Memorandum submitted by Participation
Progressive improvements to participation
and practice has improved the participation for children in care.
However, many children in public care do not feel listened to
by their social workers and corporate parent.
The Children and Young Persons Bill
is an ideal opportunity to strengthen the legal rights of children
and young people in care to participate in decision affecting
The proposed Children in Care Councils
should be placed on a statutory basis.
Social workers should have a new
duty to record on an ongoing bases the wishes and feelings of
children in care.
This submission has been prepared by the Children's
Rights Alliance for England on behalf of Participation Works,
a consortium of six national children and young people's agencies
whose members include the British Youth Council, the National
Children's Bureau, the National Council for Voluntary Youth Services,
Save the Children and The National Youth Agency.
Participation Works has a comprehensive programme
of activity and resources on participation which include workshops,
training sessions and practitioner networks, designed to support
organisations and practitioners who work with children and young
people under 25-years-old.
1. It is more than 30 years since local
authorities were first placed under a duty to give due consideration
to the views of children in care.1 The Children Act 1989 and subsequent
amendments in 2004 places a duty on local authorities to ensure
"so far as is reasonably practicable" that the wishes
and feelings of a child at risk, in need and in care should be
given due consideration in actions affecting them.2
2. However, whilst there have been considerable
improvements in participation across the past 30 years, many children
in care report being unheard:
a major 2002 consultation with children
in care found that approximately one third felt that they were
not listened to;3
a consultation with 300 children
living away from home in 2007 by the Children's Rights Director
found that they thought that their right to be able to have their
say about things that matter to them and for this to be taken
seriously were being respected "just about OK" but not
an online survey of children conducted
by the Department for Children, Schools and Families in autumn
2006 found that nearly a quarter (23%) of respondents that had
a social worker (604 children) said they felt they "never"
took their views into account;5 and
inspectors of foster care services
have noted that children do not always feel confident that their
views are listened to; they had concerns about the structure of
meetings and found aspects of the documentation and recording
3. Article 12 of the Convention on the Rights
of the Child grants all children the right to express their opinions
and to have their views given due weight in all matters concerning
them. In 2002, the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the
Child recommended that the Government takes "further steps
to consistently reflect the obligations of both paragraphs of
article 12 in legislation".7
4. In this paper we outline two proposals
to enshrine in legislation additional provisions which support
participation. Current legislation relating to children in care
obliges social workers to ensure that the wishes and feeling of
the child are given due consideration through their care process.8
It is now time to strengthen the legislation to support children's
influence in strategic decision-making and service delivery by
placing the Children in Care Councils (or some other collective
mechanism) on a statutory footing. We would also like to see a
new duty on social workers to record the views and wishes of children
5. The call for increased participation
of children in care is not new. The review of safeguards for children
living away from home ("Children's Safeguards Review")
undertaken at the end of the 1990s recommended that local authorities
"should make direct use of the experience of the young people
they look after in developing policy, practice and training for
services for children living away from home".9
6. The following year, in 1998, the health
select committee's inquiry into children in care noted, "A
great deal can be learned from children looked-after and from
young adults who have had experience of public care; their experience
can be drawn on to improve the care system for the future".10
7. We are very disappointed that the provision
for Children in Care Councils has not been placed on the face
of the Bill. This is in direct contrast to the views given by
the Department for Children, Schools and Families in feedback
to children on Government action following the Care Matters Green
Paper consultation. The department promised that:
Every local authority will be expected to set
up a "Children in Care Council" in their area. This
is to make sure that every child gets a chance to have their say
and put their experiences of the care system directly to those
responsible for running it in their area. 11
8. Children in care are a unique group for
whom the local authority has distinct legal responsibilities.
It is anathema that currently legislation provides that a 14-year-old
in care can influence the design of local positive youth activities
in his or her community but not influence the life changing strategic
decision making of their corporate parent. 12
9. Local authorities have specific responsibilities
to consult with children and young people in the production and
review of their Children and Young Person's Plan (CYPP) 13 and
the Government has suggested that this is sufficient safeguard
for their participation in strategic decision making. 14 Whilst
research from NfER shows that children in care have often been
consulted as part of the production of the CYPP15, we do not believe
this to be an adequate alternative to a Children in Care Councilsee
COMPARISON OF CYPP AND CHILDREN IN CARE COUNCIL
|Children and Young People's Plan
||Children in Care Councils|
|An annual one-off event.||An embedded part of service improvement.
Often a consultation which asks specific questions decided by the local authority.
|Led by children in care enabling them to discuss issues they believe to be important. They set the agenda.
Consultation results balanced against the views of others to influence final CYPP.
|Views of children in care heard directly by the Director of Children's Services and the Lead Member.
Involving all children, may include children in care.
|Focused on children in care and their specific view and experiences.
10. A Children in Care Council would not be focused on
consultation nor would it be solely an annual one off event. We
would envisage these Councils to be proactive in shaping service
improvements. They would have the opportunity to look at issues
of concern to them rather than merely responding to the views
of the local authority.
11. By placing collective mechanisms on a statutory footing
we can ensure that fledgling groups will be embedded in the structures
of a local authority and not vulnerable to changes in priorities
or personnel. It would also ensure that all children in care have
the opportunity to influence strategic decision makingnot
just in those with a local authority which supports an in care
12. Placing the council on a statutory footing would
also strengthen the accountability of the corporate parent to
children in care and ensure that the views of children are heard
at the highest level. Not every wish or opinion of children in
care will (or necessarily should) be acted upon. However,
it is important that they are considered seriously and appropriate
action takeneven if this is simply to engage in dialogue
with children about the difficulties of carrying out a proposal.
