Memorandum submitted by the Department for Children, Schools and Families
1. Children should be supported in their families wherever possible, but a small number of children will need to be looked after by local authorities during their childhoods.
2. Programmes of work focusing on looked after children have been in place for several years as a result of key reports such as the Utting Report (1997) and major initiatives such as Quality Protects (1998-2004). These initiatives focused on vulnerable children were developed further by the far reaching agenda for improving outcomes for all children first set out in the Every Child Matters Green Paper and developed further in the Children's Plan. Central to those programmes is the argument that better outcomes depend on the integration of universal services with targeted and more specialised help, and on bringing services together around the needs of the child and their family.
3. Most looked after children spend short periods of time looked after, so the care system should not be seen in isolation from wider children's services. The numbers of looked after children have reduced in England in recent years, but rates of entry in care differ between localities, as does the quality of services. Of course, looked after children access both specialist and mainstream services, so the challenge for reform is significant, and the wider changes mentioned above provide a strong basis for future improvement.
4. The Care Matters Green Paper provides a detailed analysis of the problems facing looked after children and the service challenges ahead. While it would be simplistic to see the poor outcomes achieved by children in care simply as a failure of the care system, it is clear that children's experiences of care and of other services while they are in care do not always do enough to compensate for the harm they have previously suffered and, in some cases, compound it.
5. The Care Matters Green paper can be accessed at: http://www.dfes.gov.uk/consultations/downloadableDocs/6731-DfES-Care%20Matters.pdf
6. A formal three month consultation followed publication on the green paper, including specific consultation events for children and young people. The Government published a summary of the consultation response in April 2007. http://www.dfes.gov.uk/consultations/conResults.cfm?consultationId=1406
7. Four independent working groups were established to consider key questions posed in the Green Paper. Lord Herbert Laming, who led the Victoria Climbié enquiry, chaired a group looking at placement reform; Martin Narey, Chief Executive of Barnardos, chaired a group which explored the characteristics of the care population now and in the future; Dame Professor Pat Collarbone, of the Training and Development Agency, chaired a group looking at ways of ensuring that all looked after children receive the best possible education in schools; and Professor Julian Le Grand, of the London School of Economics, chaired the fourth group, which explored the feasibility of the social work practice model. Reports from each of the working groups were published in June 2007, alongside the White Paper Time For Change.
White Paper Care Matters: Time for Change was the culmination of this
process, setting out the Government's firm proposals for future reform of the
care system and services for children on the threshold of care, as well as the
changes we wanted to introduce in other services in order to support improved
outcomes for children in care. It is
built on four central principles:
o uncompromisingly high ambitions for children in care
o good parenting from everyone in the system
o stability in every aspect of the child's experience
o the centrality of the voice of the child
9. The White Paper can be accessed at: http://www.dfes.gov.uk/publications/timeforchange/
Reforming the legislation
Children and Young Person's Bill is an essential part of the process of
implementing Care Matters. It makes the
necessary legislative changes to underpin implementation. It will:
· enable local authorities to test a different model of organising social care by delegating social work functions to 'social work practices' and (following piloting) enable regulation of social work practices if pilots demonstrate success in improving outcomes;
· increase the focus on the transparency and quality of care planning and ensuring that the child's voice is heard when important decisions that affect their future are taken, in particular by strengthening the role of the Independent Reviewing Officer (IRO);
· increase schools' capacity to address the needs of children in care including placing the role of the designated teacher on a statutory footing and ensuring that children in care do not move schools, particularly in GCSE years, except in exceptional circumstances;
· ensure that young people (up to 18) are not forced out of care before they are ready by giving them a greater say over moves to independent living and ensuring they retain support and guidance as long as they need it; and
· improve the quality and stability of placements for children in care, limiting "out of authority" placements, securing higher placement standards and ensuring children in care in custody are visited regularly.
11. The Children and Young Persons Bill can be accessed at: www.dcsf.gov.uk/publications/childrenandyoungpersonsbill
12. Once regulations associated with the new legislation have been laid, we will also take the opportunity to update and consolidate the nine volumes of statutory guidance for local authorities covering their duties under the Children Act 1989, as amended by the current bill and other legislation that has been passed since the guidance was issued in the early 1990s. Volume one has recently been revised and reissued, and the remaining volumes will be revised by the end of 2009. We are also reviewing the National Minimum Standards for children's social services and will be bringing those into line with the new regulatory framework.
Achieving change on the ground
13. Essential though this regulatory reform is to our programme, it is only part of the picture. The analysis in Care Matters is clear - while there are some excellent initiatives in some areas of the country, and many dedicated professionals working to improve services for children who are looked after, nobody does everything well. The challenge is to achieve greater consistency of approach and of quality. Many challenges do not lend themselves to a legislative solution.
14. We are well aware of the workforce challenges in the children's social care workforce and how damaging social worker turnover and ineffective basic practice can be for children. Our forthcoming children's workforce strategy will include specific proposals to improve the retention and recruitment, as well as innovative approaches to improving the skills of the workforce.
15. Services for looked after children need to be planned as part of a wider strategy on children's services, so that local authorities and their partners understand more fully the spectrum of needs of the population they serve, and commission the right services for them. The challenge of securing the right multi agency support for vulnerable children remains an issue in many areas, despite some really excellent working.
16. The main challenge now is therefore implementation. We have given local authorities their funding allocations for the next three years, which include the change fund to support Care Matters reforms. We are developing an implementation plan to be launched in March which will focus on developing a partnership approach to delivery of Care Matters, working with key partner organisations in local Government and the NHS, as well as the voluntary sector. The implementation plan will be focused on the practicalities of ensuring that we work together to achieve noticeable and lasting change, learning from the areas that are doing things well, and ensuring that those who are struggling improve. Accompanying the plan will be a range of toolkits and other materials to support local areas in assessing their services against the approach set out in Care Matters and developing a local change programme which helps them to use their change fund to tackle the areas they identify as priorities for them. The implementation plan will also include an update on the various pilots that we are supporting following Care Matters, and further information about the planned national stocktake. Once the plan has been launched, we will run regional conferences for those responsible for delivery in local authorities and health bodies to disseminate the messages about delivery.