House of COMMONS
MINUTES OF EVIDENCE
TAKEN BEFORE THE
CHILDREN, SCHOOLS AND FAMILIES COMMITTEE
CHILDREN AND YOUNG PERSONS BILL [LORDS]
Wednesday 20 February 2008
USE OF THE TRANSCRIPT
Taken before the Children, Schools and Families Committee
on Wednesday 20 February 2008
Mr. Barry Sheerman, in the Chair
Mr. Douglas Carswell
Mr. David Chaytor
Mrs. Sharon Hodgson
Examination of Witness
Witness: Kevin Brennan MP, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families, Department for Children, Schools and Families, gave evidence.
<Chairman:> Good morning, Minister.
<Kevin Brennan:> Good morning, Chairman.
Q1 <Chairman:> I apologise for the delay caused by the late sitting last night, but we are quorate, we are here, and we are very keen to have this session. I welcome you, Minister, to what is, I think, your first appearance before a Select Committee. We are on a learning curve, as you are in your new Department, becoming familiar with the children and families part of our remit. You have come in with several advisers, so would you tell us who you have brought with you, just to give us a flavour of the range of responsibilities?
<Kevin Brennan:> Yes. Thank you, Chairman, for the opportunity to come along and give evidence to the new Select Committee. You are right: it is my first appearance before a Select Committee, having been on the other side of the table. With me today, although they are not appearing before you to give evidence but are here in support, are the Bill team behind the Children and Young Persons Bill, which, as you know, is currently on its travels through the House of Lords.
Q2 <Chairman:> Slightly delayed, we hear.
<Kevin Brennan:> Slightly delayed. Yesterday, the Bill went back into Committee, but the Lords have now completed their Committee stage and it will now go on to Report Stage. As you know, Chairman, there is a separate Third Reading stage in the Lords. So it will be a little bit of time before it gets to us down this end of the building-probably after Easter now.
Q3 <Chairman:> In terms of who is sitting behind you in the Bill team, are they all from your Department?
<Kevin Brennan:> Yes. Everyone here is from my Department. We have representatives from communications, from the legal side, from the children-in-care side and from my private office.
Q4 <Chairman:> Right. Thank you.
Normally, we give a Minister the opportunity to say a few words to open the discussion. Can I preface that by saying that we particularly wanted to look at this Bill because this is a new Committee scrutinising the new Department, and we wanted to put down a marker that a children Bill is coming through and we want to look at it seriously?
On the face of it, it looks like the perfect example of the way to handle a piece of legislation: a major consultation, a Green Paper, more consultation, a White Paper and then a Bill. Some of us believe that starting in the House of Lords gives an advantage, because there is some very broad experience on these issues. That is the point that we are at.
Now, it is over to you, if you do wish to say a few words. Some Ministers prefer to go straight into questions.
<Kevin Brennan:> I shall respond to what you said as though to a question. You are right that this kind of legislation in particular benefits from proper scrutiny, from having gone through that sort of process. The first Bill that I was a part of after the 2001 election became the Adoption and Children Act 2002, which partly feeds into the agenda around this Bill. That went through the process of a Special Standing Committee and very rigorous, cross-party scrutiny.
You are right that this Bill has been through the "Care Matters" Green Paper, which then informed the "Care Matters" White Paper and is now informing the Bill itself and the broader Care Matters implementation plan.
I would emphasise to the Committee that the Bill is the tip of the iceberg of the agenda around children and young people who are looked after. It is only part of the implementation plan. There will come with it-as you know, Chairman, and I think you are planning to look at it in more detail later-a much broader Care Matters implementation plan, taking the issues from the White Paper that do not require legislation but will be part of the programme over the next few years.
To set the context for the Committee, there are some key statistics. There are 60,000 children and young people in care at any given time in England-the Bill extends to England and Wales, so you could add on roughly 5% if you wanted the figures for both. During any year, 85,000 children and young people pass through the care system, because the majority of youngsters are not in care for more than 12 months. In fact, 40% are only in care for less than six months. It is not a static population. Some 62% of those in care are there due to abuse or neglect; 45%-that is four times the average for the children's population as a whole-have some mental health issue; 71% are in foster care; and 13% in residential care. Some 12%-I know, Chairman, with your background you will be interested in this-get grades A to C at GCSE, compared to five times that number for the school population as a whole, and 6% end up in higher education at the age of 19. A quarter of adult prisoners have been in care, and girls are three times more likely than the general population to get pregnant if they have been in care between the ages of 15 and 17.
The Care Matters agenda is about trying to do something about those outcomes for these children and young people who become the responsibility of the state, when we take on the role of corporate parenting.
Q5 <Chairman:> Thank you, Minister. Given that background, a strong strand in the Bill is that it fits into other big changes in thinking across the piece in the Government approach. I am thinking here of the David Freud recommendations and their influence in terms of the unemployed and people with long-term unemployment and on sickness benefit and giving the private sector a role over a long time, perhaps up to three years, and paying it on the basis of how successful it is at keeping people off the unemployment register. Of course, that leads to a look at the full circumstances of why a person is long-term unemployed or on sickness benefit. People talk about the full package of housing, support, skills and attention to addiction and so on. Do you see this as part of that change, giving the private sector much more potential to be active in this area?
<Kevin Brennan:> I think that it would be wrong to place too much emphasis on that. You were probably referring to the beginning of the Bill, where in the first few clauses there is legislation to set up a pilot in something more broadly known as social work practice, which may and can involve the private sector, particularly in the provision of children's social work-services to children and young people in care. That is an element of the Bill, but I would not want to allow the tail to wag the dog too much in respect of the broader agenda.
You might want to explore in more detail what we are proposing around social work practice; but generally, the intention of the Bill and the broader Care Matters implementation plan is very much about trying to get the system to work better across the piece. Largely that means trying to improve, if you like, the corporate parenting ability of the state, which is mainly administered through local authorities, and to improve the way that the state acts in the corporate parenting of these children and young people.
We are trying to make sure that, when the state acts as a parent to these young people, it has the same sort of ambition for them as any good parents would have for their children and that, when it does that, it improves opportunities for the young person's voice to be heard in the planning of what happens to them. If they come into the care of the state, we must try to give much greater stability to these young people, who have had a great deal of instability in their lives-that is why they have come into care. They often find themselves being moved around the system, without a lot of consultation or anyone listening to what they have to say about it. They come into contact with a bewildering array of different services and people, are moved from place to place and have their education disrupted and so on.
I would emphasise that the broad thrust is about trying to get a much better performance out of the system as it exists. However, in doing that, we are trying out some new ideas, which involve the private sector.
Q6 <Chairman:> But Minister, most members of the Committee would agree with you in thinking that the Bill was not only timely but necessary, because of the way in which we have, in a sense, failed these people in care. That is not a party political point, but one that applies under all Governments and all political parties. We have the responsibility for their development and happy childhood through to adulthood. Historically, we have let these young people down. The facts that you have given the Committee show that we have. They achieve poorly; they are more likely to end up in prison. It is a sad tale, is it not? It is true-is it not?-that the Bill is about trying to do much better than we have done in the past. In a sense, that is linked with the fact that the main delivery of this role in the past-the people who have had this role-has been the responsibility of local authorities. Some of them have not done it very well, have they?
<Kevin Brennan:> I think that you are right, Chairman. As you said, it is not a party political issue but one that goes across the piece. It is absolutely the case that we are following the moral imperative to do better by these children and young people, because they become our responsibility when the state effectively becomes their parents. Although I would preface this by saying that the population of children and young people who come into care as a whole often come with problems that are very difficult to overcome. It may be unrealistic to expect to be able to have an exact match between the profile of education, for example, or other performance of children who have been through some very traumatic experiences and difficult times when they come into care.
