Memorandum submitted by NCH, the children's
For too long children in care have been let
down by the state. This legislation, along with the other measures
set out in Care Matters, offers a real opportunity to deliver
the much-needed changes to the care system. These reforms must
improve the quality and experience of those who enter the care
system. Both the legislation and the implementation plan must
realise the radical reforms to the system set out in the Care
Matters Green Paper.
NCH would like to see:
greater support around the educational
aspects of the Bill;
an independent advocate for children
clarification about the responsibility
and powers of the Independent Reviewing Officers; and
greater support, both financial and
otherwise, for those leaving care to pursue apprenticeships or
In particular, preventative services, while
not requiring legislation, also have an important role to play.
Intensive family support for families with children on the edge
of care can, where appropriate, prevent the need for a child to
be placed in care in the first place. NCH runs a number of these
services in partnership with local authorities and this has resulted
in, on average, four out of every five referrals being deemed
successful. This kind of service can also be used to support children
leaving care and returning home to live with their families, or
to prevent the breakdown of a foster placement.
2. NCH, THE CHILDREN'S
2.1 NCH is the UK's leading children's charity.
We run nearly 500 services and work with more than 178,000 children,
young people and their families across the UK,
some of the most vulnerable in our society.
2.2 We complement our role in promoting
social justice through our services by lobbying and campaigning
for change. NCH is one of the main providers of Children's Centres
and we are the sector's leading provider of preventive and intensive
support to families with vulnerable children, including those
in care, in trouble with the law, who are disabled and who have
mental health problems.
2.3 We work to promote the best interests
of children and young people in care through providing a range
of residential services for children, young people and families,
including residential services for disabled children and those
who are leaving care or homeless. NCH also has a long tradition
of adoption work, and we were one of the first approved adoption
agencies. These include addressing the specific needs of black
and ethnic minority families. In addition NCH offers a variety
of foster care placements, ranging from emergency and short term
through to long term, remand and shared care.
2.4 NCH works with over 80% of local authorities
in the UK and we are expert at working in partnership with a wide
variety of organisations to deliver services. Our purpose is to
help the most vulnerable children and young people break through
injustice, deprivation and inequality, so they can achieve their
3. PART 1DELIVERY
3.1 This part of the Bill puts forward proposals
for the provision of social work services for children and young
people. It will enable the local authority to enter into an arrangement
with a "provider of social work services" and enable
the discharge of some or all of the local authority's social services
responsibilities for individual children who are looked-after
by the local authority or who are former relevant children (as
defined in section 23C of the Children Act 1989).
3.2 Clause 2 sets out the restrictions on
arrangements for the delivery of social work services for children
and young people that cannot be discharged to an external provider.
This includes the local authorities' function in relation to the
appointment of independent reviewing officers and the functions
as an adoption agency, unless the provider is a registered agency.
There is also provision to ensure that the functions are discharged
or under the supervision of registered social workers. The local
authority must also abide by any guidance given from central government.
3.3 Clause 3 states that the responsibilities
of omissions or acts to the social work provider are to be treated
as the acts and omissions of the local authority. However, this
does not apply to criminal offences or prevent any civil proceedings
against the provider.
3.4 Clause 6 sets out the arrangement to
pilot these proposals for up to five years in a number of local
authorities. Following evaluation of the pilots, it may be extended
to all local authorities.
3.5 It is important to recognise that the
proposal for independent Social Care Practices (SCP) stems from
a desire to tackle many of the perceived weaknesses that the current
social work system has when it comes to placing the needs of the
child at the centre of all that it does.
3.6 While there may be potential benefits
of SCPs, we need to acknowledge that change does not always bring
better outcomes. We share many of the same concerns as the LGA
regarding the development of SCPs. For example, SCPs will restrict
a local authority's flexibility in allocating resources and introduces
yet another layer of bureaucracy to the system. Furthermore, there
is no evidence that SCPs will resolve the issues of recruiting
and retaining social workers, or why this model is better than
empowering foster carers or key workers in children's homes who
are already much closer to the children and young people.
