Memorandum submitted by Association of Directors of Children's Service (ADCS)

 

Executive Summary

 

Health of CIC - We are concerned that there is no reference to promoting health, within the Bill although this was recognised as an issue in the White Paper.

Mental Health/Well being - We support the priority given to health assessments for alcohol and substance misuse, together with teenage pregnancy, but also would like to emphasise the importance of the availability of appropriate mental health and emotional well being assessment and support services for this vulnerable group.

Education and Schools - We think the government should develop guidance for schools which interprets and drives the application of the new duty of well being that was introduced by the Education and Inspection Act 2006. We believe that subject to the impact of that guidance, government should keep open the option for that duty to become a duty to cooperate that matches other partners under the Children Act 2004 (which is a point that also applies to GP's). And we believe that Ofsted should strengthen the way it inspects schools for the quality of support they provide to children in care.

Children and young people in both the looked after and youth justice systems - We share concerns that the two systems do not work sufficiently well together in an integrated way to improve outcomes, and support further guidance to ensure a better coordinated response is available to these young people including a focus on shared rights and responsibilities.

 

Unaccompanied asylum seeking children - ADCS seek assurance that all new policies and guidance that cover children in care also apply to those who are looked after with immigration needs.

Resources - We are concerned about the appropriate availability of resources to fully implement the requirements of the Bill.

Social Work Practices - We welcome the opportunities of the pilot arrangements and wish to be involved in the subsequent evaluation.

Implementation Plan - We propose that a 'user friendly' summary be published and widely disseminated for staff involved in service delivery, parents, carers and children.

Workforce - We suggest that three groups need to be prioritized: 1) Social workers; 2) Foster Carers; 3) Residential Care Workers.

Missing from the Bill - We note that a number of ideas that were explored in the original Green paper have been dropped

 

Introduction

 

1. The Association of Directors of Children's Services represents leaders of children's services in local authorities and children's trusts. This submission has been prepared on behalf of the Association by Ann Baxter, Corporate Director of Children, Education and Social Care at Stockton-on-Tees, and Chair of the ADCS Health, Care and Additional Needs Policy Committee, and Andrew Christie, Director of Children Services at Hammersmith and Fulham, and Vice Chair of the London Branch of ADCS.

 

2. The Association would be willing to give oral evidence if asked to do so.

 

3. The Association welcomes the opportunity to submit written evidence to the Select Committee on provision for children in care (CIC) and wishes to commend the DCSF on its level of commitment to ensuring that children and young people receive the highest quality of care and support and that their outcomes should continue to improve. We have had a high level of access to the DCFS in their work to address the White Paper, "Care Matters". We are also aware that the Children and Young People Bill will form only one dimension of the strategy to implement the recommendations of that white paper. Nevertheless it is a critical dimension and we generally support the content of the Bill.

 

4. The Select Committee should note that ADCS alongside LGA and other members of the Children's Inter Agency Group (CIAG, which is chaired by ADCS, are collaborating with DCFS in the development and launch of the Care Matters implementation programme. We welcome this as a model for joint working between central and local government.

 

Children and Young People's Bill

 

5. Health of CIC - We are concerned that there is no reference to promoting health, within the Bill although this was recognised as an issue in the White Paper. We feel that this is an opportunity to ensure a statutory status for the guidance 'Promoting the Health of Looked After Children', together with a timetable for implementation. It is also an opportunity to ensure this is a requirement for healthcare bodies as well as local authorities and to ensure co-ordination with DH developments and the Operating Framework for the NHS. Thought should also be given to the respective responsibilities of the originating and host health authorities in the case of children placed across health boundaries. Although Care Matters properly assumes that children should be placed within their authority of origin where possible, and where it is in their best interest; this is not a principle that can properly be applied without exception. It remains the case that children placed out of area may experience additional difficulties in accessing health care, particularly from specialist services such as CAMHS.

 

6. Mental Health/Well being - We support the priority given to health assessments for alcohol and substance misuse, together with teenage pregnancy, but also would like to emphasise the importance of the availability of appropriate mental health and emotional well being assessment and support services for this vulnerable group.