Yes, this is about improving on a performance that, over the years, has failed these children and young people. We have as a state over many, many years not done well enough by these children and young people. There has been a whole raft of initiatives over the years going right back to the Children Act 1989 and through to more recent legislation since 1997, which has brought about improvements. The rate of five GSCE passes at A to C has gone up from 7 to 12% in recent years. However, that is not good enough. There has been a general improvement, as we know, in the rate of GCSE passes among the school population as a whole.
Yes, we have failed. Yes, very often, local authorities have been responsible for delivering a lot of the services. But there is some extremely good practice out there as well, which is having a great deal of success. As you go round the country, you can see some of the terrific initiatives that are going on. The key, as ever, in trying to reform the system is trying to reproduce the best practice right across the piece and making sure that we have a buy-in from those agencies that are responsible for delivering services to these young people to do the best by them. A key to that involves the changes that have been made to create children's services departments, rather than the old social services departments, and getting lead members in local authorities with responsibility for children's services to take a direct interest in these young people, to have those sorts of ambitions and to listen to their voices.
I could talk a little bit about the social work practice side if you want.
Q7 <Chairman:> Can we come to that a little bit later? But Minister, you seem to be slightly edging away from the question that I asked you quite directly. Will the Bill allow the private sector and the third sector to play a larger role? Is that true or not?
<Kevin Brennan:> It will allow the private sector to play a larger role, particularly in the clauses relating to the pilots and social work practice. There is already, quite rightly, a large engagement of the third sector in the delivery of services to children and young people who are in care. We very much welcome that and would like to continue to extend that wherever possible, where that is in the best interests of those children and young people.
Q8 <Chairman:> Will the Bill do anything about protecting children who are in private sector care. The private sector already plays a role here. Those of us who looked at the experience of the Sedgemoor private equity group, which was providing residential care, know that it suddenly pulled the plug on the finances and went out of that business. A lot of vulnerable young people were exposed to dramatic changes that we would not want. Would anything in the Bill protect against that kind of effect if the private sector is more heavily engaged in care?
<Kevin Brennan:> Well, we will increase the role of inspection and make sure that residential care homes for children and young people are much better and more closely inspected. As you know, in recent years the switchover towards Ofsted-
Q9 <Chairman:> The quality may be marvellous, but if a private equity group says, "Oh, we're not making any money out of this and we're going out tomorrow", surely a different kind of inspection is needed.
<Kevin Brennan:> Yes, and it would be completely unacceptable if they just pulled the plug on those sorts of homes.
<Chairman:> But they did.
<Kevin Brennan:> And that is why we are strengthening the inspection regime to make sure that there is a transition in relation to pulling the plug on a home in that way. Within the Bill itself, there is no particular clause in relation to that, but what we are broadly doing is strengthening the level of inspection for care homes that are either in the private sector or council care homes.
<Chairman:> Minister, I am merely the warm-up act. Thank you very much for answering those introductory questions. As you will know, the Committee is now minded to go back and look at your early experience with the Children and Adoption Act 2006, to see how that is working. We will probably see you wearing that hat in the near future. Can I just reprimand you on an insufficient CV? When Ministers come here we do like to see a full CV, but there is no reference to your expertise as a rock and roll performer. Could you put that right next time you come in front of the Committee?
Q10 <Mr. Chaytor:> Minister, can I pursue the case of Sedgemoor? You said that the problem would be avoided in the future by strengthening the inspection regime, but how can strengthening the inspection regime reduce the risk of a major private sector provider deciding to pull out? Surely, it is the nature of the contract and the regulatory regime that is at issue.
<Kevin Brennan:> Inspection is important, because my understanding is that, with the Sedgemoor case, we are working closely now with Ofsted to try to learn lessons, so that we can ensure that that sort of incident cannot be repeated. Nevertheless, we also know that it is important to have a diversity of provision for children's homes, for some of the reasons that the Chairman talked about earlier, to ensure that we are providing enough quality places. In past years, there were not enough.
There are now enough places in the system, which is probably one of the reasons why the provider pulled out in that case. Children's homes are regulated by Her Majesty's chief inspector. They are supposed to provide a written application for cancellation of their registration to the inspectorate, and they should give at least three months' notice of the proposed date of closure. Obviously, that is a matter that we have to look at very closely now with Ofsted to see whether we can learn lessons to ensure that people are not left high and dry in the way they were in that case. That work is in progress.
Q11 <Mr. Chaytor:> Looking, say, 10 years into the future, what percentage of the total volume of work with looked-after children would you expect to be taken on by independent social care providers? In your opening remarks to the Chairman's question you downplayed the extent of that and said that it was just a pilot scheme. But realistically, 10 years on, what percentage of the total work would be with independent providers?
<Kevin Brennan:> The straightforward answer to that question is that it could be anywhere between 0% and 100%. I know that sounds like an evasive answer but it is not. This is a genuine pilot, which will extend to perhaps up to six local authorities and will run for five years from the commencement of the Act, when the Bill receives Royal Assent.
It is a genuine pilot, in the sense that we know that one of the big complaints made by children and young people is that they see lots of social workers; in some places they report having seen up to 30 social workers while they have been in care. They say that they never get to know their social worker or, as soon as they get to know and like one, they are gone. The idea behind the social work practice pilot is that if you were able to get smaller teams of social workers responsible for working with a case load of children, you might get more stability, more flexibility without working in a big bureaucracy, and more effective synergy and teamwork. The idea is very much modelled on the GP practice idea.
The provision therefore could come from a social enterprise social work practice or through a third sector provider, but we thought that it was right to allow in the pilot provision by private sector providers to see if that gave any new energy to the pilot scheme. There is £6 million over the next five years. The pilots will run for two years and then will continue to run while they are evaluated. The evaluation will look very much into the question of whether they have provided a better service and whether they are a sustainable model that could be more generally extended to other local authorities.
What is the impact on the rest of the system? We do not want to have a scheme that is all very wonderful because it is gilt edged and gold plated and in which the rest of the system is run down as a consequence. The reason we are doing this is to make sure that we fulfil the moral obligation to try anything that might improve a service that, quite obviously-as both young people themselves and statistics have shown us-is not working.
But the reason I am slightly playing it down-and I am not playing it down because I do not think it is a good idea; I very much think it is a very good idea and we have a moral obligation to try it-is because there is not much attention focused on lots of the other pilots that we are funding and that do not require legislation. These involve local authorities looking at new ways of working and remodelling social work teams within the structure that is there at present. We are hoping to have a clearer picture in a few years' time that may well mean that in 10 years we will have a much more diverse set of models of how social workers work with children and young people.
Q12 <Mr. Chaytor:> That brings me to my next question, because earlier you listed a series of depressing statistics, but then acknowledged that there were significant variations between different local authorities. So I would be interested to know where you feel there are structural problems with local authorities delivering this service and where you feel it is simply an issue of poor management within individual local authorities. Or, to put it another way: could you tell us the characteristics of the way the service is provided in those local authorities that manage to deliver a better output for young people?
<Kevin Brennan:> I think that, in going around the country and looking at children's services, one thing that comes through is that where there is a significant-almost a political-commitment, or certainly a powerful leadership commitment in an authority towards these children and young people, it makes a huge difference to the quality of the service that is provided. This is a very difficult area to work in, as we all know; these young people can be challenging and often come from difficult backgrounds, although in many cases the assumptions people make about children and young people in care can be completely wrong.
What often can happen in poorly performing authorities is that, over the years, if there is not a good quality of leadership in a local authority, if there is not a political commitment in a local authority, and if attention is not paid to the people who work in the service, there can easily become an overwhelming sense of demoralisation among the staff and a feeling of being overwhelmed by their case loads. It is not all about resources, though resources are always important. When the leadership of the council-including the political leadership-take a real interest in the service, take a real interest in the people who work in the service, raise their status and give them opportunities for professional development and networking together to talk about their cases, improve the management and provide opportunities for the young people themselves, that is what makes all the difference.
