House of COMMONS
MINUTES OF EVIDENCE
TAKEN BEFORE THE
CHILDREN, SCHOOLS AND FAMILIES COMMITTEE
Wednesday 6 February 2008
DR JO ALDRIDGE, JOHN REACROFT and KATHY EVANS
USE OF THE TRANSCRIPT
Taken before the Children, Schools and Families Committee
on Wednesday 6 February 2008
Fiona Mactaggart (in the Chair)
Ms Dawn Butler
Mr. Douglas Carswell
Mrs. Sharon Hodgson
Examination of Witnesses
Witnesses: Dr. Jo Aldridge, Director, Young Carers Research Group, Loughborough University, John Reacroft, Children's Services Manager, Barnardo's, and Kathy Evans, Director for Policy, The Children's Society, gave evidence.
Q1 <Chairman:> Welcome to this sitting of the Children, Schools and Families Committee, which is considering the issue of children under the radar-those children who are not in touch with services and the reasons for that. This is a single evidence session, not part of a general inquiry. It is an issue that several members of Committee are interested in-some of us have been members of a parliamentary panel convened by Helen Southworth about young runaways. We thought that it might be useful to invite some of those voluntary organisations and researchers who have particular experience with groups such as young carers, young runaways and so on, to talk to us about their experiences of this group of children.
The most useful thing would be for me to invite each of our witnesses to tell us the key issues in their organisation about provision for young runaways, what are the biggest policy challenges and what are the issues that we should address. We shall obviously be looking at the issue in some of our other inquiries, on children's trusts and so on, so we are really interested to hear what you think we should be drilling down into before we go into further questions.
<Dr. Aldridge:> My experience is mostly of young carers, but obviously some of those children do have problems and do run away. One of the key issues is identifying young carers, which does not seem to be happening, particularly through schools. We have been doing research for 15 years now on young carers and the different adult roles that they undertake, and they are not being picked up in schools as much as they should be, despite that being a key area where these children can be identified. Often when such children are picked up it is usually as a result of persistent absenteeism or lateness, so it almost becomes a matter of punishment rather than of looking at the issues that these children face at home, and their difficult circumstances.
Another key issue is the information that these children are not getting on particular health conditions and on medication. Last year a young carer died after taking an overdose of her mother's morphine. A lot of our young carers, particularly those caring for parents with mental health problems, are administering medication and are in control of a lot of drugs, and they are doing this on their own.
Q2 <Chairman:> Looking at your research, I thought that matters had improved during the last 10 years. More young carers-even if it is still too few-seem to have been identified, and the services for them seem to have improved. Has the work on young carers resulted in lessons being learned in relation to other groups of vulnerable young people who are outside the radar?
<Dr. Aldridge:> I think so. There have been improvements across the board. However, there are still inconsistencies in the services that children receive. A key lesson is that these children have received dedicated support services specifically for their own needs as children but also for their needs as carers, and for their parents as well. Much of our research shows that these children want a key worker. They want someone who is consistently there and available for them for pretty much 24 hours, if possible. When we first started our research they used to have night sitting services, for example, but that has all gone, and they are often left on their own. But the fact that a lot of young carers projects are picking up on family work as well as giving their children dedicated support is absolutely vital.
There is evidence of some very good practice, particularly in identifying local families who are willing to serve as mentors or advocates for children who are round the corner-the traditional idea of a good neighbour, really. Where those services are in place-they are scant-they work very well. That family is identified as supporting the child, and if there is a problem at home, or mum or dad have gone into hospital while they have been at school, they are available for them. But as I say those services are a little bit inconsistent. Certainly the dedicated support that these children are getting from the projects is vital.
Q3 <Chairman:> Thank you. Kathy Evans, tell us about your experience and what you think we should be focusing on.
<Kathy Evans:> First, I would just like to welcome the fact that this subject is being examined by the Committee, because it is a subject dear to our hearts. We have an awful lot of experience, not just in relation to runaways, but a range of groups, which I will talk about. There are two issues here. One is what is happening with those children who are in touch with services. They are going to school and they are seeing a GP, but their needs as children are being kept under the radar; they are not being spotted as children in some kind of trouble or at risk. The other issue concerns children who are or who are becoming completely disengaged from services and professional sight with a view to their welfare. Both of those are a particular challenge to the Every Child Matters agenda, but they can be very different in terms of their underlying reasons. One can undoubtedly lead to another. The failure to identify a young person struggling at home can result in them removing themselves from home because it is not safe. There are a lot of questions about how and to what extent we can helpfully and ethically, but proactively, seek to find out whether there are any problems with children at home, and not only in those cases where the first presenting reasons for concern may look like misbehaviour. That is a big issue for us; there are a lot of children where the systems in which they find themselves, whether at school or in their community, are reacting to the fact that they are perceived as trouble, but which should be viewed as an indicator for concern. A reaction that builds on that in a disciplinary way, rather than an investigatory way, can just compound the problem.
With many groups we run the national young carers initiative; we also work with young refugees, both in families and unaccompanied, and with Gypsy and Traveller children. We find that disabled children placed away from home are very much invisible; they are clearly in contact with services, but their needs can be invisible. How do we react to a child who is not crying out for help but is too quiet and too compliant, as a result of their trying to deal with a situation at home with which they are not confident? So, I think that it is actually a really complex subject with a wide range of issues underneath.
Q4 <Chairman:> In terms of what the Children's Society does, what is the key lesson from working with these disparate groups? I accept that you have said that this is quite a complex picture, but what are the key lessons from working with those groups of children that this Committee should take away?
<Kathy Evans:> One of the principles running through the core of what we do across a range of different kinds of circumstances and issues is about ensuring that each child has an opportunity to give voice to their situation, and that often requires you to stick with them for quite a while to build trust. Children in those situations about which we may be most concerned-whether at home or situations that they have been exposed to in the country that they came from-and who have been traumatised or frightened will need time to build the trust in the person who we hope will help them to sort that out. A lot of our systems at the moment, or our expectations and desires, are built upon the presumption, "Well, if that was going on, you could have told us earlier. Why didn't you tell?" The child's perspective is that it is a big scary adult world a lot of the time, and there are a lot of power systems that they are involved in-school, family, the immigration system and the community where they live. They are small people and they do not necessarily believe that they have the authority to be believed as soon as they tell; they have reason to want to build trust before they disclose.
Q5 <Chairman:> Thank you Kathy. John, tell us about this issue from the perspective of Barnardo's.
