Select Committee on Children, Schools and Families Written Evidence

Supplementary memorandum submitted by Kevin Brennan MP, Department for Children, Schools and Families

  Thank you for the opportunity to give evidence to the Children's, Schools and Families Select Committee inquiry into looked-after children. I promised to write on a number of points and I am also taking this opportunity to provide further information on some of the points the Committee was interested in.


  Improving the health of looked-after children is vital to improving their life chances—we know that children in care suffer higher proportions of health difficulties than their peers. Care Matters: Time for Change set out a range of proposals to improve their health and well-being, including access to positive activities and a focus on improving their mental and emotional health—a key problem for looked-after children—through dedicated or targeted CAMHS provision.

  Primary Care Trusts (PCTs), and other health bodies, are key partners in improving outcomes for looked-after children. They are required to act under section 10 of the Children Act 2004 to co-operate with the local authority to improve all five outcomes for children and young people. This duty was strengthened by the Local Government and Public Involvement in Health Act 2007, which placed a further duty on PCTs, as part of the Local Strategic Partnership, to cooperate to agree and have regard to shared improvement targets in their Local Area Agreement. We have made it clear that looked-after children should be a priority for local areas and their children's trust arrangements.

  We made clear in the Care Matters White Paper the Government's view that PCTs and other health services have a key role in delivering effective services to looked-after children. To reinforce this:

    —  we have introduced a new measure in the local government National Indicator Set (NIS) on the emotional and behavioral health of looked-after children. The NIS provides local authorities, working with health and other partners, a framework for determining priorities for local action;

    —  we will place guidance on promoting the health of looked-after children on a statutory footing for health bodies as well as local authorities—helping to ensure that looked-after children receive the services that they need. We will do this under sections 10(8) and 11(4) of the Children Act 2004. Guidance issued in this way will cover Strategic Health Authorities, Primary Care Trusts, NHS Trusts, NHS Foundation Trusts and local authorities; and

    —  we will set out, in this statutory guidance, how Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS) should provide targeted or dedicated provision that appropriately prioritises looked-after children.


  You asked about the number of children's homes and I can confirm there are currently around 2000 in England.

  We discussed in particular the homes managed by Sedgemoor and the potential impact on residents if private equity providers withdraw their provision. We have been working with Ofsted to make sure any lessons that can be are learnt from the collapse of Sedgemoor. However, we do believe a diverse provider base is necessary to meet the needs of looked-after children and young people. Safeguards are in place: children's homes are regulated by HMCI; and before closure of a home the provider is required to apply to HMCI for cancellation of their registration in writing which must include reasons for the application. The provider is required to give notice of their intention to close the home three months in advance of the proposed date of closure and should also, at that time, notify the local authority for the area in which the home is situated. The responsibility for promoting the welfare and safeguarding children placed in children's homes rests both on the local authority that looks after the child and on the local authority for the area in which the home is situated.

  There is a clear statutory framework that governs the local authority's approach to choosing a placement and also that sets out basic requirements with which it must comply when a placement is made. I was asked about the current notification requirements on local authorities placing a child in a home in another local authority: under regulation 5 of the Arrangements for Placement of Children (General) Regulations 1991 the placing authority must, before the placement is made (or as soon as reasonably practicable thereafter, in case of emergency) notify, amongst others, the local authority and Primary Care Trust both for the area in which the child is living and the area in which the child is to be placed.


  The Committee was interested in the provisions in clause 14 of the Bill and their impact on young people in custody. Clause 14 makes explicit the duty on local authorities to arrange for a representative (in most cases this will be a social worker who is involved in the child's case) to visit all looked-after children, wherever they may be living. This includes looked-after children who are the subject of care orders and who are taken into custody, as their sentence has no effect on their care status.

  In addition, we will use the regulation making power in clause 14 to extend the local authority's duty to visit to those in custody who were "voluntary accommodated" children but who lose looked-after status because they are no longer accommodated by the local authority. This will ensure that the local authorities have a continuing role in monitoring the welfare of a child they formerly looked-after whilst the child is in custody, and in planning services that the child may need on release—which may include providing accommodation and therefore "looking after" the child again or providing support for the young person (as a child in need, under section 17 of the Children Act 1989) and their family in the community.

  We intend to use the regulation-making power in clause 14 (4) to set out the minimum frequency of these visits, and to require, for example, that, where possible, the child is seen alone and that a written record of the visit is made. We will also set out in statutory guidance an expectation that the local authority should appoint a social worker, or at least by a person who is under the supervision of a qualified social worker, to be its representative. If the child is in custody, we would not expect the local authority to appoint a member of the Youth Offending Team as its representative for these purposes.


  The Government believes current arrangements offer an appropriate level of protection to privately fostered children. However, in the Children Act 2004 we took the precaution of providing for regulations to be made requiring the registration of anyone proposing to foster a child privately. This was done with the intention of using these powers if the evidence demonstrated that the current arrangements could not offer sufficient protection to privately fostered children. The powers will cease to have effect in November 2008, if they have not been exercised before then. We are proposing, through the Bill, to extend this period by a further three years to November 2011.

  We believe, and I understand that organisations such as the British Association for Adoption and Fostering who work extensively on private fostering agree, that we should seek to ensure the current arrangements are operated effectively and evaluate them more fully before deciding whether to introduce a registration regime. It would not be in the interests either of children or of those who work with them to do otherwise. Our primary aim should be to ensure that there are fewer "hidden" or high risk private fostering arrangements. It is not clear at this point that registration would encourage more private foster carers to come forward than at present—and indeed there may be a risk that such a bureaucratic approach may be seen as heavy handed and deter those private foster carers who offer welcome help in some family situations.


  The Committee may wish to note that the Government tabled two significant amendments this week:

    —  Breaks for parents of disabled children: we are placing a new duty on local authorities to help parents caring for disabled children by giving them breaks from their caring responsibilities.

    —  Securing sufficient accommodation for looked-after children: we are introducing a new duty on local authorities to take steps to secure sufficient accommodation within their authority area that is appropriate for the needs of the children in their care.

  I am enclosing with this letter the letter Lord Adonis has sent to Peers setting out the Government's thinking on these amendments in addition to the letter Lord Adonis recently sent to Peers when the Government tabled the amendments relating to how children are accommodated. [37]


  Government will publish the implementation plan for Care Matters very soon. The plan is being developed in partnership with key delivery organisations including the Association of Directors of Children's Services, the Local Government Association, the NHS Confederation and the voluntary sector. Its focus will be on the changes that are required at central, regional, and most importantly, local level to make a real difference in children's lives. It will include further detail about our proposed national stocktake of progress as well as the planned targeted inspection of services by Ofsted. It will be accompanied by a range of good practice and training materials to help local areas begin the process of embedding lasting change on the ground. I will ensure members of the committee have copies of the plan when it is published to further inform the Committee's inquiry.

  Finally, I attach, as promised, local statistics on looked-after children, covering your constituency, and that of each committee member. [38]

  I look forward to engaging further with you as your inquiry progress.

Kevin Brennan MP

March 2008

37   Not printed. Back

38   Not printed. Back

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