Traditionally sometimes-in years gone past, though it is less true now-children in care were viewed as a bit of a problem and were shut away somewhere within a local authority. They were not necessarily the things voters talked to their councillors about, unless there were problems with kids from the local children's home or something like that. So where there is an acceptance of the importance of focusing on this as an issue, it makes a big difference in terms of the outcomes for these children and young people.
Just to give an example, I visited Birmingham last week and I went to a half-term project being run by the local authority for children in care. It was a music project in which they got the opportunity to go into the symphony hall and participate on computers with some of the newest software and had the sort of opportunities that children in other families might get at home to learn how to use music software and to make their own music. Later, I went to another project at City hall where young people had been brought together to help to write the kids' version of the local authority's children's policy. Leaflets were produced for the children, so that they could understand what is on offer for them and what the council's pledge will do for them. Later, I visited a local authority children's home where the children do lots of activities outside the home. There is a real commitment by the local authority and the people working there to do their best by those young people, and to listen to their voice.
<Chairman:> Minister, this is very interesting, but at some stage I must lean on you to make not quite such long answers; otherwise we shall run out of time.
<Kevin Brennan:> I apologise.
Q13 <Mr. Chaytor:> Can I move on to the size of local authorities, which was touched on earlier when referring to the problems of large and impersonal bureaucracies? In the context of Every Child Matters and the move to more integrated children' services, is not the contracting-out process likely to work in the opposite direction? Although I understand how the size of the bureaucracy might reduce the degree of personal attention given, at least the nature of the local authority is that it is a vehicle for delivering integrated services between both social care and education, and with the interface with health and the criminal justice system.
Surely one problem for local authorities in increasing contracting out to independent social care providers is that it will be increasingly difficult for small independent social care providers to develop those integrated working practices with criminal justice, health, social care and education. How do you think that will play out?
<Kevin Brennan:> I recognise the point, which has been made during the development of these proposals. That is the very reason for running a pilot in six local authorities. It would be wrong not to test the proposition that was put to me, but it will result in more complexity and could make things more bureaucratic. Another thing that I am aware of is the size of the team of people around the child in care. When we meet a group of professionals from the local authority and other providers and from the health service, we realise just how many people are involved in the lives of the young person.
The point is understandable, but our hope is that if the pilots work, it will be overcome by a reduction in the complexity of the social care work force, by working within a small team with a bit more flexibility and independence, by the ability to do different, out-of-hours work, and by sharing practice among a small team. That may well overcome the problem, and that is why we are piloting the scheme.
Q14 <Mr. Chaytor:> I have one more quick question. To what extent do you think there is spare capacity in the system, or will the contracting-out process simply shift the available staff around and transfer those who are already working in local authorities to independent providers? Do you think that there is spare capacity, and that large numbers of social workers are sitting around not working, and waiting to be recruited by private providers?
<Kevin Brennan:> Obviously, the answer to that is no. There is no spare capacity in the system and, in fact, we must do a great deal more to attract more people into the social work profession. As part of the broader measures that have been taken on remodelling the social care work force, we will announce later in the year a new children's work force action plan that will contain quite a few proposals for trying to improve the status, career and professional advantages of social workers, and particularly children's social workers-for example, by creating a newly qualified social work status, having more opportunities for mentoring of social workers to retain more of them in the profession, to improve their standard of qualifications, and also to offer greater opportunities to social workers who have been in the job for a long time to enable them to stay on the front line and still have professional development and a career path, in an analogous way to what is happening in education. A lot of work and substantial investment is going in over the next few years to try to attack the problem that we need to attract more people into the profession.
Q15 <Mr. Chaytor:> The Children's Workforce Action Plan should have been published in February. What is the latest estimated date of publication?
<Kevin Brennan:> I cannot give the Committee a date. I wish I could, Mr. Chairman, because it would be nice to share it with you first. There will shortly be announcements in relation to that, but I can tell the Committee that we want to explore further how we can attempt to integrate an idea-I call it "Team Every Child Matters"-regarding the fact that we are all becoming more and more aware that we need to have better integrated working across the children's workforce, on the education side as well as on the more traditional children's services side. Obviously, that is a very long-term ambition, but we want to make sure that when we issue an action plan, we are able to set out that vision in a coherent way, that we have consulted everybody about it and that people have had an opportunity to feed into it.
Q16 <Chairman:> That sounds very good, Minister, and we applaud it. The Committee believes that an education service and a children's service should be judged on how it deals with the most vulnerable members of our society. The priority is to get special educational needs right, to get looked-after children right, and then to get it right for everyone else.
One thing I thought you slightly stepped back on, in your answer to David Chaytor, was the part of the health professional. Many of us who visit children's centres, for example, are told that doctors will not even come to case conferences unless they are paid, and they do not have to come. I do not know why, because health professionals have the strongest trade unions known to this country. Is it the royal colleges, or whatever? How are we going to tackle the issue of looked-after children if health is a reluctant partner?
<Kevin Brennan:> Well, health cannot be a reluctant partner. You are absolutely right. It is a key part of the Care Matters agenda to try to make sure that we make a reality of integrating health care for children and young people. As we might expect from what we discussed earlier, health outcomes are poorer for children in care than for the general population of children, particularly in the area of mental health issues.
Q17 <Chairman:> But we are soft on health, are we not? It does not have to co-operate.
<Kevin Brennan:> It is interesting that you should put that point, because one of the things we are going to do for the first time in statutory guidance is require not just local authorities, but NHS bodies, PCTs and strategic health authorities to co-operate. That will be part of the statutory guidance for the first time.
Q18 <Chairman:> A duty to co-operate?
<Kevin Brennan:> They will have a duty to co-operate under the statutory guidance in this field. That is very much part of the Care Matters agenda. We have also introduced a new indicator on the emotional health of looked-after children in the new national indicators set, and local authorities and PCTs will have to co-operate in order to try to improve the health of looked-after children. As I said, the guidance under the Children Act 2004 will become statutory in relation to health bodies when we publish the new guidance, which will be towards the end of the year.
<Chairman:> That is good news. I hope you have not had to double doctors' pay to achieve it. We are going to move on to education.
Q19 <Fiona Mactaggart:> I am interested in the statutory framework, because one of the most potentially powerful changes that the Bill introduces, in clause 17, is a designated member of staff for looked-after pupils at a school. The problem with that is that the duty to designate a member of staff is only in maintained schools. I am perturbed that we have not found a way of putting that duty on every school, particularly if one of the things we are trying to do with looked-after children in order to improve their educational outcomes is to ensure that they get access to academies-to the schools that we think are transformative. How come they do not get that duty?
<Kevin Brennan:> The current way in which academies are organised means that their duties in these areas tend to be set out in their agreements.
Q20 <Fiona Mactaggart:> So they will end up like those GPs who do not bother to turn up unless they are paid.
<Kevin Brennan:> What I was about to say is that we will make it a requirement in future-I will come back to the existing academies in a moment-as part of an agreement for any future academies that they will have a designated teacher for looked-after children. That will be written into every agreement with the academies.
The vast majority of the existing academies-we have already scoped this out-have a designated teacher. We are confident that, without having to legislate to force them to do that, we can persuade other academies that the small number that do not-I believe it is a tiny minority-should have a designated teacher. My understanding, therefore, is that it should be possible to achieve that without having to put it on the face of the Bill.
Q21 <Fiona Mactaggart:> That is fine at the moment but one of the things we know about legislation in this field, such as the 1989 legislation which provided for advisers on education and training, is that we never bothered to implement it. When I say "we", I mean consecutive Governments. One of the things I am uneasy about, therefore, is that if one sector of education gets a gentleman's agreement and other sectors of education get legislation, are we confident that the provision for such children is going to persist? I am sure it will exist in the early years of the academy movement; I have no doubt about this at all. I am quite certain that those people who are pioneering academies are keen to provide for such children. We know, however, how schools evolve and they might become less keen in future. I am struck by the fact that this legislation provides no lever to the Government in that regard.