3.7 For now we would suggest that it is
important for this idea to be closely tested and have its role
and relationships clearly defined and boundaries and goals unambiguously
4. PART 2FUNCTIONS
4.1 This part of the Bill sets out that
each local authority to have a care plan for each child in care
that includes the kind of services that will be provided to meet
the child's needs. Care plans must be reviewed within four weeks
of a child becoming looked-after; the second review must be within
three months after that date and subsequently not more than six-monthly
intervals. These clauses make amendments to the various regulations
that are currently in place for care planning and review.
4.2 NCH's view
Children and young people enter the care system
from various backgrounds and circumstances. The majority of children
in care (62%) are there because they have suffered abuse or neglect
and 42% of children in care return home within six months. The
care plan and its implementation are crucial to meeting the individual
needs of each child.
5. SUPPORT FOR
5.1 Clause 7 makes provision for support
for children placed with family or friends. It restates the duty
on the local authority to place a child who is voluntarily accommodated
with a relative or other person connected with them unless that
would be inconsistent with the child's welfare. These placements
will still mean that a child accommodated under section 20 of
the 1989 Act still remains looked-after unless placement is will
a parent (or another person who has parental responsibility).
5.2 NCH's view
NCH agrees that children placed with suitable
family and friends still remain looked-after, but there should
also be safeguards in place to ensure that the child will be properly
cared for and their needs fully met. This could be done by having
a greater emphasis on identification and assessment of potential
family and friends prior to the start of care proceedings.
6.1 Clause 8 imposes a new duty on local
authorities to place children in accommodation that is within
their own local authority, except where accommodation cannot be
provided with areas that is consistent with the child's welfare.
6.2 NCH believes that when deciding on placements,
the welfare of the child should come first. We are pleased with
the reassurances given by Government that this will be the case,
however it is important that there is not a disincentive for local
authorities to keep a child within their own local authority when
their needs could be best met accessing provision (such as specialist
education) in another authority.
6.3 In addition, Clause 8 (2) (7C) states
that "Where a local authority provide within their area accommodation
for a child whom they are looking after, they shall secure that
(where he child is not accommodated in his home) the accommodation
being provided is near is home". We would like further clarification
about what is meant by "near".
7.1 Clause 9 builds on the requirement set
out in the Children Act 2004 that places a duty on local authorities
to "give particular attention to the educational implications
of any decision about welfare of any child they are looking after".
It expects that care placement decisions should not normally mean
that the child has to change school (unless it is for the welfare
of the child) and that any school change should normally come
about due to educational needs.
7.2 In addition, this clause also puts a
new requirement for children in school years 10 and 11the
circumstances must be exceptional to justify a care placement
that is not near the child's school.
7.3 NCH's view
NCH supports the strengthening of the duty on
local authorities with regard placement stability when looked-after
children are studying for their GCSEs or equivalent qualifications.
However, we believe that this duty should be extended to cover
other critical periods in a child's education, in particular the
transition from primary to secondary school.
8. REVIEW OF
8.1 Clause 10 introduces a statutory requirement
in a case where the local authority is considering a particular
change to the arrangements it has made for the accommodation of
a looked-after child to undertake a review of the child's case.
8.2 NCH's view
NCH supports the strengthening of the statutory
review processes, which should reduce the numbers of children
moved between provider homes without adequate consultation and
agreement and that the process would be overridden in order to
safeguard the welfare of the child.
9.1 Clause 11 sets out the additional requirements
regarding the appointment of independent reviewing officers. When
a child is looked-after, an individual name must be appointed
as the IRO for the child. The additional responsibilities of the
IRO include ensuring the views of the child are taken into account
in care planning, there is identification of persons responsible
for implementing any decisions from the review and that any failure
to implement the review recommendations are brought to the attention
within the local authority at a senior level. The aim of these
amendments is to ensure that the child's interests are best protected.
9.2 NCH has, from the time of the Green
Paper, welcomed proposals to strengthen the independence of the
reviewing officer. In our view, the legislation improves existing
arrangements but could go further in demanding that IRO services
be provided by an independent organisation. It is incredibly important
that the IRO be totally independent from the local authority so
that the child and young person being represented can fully trust
that the office has their best interests at heart. There should
be no potential conflict of interest when it comes to an IRO being
able to challenge an authority's conduct, policy or services where
that is needed.