<John Reacroft:> The particular issues that I have specialist knowledge of are homeless families, families in temporary accommodation and insecurely housed families, and there are very large numbers of those. There are a number of groups who fall under the radar within those and children who become dislocated from services. The main reason why children become dislocated from services if they are insecurely housed in temporary accommodation is that they have to move frequently and each time they move they have to re-establish all the local connections. Because they know that they are in an area only temporarily, there is a disincentive-a psychological disincentive in some ways-to do something about it. So, for example, children end up out of school, and they do not have access to services like GPs, community support, day centres and things like that. That is particularly cruel because if your family is homeless and in temporary accommodation, your needs are increasing, but your access to services can often decrease. Many families, for example, are housed long distances from where they originated.
There is a group of families that everybody recognises is homeless and in priority need, and their number is going down. However, despite the fact that the number of officially homeless households is going down, the number of families living in that situation is in fact increasing. About 10 years ago, there were about 40,000 households in priority need in temporary accommodation. Pretty much consistently, just under three quarters of such households will be in priority need because they are households with children or a pregnant woman in them. That number rose to over 100,000 and there was then a Government target to reduce it by 50% by 2010, which we all welcomed. However, the social housing that would have been necessary for those households to have a decent, secure and affordable home was not provided.
What is happening now is that when households become homeless, they are helped to avoid being homeless by being placed in private sector rented accommodation. However, such accommodation is always insecure because landlords do not give secure leases, but short tenancies for as little as six months. A private sector family home in London is also always unaffordable, at £300 or £400 a week. So the number of families that have been accepted as homeless has decreased from about 135,000 a year to 73,000, which is a very big decrease, but it masks all the households that have often been placed in private sector accommodation long distances from the boroughs they originated in. There is a big reservoir of children who are living in insecure housing and who may have to move at very short notice at some point in the future.
What makes the system work is that many people have invested in accommodation to let out to others-usually because their pensions are not performing well enough, and this accommodation seems to be a safe investment. The things that are making the system work for poor households are, one, that the interest rates on what people borrow to buy accommodation are low; two, that house prices are rising significantly; and, three, that there are unlimited amounts of housing benefit to pay the rents, because people who are on minimum wages-£200 a week-will not be able to pay £300 or £400 rents. When these factors are not there any more, quite a lot of households will suddenly become literally roofless again and present to local authorities with nowhere to live. So the pool of insecurely housed children and families is increasing significantly, although the official statistics seem to indicate the opposite.
Q6 <Chairman:> Tell us about the lives of those children. You have talked about housing policy, but that is not our remit, if we are honest about it. Our remit is what impact insecure housing-for whatever reason it is arises-has on children in terms of being in touch. The families you described are referred to housing by the local authority, so the authority certainly knows that they exist, but what provision of services goes with that experience? Will the new proposals for children's contact information and so on make a difference to whether we know that these children exist and follow them up?
<John Reacroft:> In terms of the impact on children, Barnardo's, like everybody else, obviously supports the Every Child Matters agenda, but all five of the Every Child Matters outcomes can be compromised by living in temporary accommodation. We have a test for the kind of accommodation that children need, in that it should be decent, secure and affordable. Most temporary accommodation never meets the test of being secure and affordable, and quite a lot of the time, it does not meet the test of being decent. So even basic things, such as being safe and healthy, can be compromised by temporary accommodation. I can give you more details on that, as outlined in my report, "Do my kids have to live like this for ever?" If you want more information on the different outcomes, I will come to that. What would help? If borough A, for example-I will not name particular boroughs-persuades a homeless household to accept private rented accommodation in borough B, which could be 10 or 15 miles away, and then simply informs borough B that they have put that family there, borough B will not necessarily be happy to pay for a lot of expensive services that the family might need.
Q7 <Chairman:> So you think that there is no effective information passing-you are saying that providing information will not do it. Is there anything that will do it?
<John Reacroft:> Obviously, I realise that this Committee does not have a housing remit. However, if we do not provide decent, secure and affordable housing for children and families, it is very difficult to meet the five Every Child Matters outcomes. I would not argue that there is anything wrong with passing the information on-some children at risk can slip through the net in all sorts of ways. However, for the majority of children, the fact that basic information about them is being passed on from one borough to another is not going to help them that much. The most serious problem that they have is being in temporary accommodation. The fact that the local authority has been told that the family has been placed in the area will not deal with that real problem.
<Kathy Evans:> Some of your concerns and questions about the value of sharing information are relevant not only to the group that John is talking about, but to some of the young people that we work with: Gypsy and Traveller families who may move regularly and repeatedly across different areas; runaway children who may appear in different areas from the ones that they left, and refugee children who, whether in families or unaccompanied, often face regular moves.
When the ContactPoint system was proposed, we had a whole range of concerns, although we saw that, in theory, it had the potential to help those groups in particular. On many occasions, we would be working a child or a family who would then disappear with relatively short or no notice. We felt it useful and necessary to feel that they could be picked up within a system. At that theoretical level, it remains something that we are interested in. However, John is right-passing information does not really create the kind of pick-up of concerns and cases that we are keen on. The ContactPoint system does not intend to do that, and we are satisfied that it should not.
One of the critical issues for children who move around regularly or face real instability in their living conditions is how quickly and smoothly they can re-engage with education, or whether they remain at the school that they were involved with, which is usually what they would like to do. For children who face multiple and significant school changes on a regular basis, that is one of the most destabilising factors for them, and for our consistent attempts to build up a picture of what is going on, to feel that we have a point of engagement and to know that there are problems at home.
An information exchange that says that someone has moved and is now there is not a replacement for the face-to-face care, concern and knowledge of the child that will be the best basis on which to find out whether there are needs that still need to be met, or concerns to be explored.
Q8 <Chairman:> Are you saying that for children who are very mobile-some may travel 15 or 20 miles, but quite often it is a shorter distance-it would be good for them to have priority when it comes to retaining a school place, and some financial support to enable them to get to that school because that would be a good way of keeping them in touch with services? Jo was suggesting that schools can be ignorant of children's needs.
<Kathy Evans:> It is important to recognise how critical school is to children. Many of the groups that we are most concerned about may have a very negative experience at school. It can be exactly the point in the cycle at which we say that something better should have happened here. At the same time, most children whom we work with say, "I wish that school had been good." For some children, school has been a haven for them from circumstances away from school that are much worse than they can bear.
It is not about saying that schools are great and a saviour from all the problems that children face, nor is it about saying that they are so terrible that they are the root of the problem. Some of what we valued and supported in Every Child Matters is the recognition that for the majority of children, it should be our expectation, and theirs, that school is a safe and welcoming place and somewhere that is concerned about their welfare, as well as their achievements. Given that so much of their life is spent at school, school should be the hub around which we organise our professional concerns and our specialists.