<Kevin Brennan:> I am receiving divine inspiration as we speak. First, the agreements by which academies are set up are not gentleman's agreements-they are legally enforceable agreements and therefore they cannot get out of them at a later date. All new academies will fall into that category. Obviously, if it were the case that we found in practice that those existing academies-83, I think-were not following the spirit of what we have done, there might be a case to look at this in future. We do not want to wade in and undermine the flexibility that is supposed to be part of the model for freedom to develop within the academy system. If in practice they are doing what we want them to do, we will allow that to continue while making clear to any new academies that it will be part of their binding agreement that they will have to have a designated teacher.
Q22 <Fiona Mactaggart:> Does this person have to be a teacher?
<Kevin Brennan:> Yes, although it does not say so in the clause on the face of the Bill, we will be making it clear in regulation that they will have to be a teacher. The reason for not putting it on the face of the Bill is in relation to-you will know a lot more about this, Chairman, than I do, even though I was once in the teaching profession-the complexity of qualified teacher status and others who are qualified teachers but may not have qualified teacher status in a technical sense. I want to make it absolutely clear that the intention is that we will provide in regulations that the person will be a teacher.
Q23 <Fiona Mactaggart:> At the moment there is guidance that suggests that every school should have a designated teacher. Are schools following that? What is the difference where they are?
<Kevin Brennan:> I think that in the vast majority of cases they are, Chairman, which might lead you to ask why you would bother to put it in the Bill and if it is a significant step forward. The reasons why we are doing so are, first, to make sure that everybody does, but, also to enable us through statutory guidance to be much clearer about the role of the designated teacher and what would be expected of them and, obviously, to enforce that in all cases. I think that it sends a powerful signal to the system as a whole of the importance of making sure that the interests of looked-after children are central to a school's work. I can certainly say that in my time as a teacher, probably to my shame, the role of looked-after children was pretty low on my radar. I was not very aware of how many there were in the school, of who they were and they may have had significant special needs.
Q24 <Fiona Mactaggart:> My experience as a teacher was that I would be concerned about the fact that looked-after children often did not bring a very good lunch, but I was not sufficiently concerned about the fact that they were not succeeding in their learning. I think that that is quite common among the teaching profession; they are concerned about the welfare issues, and often those children do not have as nice packed lunches and so on as other children. I wonder how you are going to help these designated teachers to drive the achievement of children, because that has absolutely got to be their priority. One of the things that we fail as a state to do is to give these children the kind of qualifications that will enable them to make the most of their talents and abilities in the future.
<Kevin Brennan:> Yes, I think that that is absolutely right. Part of the £300 million, which will be spent over those four years in addition to previous expenditure on the Care Matters agenda, will be involved in offering further training for designated teachers in how to perform that role, which you quite rightly identified. In addition, there are going to be other provisions to try and help improve the educational outcomes of looked-after children in schools. They include having a £500 annual allowance that can be spent on "enrichment activities" for the education of looked-after children and for the sort of things that are not currently provided by local authorities as a matter of course as a corporate parent. They are the kind of extras that you would expect a parent to try to provide for their children. In addition, we are piloting virtual heads, and I think that one of those is being piloted in Gateshead. In the virtual head pilot, a designated person with the local authority will act as a kind of virtual head teacher for all of the looked-after children within that authority, to give that kind of leadership across the piece and not just within individual schools. So, it is very much the intention that that should be the role of designated teachers-to drive and improve performance and to use these levers to do so.
Q25 <Fiona Mactaggart:> And if that works and we get to a situation where looked-after children succeed in obtaining A-levels and so on, which at the moment they lamentably tend not to do, and we are going to offer a bursary into higher education? What about those who do not get to higher education but are going on to education beyond school? Are they going to get access to any extra resources?
<Kevin Brennan:> There is a particular reason for the bursary, which is the evidence that looked-after children who do get through to higher education face higher debt. The estimate of that it is that it is around £2,000 on average, which is what the bursary will cover when they come out of university. The purpose and idea behind the bursary is to give a level playing field, in terms of potential debt, to young people who go through higher education and have been in care, with the rest of the population. It serves a specific purpose. Obviously, in the case of young people in care who are in further education, there is already quite significant assistance available to them. We will also be providing things like a personal adviser up to the age of 25 to help them plan their education and training after the age of eighteen. So, there is a particular purpose to that £2,000 bursary, and a reason for it is based on the evidence that we have. The assumption behind it, by the way is that, that would lead to a 10% increase.
Q26 <Fiona Mactaggart:> You said that it is £2,000, so is it a one-off payment of £2,000?
<Kevin Brennan:> It will not be a one-off payment; it will be paid in instalments during the course. The assumption behind it, if you look at the impact assessment, is that it will lead to an increase of 10% in the numbers of young people in care who are able to take up the opportunity to go into higher education, as well as providing £2,000 to those who are already do.
Q27 <Chairman:> What about apprenticeships?
<Kevin Brennan:> That is a very pertinent point, and some of the debates and consultation that have gone on in the other place have led to us to wanting to cogitate a bit further on what we more can do around training to ensure that that is not missed out in the equation here. Perhaps I will have an opportunity to say more about that at a later stage of the Bill. Certainly it is a pertinent point that has been raised, and one that we are looking further at as we speak.
Q28 <Fiona Mactaggart:> I was going to go on to the training point, and that is very helpful, but one of the things that we know about young people in training and further education is the degree to which parental support is often key in sustaining attendance, getting people through sticky patches and so on. You are proposing a designated staff member in schools, a local authority personal adviser, and someone might be in touch with a foster parent, although they are going to be going past various barriers such as 18 during this period. I am wondering how all that is going to be co-ordinated. I have a feeling that the kind of stuff that an ordinary 17 or 18-year-old has, which is their mum digging them out of bed and making sure that they have got a clean hoodie and so on, is really critical to getting qualifications. That might not be so-called education stuff, but it is the platform out of which learning comes. How are we going to make sure that that happens, and that it is not just a bunch of people sending each other memos?
<Kevin Brennan:> I think that that is of crucial importance, and there is a big difference between local authorities and performance around these sorts of practical things. In some local authorities, the attendance of children in their care is pretty much the same as for the general population-well above 90%. That is done by doing exactly what you are suggesting should be done, which is having in place the very practical ways of making sure that young people attend school-namely, making sure that they get out of bed and get to school, making sure that it is noticed if they are not there, and making sure that it is followed up very quickly. There may have been in the past a culture within the system of not being surprised or not caring enough if the young person in a care home did not turn up for their course or was not in school. Yes, having a designated teacher is going to be key to that, because a designated teacher will very much be, and should be, looking at where that young person is if they have not turned up to school. Why have they not turned up for school, and is there a particular problem at home, with a foster carer, or in the children's home? That is why having people whose direct responsibility it is to care about these young people-not just to say that they are in care, but that they are cared about-is key to the system working. If, with this great complexity that I have described that there is around children in care, people do not have those direct responsibilities to undertake that work, you will be correct in saying that we will get problems. It can be done, and it is being done, but it is a case of making sure that it is done more consistently and across the piece.
Q29 <Fiona Mactaggart:> Thank you for that: you focused more on school-age children, and I am particularly interested in the support for young people as they have left school. We know that this is a period in which this group of young people are often not thriving. In the Bill, as I understand it, the provisions on personal advisers on education and training, which were in the 1989 Act and which have not been implemented, are going to be extended to provide personal advisers up to the age of 25. I welcome that, but as far as I can see, we do not have them-even though we have the legislation for that-for those up to the age of 21.
