Select Committee on Children, Schools and Families Written Evidence

Memorandum submitted by Participation Works


    —  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 them.

    —  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 "well";4

    —  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 unhelpful.6

  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 in care.

  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 Council—see table below.

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 making—not just in those with a local authority which supports an in care group.

  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 taken—even 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 children—these 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.[36] 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 and inspectors.

  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 their well-being.

  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 meeting—18% and 8% respectively. 16

  17.  Of course some children may struggle or find it impossible to communicate their wishes and feelings—due 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 children—or why it has not been reasonably practicable to ascertain the child's wishes and feelings—would 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 life—giving 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 family.

  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.

February 2008


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 Views Report.

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 (b).

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 GC392.

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 Research.

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 Leavers) 2005-06.

36   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

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