What we have to look at in a slightly more sophisticated way are cases in which children are having difficulty in moving around school placements regularly, and difficulty accessing school in the first place. There are children for whom school is an uncomfortable place. They get excluded and passed from school to school, and their behaviour at school is seen as a concern about them, rather than for them. There is also the large number of children whose parents exercise their right to educate them at home. I am not demonising that decision; that is their right.
We conducted some research recently with Gypsy and Traveller children. The average experience in the group of young people that we worked with was that they had left school by the age of 10. In fact, 11.4 was the average age at which they had left. More than a third had left by the age of 10. The drivers out of school included racist bullying and a very prejudiced experience within the school community. There were some cultural drivers about Roma and Gypsy families who often, and quite traditionally, take their children into home education as they approach secondary school. For those families and children, viewing school buildings as the hub for service provision does not necessarily work.
<Dr. Aldridge:> School is critical here. From our perspective, after our years of research into this issue, particularly related to young carers, there used to be people in schools who were more obvious-for example, education welfare officers. From what I have picked up at conferences across the country, education welfare officers seem to have a much bigger case load now. So who deals with the welfare of the children? Although a lot of children are being picked up by their bad behaviour, a lot of teachers do not see that as their role, or feel uncomfortable in a situation in which they have picked up a young carer at school, or found out that their parent was a single parent with a serious mental health problem or was terminally ill. What the heck do they do about that?
In a lot of cases, it has been about responding inappropriately because they do not have the skills to deal with the situation. There is a training issue there, particularly for teachers. At the very least, they need to recognise where they can refer these children on to. It does not just stop. Some of our children have had plants or chocolates bought for their parents because teachers do not know what to do about the problem. Teachers have a lot of pressures and responsibilities on them. The welfare of those children, as Kathy and John have pointed out, is critical. That is the area in which they will pick up on these children. We have consistently asked for the triggers for caring, for example, to be recognised-where a parent has a serious, long-term health problem or a disability, to at least look at whether there are issues there for the children. It is quite common practice that GPs do not always ask their patients whether they are parents. Parents often want that support, but there is not that sort of integration.
Within schools is the one area where they will-or should-be picked up. Our research has shown that the 11 to 15-year-old age group is the most difficult for dealing with these issues. These children will just not turn up and will stay away for long periods. It is a critical age-when they are making the transition into adulthood. Our research has also shown that that is very difficult for those children who are caring.
Q9 <Mr. Carswell:> I am slightly going off on a tangent, but we are talking about the scale of the problem and defining what we mean by "children under the radar". Does this include children-mainly from Africa-who have arrived in the UK as a form of exploitative labour? I would not want to dignify it with the term indentured labour, because it is even more exploitative than that.
<Kathy Evans:> I certainly have children who are being trafficked into this country on my list of groups of children about whom to be concerned under this heading. There are increasing levels of awareness of that phenomenon. There are also large numbers of children-although unspecified and under-regulated-who are in private fostering arrangements, whether trafficked or not.
Q10 <Mr. Carswell:> What do you mean by private fostering?
<Kathy Evans:> Private fostering would involve a child being looked after by arrangement but not by a blood relative. We certainly gave plenty of case studies to the Home Office about trafficked children. Children from a variety of countries and not simply west Africa may be brought to the country by people on behalf of their parents. They may be relatives of some sort but not direct blood relatives-they are not acting in loco parentis but living with extended family or friends of family in this country by arrangement with their parents. Private fostering arrangements were covered under the Children Act 2004, but it was left to local authorities to instigate registration processes rather than have them as a requirement. So we continue to have serious concerns about the unregulated and unmonitored extent of private fostering.
Q11 <Mr. Carswell:> Do local authorities keep a record of how many private fostering arrangements there are?
<Kathy Evans:> No. We certainly do not have experience of any who do so rigorously or robustly. The sunset clause in the Children Act 2004 permitted local authorities to develop at their own pace the way in which they would deal with private fostering arrangements, but we have real concerns that that is not being done.
Q12 <Mr. Carswell:> Given the sensitivity of the issue, do you think that certain local authorities who want to see private fostering arrangements in a more positive light than is merited might be reluctant to take action?
<Kathy Evans:> I think that a combination of issues are involved. There may be sensitivity, but a much bigger issue is the finite-and usually stretched-resources that are devoted within children's services to child protection and to the referrals of a child believed to be at risk of abuse. We have certainly had anecdotal experience of agencies reporting children they believe to be privately fostered to children's services authorities that say, "This is not our job unless you think that they are at risk."
Q13 <Mr. Carswell:> Post-Victoria Climbié, do you not find that slightly shocking?
<Kathy Evans:> There are many ways in which we should revisit Victoria Climbié's case and ask whether the reforms and processes that we have been engaged in would have addressed that situation-not only in relation to private fostering, but also in relation to the question of how, under this new contact points system, a child like Victoria Climbié would have got on to the database, because that still would not happen. It is not clear whose responsibility it would be to put Victoria Climbié on the database. That is a valid question and we certainly are concerned about private fostering.
Q14 <Mr. Carswell:> Am I right in thinking-I apologise if I am showing my ignorance-that Victoria Climbié was in a private fostering arrangement?
<Kathy Evans:> Yes, she was, by definition, except that she was in the care of her great aunt. She fraudulently brought Victoria into the country on a false passport that suggested that she was actually her mother. Some private fostering arrangements are perfectly legitimate and children are genuinely looked after, but the authorities should know and be clear about such arrangements, because there is the potential for abuse.
<John Reacroft:> The homelessness statistics will not tell you anything about children from abroad who are under the radar. Everyone accepts that children living in temporary accommodation are homeless and are in priority need, but any child in a family who have been declared intentionally homeless will not appear in those statistics; and nor will any child of a migrant worker unless they have been working in the UK for more than a year. Children who are in families from outside the EU and who are here as migrants will not appear in the homelessness statistics, even though they may well live in a series of temporary accommodations, because those families will not have the right to apply for housing support.
Q15 <Chairman:> We are concerned about the services for the children. The issue is not whether they appear on the homelessness statistics, but whether they are in ContactPoint or any such system that identifies children who should have services.
<John Reacroft:> I was trying to identify the scale of the problem, because that is one indicator of how many children you might be talking about. We know that out of 82,750 homeless in priority need, approximately two thirds will be families with children.
Q16 <Chairman:> But we do not know how many children. The figures are very broad-they do not tell us how many children have how many and what specific needs.