I hope that I have not misunderstood, but since we are extending the use of personal advisers--better support and so on-how do we make sure that they have the power and connectedness to do other things to help young people to do the stickability thing? I worry that we designate people, they tick boxes, they make the odd telephone call and so on, but they do not actually do the stuff which makes the difference to the young person at the time in their life when they are becoming an adult and when it is critical to their success as an adult that they get qualifications and training.
<Kevin Brennan:> Young people tell us that, where they do have this sort of support, it works. That is why we are extending it. On your earlier point about FE, we are running pilots to provide further support to people in FE. Having the extension to 25 is really important; we cannot expect children in care to hit educational milestones at the same time as other young people, because of the disruption there has been in their lives.
The clear evidence that came out of the Green Paper, the White Paper and the consultations with young people is that they welcome having had a personal adviser, when they have had one, but that the transition into adulthood is the big problem. Most young people do not leave home until they are 24, whereas in care-in the past, not now-they used to drop off the cliff edge at 16.
Now, we are doing more to extend that to 18, we are exploring ways to support young people up to the age of 21 in staying in their foster placements, if that is what both sides want, and we are recognising that they are unlikely to get qualifications as early as the general population. Young people tell us that, when they have a personal adviser and someone to assist them, it works, but it just runs out too quickly. So it can work-the young people tell us that it works-but we just have not been doing enough of it.
Q30 <Chairman:> When you talk to young people, how do you talk to them?
<Kevin Brennan:> When I talk to them?
Q31 <Chairman:> You said, "when we talk to". Is it official; is it a survey; is it an annual talk?
<Kevin Brennan:> In terms of consultation on the Care Matters agenda, things are done in a variety of ways, both by undertaking surveys, but also by undertaking special activities where young people are brought in-
Q32 <Chairman:> It is systematically done by the Department?
<Kevin Brennan:> Indeed it is, Chairman, and part of these proposals is that the voice of the young person should be extended in local authorities as well, so that they are listened to. As part of Care Matters agenda, we are asking local authorities to create children-in-care councils and to publish a pledge themselves on what they can expect.
Q33 <Chairman:> We have to move on, but before we leave all the talk of education, in the unlikely event that there was a looked-after child at the school that George Osborne sends his children to, in the independent sector, who looks after people in the independent sector? This does not apply, does it?
<Kevin Brennan:> In relation to the designated teacher, as you are probably aware, Chairman, we are keen to allow the individual child, where it is appropriate to that child's needs, to make use of boarding provision in schools-and not just in the independent sector; there is state boarding provision as well. I think that I am right in saying that the designated status does not apply to the independent sector, but that the local authority would maintain its role as a corporate parent in that instance and would monitor whether appropriate arrangements were in place to look after that young person. Speaking to young people who have been through it, we know that, in some cases, but by no means a majority, that can be a very good, positive option for that child, for obvious reasons.
Q34 <Chairman:> I have always thought that the selective system, whether independent or grammar, tends to screen out looked-after children. Am I wrong? Is that prejudice. Are a number of looked-after children being educated in the independent sector?
<Kevin Brennan:> There is a small number within the independent sector. A pilot scheme is in place to make sure that there are more opportunities for young people in care to attend boarding school, whether or not in the independent sector.
Q35 <Chairman:> I am not just talking about boarding school, but across the piece.
<Kevin Brennan:> The particular reason for using boarding schools is that, obviously, the children are not living with their parents. It can often be a good option that provides more stability and permanency, as well as being a suitable option in relation to their relationship with foster carers and children's homes. It is something on which further work is being undertaken to see whether we can make it more widely available. I see it very much not as an ideological matter, but simply one of what is in the individual interests of that young person. As you are undoubtedly aware, many young people in care are extremely talented and have great ability, but having been moved around schools too often within the system, they have not had enough permanency of placement. The process can provide them with stability and permanency that will allow them to fulfil their potential, which is what all of us want to see.
<Chairman:> Thank you for that. Annette, you will take us through the whole reviewing officers issue.
Q36 <Annette Brooke:> Why have you thought it necessary to refine the appointment and remit of independent reviewing officers?
<Kevin Brennan:> There is a great deal of concern within the system that the independent reviewing officer function is not yet working properly and strongly enough. There is recognition within the system that we have to make sure that there is better care planning and that the voice of child is more effectively represented within the system.
What we chose to do in the Bill is quite unusual, but it is appropriate in this instance. There is mixed evidence about whether independent reviewing officers should be completely taken outside of local authorities or whether they should stay within local authorities but be given more strength and independence. We decided in the Bill to leave independent reviewing officers within the remit of the local authority, although they can swap. An independent reviewing officer could come from a neighbouring local authority. The provision could be swapped if we wanted to strengthen the Chinese wall and the role, which we encourage. We have done that because children and young people, independent reviewing officers and local authorities have told us that, having someone within the structure and who is well connected with it can be more effective at good care planning for the individual child.
In many cases, local authorities would almost reconstruct that position if we took it out of their remit and put it into the remit of some other body, because they see the value of such a role within the system. However, we have also said that, if that does not work and we do not have an improvement in care planning for young people or on the ground in the stability of care plans and listening to the voice of the child, there is power under the Bill in future to take independent reviewing officers out of local authorities completely and put them into a national body. That could come under the remit of the Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service or a completely new body, but we thought that it was right to continue to make the system work by strengthening the role of the independent reviewing officer at this stage.
Q37 <Annette Brooke:> It all sounds very theoretical, so can you get down to the individual child who is desperately unhappy and who probably has issues with expressing themselves? How will the new process under the Bill help looked-after children to raise concerns? I can see that you are tackling resolving them by deciding whether you want it to be done in-house or out of house. How will the process make the situation better?
<Kevin Brennan:> The role of the independent reviewing officer is not to have a vested interest in a particular child's case, but to co-ordinate and to monitor what the local authority is doing in relation to the child. You are quite right that they must have a personal relationship with the child to ascertain their thoughts and feelings and to feed that into the process. They must ensure that the local authority takes that into account in the care planning process and that proper weight is given to the child's wishes and feelings. In addition, there is an existing right for a child to access an independent advocate service where they have a complaint about what has happened to them. We might come on to that point. The role of the independent reviewing officer is to represent the child's wishes and feelings within the care planning process and ensure that the local authorities reflect on them.
Q38 <Annette Brooke:> Do you think that there ought to be a right for a child to ask for an advocate or for that to be available at the stage of reviewing the care plans?
<Kevin Brennan:> There is an existing right to ask for an advocate when the child has a complaint about what has happened to them.
Q39 <Annette Brooke:> Yes, I understand that, but if we want to avoid getting to the complaints part of the system, would it not be better for the advocacy to be available at this point?
<Kevin Brennan:> We wonder whether that would be the most effective way to improve the service to the child and to improve the way in which care planning takes place for that child, in terms of using resources for that purpose. As I have already said, a huge number of people are involved in care planning and are around a child in care. Our view is that we need to strengthen and empower those people who are already working around the child and ensure that they take into account much more proactively the wishes and feelings of the young person in planning for them.
Some local authorities have experimented with having the children themselves chairing their own care planning meetings, which I think is a thoroughly good innovation. We have to empower the people who work around the child and ensure that they focus on the thoughts, wishes, feelings and the voice of the young person, rather than creating a national system of advocates, which some organisations who specialise in advocacy would like to see. We wonder whether that would really produce what we want: better outcomes for these young people. The right way to achieve that is to focus on strengthening the system.
Q40 <Annette Brooke:> Obviously, a number of organisations are trying to raise the profile of more formal advocacy. Is that being picked up in the Bill at all-in particular, for severely disabled children who are looked after? It seems to me that there is a case for advocacy for such children.
<Kevin Brennan:> As I said earlier in relation to the independent reviewing officer, we are creating a new duty for them to monitor the case as a whole. We are creating a new duty for them to ensure that the child's voice is heard in the process. We are also issuing new guidance about referrals to legal advice where that is appropriate.