13. Some local authorities have existing collective mechanisms
for obtaining the views of childrenthese are models which
should be built upon. However, initial findings from a Children's
Rights Alliance for England (CRAE) Freedom of Information survey
of local authorities in England found that just 17 local authorities
have some form of collective mechanism for children in care.
We believe that coverage is patchy and the functions, remit and
status of the groups vary considerably. Many have no dedicated
budget or office space; no guaranteed access to key decision-makers;
and no obligations on senior managers or elected members to respond
to their concerns.
14. We believe that there should be a new legal requirement
on social workers to record the wishes and feelings of every child
as a matter of course. Recording the views of children would be
clear evidence that the social worker involved has spoken to the
individual child and specifically attempted to elicit their views.
It would make it clear to children themselves that their views
were being taken seriously and would be available to senior managers
15. The importance of a professional forming a relationship
(however short) with a child for whom there are concerns, in order
to build up a fuller picture of their life, their wishes and their
feelings, is an essential part of keeping children safe and promoting
16. Our proposal would significantly add to the protection
of younger children who have been or are being abused. Too often
young children are seen as being unable to contribute meaningfully
to assessments of their welfare and safety. These children are
less likely to directly or immediately disclose to a professional
undertaking a children in need or child protection investigation.
Further, there is a clear pattern in statutory case reviews of
young children not expressing their opinions. Government statistics
show that in the year ending 31 March 2006, there was a 10% gap
between children aged 4-9-years-old and children aged 16 and over
not expressing their views in their statutory review meeting18%
and 8% respectively. 16
17. Of course some children may struggle or find it impossible
to communicate their wishes and feelingsdue to their age,
maturity or circumstances. However, others may not have been asked
for their views or if they did their views may have been recorded
inadequately. Requiring social workers to record the wishes and
feelings of childrenor why it has not been reasonably practicable
to ascertain the child's wishes and feelingswould greatly
help to address this situation.
18. Though not enough research has been carried out on
disabled children's experiences of child welfare and child protection,
we know that abuse has been traditionally underestimated and underreported.
These amendments would ensure that there is documentary evidence
(or not) of the attempts made to ascertain the wishes and feelings
of disabled children, many of whom live long distances away from
home and have little family contact.
19. A statutory requirement to record the views of children
would ensure that case notes present a fuller picture and commentary
on the child's life and progress. This is especially important
for those children subject to regular changes in social work staff:
the notes would help new staff to develop a better understanding
of the child's views and make them aware of any changes in those
views. The notes would also provide a valuable source of information
for individuals who return to read their case files in later lifegiving
them access to their thoughts and feelings as a child, and thus
helping them make sense of their lives whilst providing insights
and reflections that usually come with growing up in a stable
20. Case notes are an integral element of care arrangements
for children and a key responsibility of the corporate parent.
We note that many serious case reviews, carried out following
the death or serious injury or neglect of a child, have reported
poor recording of children's wishes and feelings. Detailed and
up-to-date case notes can help avoid "drift" or "missed
signs" which have been the hallmark of inquiries into children's
deaths from Maria Colwell to Victoria Climbié.
21. We support the call to strengthen accesses to independent
advocacy by legislating for a statutory right for children in
care to access 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.
22. There is evidence to suggest that professional advocacy
input leads to better decision-making and that children's outcomes
are improved as a result. The process of active engagement in
making decisions about their lives is a very important element
in promoting resilience and emotional well-being.
1 The Children Act 1975 which was later amended and included
in the Children Act 1989 Section 22(4) and (5).
2 See: Section 17(4) and Section 47(4) Children Act 1989 (as
amended by Children Act 2004) and Section 22(4) and Section 26
Children Act 1989.
3 Timms, J and Thoburn, J. (2002) Your shout! A survey
of the views of 706 children and young people in public care.
London: NSPCC. Pg 13.
4 Children's Rights Director (2007) Looked-after in England.
How children living away from home rate England's care. A Children's
5 Willow, C, Franklin, A & Shaw, C. (2007) Meeting
the obligations of the Convention on the Rights of the Child in
England. Children and young people's messages to Government.
6 Social Services Inspectorate (2002) Fostering for the
future: Inspection of Foster Care Services Para 5.7.
7 United Nations Committee On The Rights Of The Child (2002)
Concluding observations: United Kingdom of Great Britain and
Northern Ireland CRC/C/15/Add 188.
8 Children Act 1989, Section 22(4).
9 Utting, W. (1997) People like us. The report of the
review of the safeguards for children living away from home. Department
of Health and Welsh Office.
10 House of Commons Health Select Committee (July 1998) Children
looked-after by Local Authorities.
11 DCSF (2007) Time for change. Young people's guide to
the Care Matters White Paper.
12 Education and Inspection Act 2006, Section 6 (9) (a) and
13 Children and Young People's Plan (England) Regulations
2005 Section 7 (1) (a).
14 Lord Adonis, Hansard House of Lords, 14 Jan 2008 : Column
15 Lord, P, Wilkin, A, Kinder, K, Murfield, J, Jones, M, Chamberlain,
T, Easton, C, Martin, K, Gulliver, C, Paterson, C, Ries, J, Moor,
H, Stott, A, Wilkin, C and Stoney, S. (2006) Analysis of Children
and Young People's Plans, National Foundation for Educational
16 Figures calculated based on children who physically attend
but does not speak for him or herself, does not convey his or
her view symbolically (nonverbally) and does not ask an advocate
to speak for him or her and also children who do not attend a
review nor are his or her views conveyed to the review.
See: National Statistics/Department for Education and Skills (2007)
Children Looked After In England (Including Adoptions And Care
The 2007 survey by the Children's Rights Alliance for England
(CRAE) received responses from 139 of 150 local authorities. The
FOI request focussed on awareness and implementation of the Convention
on the Rights of the Child. However, it also asked specific questions
relating to participation. Back