFCASS powers to intervene where children consider their rights or welfare are not being safeguarded and promoted. Additionally, Section 11(25B)(3) does not address what should happen for the child where the Independent Reviewing Officer declines to refer a case to CAFCASS.

  14.  From the children's perspective, it is essential that the provision in the Bill to enhance and further specify the role of the Independent Reviewing Officer, and the independence of that officer, does in practice result in children actually raising individual concerns about the way their authority is safeguarding and promoting their welfare with that officer, and that such referrals by children result in a satisfactory outcome for the children concerned. If they do not, this is one area of the Bill's intentions that may need to be revisited in the future.

  15.  Two key points arise from children's concern that they should be better able to raise (and have resolved) concerns about their own rights and welfare. The first is that the content of the Regulations provided for under Section 11 will need to reflect the children's concerns about this provision, and to be effective in facilitating children's access to redress and the delivery of redress.

  16.  The second, arising from Children's Rights Director work on individual children's issues, is that looked-after children do not currently have access to all the court orders under Section 8 of the Children Act 1989. It is opportune, within the passage of this Bill, to consider giving access to all Section 8 orders to looked-after children, to allow them a further safeguard, through the courts, where they consider the actions of an authority to be contrary to their rights or welfare (for example, in relation to removal from a particular placement). Such provision, alongside an enhanced Independent Reviewing Officer role and existing complaints procedures, would significantly strengthen the opportunity to seek redress that children have sought where they consider their authority is not acting in their best interests. Importantly, it would also be external to the authority concerned, which is significant since children have discussed with us the issue of independence of any system for redress.

  17.  Under Section 14 (8), it is important to distinguish a child's objections to a particular Independent Visitor, as against objecting to having an Independent Visitor at all. The current wording of the section is not clear that if a child objects to a particular visitor, but still wishes to have such a visitor, there is a duty to appoint a different visitor acceptable to the child wherever practicable. Children have strongly raised with us that it is important that persons appointed to work with them as individuals are people they find acceptable and can "get on with". It might also be worth considering the need to specify that the person appointed to visit the child, under this part of the Bill, cannot be the same person appointed to visit the child under Section 13.

  18.  Young people have raised with us their concern at inconsistencies in provision of leaving care assistance to unaccompanied asylum seeking children. It would be helpful to clarify such assistance in Section 20.


  19.  It is particularly worth noting that the Government White Paper, Care Matters: Time For Change took our submitted children's views into account in:

    —  opting to stress the need for proper individual decision-making, with assessment of reasons for different levels of reception into care between local authorities, rather than setting specific national targets for numbers of children in care;

    —  stressing the issue of "normalising" permissions for looked-after children to enjoy overnight stays with friends;

    —  enabling children to remain in placement until 18;

    —  retaining the distinctive role of independent advocates, as opposed to incorporating this into the role of the independent visitor;

    —  providing greater say and support to care leavers;

    —  encouraging looked-after children in education, and ensuring help for those going on to university; and

    —  emphasising the need for social workers to visit children looked-after, and other vulnerable groups of children living away from home, and being available at times when children need to contact them.


  20.  The Government proposals most supported by children in our consultations on the Green and White Papers were:

    —  being able to contact a social worker 24 hours a day, 7 days a week;

    —  having a choice of when to leave care, up to age 18;

    —  social workers being required to check whether relatives can care for a child instead of receiving the child into care;

    —  having a Children's Council in each area; and

    —  having social workers spend more time with children.

  21.  Conversely, the one proposal that produced strong objections from many children was to set targets for having fewer children in care. Whilst some thought this would help keep more children with their families, others expressed the strongest worries that: "Some children could be forced to stay at home when really care is best for them . . ." and " . . . the children you don't take into care could be in danger".

  22.  They said the right decision should be made for each child, and should not be influenced by how the council was doing on meeting its targets. It is welcomed that this issue is addressed in line with these children's concerns in the White Paper.