Q41 <Annette Brooke:> The independent reviewing officer has a duty to ensure that the child's voice is heard. If the child has difficulty expressing themselves or is very disabled, will that duty trigger them to call in advocacy at some point?
<Kevin Brennan:> In a case like that, it seems to me that it would. I am unable to judge an individual case, but if a young person is unable to effectively express themselves without professional advocacy or assistance of some sort, it would quite clearly be good practice for an advocate to be brought in. There are many disabled children in care. I do not think that that point could be expressed within the Bill; but in guidance, it will be clear that the thrust of the reform that we are introducing is that, if a child's voice cannot be heard because of some disability, there should be a process by which it can be.
<Annette Brooke:> Not necessarily physical disability-it may be a mental disability, where the child has been damaged in some way that they cannot express.
<Kevin Brennan:> Indeed.
Q42 <Annette Brooke:> If I could just move on, I am interested in the whole idea of building up good relationships with an adult. In some ways, there are a lot of adults floating around now in the Bill: personal advisers, the designated teacher, the social worker with the £500, obviously the foster carer-of great importance-and the visitors as well. I wonder how you see this for the child? The child needs to form a core relationship with someone out of this. Should there not be a right for the child to choose which is going to be the core relationship?
<Kevin Brennan:> The core relationship for most children and young people in care will be with their foster carer.
Q43 <Annette Brooke:> So why does the social worker have the £500-why not the foster carer?
<Kevin Brennan:> The social worker does not have the £500 in their pocket as such. In fact, I can announce to the Committee today that we are launching a consultation on exactly how that £500 should be administered. That consultation will be going out to local authorities and is being issued today. It will include the possibility, provided that the child or the children in local authority care are consulted, to pool that money if they wish. Sometimes, it might be appropriate to do that. As I said, that consultation is being issued today.
Yes, a key relationship for most young people in care would be with their foster carer and for those in a children's home, with the manager or the people who work with them in the children's home. You are absolutely right that there are a number of relationships with adults, and the whole purpose of the Bill and of the Care Matters agenda is to try and stabilise that and to give more stability to those relationships, which includes the ones you mentioned.
Q44 <Annette Brooke:> Can you tell me whether the children would be able to make decisions about whether they have an independent visitor, or whether, in fact, they have any say in who the independent visitor is?
<Kevin Brennan:> Yes, the children have the right to refuse to have an independent visitor or to refuse a particular independent visitor if they wish. The idea of the independent visitor is not as an advocate, social worker or parent, but as someone to befriend them and to provide them with opportunities.
Q45 <Annette Brooke:> I just hope that they are not going to get bewildered with all these adults. I think that it is really important that the child should be empowered to choose these relationships.
<Kevin Brennan:> That is an extremely fair point, but we are not doing this because we decided that it would be a good idea, but because children and young people themselves said that they welcomed it.
Q46 <Annette Brooke:> Can I just ask you whether the situation relating to school trips has been sorted out? It has been my understanding that it is quite embarrassing for children in care, because special permission has to be obtained before they can undertake ordinary activities. Some of those issues have been sorted out, such as sleepovers and things like that, but I understand that school trips are still a bit of a problem.
<Kevin Brennan:> They can be. This is something that I am personally looking into, after finding two recent occasions when I went around visiting and speaking to young people in care about whether they have had problems over things like passports. For example, getting a passport renewed when it runs out, or getting a passport for the first time might be a problem. For some reason or another, being able to procure a passport seems to be an extraordinary challenge to the system. For a young person in school, when all their friends are going on the school visit, wherever it may be-in one case, the visit was to Lourdes, with a Catholic school-but they are not able to go, that completely isolates them.
Those are the sorts of practical things that we have to try to sort out. Yes, a lot has been done to try and clear the bureaucracy away from who can give permission-who can sign the form. What we want to achieve is a situation where, for a young person in care, it is no more difficult for them to be able to participate normally in all the other activities of a school or other educational activities than any other young person.
Q47 <Annette Brooke:> I am really pleased to hear that. I am sure that we will discuss it more during the Bill.
Finally, we are talking a lot about improving the situation for children we know about, yet the Bill has clause 31 or 32, whichever it is now, on private fostering. We were assured by Margaret Hodge, I think, that there would be great deal of work to increase the registration of situations where there is private fostering. The statistics show that there were 730 cases in 2005 and only 1,250 in 2007, yet the professionals in the area estimate that there are possibly 10,000 children in private fostering arrangements. We have had legislation safeguarding vulnerable people, but how can we safeguard, look after and promote the welfare of children who we know nothing about?
<Kevin Brennan:> As you rightly say, the current position is one of notification rather than registration. The Bill extends the sunset clause to allow the Government to bring in a scheme of registration.
Q48 <Annette Brooke:> Why do you not just get on and do it?
<Kevin Brennan:> The reason that we have not done it is that we are convinced that we should give more time to allow the notification system to work. There are only two years of statistics so far available within the notification system, and to give it an opportunity to work, we think that it needs more time. We have not ruled out a registration scheme. I accept that we are not doing it at this stage, and we think that the notification scheme needs more time to be effectively evaluated, but we have not ruled that out.
We want to ensure that we have enough evidence, because it is a significant area of regulation to get into, where you require prior registration of any private fostering arrangement. It is a significant step forward, and we do not want to do it without having properly evaluated all the evidence. As I said, there are only two clear years of operation so far of the notification scheme, and notification is building as people become more aware of the scheme. I accept that you would like us to go further at this stage-we are not planning to, but in the Bill, we leave that option open by extending the sunset clause.
<Annette Brooke:> I shall return to that.
Q49 <Chairman:> I am sure. Minister, you will know that, in the previous incarnation of the Committee, we were keen on the value of out-of-school education-despite the horrible tragedy yesterday. These things happen; we are all human beings. We very much recommended that out-of-school education, if done well, is a transformative part of education, and we would not want looked-after children to be excluded from that.
Something that Annette took up with you was the question of how many adults there are surrounding a child. I wonder whether you have had a conversation with the Children's Commissioner or anybody else about a mentoring scheme involving someone of the young person's age? Is there someone in school or some situation in which a person of their own age could be partly a mentor?
<Kevin Brennan:> Yes, that sounds like a good suggestion. It is not written in the Bill, but it is interesting what young people themselves tell you about how they react and relate to one another. One young person said to me last week, "I never tell anyone at first that I am in care, because people will make assumptions about me if I do." It is a good suggestion for us to try to build awareness more generally.
Q50 <Chairman:> In a separate inquiry that I am doing under the Skills Commission on information guidance and advice, we had an evidence session yesterday with young people. The young people told us very clearly that they would value advice from someone of their own age or slightly older on, for example, careers. That chimes with something that Annette said.
<Kevin Brennan:> Mentoring is a powerful area that we could do a lot more in. I echo your comments about learning outside the classroom and the importance of school visits and educational trips, and also your words of sympathy to the family of the young man who was unfortunately killed on a school trip. I was struck by the bravery of the parents and what they said in their reaction to that terrible tragedy.
Learning outside the classroom is so important, and we issued an extensive action plan recently, where we emphasised that we think that it is important and an integral part of children's education. For children in care, that is even more so. I have seen that transformational impact that you talked about on a group of young care leavers who were taken on outward bound trips to North Wales, taken by the fire service on a training course for a week and then taken out to Romania to clean up a children's orphanage. That had an enormous impact on those young people, to their benefit.
Q51 <Chairman:> When a tragedy like this occurs, the press tends to go into a national spasm, whereas the previous Committee found that the safest place possible for your child was on a school trip; indeed, a dangerous place was at home with the parents.
<Kevin Brennan:> It is the paradox of risk.
Q52 <Mr. Chaytor:> Minister, on Monday of this week, Lord Adonis announced that the Government were going to rip out clauses 7, 8, 9 and 10 of the Bill and replace them with a series of new clauses. We wrote to the Opposition spokesperson in the Lords. We have a copy of the letter, but it is a detailed and complex letter and I wonder whether you could simplify it for us?