 

7. Education and Schools - We commend all of the initiatives outlined within the bill and the White Paper to strengthen educational outcomes for children in care and especially those which strengthen the roles and accountabilities of schools. We see much good practice, but also variable practice. We urge caution in the way in which children in care can be crudely compared with other groups in a way which does not reflect the exceptional problems that children in care and their carers have to overcome. But this does not mean that we must not be ambitious for these children. In particular, we are convinced that three steps need to be taken in this regard (alongside the positive proposals within the White Paper). We think the government should develop guidance for schools which interprets and drives the application of the new duty of well being that was introduced by the Education and Inspection Act 2006. We believe that subject to the impact of that guidance, government should keep open the option for that duty to become a duty to cooperate that matches other partners under the Children Act 2004 (which is a point that also applies to GP's). These are general duties but would impact especially on groups such as children in care. And we believe that Ofsted should strengthen the way it inspects schools for the quality of support they provide to children in care. We welcome the proposal that more emphasis be placed on value added data in measuring achievement, as opposed to simply relying upon raw attainment scores.

8. Children and young people in both the looked after and youth justice systems - We share concerns that the two systems do not work sufficiently well together in an integrated way to improve outcomes, and support further guidance to ensure a better coordinated response is available to these young people including a focus on shared rights and responsibilities.

 

9. Unaccompanied asylum seeking children - ADCS seek assurance that all new policies and guidance that cover children in care also apply to those who are looked after with immigration needs.

 

10. Resources - We are concerned about the appropriate availability of resources to fully implement the requirements of the Bill. This particularly applies where additional funding comes in the form of provision in the RSG settlement for authorities which are below 'the floor'. It is suggested that additional funding that is made available for educational purposes be delivered through the Standards Funding within the Dedicated Schools Grant. This means that the money can a) be ring-fenced, and b) encourages the concept that the needs of looked after children be treated in the same way as other vulnerable groups within the education system

 

11. Private fostering - We welcome the postponement of the decision whether to use the Children Act 2004 power to establish a registration scheme, and look forward to the outcome of the current Ofsted inspection programme to inform further developments.

 

12. Social Work Practices - We welcome the opportunities of the pilot arrangements and wish to be involved in the subsequent evaluation. We have no difficulties with the development of further mixed economies of care and believe the record of local government children's social care services is evidence of our completely open approach. We have expressed reservations about how these practices may function while not compromising the crucial aspects of the parental and financial accountabilities which must rest with the local authority and the DCS as corporate parent. We also wish to ensure that any financial support that is offered to the pilots should not distort the results of the pilots and that those results are given careful consideration before any next steps. We have actively used our networks to encourage authorities to consider applying for pilot status.

13. Pilots - A number of the new ideas put forward as part of the Care Matters programme are to be piloted. We welcome this approach and urge that the pilots will be properly evaluated over a sufficient period of time; with proper attention being paid to dissemination and review of the findings before proceeding to any general roll out.

14. Implementation Plan - We welcome the proposal that an Implementation Plan be published. It is likely that this will be primarily aimed at senior managers and policy makers. We recommend that a 'user friendly' summary be published and widely disseminated for staff involved in service delivery, parents, carers and children. This should be modeled on the publications used for Every Child Matters which had a great impact.

15. Workforce - Having a well trained, competent and stable work force is crucial to the success of the Care Matters programme. We would suggest that three groups need to be prioritised. 1) Social workers - it remains the case that there is not a reliable supply of social workers who are properly trained for the task. We welcome that attention that is being paid to this issue by the DCSF and the Children's Workforce Development Council. Local authorities continue to invest a great deal in this area. However, it is our view that the degree courses do not adequately prepare social workers for the social work role in Children's Services. More specialist training is required, above and beyond for an increase in supply. 2) Foster Carers - we welcome the development of more specific standards, and the attention being paid to the right kind of training and support for foster carers. 3) Residential Care Workers - probably the staff group where there are the most serious concerns about skills and competence. Some of the least trained staff provide the majority of care for some of the most needy children and young people. We commend the proposals to explore the application of pedagogy, as in place in many other European States, and urge that this remains a priority within the programme.

16. Missing from the Bill - We note that a number of ideas that were explored in the original Green paper have been dropped, in particular, the proposal not to extend care for children in stable placements from 18 to 21. Whilst we understand the reasons for that, we suggest that thought needs to be given as to what is stated publicly in respect of these developments. We believe that many may have had expectations raised and will seek some form of explanation as to why some proposals have been prioritised over others.

 

February 2008