9.3 NCH supports the case for independent
advocacy. Along with other organisations, we would like to see
a statutory right to independent advocacy when significant decisions
are being made concerning the lives of looked-after children and
a legal requirement on all agencies providing care to ensure access
to independent advocacy.
10.1 Clause 14 extends the group of looked-after
children for whom an independent person must be appointed to visit
befriend and advise the child.
10.2 NCH's view
NCH runs a number of Independent Visitor programmes,
working with more than 20 local authorities. In our experience,
independent visitors are a very good idea and we are keen to see
them promoted and revitalised. Many young people do not want their
independent visitor to be their advocate, not wanting them to
know more information about them than they themselves are prepared
to share. In addition, many independent visitors work full time
and the extra responsibility could be enough to dissuade them
from volunteering. The separation in role and function must remain
in these reforms.
11.1 Clause 17 requires the governing body
of a school to designate a member of staff as having responsibility
for promoting the educational achievement of looked-after children
who are registered pupils at the school.
11.2 Having a designated member of staff
in each school has the potential to ensure that children in care
have access to the educational support they need. We would like
the Government to clarify that the "designated member of
staff" will be a teacher. In addition, for this position
to make a difference, the member of staff must have the ability
to ensure that any recommendations are implemented by the school.
11.3 Resources and training should be available
to the designated member of staff so that they can effectively
discharge their responsibilities. Contact and the exchange of
information between social workers and the designated member of
staff will also be required to ensure that support both in and
out of the school setting complements the aim of improving the
12.1 Clause 18 adds duties that local authorities
to pay a fixed sum to "former relevant children" who
go on to pursue a course of higher education. Regulations will
set out the amount and how it will be paid and will be exempt
from income tax.
12.2 NCH's view
This measure will help make a difference to
"former relevant children" who enter higher education.
NCH is of the view that such support should not be restricted
to higher education and that financial support should also be
made available for further education provision. This is of particular
importance given that 30% of care leavers aged 19 were not in
education, employment or training.
13.1 Clause 19 extends the duties of the
personal adviser to include a former relevant child who informs
the responsible authority that he is pursuing or intends to pursue
a programme of education or training, but who the authority would
not have a duty because the young person is over 21 years of age.
The young person must, however, be under 25 and the local authority
must undertake an assessment of educational and training needs.
If the education or training goes beyond a young person's 25th
birthday, the local authority must still provide assistance.
13.2 Clause 20 puts in place an extension
of entitlements to a personal adviser and to assistance in connection
with education or training.
13.3 NCH's view
NCH supports the extension of an appointed personal
adviser and provision to undertake an assessment of education
and training needs for children who have left care to age 25.
Ways in which to promote the engagement of care leavers in education
or training must feature if this measure is to make a difference.
NCH is of the view that local authorities should also explore
the possibility of offering care leavers access to apprenticeships.
14.1 Clause 21 removes the restriction on
the making of cash payments "in exceptional circumstances"
and gives local authorities wider discretion in giving cash payments
to those caring for children in need. Local authorities may also
decide that assistance could be repaid.
14.2 NCH's view
Removing the restrictions on the powers to make
payments in cash to children in need will give greater flexibility
to meet the needs those in and leaving care, such as disabled
children and young people.
15. PART 3FOSTERING
15.1 Clause 29 gives power for prospective
or existing foster carers to apply to the Government for an independent
review of the determination of a fostering service provider regarding
a person's suitability or continuing suitability to foster a child.
15.2 NCH's view
NCH supports the option of an independent review
mechanism for foster carers.
16. PRIVATE FOSTERINGEXTENSION
45 OR 46 OF
16.1 Clause 31 extends existing powers to
establish a scheme for the registration of private foster carers,
which will lapse in November 2008. This clause extends these powers
until November 2011.
16.2 NCH's view
From our experience supporting private foster
carers, many of the children being cared for are very vulnerable
having limited or no contact with their parents. NCH is of the
view that more needs to be done both at a central and local level
to increase the number of registered private foster carers. This
would help prevent these vulnerable children slipping through
the net. There could be significant merits to introducing a more
formal requirement to register private foster carers. This is
an area that must be sufficiently addressed as part of the Care
35 As at 1 April 2007. Back