<Chairman:> Only Lord Adonis could understand it.
<Kevin Brennan:> I will try my best, Chairman. The reason that those clauses have been withdrawn and replaced by a single new clause, as well as other changes to the schedule, is that it became apparent that the tensions between the different duties and factors that come into play when making a placement decision about a child may not have been clear enough in the previous clauses. We wanted to take the opportunity, having had the Bill scrutinised and given it some more thought, to be absolutely clear about that.
Perhaps the easiest way for me to try to explain this-I cannot quite do it in the way that Lord Adonis would, but I will do so in my own simple way-is that where the state is getting involved in family life in this way and decisions are being taken about whether to take a child away from their family and place them somewhere else, we must make it clear what the principles involved are. There are phrases in the Bill that have a technical meaning, which I will try to explain.
The first phrase in the Bill is "consistent with the child's welfare". When a local authority has to take the decision on whether it is safe to allow a child to remain with their parents-it must be our assumption that the starting point is that a child should live with their own parents-they have to decide whether it is consistent with the child's welfare to do so. What that means, technically, is whether it is safe for that child to stay with their parents. If it is safe, the child should continue to live with their parents. In layman's terms, that is what it means.
However, if the local authority decides that it is not safe for the child to live with their parents, there is a different test when they decide where to place that child. The overarching structure of that test is the phrase stating that they need to place the child in order to "safeguard and promote the child's welfare." That means, in law, something very different from "consistent with the child's welfare." To "safeguard and promote the child's welfare" means that they should attempt to place the child where they will flourish-where is the best place for that child to flourish? That is a very different test. It is not up to the state to decide whether my child would be better off living with your family, because they would flourish there; it is up to the state to decide whether my child is safe remaining with my family.
Once the state takes charge as the parent, it is the state's responsibility and we are re-stating that. That is what we are doing by tabling this new clause; we are re-stating that, at that point, it is the job of the state to place the child where that child will flourish. Then we are underneath that overarching roof, putting in various rafters that hold that roof up. The factors that should be taken into account include things like placing the child near-well, actually, first of all, I should say that there is a hierarchy to this.
First and foremost, placing the child with family or friends should be taken into consideration, and relatives in particular, if possible, because we take the position that that is a responsibility that the state should take into account. If it is possible to place within the family, it should be the first consideration, but there is not an absolute duty to do so. Beyond that, you need to look at factors like whether they can be placed within the authority. In other words, can you place them within their area? Can you place them near their school? Can you place them in such a way that it will not be disruptive to them?
Q53 <Chairman:> One of the factors relates to prison education. If a young person comes out of young offenders institution and goes back to the community from which they came, you can guess that they will go back into their old circle with its drug addiction or whatever. Sometimes the best option for a young person who has perhaps been abused, physically or sexually, or has just been running with pretty wild kids, is to be away from their environment. In some circumstances their best chance of thriving would be out of the community from which they came. Will the Bill inhibit that?
<Kevin Brennan:> That is a good example of the sort of factors that would have to be taken into account in making such a decision. In considering whether the child should go back to their parents, the test is stronger and quite rightly so in relation to the state's involvement in family life. That test is: is that child safe living with their parents? If the answer to that question is yes, they go back to their parents even if it is a dodgy area. The state does not have the right to pick and choose who the parents are.
Having said that, if it is not safe and the local authority is considering a placement there is a duty to consider whether they can place the child with family and friends and that is a stronger duty than the other duties. However, it is entirely consistent that they might decide, given that the test in this case is to safeguard and promote the child's welfare, that the aim would be better served by placing the child somewhere out of that area. It is completely open to the local authority, in exercising that judgment, to take that decision.
<Mr. Chaytor:> That was a helpful clarification of the distinction.
Q54 <Mrs. Hodgson:> I should like to ask about post-18 foster care. There seems to be no provision in the Bill for foster children to stay with their foster parents between 18 and 21. Do you consider the current arrangements for continuing care post-18 for children who are fostered to be adequate?
<Kevin Brennan:> In that area we are piloting arrangements to make it easier for young people to be able to stay with their foster carers up to the age of 21. They are legally adults when they reach the age of 18. Clearly there are complexities around the financial implications for all concerned in doing that. It already happens, but it is reported back to us that it is very tricky. Sometimes local authorities wonder whether what they are doing is entirely legal. So we are piloting arrangements, because we want to be able to allow young people, who have been looked after up to the age of 18, to have more permanency and stability and to stay with foster carers if they can up to the age of 21. We are piloting arrangements with a view to getting the right structure in place so that we can do that more broadly across the piece. As I said earlier, on average young people leave home at the age of 24. In the past the assumption has been that you can drop the young person off that cliff edge at 16, and that even with all their other problems they will pick themselves up and be able to cope. Clearly this is something we are keen to develop.
Q55 <Mrs. Hodgson:> Will it require new primary legislation if you decide to do something? Should you not be looking to do that with this Bill?
<Kevin Brennan:> It may do, but that depends on what evidence comes out of the pilot. We need to understand more clearly the various implications of allowing young people to stay with their foster carers up to 21, in terms of benefits and taxation and the legal status of that relationship between the foster carer and the young person. We have powers to regulate the carers of 18 to 21-year-olds under existing legislation, or under the Health and Social Care Bill if it proves necessary. It may be possible to do it through secondary legislation.
<Chairman:> Let us go on to the last section, which is on youth justice and health issues. Fiona will lead us on that.
Q56 <Fiona Mactaggart:> Absolutely. We know that a lot of looked-after children unfortunately end up in the youth justice system. I am concerned about what happens when those children leave custody-often they are still children. Do they lose their looked-after status when they go to jail? Are they still looked-after children when they leave jail? What is going on? What are the proper arrangements for them?
<Kevin Brennan:> This is where the definition issue comes in regarding looked-after children and children in care. Looked-after children is a broader definition, and includes every child and young person who is in care, whether they are in care as a result of a care order, or voluntarily accommodated-in other words, "I have a teenager I cannot cope with any more, and the local authority is going to have to look after them."
In the latter case, where a young person is voluntarily accommodated and they go into youth custody, they lose their looked-after status. We have been concerned about that, which is why we are making it a requirement in the Bill that they should be visited by the local authority. You are quite right that young people in those instances may be effectively forgotten. The institution where they are kept in custody is unaware of their history and previous status, and proper planning does not take place for when they come out. The Bill will make it a requirement that they be visited by the local authority by whom they were previously looked after-although they have technically lost looked-after status-with a view to having proper plans in place for when they come out, whether that means going back and living with their parents, moving on to some sort of independent living or, as I think it will be in many cases, being looked after again by the local authority when they come out of custody. That would be part of the planning process.
Q57 <Fiona Mactaggart:> Who will these visitors be, and what powers will they have?
<Kevin Brennan:> They will be visitors from the local authority children's services department. They will have a duty to visit the young person in prison and then to collaborate with the youth justice authorities on planning for that person's education while they are held in custody and, in particular, for what happens when they come out of custody.
Q58 <Fiona Mactaggart:> I wish them luck. As someone who, through a charity, has spent quite a lot of effort trying to collaborate with youth justice authorities to provide housing for young people leaving prison, I have to say that, because their targets say that if they have given the young person advice or found them a place on a sofa for one night they think they have passed, it is often the case that young people leaving prison go into homelessness almost instantly and, therefore, into a great deal of vulnerability. Are there particular provisions in relation to the housing of these young people?
<Kevin Brennan:> I think what the provision does is to create a duty for there to be co-operation under section 10 of the Children Act 2004. Taking on board your point about that, you are quite right that there has in the past been too little planning for the housing of young people coming out of custody, who are often very vulnerable. We hope that this provision and the creation of this extra duty will very much improve that situation.