  23.  On the specific areas the Select Committee Inquiry has requested views, children and young people have in summary expressed the following views to the Children's Rights Director:

Corporate Parenting

  24.  I reported in "Care Matters": Children's Views on the Government Green Paper [February 2007] (156 children and young people) that a significant feature of corporate parenting, for children and young people, was the requirement for councils to make "pledges".

  25.  The top ten promises children want their councils to make (in order of preference) were: (1) "a good home"; (2) "more help for children and young people"; (3) "more money"; (4) "for councils to listen to children and act more on what children say"; (5) "better help with education"; (6) "to keep children safe"; (7) "more activities to do"; (8) "to recognise that everyone's needs are different"; (9) "to keep to promises that they make"; and, (10) "to have an effective social worker".

  26.  Overall, children are concerned that "corporate parents" should act towards them in as similar a way as possible to what would be expected of a "good parent" in a family. While the Bill understandably speaks of corporate parenting structures and processes, the principle of acting proactively as closely as possible as a good parent would in a family is one that could usefully be incorporated in the general statutory duties of corporate parents.

  27.  An additional issue raised by many in care and by care leavers has been that of prejudice against those with a history in care. It would greatly promote opportunities and attainment for looked-after children if it were made unlawful for anyone to discriminate against a child or adult on the grounds of their present or past care status.

Family and Parenting Support

  28.  I reported in About Social Workers: A Children's Views Report [July 2006] (593 children and young people) that just under half (46%) told us that they thought that their parents did get the help they need to keep children safe. One group said how important it is that professionals should always remember that parents want to keep their children, and should get help to do this—but not if the child is really unsafe staying with them. One quote summed this up: "Children should remain with their families if there are just difficulties, but if they are in danger then they should be taken away".

  29.  The emphasis in the Bill on children being placed with relatives where feasible and in line with their welfare children with their families, and the emphasis in the White Paper on family support, are consistent with these views. It is also consistent with children's views that any reductions in the care population are better achieved through the encouragement of positive interventions and support, as opposed to setting down artificial targets for councils to try to meet.

Care Placements

  30.  I reported in Care Matters: Children's Views on the Government Green Paper [February 2007] (156 children and young people) that children said they wanted more choice of placement and fewer changes; more say in their care; more individual support when first entering care; more information; and not to be separated from brothers and sisters.

  31.  Children wanted always to know what was in their care plans; to have more say about their plans; and, to have explanations of what their plans actually meant in practice. I reported in Placements, Decisions and Reviews: A Children's Views Report [September 2006] (86 children and young people) that some children commented that "huge changes to their lives happened suddenly without much warning or preparation". "When I first went into foster care, I came home one time and was told I was going . . ."

  32.  The Bill's provisions respond to these children's aspirations to: (i) give looked-after children a greater say in decisions about their care; (ii) make more accommodation available in the local area; (iii) provide accommodation close to where children are attending school, and (iv) achieve greater stability in placements.


  33.  I reported in About Education: A Children's Views Report [March 2007] (77 children and young people) that children welcome the emphasis on more support with personal and educational problems. In addition, they would like to see encouragement to providing more school trips, better school meals, better behaviour in schools and teachers who do not make an issue of a child being in care. Nine out of ten children had someone they could turn to for help at school. Nearly two-thirds said that they got help from their carers with schoolwork, and foster carers were slightly more likely than children's homes staff to attend parent's evenings.

  34.  Children in care, but out of school, were usually either waiting for a school place or had been excluded. Many of these children spoke of missing their friends, but were also aware that they were missing out on their education. Their individual accounts revealed how different schools have very different levels of tolerance; and children in one part of the country could find themselves excluded for reasons that would have lead to a very different outcome in another school. Over 70% of children had changed school on coming into care and a third as a consequence of subsequent placements.