<John Reacroft:> No. There is a scheme in London, which is separate from ContactPoint, called Notify. When children are placed in temporary accommodation across a borough boundary by a local authority, the receiving borough should be notified that a child has arrived and that they have this or that particular need so that their education, for example, is not disrupted.
Two broad groups of families might end up living quite a distance from a child's school. One group will make a huge effort to get the child to school, incurring expenses that they perhaps cannot afford, and the other group will not be able to do so, so their child will have a significant period out of school. Even the child who attends school might not arrive in the best state to take advantage of it, because they will have travelled long distances and their parents might be stressed.
<Kathy Evans:> The children of failed asylum seekers are among those who are profoundly affected or profoundly at risk of destitution. Again, it is a question of how many we do not know about as much as it is a question of how many we know about. Certainly, we are engaged with a great number of families, including women who have become pregnant and have children after the refusal of their claim. Their children face lack of food and lack of places to sleep. Recently, we did some research with families with whom we are engaged, and found that one pregnant woman was given a £3,000 maternity services bill, but absolutely no support for her child.
We have good reason to believe that a significant number of children are living with families who are overtly and explicitly under the radar, because they are frightened about what will happen if they are detected by it.
Q17 <Ms Butler:> I wanted to touch on something that Kathy mentioned, but perhaps the whole panel can respond. You said that lots of children leave school at an average age of 11.4. If the school is not the hub to provide the services to catch those children who are at risk, where is the hub?
<Kathy Evans:> That is a particularly good question. One of the things we try to do is to take our services out to Traveller communities where we work with them and build relationships with them. That may mean going to sites. Some Traveller community members are given housing and live there with their families if they have children. None the less, they still face many challenges in terms of their identity and their experiences as Traveller people. We certainly try to take our services out to those communities, particularly if that is where children are also being educated. We take play buses and do play work with them.
We also have to recognise that our expectation is that those children and families should be in touch with primary health care-with a GP-and should receive advice on healthy living regardless of whether they are educating their children at home We think that children centres can and should be seeking to provide resources, support and advice to parents in the early years to those communities as much as to any who are locally resident in built housing and who might walk in through the door.
I do not think we should be viewing school necessarily as the single and first port of call. In the early years of life, it will be health visitors, services offering support to parents with babies and GPs, in particular who should be viewed as that hub before a child ever becomes involved with school.
<John Reacroft:> Our experience, particularly with asylum-seeking children, is that many schools make incredible efforts to include the children and to make them part of the community and give them additional support. Some schools probably struggle to do that but we have heard of many examples and spoken to families who have been very grateful for the support they have received from schools. In a child's life there is not really anybody else, apart from their parents, who see them for that many hours. If they are not in school, therefore, there is limited opportunity for other people to look out for the child's interest.
<Dr. Aldridge:> Certainly there would be a very good reason why children who have care and responsibilities will not be in school. Usually this would be that they are very anxious so they are at home. Our research has shown that these children geographically have very restricted lives, even in they go out to play areas. They also have restricted social lives.
The health aspect has to be considered. We have found, particularly in our work with training GPs, that they do not see it as their role to ask adults who have serious mental health problems and long-term mental illness or disability what impact that is having on their children. They often tell us that they only have two minutes per patient anyway and that it is not part of their remit. We have also found within psychiatric services that particularly the old CPNs-community psychiatric nurses-who might visit families do not want to talk to the children. We have had experiences where they have wanted the children out of the way. Health services, as well as staff in education, need to look at the whole family. I know this has been an old chestnut for some years but that message still does not seem to be getting across. Like Kathy said, I think GPs and health visitors and others need to be involved.
What happens if a parent arrives in a surgery in a wheelchair with multiple sclerosis? What impact does that have on the children at home? Are there any children at home? We should know those things or we should be asking. It does not take any longer than a few seconds to ask those questions.
Q18 <Ms Butler:> Do the GPs and health visitors need a trigger so that they ask "Are any children in the home? Is it just you? Is there anybody else? Yes or no?" What is the next process? Who does it go to next?
<Dr. Aldridge:> In our work with GPs, we have suggested that it does not take much more than a five-minute phone call to make a referral, to ask and to look where the services are. A lot of young carers' projects, for example, do a lot of work, providing information and raising awareness. They are in touch with GPs' surgeries and they have their information there, but it is inconsistent. So, doctors, GPs and health visitors will be aware that there is a project here, or a social work issue-whatever-but it cannot just stop there. There are other avenues of support, within the voluntary sector too and not just in state services.
<John Reacroft:> In the service that I run, health visitors are extremely important because they visit newborn children at home and they know when those children are living in some of the worst temporary accommodation. However, the health visitors have a remit to do only a certain number of things and they have to do those things for quite a lot of children. So, when they meet families and children in those circumstances, they often refer them to us for support. I think that health visitors meet a lot of families who are in very poor housing and they are probably the one professional group that meets those families and that can do something about the situation, by referring them on. Obviously these children will not be at school for some time.
Q19 <Chairman:> The millennium cohort study, which looked at the people health visitors visited, showed that 57.4% of families with an annual income of more than £40,000 were supported by a health visitor in their child's first year, whereas only 41.5% of families with an annual income of less than £3,000-precisely the type of failed asylum seekers that Kathy has been talking about-received that support. So the more prosperous are getting access to these services and the least prosperous are being excluded from the service that all of you identify as a key service. What can we do to stop that, or reverse that, so that those most in need get access to this critical service?
<Kathy Evans:> We run children's centres in 13 different places around the country, but obviously we are not in a unique position in doing that. We have been involved in Leeds and Bradford for the longest time and there we are involved with Sure Start, helping the community to design the children's centres.
There are a range of things that we are doing overtly with a very acute awareness that we should not just wait for service users to come through the door and use the services available. So we work closely with the health visiting service and with the midwifery service to ensure that, from the first visit that takes place, the mothers and families are engaged with what is available at the children's centre, rather than just letting the health worker in for a one-off visit.
We have put an awful lot of effort into building neighbourhood networks. Many of the people who work and volunteer in our centres are local parents. Just as often as we get referrals from health visitors, people are referred to us by concerned or caring neighbours, who will say that there is a young woman that we should see. That is particularly the case with young teenagers, who can be very isolated and fearful of becoming involved with these much bigger "adult" services. Neighbours will say that there is a young woman who has just had a baby, who they think is really isolated, and they ask if someone could visit her and see what is going on.
