Select Committee on Children, Schools and Families Third Special Report

Appendix 1

Government's response to the First Report from the Children, Schools and Families Committee, Session 2007-08

First Report of Session 2007-08: Children and Young Persons Bill

Thank you for your report into the Children and Young Persons Bill. I have studied the report with great interest. I am particularly grateful for your comment about the development of Care Matters policy, that in "many ways this is an exemplary way for policy to be developed and implemented, and the Government is to be congratulated for a thorough and serious consultative process." I hope that this response to the points raised in the report will maintain this high standard, reflecting the importance I personally attach to improving the lives of all children and young people in care. I have set out my response to reflect the structure of your report.

Social Work Services

The pilots need to fill the evidence gap on social work practices. It is vital that they are properly evaluated and that they are not rolled out unless there is clear evidence that they will provide the essential continuity and stability for looked-after children. (Paragraph 12)

As the Committee suggests the pilots are designed to test whether social work practices can make a real difference to children in care; indeed Prof. Julian le Grand wrote in the foreword to Consistent Care Matters this "could only be resolved by observing the idea at work".[2] It is important, and we have made clear to the House, that we will undertake a robust and thorough evaluation to assess whether this delivers benefits for looked-after children. We will commission an independent organisation to conduct a comprehensive evaluation to ensure we are able to make informed decisions about any longer term roll-out and are in a position to know what works best to provide stability and better outcomes for our most vulnerable children. Further detail about the social work practices pilots project was published in a prospectus this month.[3]

We do not see inspection as the answer to concerns about services being withdrawn at short notice by a private provider, as in the case of the Sedgemoor children's homes. We note the Minister's point about Ofsted being the registration authority for homes, but in that case and with the proposed social work practices, it seems to us that contract terms or some other form of regulation would be more appropriate ways of controlling these problems. Throughout our evidence, continuity and stability for looked-after children are emphasised as key, and therefore some sort of safety net is needed. (Paragraph 13)

Whilst I recognise the concern of the Committee in relation to Sedgemoor, I do firmly believe that a diverse provider base is necessary to meet the needs of children and young people in care. Independent Fostering Agencies and independent children's home providers secure good outcomes for the children they serve.

As the Committee notes, HMCI is the registration authority for children's homes and as such we think it is entirely appropriate for the notification of closure, at least three months in advance of the planned closure, to be to HMCI. The existing National Minimum Standards for children's homes (under review at present), which children's homes are required to meet, include requirements about financial stability of the registered provider. These standards can be taken into account in any proceedings against a provider for an offence under Part 2 of the Care Standards Act 2000.

We do, of course, expect local authorities to maintain close relationships with providers with whom they contract for services and with whom the children they are looking after are placed, and to respond appropriately to actual or anticipated changes in the provider's ability to provide accommodation, whether precipitated by financial considerations or not. That is also why providers are also required to give notification of closure three months ahead of the date of closure to the local authority in which the home is based. In such circumstances there is a clear statutory framework for placement moves that local authorities must follow to fulfil their responsibilities for safeguarding promoting the welfare of the looked-after children in their care.


We welcome the Minister's comments that he is giving consideration to increased support for those undertaking other education and training and not just those in higher education. We recommend that a broader bursary system is introduced for looked-after children in post-16 education and training. (Paragraph 18)

We are committed to providing care leavers with access to education and training that best suits their needs. The tuition costs of a first level qualification or a first level 3 qualification will be met in full for all young people, including care leavers. To better support care leavers, we are extending the right to a personal adviser to age 25 for those who are in, or want to return to, education or training. In addition care leavers will be entitled to a pathway plan which sets out the services necessary to support them so they are able to make a successful transition to adulthood. It will include the services that are needed to meet each young person's learning needs to help them follow their chosen route into employment and economic independence. Local authorities can also contribute towards care leavers' living expenses relating to a course of education or training and meet other expenses associated with education or training.

The higher education bursary will set out a minimum level of financial support that local authorities must provide to all care leavers who go to higher education. We have introduced this measure in response to evidence of the higher levels of debt experienced by care leavers in higher education, and because responses to the Care Matters green paper showed that young people in care perceive cost to be a particular barrier to going on to higher education. I believe that we must do all we can to enable more care leavers to enter higher education and it is right that we both remove the barriers that they face and provide incentive for them to do so.

We expect all existing Academies to designate a teacher to have responsibility for the educational achievement of looked-after children. If the Minister's voluntary approach does not result in every Academy making such an appointment we expect him to reconsider his decision to exclude Academies from the legislation. (Paragraph 22)

As the Committee is no doubt aware, Academies are given the freedom to innovate to improve the education of some of our most disadvantaged children. I know that Academy principals have demonstrated their commitment to improving the education of looked-after children. We will continue to work with them through their school improvement partners and my Department's academy educational advisors to ensure that they adopt the best practice in relation to looked-after children. Of the 83 open academies surveyed in November 2007, 82 already had a designated person for looked-after children.