  35.  Looked-after children tell us that they are particularly susceptible to missing out on their schooling. In part, this can be down to their behaviour or even assumptions being made about their behaviour because they are in care. It can also be attributable to frequency of changes of placement resulting in them either having to find a new school or one that will put up with the constant disruptions in the child's life. Children are clear however that the issue is more complex than one of simply aiming to avoid each change of school placement; children have told us both that frequent change is disruptive to education, but that many individual changes can nevertheless be beneficial educationally, socially or in terms of welfare. The Bill builds on the White Paper's strong emphasis on providing children in care with greater stability in their lives, and recognises this as the key to any future educational attainment, but it is important that implementation does not create obstacles to particular changes in living or school placement where these are assessed as likely to benefit the child.

  36.  Given the concerns of children who have had disrupted education through being in care, consideration could valuably be given to establishing a right to compensatory educational provision for children looked-after or formerly looked-after, where educationally appropriate and consistent with the child's or young person's wishes.

Health and Well-Being

  37.  I reported in Looked-After in England: How children living away from home rate England's care [March 2007] (303 children and young people) that children ranked 6th and 7th respectively amongst a list of children's rights that: "Children should be able to see a doctor or dentist whenever they need to" and that; "Children should be able to have healthy food and drink".

  38.  Children also strongly endorsed the White Paper proposals to provide more choice and opportunity to take part in activities. Availability of a range and choice of accessible activities for children and young people is also consistently put forward by children themselves as the major means of countering development of antisocial behaviour. It would be consistent with these views of children and young people for the Bill and its accompanying Regulations and guidance to emphasise such provision of activities.

Transition to Adulthood

  39.  I reported in Young People's Views on Leaving Care: What young people in, and formerly in, residential and foster care think about leaving care [February 2006] (208 young people) that young people spoke of having to wait months or longer, in local bed and breakfast accommodation, before the promised flat became available. A number of young people raised concerns about whether accommodation arrangements for care leavers are always sufficient to keep them safe from harm. Many did not feel safe or secure. Other young people expressed concern at what they described as being forced to share residence with adults and other young people who they said they would never have been allowed to mix with whilst in care. Many young people complained that they had been given flats that are unclean and situated in what they saw as bad areas; "It is important where you get your flat—a safe area is needed".

  40.  Some councils, in how they were using bed and breakfast or hostel accommodation, appeared to the care leavers themselves to show insufficient regard for the future welfare and safety of some care leavers; "The places they put you are not any good—there are no positive role models. You are around people who have no jobs and sit around all day". One young person described how she was now; "Living in a hostel with fellas and drug addicts" whilst a group of three young women said how, when they left care, they had been put in a local hostel that "Was well known for its prostitution".

  41.  Clearly, young people in what they have reported to us, do not generally feel at present that corporate parents are providing for their care leavers the levels of security and support that would be expected of a good parent of a family. Again, the experience of young people as described to us is not consistent with the intentions of existing legislation, and there is thus a need for attention to deliverability and consistency of what is intended.

  42.  Nearly half of children and young people we consulted for my report Care Matters: Children's Views on the Government Green Paper [February 2007] (156 children and young people), thought that it would be a "brilliant idea" for children in care who go to university to get more help.

Role of Practitioner

  43.  I reported in Children on Care Standards: Children's Views on National Minimum Standards for Children's Social Care [December 2007] (433 children and young people) that children and young people emphasised three important workforce issues for them. First, people working with them had to be the right people, properly recruited and checked. Second, where appropriate, children and young people should be involved in choosing staff and carers. And, third, stability should be promoted as a key outcome for children and young people to achieve their potential. Consequently, changes of staff should be kept to a minimum. To these, children have added in other consultations that practitioners working with them should be competent in a set of key areas, including handling children's crises, de-escalating situations that might otherwise lead to violence or the need for physical restraint, the proper use of non-painful and non-injurious restraint where this is necessary, and countering bullying. Staff turnover and training are clearly key concerns to be addressed.


  44.  As there are many provisions within the Bill for making subsequent Regulations, it may be of assistance to the Select Committee to know that as Children's Rights Director, I am planning, in consultation with DCSF, to carry out specific consultations with children later in 2008 to provide children's views specifically on the areas to be included in Regulations.

February 2008

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