I am keen to convey that some of this work is not about having the right services or systems in place. Some of this work is about making a direct challenge to anyone who works in those services and saying to them, "Are you speaking to children about their situation?" So, is a disabled child living in residential care for 52 weeks of the year still falling under the radar in terms of what concerns or upsets them and in terms of what their needs are? Certainly, we have quotes from here to kingdom come about young people who are drowning in services. They have key workers; they are looked after; they are involved with mental health; and they have school issues going on. There is no lack of professional involvement in their lives, but they still find themselves in meetings where everyone is talking about them and not to them.
So it is as much of a challenge to us to have the confidence to speak to children, to hear what they have to say, to be willing to believe it, and to listen to it. We spend a lot of the time thinking about particular service designs, or specialisms, or points of intervention. That time would be better spent just on spending time with young people and listening to them.
Q20 <Annette Brooke:> I was interested in the Children's Plan, in which it is now acknowledged that, for young carers, adult and children's services should work together. It is good that that has been picked up on, but my question is whether we have run into problems because of the separation of children's and adults' social services. Do we need to go further than the Children's Plan?
<Kathy Evans:> It would be problematic to suggest that there was a day when adults' and children's services were well co-ordinated and delivered consistently to families that needed both. The situation has certainly changed, particularly in such things as services for young carers and their experiences. We work a lot with children who are affected by parental drug or alcohol misuse, regardless of whether their parents are caring for them. Many of those young people are in care for periods or being looked after by grandparents.
There often remains a real disconnect between the standard and focus of care offered to the parent in relation to their needs and to the child in relation to theirs. There is no real coherence about what the priorities are in managing a whole-family case, and how to bring the matter together and say, "Probably every member of this family has individual needs that may sit in some tension with each other. Our objective here is to work with the family to meet as many of those needs as possible, with the welfare of the child paramount." At a practical level, that is difficult to ensure on a day-to-day basis, perhaps because the professionals concerned are employed by different parts of the authority with different funding constraints and priority regimes. It is also difficult to ensure, when we set up so many rigorous and detailed sets of accountabilities and integrated structures for children and go into great detail on what that should look like, that similar reforms and reorganisations happen in relation to adults in ways that bring them back together when they need to be.
Q21 <Chairman:> John, perhaps you could offer a solution, if you have one, as well as a comment on the general issue.
<John Reacroft:> On the general issue, I find in my project that it is very difficult to get any service for a child from social services unless the child is in extreme need or at risk. It did not always used to be like that, but over a period of time it has gone much more that way. Even if we find that, for some reason, parents are leaving a child on their own and there are some factors leading to that-perhaps they have no one to look after the child while they do the shopping-and we have realised that the child is too young to be left on their own, we have to inform the local authority that they are at risk. The local authority then has to give a service, but it may well consist of simply a social worker going round and giving the family a telling off. He writes to them, saying "You mustn't do this any more," without particularly looking at what their life might be like in temporary accommodation and what sort of things are leading to the problem. There do not seem to be enough resources.
Quite a long time ago, when families started living in bed and breakfast hotels in a big way in the early 1980s, I was a youth worker in King's Cross. We ran a group for some of those families that was organised by the local voluntary organisation. In those days I could ring up the local authority and say that we were doing that, and a social worker would be allocated to come and help run it with me. Those days have long gone. Only children who are in extreme need or at risk seem to be getting much service.
Q22 <Chairman:> A description of the problem, not the solution, but there you go. Sometimes there is not an easy solution.
<Dr. Aldridge:> It has been an ongoing problem, certainly for children who have caring responsibilities for not just parents but siblings. It is about the duality of their role-they are children with adult responsibilities, which is why they have fallen through the net, or the gap in services. But they are getting needs assessments. A lot can be learned from the dedicated projects about how you make the link between adult and children's services because a lot of these projects-similar to the children's centres-take the focus of the child and then look at what the family needs are. I think that probably all the children we have ever had any dealings with in our research and so on have said that what they value is the key worker who is there for the whole family, and who is there not just for them and takes into account the whole picture. It has not been difficult to do that, but the problem is that after those services are set up, they are very precariously funded, and then they run out of funding-expectations are raised and then dashed. That is pretty awful for the families concerned, but I think that they are very good models of working with adult and children's services together and they make important referrals as well.
Q23 <Chairman:> One of the things that you and John are saying is something about the quality of the person. So when a social worker goes along and tells you off, that is not a particularly effective intervention, and probably a waste of money. I am struck by what a senior police officer said to the Runaway Children's Panel: "My view is that the whole thing is driven by individuals. There are some experienced and committed people who are the ones who are driving things. The system itself does not provide a safety net; that is provided by some key players, either at national or local level."
If that is the case-I think that both of you are saying something a bit like that-is there not some way that we can make sure that we are not that dependent on the kind of hero individuals who do it right? Is there not some kind of failsafe that we should be looking for?
<John Reacroft:> In the projects that I manage the thing I have found to consistently make the biggest difference for families and children is the quality of their relationship with the person allocated to support them in some way. When people do not feel completely on their own it enables them to take more control of their lives, almost irrespective of what that person does. I am not sure, though, what kind of system would create that sort of relationship. In the projects that I manage I make sure that a very important part of the way in which things are organised is for people to know that the quality of their relationship is very important, as well as the technical advice that they give and the way in which they organise a group, which, of course, must be done to the right standard. But I think that putting people together with someone who they know is on their side is a very important part of the solution.
<Kathy Evans:> I agree. The description you have given is very accurate, but nothing new. It was certainly something that we were picking up in the drugs sector in relation to who was really behind raising the issue of young people's drug use and needs for treatment-it was very much about individual champions. Sometimes, at the national level, we are not going to get away from that, but I do think that one of the mechanisms that has developed over the years that is reliably fed back routinely from young people-not just concerning the individual, but because of the way they do their job, such as being there for the young people and being really good at creating positive change-is independent advocacy.
I have a number of case studies. One that you might like to hear is about how an advocate can play a role in challenging the practices we are talking about, which perhaps do not take into account a child's perspective, and can change outcomes. It also shows that it is about putting in an independent advocate in acknowledgment of the fact that not everyone practises in a child-centred way from the outset. That is why it is so important to have that overtly professional, standard-practice, child-centred independent advocacy service in place when we know that there are institutional risks that those children's perspectives will not be heard or will be overlooked. Would you like to hear the case?
Q24 <Chairman:> It might be sensible to give us a copy. You often need to mull over such things. Do you want to say something about that Jo?
<Dr. Aldridge:> That highlighted to me that this is what we are talking about. Certainly, in our last study on mental illness, we called the person their "champion" because the children saw the key workers as their champions. It was about not just training, but developing a relationship with these young people, and that is not necessarily so difficult. I have done it with a lot of the families that I have done research with, and it was an essential part of the process.