Academies are regulated through their Funding Agreements rather than through legislation. We are committed to maintaining the existing light-touch regulatory framework for them, which allows them to innovate to raise standards in the most challenging circumstances. Nevertheless, due to the importance we attach to improving the education of looked-after children we will specify in the funding agreement of future Academies that they must have a designated teacher for looked-after children.


The Minister told us of his concern that the independent reviewing officer [IRO] system was not yet working effectively, and the Government acknowledges this in the Bill by making provision for the Secretary of State to establish a body to be the employer of independent reviewing officers to provide greater independence if matters do not improve. The Government needs to be explicit about how it will judge if this change is needed, and how long it will allow present circumstances to continue without perceived improvement. (Paragraph 30)

I am pleased the Committee recognises that we are serious about improvement in this area, and the important role of the IRO in providing the stability and support that looked-after children need by ensuring that the child's views and wishes are fully represented, and reviews of the care plans are conducted rigorously.

The Bill does contain provisions that would enable the Secretary of State to establish a national IRO service with flexibility to determine the nature and function of such a service, from accreditation and training, to appointing and employing IROs to address any shortcomings evidence may demonstrate. However, we are committed, through the strengthening provisions in the Bill, and through the implementation of Care Matters, to realising real improvements in the current arrangements.

We will monitor the impact of our reforms in this area through detailed consideration of evidence from Ofsted inspections; information from the new annual Ministerial stocktake on children in care; and from an independent evaluation of the IRO service in 2011. We will also take into consideration our statistical returns and any other evidence. A full review will necessarily include the views of key stakeholders and in particular will reflect the experience of children and young people, as well as their parents and carers.

The power to establish a new national IRO service is subject to a "sunset clause", so that the power will lapse within 7 years of Royal Assent if not used. We believe that seven years gives Government the appropriate amount of time in which to assess the impact of the strengthening measures in the Bill on the effectiveness of IROs in improving outcomes for looked-after children, decide whether we need to introduce further changes to the way the IRO functions are delivered and if necessary the right lead time, for example, for CAFCASS to establish a national service.

If the new arrangements for independent reviewing officers do not improve the way the system works, the Government should look again at independent advocacy and whether there is a need to replace the neutral independence of the IRO with active advocacy on behalf of the child or young person. (Paragraph 31)

I thank the Committee for their considered view on this point and we will bear this in mind when assessing the effectiveness of IROs in their important role, including their active engagement of children and young people in the care planning and review process.

Every looked-after child should have one key individual to whom he or she can turn, and wherever possible the child should be entitled to say which individual should perform that role. (Paragraph 35)

The concept of one key individual, or a lead professional, is an important one, particularly for looked-after children where, as the Committee recognised, consistency and stability of relationships is critical. In most cases the lead professional for a looked-after child is the social worker who is allocated to plan for their care and support. There will, of course, be other adults in the child's life who will have an important role in providing them with the help they need—e.g. foster carers or children's home staff. For most looked-after children, their parents and families will also continue to play an important role.

Local authorities have statutory responsibilities for seeking and giving due consideration to children's views in taking decisions that affect them. This includes taking account of any preferences a child expresses about the adults responsible for their care.


The welfare of a child and his or her ability to thrive must always be paramount, but, given that, we expect the benefits of a placement with family and friends to be considered seriously before other options are chosen. (Paragraph 39)

I am pleased that the Committee agrees with us on this point, and this is part of the rationale behind our replacement of section 23 of the Children Act 1989. Local authorities are required to determine the most appropriate placement for a child, that is one that best safeguards and promotes their welfare, and in that assessment is required to give a preference to placements with someone connected to the child, such as a relative or friend.

Children tell us that maintaining links with their friends and family is important to them. Evidence suggests that outcomes for children looked-after by family or friends are at least as good, and sometimes better, than for other looked-after children, despite the fact that children placed with family or friends have equally challenging needs. Placements with family or friends tend to be more stable, children feel loved, report high levels of satisfaction, appear to be as safe and their behaviour is perceived to be less of a problem. In addition it is easier for children who are looked-after by family or friends to maintain a sense of family and cultural identity. This was reflected in the Care Matters White Paper, and underpins the implementation going forward. It is, of course, important as the Committee suggests, to balance this against the circumstances of individual case and the decisions made have to be in the interests of the individual child.

We acknowledge the Government's attempts to address problems with the original text of the Bill. We recognise that the issue is likely to be a matter for debate once again when the Bill reaches the Commons. We hope that the Government will continue to take the constructive approach that it has done in the Lords when the debate continues in this House. (Paragraph 41)

I thank the Committee for their endorsement of our approach so far.