Touching on something that Kathy said earlier when looking at the Children's Plan, it is about setting up parent panels and parent advisors in schools. I did not get a sense of where the children's voices were in that and where the consultation was. I keep referring to schools because I think that they are so critical. A lot of the time schools will say, "Well, it is okay, we have representation because we have school councils," and that is it, but I do not think that that is necessarily good enough.
Certainly, the research has shown that school council representation is very problematic and does not represent all children. Where are the children's panels and their voices in that? That could help to pick up some of those issues from their perspective, because a lot of children and young people are very fearful. Kathy talked about the institution, but from our experience children are very fearful of anyone who is professional. I have gone in and interviewed kids and it is fine, as long as you are in jeans and not in a suit with a clip board, which would frighten them. Young carers are usually hugely frightened of family break-up and of being taken into care and that is also an obstacle for professionals working with those children.
However, it is not all one-sided. It is not always the professional's fault if they are not picking up a lot of those children because that can be the result of fear. How do you let children have a voice? I think that they have not got that voice, certainly not in schools, from my experience anyway.
Q25 <Mrs. Hodgson:> That leads nicely on to the subject that I want to talk about: why children and young people might choose to stay under the radar. When I first read this section, I was aware of the inverse care law whereby families who most need some of the care and services that we provide are the least likely to access them. I always thought that that was more because we did not find them, rather than because they were hiding from the services available.
From reading through the documents available, I picked up that a culture of secrecy is prevalent among young carers, in particular, who choose to stay under the radar, and I am greatly concerned about that. Are the children in the families justified in being wary of the services, and what kind of experiences have happened to those families? Can you give some examples of the experiences that have made them have that fear? You spoke about the fear of being taken into care, so is that the major fear?
<Dr. Aldridge:> That is the major fear, and it is well founded because our latest piece of research on the profiles of young carers-I do not have the statistics off the top of my head-indicated that a fifth had gone into care or were in local authority care, whether short or long term, because of parental illness or disability. Therefore, they know that that is a key issue for them if they tell someone, including someone at school and their friends. Our most recent piece of research looked at how children build resilience in those very difficult circumstances. It found that they have an inner circle of friends who they trust and an outer circle that consists of the rest of the kids who they know, but would not dare tell. If they are not telling the people who are effectively closest to them, how do we get them to open up to a professional?
Unfortunately, a lot of the examples in the research show that they have very good reasons to be fearful, particularly where there is a serious mental health problem. As soon as a GP gets involved at that level or a social worker comes into the house and sees a parent with schizophrenia, alarm bells automatically ring, and that is not what the children want. They want help and support, but they do not want their family stability threatened. So, yes, they do have very good reasons to be fearful.
<Kathy Evans:> Many of the issues that have been raised apply to young carers, but also to some of the other groups that I have been talking about. We know that, for some young people and their families, if they do not trust the institution with which they are primarily engaged, it is because they have tried trusting it before and have been proved wrong. We need to acknowledge that a bad experience of being overlooked or disbelieved will tell you all you need to know next time you need to get help.
I have a quote from our research from a young English Gypsy woman, who said that she went to school "until some girls poured water all over me because I was a 'dirty Traveller'. My Mam went up to school and asked them what they were going to do about it but they did nothing so Mam said I wasn't going again 'cos it was disrespectful to ignore her complaints." So, that led to that child being taken out of school. The mother will not allow that experience to happen again. Even one particularly disrespectful or disbelieving engagement can have the most damaging effect on future help-seeking or future engagement with services.
In 2006, we conducted a piece of research called "Just Justice" about black young people's experience of a variety of criminal justice agencies. They talked a lot about their early experience with schools. They were extremely convinced that no one was to be trusted and that the authorities were not there to protect them or to be trusted. For them, that view was forged from experience.
With issues such as bullying, even if the school, GP or care provider would be sympathetic, if children fear that raising their concern will expose them to stigma, teasing or being identified in ways that lead to bullying, that can be enough. There need not be an explicit reason not to trust the adults involved. Undoubtedly, fear of being taken into care is a factor.
Many children and young people, whether they are from refugee, Traveller or young carer families, feel fiercely protective of their family's dignity and honour, particularly if the situation that they or their parents are struggling with at home is one that their parents would feel ashamed of. Young people are capable of taking a lot of responsibility for that kind of protection on to their shoulders.
Certainly, we work with some families for whom generations of experience tell the children that school is not to be trusted. Their parents have not had an experience that leads them to respect the school or to want to go back there to speak about things. So, there are cultural expectations about not getting involved and not telling people.
Q26 <Mrs. Hodgson:> You have set out the reasons for the situation, but what can we do to overcome them? What, in your experience, are the main factors that can influence a child's decision to seek to disclose a situation? Is there anything that leads up to that or that the agencies can do? I know that teachers are probably best placed to identify some of those children, but how can we get the children back on the radar?
<Dr. Aldridge:> That is difficult. To some extent, it goes back to the idea of a champion. How do you make a good teacher? How do you make one who communicates well with the children and earns respect, and so on? Much of our research on specific areas of young carers' lives has shown that they do have significant others in their lives and that they are not entirely isolated. It is about identifying those people who can be advocates, which Kathy talked about, but in a more informal sense, so that it takes away that fear. That has worked. Certainly, young carers projects, for example, work with other people who are significant in their lives. They identify those people and work through them.
In many ways the project workers, for example, are seen as friends first and foremost. Such people need to be identified. It is very difficult to do that through school, as you said, but it does happen. A lot of our children have said, "Well, actually, the key person I would talk to is my teacher." How you develop those informal advocacy skills is a difficult matter, but it is possible to use those informal support networks, without a shadow of a doubt.
<Kathy Evans:> I would add that, for children who have communication impairments, we need to make an overt and special commitment to learn how to communicate with them, to learn what methods they can use to communicate, and to make sure that they are asked and given opportunities to communicate. That is one of the reasons why we think independent advocacy is so critical for disabled children, both those placed away from home and those in other circumstances. So many children with communications impairments are assumed to have nothing to say, and that can be exactly the barrier behind which, from their perspective, all sorts of problems are hiding.
We have to make sure that such young people can communicate with us. That also applies where English is not a first language. We might have genuine reasons to be concerned about many of these children. Might they be trafficked? Might they be feeling vulnerable? Might they be caring for a parent who is traumatised or has mental health problems? We need to make sure we can communicate in ways that feel comfortable for them and that enable them to express themselves, in addition to standing by young people, trusting them and not expecting them to disclose the most serious things on first engagement.
<John Reacroft:> The group I know about-the children of families living in temporary accommodation-is in general desperate to get on the radar. They fall into the first group you mentioned. If those who fall under the radar engage with a service like the one we provide it is quite easy to persuade them to get involved in different systems, but that is quite a small minority of the group I know about.
Q27 <Mrs. Hodgson:> I have a last question about GPs. We are having a debate at the moment about GPs, their contracts and what we ask them to do. Young carers, in particular, are under the radar in lots of ways, but often the person they are caring for is not. They will be going to see a GP to access the medication and help that they need. I imagine the GP would know that that person has children, and could surely put two and two together to have some joined-up thinking. What is your opinion on that?
<Chairman:> Jo, you have researched this.
<Dr. Aldridge:> You would imagine that that would be the case. Perhaps you were not here when we discussed it. I run training sessions for GPs in the Nottingham region, and they do not see it as part of their role to look at the children. That is true not only of GPs. The work I have been doing with Adrian Falkov has been trying to push this message to psychiatrists working with adult patients. What impact is it having on the children? Are there any children? It is a simple question, and it is not being asked. Often they do not put two and two together, and that is a crucial issue.
Q28 <Chairman:> GPs call themselves family doctors, so maybe they should see themselves as responsible for the whole family.
<Kathy Evans:> I would just add that if our real concern is the child in the home situation, in particular where there may be mental health concerns or drug and alcohol use affecting the child, it is not to be assumed that the parent is seeking health care, and the child may be part of-and expected to be part of-hiding or denying that problem.
<John Reacroft:> We have made a particular recommendation about children in asylum-seeking families. Children who are unaccompanied asylum seekers are given a specialist case owner who sees their case all the way through, but if you are a child in a family where the asylum seeker is your parent, you get no such specialist support. Often the children are just part of the asylum application, and are not looked at as children at all. That is one group that could fall under the radar very significantly.
Q29 <Chairman:> So one way of getting that group of children on to someone's radar is to make sure that the Home Office recognises them and their needs in dealing with their parents' cases?
<John Reacroft:> That is right.
Q30 <Mr. Carswell:> We have talked about how to get children out from under the radar. Is that not the wrong way to look at it? It is not just the terminology that is wrong. The phrase somehow implies that it is the fault of these individuals, and that there is an army of hyper-efficient, diligent state officials waiting with open arms to sort out their problems. If only these atomised pesky young people would fall into the arms of the state sector, all would be well. Is this not the wrong way of looking at it? In fact, all people tend to have civic relationships, perhaps in minority communities and among refugees. They are never quite as atomised as we like to think.
The failing here is one of a monumentally useless state system that is unresponsive. It is not sitting there diligently waiting to help people. We know from what you said earlier that it has not even assessed how many people are brought into this country to work as indentured child labour. You gave an example of a state employee who was not even able to respond properly to an incident of what sounded like racial bullying. Surely the problem is not what we can do to encourage the recipients of state benevolence but the fact that the state may not be quite as benevolent and responsive as we like to think?
<Chairman:> All the people giving us evidence are from voluntary organisations not representatives of the state.
<Mr. Carswell:> Indeed. With great respect-I know you did not mean to show any prejudice-it is precisely because they work for the voluntary sector that I want them to give an objective view of the role of the state.
<Chairman:> I just wanted to point that out.
<Mr. Carswell:> As did I.
<Kathy Evans:> As I said at the beginning, I think you could wrestle with the definitions and what we mean by beneath the radar or off the radar or under the carpet. Much of what we have been talking about concerns children who have been in regular contact with some kind of state agency. For most children in most circumstances that would be only school and health care.
We do not expect every family to be extensively involved with agencies of the state but some of the children at greatest risk are under extensive scrutiny. The issue is that their needs and welfare are not being picked up as a result of that scrutiny. There are children whose existence is unknown to state agencies of any kind. We have had cases where children have been brought into the country and largely not left a domestic home where they have been working in servitude. That is not dissimilar to Victoria Climbié's case. Although she was not reported as working in servitude, she did not get out and have any contact or schooling. The social workers and housing workers who knew about the case did not speak to her.
There are undoubtedly both situations going on. There are children whom no one in the adult world, professional or otherwise, finds out are here and that there are reasons to be concerned. Probably, the majority of serious cases where there is a failure to identify children at risk, whose outcomes are looking very poor, are actually in contact with concerned adults, with employed professionals, whether they are voluntary sector workers or whether they are teachers. How they disengage with that or to what extent the adults around them would recognise them as being at risk is what we have got to get to the bottom of.
<John Reacroft:> The main issue for families in temporary accommodation is access to services. It is not particularly an issue of whether the services are there or not. Moving around frequently and without any choice removes the access to support services that you might have had. That seems to be the biggest problem.
<Dr. Aldridge:> A lot of families do expect the state to be there and to be benevolent, helpful and supportive-even if the depressing message is that it is not. One of the reasons we are having this meeting is to address some of those issues. It is the responsibility of the state to pick up on them. I would hope, not just professionally as a researcher in this area but also as a parent, that schools, for example, are looking after children's welfare and that that is their responsibility.
Given that parents, including those with serious health problems and disabilities, have an expectation, the problem is that they are under the radar for a number of reasons that we have discussed, and one of the main ones is fear. We are concerned with how to address that. Hopefully some of the issues that we have been talking about today have successfully looked at some of those key points. A lot of families do not want support or are fearful, but I think they would like to know that someone will be there at the end of the phone.
Q31 <Annette Brooke:> I have a desire to get some grasp of the scale of the issues, but I hesitate to ask you to speculate on numbers. What sort of dimension are we talking about of children not known to any services and what sort of dimension are known to some services but are seriously not getting the support they need? I am sure there are umpteen families who are not getting sufficient support, but for the purposes of the inquiry, we are looking at those two levels. We keep talking about this. There are 100,000 runaways and it clocks up to quite a large number. I do not want to pin you down, but do you have any idea of the percentage of children in England?
<Chairman:> Kathy, you are probably in the best position to make a guess here.
<Kathy Evans:> There are multiple health warnings attached to this. Both times that we have done our surveys with young people about incidents of running away, it has come out the same. In 1999 and 2005 there were an estimated 100,000 incidents a year, based on our survey of 13,000 young people. In relation to children affected by drug use, we are looking at an estimate done for the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs of around 1.2 million young people in England; I think it was 3.2 million in the UK as a whole. It gets much higher when you talk about children affected by parental alcohol use. Children trafficked in, and therefore deliberately rendered invisible, are particularly difficult to estimate.