We note the Minister's outline of what the Government is doing to pilot post-18 fostering arrangements, and we ask him to provide further information about the pilots, where they are being held and the issues that they are designed to clarify. (Paragraph 45)

I regret that I cannot as yet provide information on the location of the pilots as my Department only put out an invitation to tender in late February and is currently in the process of assessing the bids from local authorities. We plan to have the Staying Put: 18+ Family Placement pilots in place shortly. I will ask my officials to let the Committee Clerk have the details as soon as these are available.

The "Staying Put" pilots will offer a significant change in some young people's experience, giving them the opportunity to remain with their former carers into legal adulthood; and enabling them to move to greater independence when they are ready and have been properly prepared, rather than when they reach a predetermined age limit. These pilots support an integrated approach to care planning where plans to enable children and young people to make a positive transition to adulthood are based on a thorough assessment of their full range of their needs and gives weight to the young person's views.

We are piloting these 18+ arrangements in the first instance because we want to understand the possible practical and financial problems and develop practical solutions to issues such as:

  • financial barriers that could arise such as the tax status of carers for care leavers and difficulties obtaining appropriate insurance;
  • how local authorities manage to develop new fostering capacity to meet the needs of younger children entering care if young people are remaining longer with their former foster carers; and
  • how carers will be trained and supported to maintain a positive relationship with young people, who will no longer be "children in care" but independent young adults making their transition to adulthood; and how they actively enable these young people to develop the social and practical skills that they will need to be confident successful young adults when they move to greater independence.

We will commission an independent evaluation of the pilots to assess the contribution of this model of continuing care to enabling young people to develop into confident successful adults.

Given that the opportunity for further legislation is likely to be limited in the near future, we recommend that the Government considers amending the Bill to provide for regulations in respect of post-18 fostering if the pilots require it, following the example of proposals for independent reviewing officers already in the Bill. (Paragraph 46)

When I gave evidence to the Committee I said that powers existed under the existing legislation to make regulations, but I was unable to state definitively that further legislation would not be required. We have now examined the relevant legislation further and we are confident that the Care Standards Act 2000 provides appropriate regulation making powers. Regulations could be made under this Act to require registration with HMCI of authorities that make arrangements for 18 to 21 year old former relevant children to live with 'foster carers'. The Government will decide whether regulations are appropriate on the basis of the findings of the Staying Put: 18+ Family Placement pilots.

The Minister says that he wants more time for the voluntary notification system for private fostering to work effectively. Given the concerns about some of the children in this situation, we ask the Government to give its assessment of the numbers of children in private fostering arrangements, to set out how it intends to increase levels of notification, and to explain its criteria for assessing whether the voluntary system is working or not. The Bill would allow another three years for a registration system to come into being. If it becomes apparent before then that the voluntary notification system is not operating effectively, the Government should immediately bring forward a registration scheme, having put in place the necessary arrangements in advance. (Paragraph 49)

Government believes the current arrangements should offer an appropriate level of protection to privately fostered children. However, as the Committee is aware in the Children Act 2004 we also took the precaution of providing powers for regulations to be made requiring the registration of anyone proposing to foster a child privately.

We believe, and I understand that organisations such as the British Association for Adoption and Fostering (BAAF) 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 introducing a new 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 an approach would be seen as heavy handed and deter those private foster carers who offer welcome help in some family situations.

On the specific question regarding the number of private fostering arrangements, figures published in November last year show that at 31 March 2007 1,250 children were reported to be in private fostering arrangements in England. We recognise this is an under representation of the true figure and this is why we are taking steps to improve the rate of notification. The annual data published in November each year shows that notifications of private fostering arrangements have risen in each of the last three years.

We believe there is more we can do to promote the good practice this rise in notifications signals. We will gather and publish evidence of good practice. We will also seek to support better awareness of the notification requirement and private fostering amongst the public in general, private foster carers, parents and the range of professionals who might come into contact with privately fostered children. For example we are working through Government Offices to raise awareness, particularly in areas with low notification rates; and my Department is funding BAAF to run a national private fostering awareness raising week, from which good practice will be widely disseminated. We will also consider how better to target advice and guidance to different groups of potential private foster carers or other third parties; and we will consider how effectively arrangements are working to protect certain groups—for example children who are being illegally trafficked, about whom we published specific guidance in December 2007.

We will not be able to evaluate the impact of this activity until November 2009, when the annual 2008-09 notification data is due to be published. If that data shows that our activity has not significantly increased notifications, and evidence continues to suggest that a significant number of private fostering arrangements are not notified; or if other research suggests that privately fostered children are at particular risk, despite an increase in notifications, we would then consider, in consultation with stakeholders, the case for registration. If the case were made out, we would then have to develop and consult on detailed proposals for policy and on regulations and guidance to implement these. This work is likely to take until 2011.

2   Page 3, Foreword, Consistent Care Matters: Exploring the Potential of Social Work Practices, June 2007. Back

3   Piloting the Social Work Practice Model: A prospectus, DCSF, May 2008, available at: REF: DCSF-00389-2008 Back

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