CEOP, the Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre has produced a really useful report that attempts to pin down cases ranging from general scare stories to documentable cases, and to rank them in terms of how confident we can be that it was a trafficking case. One case may have indicators of trafficking, but we may not be sure. The centre looked at 330 cases between March 2005 and December 2006, and it put all the necessary caveats on how we should understand that. But we are talking in the hundreds.
We certainly have an accountable but steady flow of cases that we are concerned about on the basis of trafficking who come to light, through whatever means. They come to light-often through police action-as working in cannabis factories and working illegally, for example. We then view them as children believed to be at risk of trafficking, but quite often they are responded to as migrants without proper documentation or involved in illegal working. We have definitional issues. Of the 100,000 runaways, it would not be accurate to say that those 100,000 young people have opted out of all contact with services or that they are not known to services. That is about the decision to leave home.
We know from the "Still Running" document that of those young people who ran away for one night or more, only one in 10 sought any kind of professional help while they were away. For the period that they are away, almost all of them are entirely and extensively out of professional contact. How long is a piece of string? How many children are young carers under the statutory definition and run away at some point? To the immigration services, they are children in asylum-seeking families, but to the local young carers service they are young carers. Those are overlapping figures and it would be very difficult to get at what you are asking for.
<Annette Brooke:> Yes, I know that we are not talking about an insignificant problem.
<Kathy Evans:> It is not insignificant at all.
Q32 <Annette Brooke:> Obviously, many of us applaud the concepts of Sure Start and of trying to identify those problems at the earliest possible stage. However, a lot of the evaluation shows that Sure Start is failing quite significantly to identify those hard-to-reach families. We keep talking about outreach, and I would like to ask each of you very quickly what you would see as a form of outreach that would really work and find some of the children about whom we have been talking all morning? Do we need specially qualified people? Are we paying enough attention to the role of an outreach worker?
<Kathy Evans:> Outreach simply describes an action. Lots of different specialist services might describe themselves as having an outreach methodology, which might mean having workers who go out physically to people's houses. In other models of outreach, they might go out and take a satellite service to a local community hall, or there might be a co-location of services. For example, you might get a child protection specialist outreaching to a GP surgery. Outreach is essential and it is hard to imagine how you could find the hard-to-reach without being committed to outreach.
Q33 <Annette Brooke:> But is this something that we really need to get a grip on? There are people doing lots of good things all over the place, but have we actually got this sussed and a proper approach to outreach?
<Kathy Evans:> I think that we are all guilty-we certainly are-of using the phrase "hard to reach" as if that is what we are really talking about. It suggests that we are reaching, but still not getting. A lot of the time, we are really talking about services that are not inquiring or including people properly. It is not that the people are hard to reach or to identify, but that the service does not provide for them in a way that would encourage them. A lot of the issues that we are talking about fall into that category. A child in a 52-week residential placement is not hard to reach or to find, but if they are not being communicated with, they are very hard to understand.
For children or families who might fall into the category of literally having very precarious, or no, engagement with professional services, we must look at the responsibility of and care provided by those who come across them, professional or otherwise, in order to do something about it and to alert them. We talk all the time about feral children as if they are not human, live on and wander the streets and never return from them. Instead of thinking about what we can do to punish them, why do we not think about finding out what is going on at home and why are they in a situation without boundaries? Why are we busy running away from them when we should be running toward them and finding out what is happening?
<Chairman:> Jo and John, I must ask you to respond quite quickly.
<Dr. Aldridge:> That was a bit unfair for Kathy, because the question encompassed just about everybody. I think that it is quite straightforward with young carers. We know that support services are inconsistent and patchy, particularly in those physically hard-to-reach areas, such as rural areas, where there is not the required support, particularly from the young carers' projects. They could progress if they were set up with long-term funding, because they reach an awful lot of children. It would be very easy to do that, given the right resources and funding.
<John Reacroft:> My group is quite hard to find because the people are temporary and transient residents in neighbourhoods. My staff have to do a lot of intelligence work. Certain types of accommodation are more likely to have homeless households with children in them. We have to go and knock on the doors of such accommodation. Professionals such as health visitors and schools will have some contact with those children. That might be intermittent contact, but we try to have as many links as we can with those professionals, because they can refer families to us whom they think need additional support.
Even though we are offering a service that families really need-and once they get the service, they really want it-we have to make huge efforts to ensure that they know that it is there and that it is in a place where they can access it. Some points have been made about going out and putting things in church halls and so on. We have to do that sort of thing to ensure that people are aware of the services that they might need. It is also important that we can move the services elsewhere quite quickly, because populations of homeless households move around.
Q34 <Annette Brooke:> That outreach work is something that we really need to delve into. None of the organisations appear to be concerned about the new arrangements for money that formerly came through the Children's Fund, which now goes into local authorities. I presume that some of the important projects that we have been talking about would have received funding from the Children's Fund. Will you give an indication of whether there are concerns about that in your spheres, or whether you are working closely with local authorities to ensure that all is well?
<Dr. Aldridge:> Yes, there are problems. You are right that that funding was there, but it runs out and it is not enough. The short answer is that there are problems with it.
<Kathy Evans:> My answer is that it varies in as many ways as there are authorities that we work with. Some were very well prepared for the intended end of the children's fund and had already done quite a good piece of work in integrating the best of what the children's fund had achieved into their local area agreements; others were caught on the hop. I cannot give you a categorical yes or no. It would be fair to say that all the changes to the funding streams and to the expectations of how local commissioning should work have contributed to quite a confused and destabilising situation for the voluntary sector.
<John Reacroft:> We get very little support from local authorities for our work with homeless families. Many authorities do not see us as giving them a service at all, because they do not particularly want families who know what the local authority should be doing for them turning up at their doorsteps, especially if they are trying to divert such people from making homelessness applications, which they should be making in their own interests. For almost the whole of the lifetime of the project that I manage, it has been pretty much 100% funded by Barnardo's voluntary contributions. We have recently achieved about 40% statutory funding through London councils. Apart from meeting the requirements of the housing legislation for children who are living in temporary accommodation, local authorities do not have very much money to spend on the kind of support services that we offer.
<Chairman:> May I thank you all very much for coming here? Kathy has promised us a case study, which I am sure all members of the Committee, including those who were not able to be here, would like to look at. I think that we have a pretty clear picture that this is not a small-scale problem, but a serious one. The view of all our witnesses is that there is a key issue about professionals being able to connect with young people, to listen to them and to give them a voice. That is what I am hearing as a thread that runs through a lot of what you say. What you have said will feed into some other inquiries that we are doing about the future of children's trusts, the Children's Plan and so on. It has been a very useful sitting-thank you very much indeed.