Q59 <Fiona Mactaggart:> So do I. How will we know if it does? How is this kind of thing going to be reported?
<Kevin Brennan:> Part of the Care Matters agenda is that there will be an annual ministerial stocktake of how implementation of the plan is developing. It may well be that you will want to play a role in having a look at that stocktake, and at how things are going.
Q60 <Fiona Mactaggart:> I think there would be much merit in that. We have a problem with ministerial stocktakes in various fields. I am not saying that is the case in your Department, but Departments stocktake internally and do not necessarily tell the world the consequences of stocktakes sometimes. I am thinking of immigration policy, for example.
<Kevin Brennan:> It is absolutely vital that that stocktake is properly scrutinised and people have an opportunity to comment on it and hold us to account.
Q61 <Fiona Mactaggart:> Let us look at health. In your opening remarks, you were talking about the kind of fields in which looked-after children do not thrive as well as other children, and one of them was health. Do local authorities and primary care trusts work well enough together in dealing with the health of looked-after children?
<Kevin Brennan:> Probably not, historically. That is why we are introducing the statutory duty that I mentioned to require, for the first time, health authorities to work in partnership with local authorities to promote the health of looked-after children. The revised guidance, which is statutory guidance, will be published towards the end of this year. There has been improvement in recent years and there are lots of good signs that there is more signing-up to making sure that co-operation happens. It is very welcome that in the newly published operating framework for the health service, children's health is more clearly indicated as important. As I said, there is already a duty whereby PCTs and strategic health authorities should co-operate in relation to promoting the well-being of children, but what we hope this duty will do is to make it clear that looked-after children should be a priority within the duty to co-operate, particularly in relation to the duty to co-operate with local authorities. What has tended to happen is that where there is good practice across the country it works very well, but the reason we think we need the statutory duty is to make sure that it happens more universally.
Q62 <Fiona Mactaggart:> As Annette pointed out, one of the health issues for looked-after children is mental health. The Chair and I were both members of a panel on young runaways. We know that looked-after children are more likely to run away than other young people, and quite often some of these duties just mean that institutions report that they have run away, for example. That is one of the reasons why they are recorded as running away more often. Parents might intervene, rather than report to the police that a young person has run away, and recover the young person faster. I am wondering whether all the duties to co-operate and so on carry the risk that we might end up back in the situation where there is a slightly box-ticking-not particularly deliberately; not because people are bad-mentality of "Oh, we've co-operated," and people have not actually used their nous to put young people in a better situation. What are you doing to avoid that?
<Kevin Brennan:> On the issue of runaways, as you know, we commissioned a report from the Children's Society, and our response to it came out quite recently. We have set up a cross-departmental working group that is reporting by the summer on how we can improve performance across the country in relation to the response to young runaways, and in particular look at the sort of provision for emergency accommodation when young people run away from home. We recognise on that particular issue that there is more to be done to achieve it. You are right: it is no good just ticking boxes about co-operation between different institutions; it has to have a practical reality on the ground. This involves part of the new framework for local authorities and health in relation to local area agreement and joint commissioning. Everybody tells us when we go out and talk to people in the system that good relationships and proper joint commissioning between, for example, health and local authorities in relation to matters such as CAMHS-child and adolescent mental health services-are vital.
Since 2000, the spending by local authorities on CAMHS has gone up from £10 million to £91 million. In the health service, it has gone up from £10 million to £50 million. There has been a huge investment in this area. One of the reasons why under the children's plan we announced a review of CAMHS is that we have had that huge investment but are we really achieving the right sort of co-ordination that is needed? Are we looking properly at CAMHS as it relates to things that are happening in our schools, such as the social and emotional aspects of learning programme and the other investment we are making in mental health within schools?
There has been an increase in the number of child and adolescent mental health services specifically dedicated to looked-after children. This is clearly an area where there has been a lot of investment but where we have to look very carefully to make sure we are getting the impact that is required. Where you get it right it can have an immensely beneficial impact on young people. You can see that through the social and emotional aspects of learning programme in primary schools.
Q63 <Fiona Mactaggart:> I agree. I would ask you in this process to think very carefully not about what you can do after young people have run away but how you can prevent it.
The evidence we heard was compelling. Collaboration between police, health authorities, local authorities and voluntary organisations in particular, to find out why young people were unhappy and what they were running away from or to, and putting in place the kind of intervention that a parent would in these circumstances-it is not always easy for a parent to do so-seemed to make a massive difference.
One of the things we have to get out of this Bill is that the state when it is the parent should be like a parent. I can see that that is the ambition of this but there is always a risk that bureaucracy is stupid. It does not mean to be stupid but it is. It says, "Right, we have collaborated. That is what we are required to do by the Act." It does not intervene and act and so on.
I am sorry, Chairman, that this is not really a question. My real urge is to try to find ways of structuring guidance around the Bill and what happens as a result of the Bill to reduce that capacity for stupidity in the state when it is a parent. Otherwise we will carry on letting down young people even though our intentions are of the best.
<Kevin Brennan:> I agree entirely.
Q64 <Chairman:> It is interesting, though, Minister, listening to you today-and this is not a criticism-that when we are wearing our other hat on schools we are constantly talking about the quality, motivation and training of the work force, and the way in which we pay and provision it, because without a highly motivated, well-trained, good-quality teaching force you are on a loser in terms of providing good education. The work force issues here are very complex-having highly motivated, well-paid and well-trained people right across the piece. It is difficult and tough working with these children because the problems are complex and sometimes very hard work. Is the work force issue one that worries you?
<Kevin Brennan:> It is a key part of the reforms, Chairman. That is why there is a lot of work going on to develop an action plan to engage on that journey of improving the status, quality, recruitment and retention of the work force, opening it up to a broader range of people-perhaps with more mature people coming in-and opening up all those pathways. Eventually, that leads on to issues of reward and pay and so on. At this stage in the comprehensive spending review settlement we have an allocation to take forward that remodelling of the children's work force and there will be significant announcements during the course of this year in relation to that.
Q65 <Chairman:> Given your responsibilities, in your view how long is a child a child?
<Kevin Brennan:> We as a Department have direct responsibility for children up to the age of 19. Legally, a child is no longer a child when they reach the age of 18, but the truth is that people develop at different rates. We have to have a legal age of majority, but when a child is no longer a child varies according to the individual. We now recognise more than ever, in relation to children and young people-as we refer to them-in care, that that responsibility does not stop at the age of 16 or 18, but continues into adulthood. We, as a state, have a continuing responsibility to those young people after they have left care, and we are extending that through the Bill.
Q66 <Chairman:> That is reassuring, because some worrying comments were made during the debate on the Education and Skills Bill about the age at which children cease to be children. I found that worrying because I value the protection that young people have, especially through to the age of 18. A recent campaign in my constituency has focused on some of the real problem cases: the vulnerable children-usually girls, but sometimes boys-who are sexually exploited, usually by ruthless men who get them into prostitution and drug addiction and so on. You often find that the social services and children's services are very active until such a child is 16, but they totally back off after that. The problem does not go away for a young girl who has been coaxed by a pimp into that kind of life, and that worries me both as a constituency MP and as Chairman of the Committee.
<Kevin Brennan:> That is exactly why we have taken powers in the Bill to promote the well-being of care leavers beyond the age of 16. I am keen to emphasise that the old idea, which, to be fair, the Children (Leaving Care) Act 2000 did some work on, that children drop off a cliff edge at the age of 16 is completely wrong, because the responsibility extends well beyond that.
Q67 <Chairman:> Will you take that message back to your colleagues and stand robustly against those people who say that it is otherwise? I spoke in a debate on that in the House, and it is an irony that the children of most of the people taking part will not go into paid employment until well into their 20s, although we expect children at 16 to go into work without any training or education. There are still two worlds for children, and I passionately believe that that is wrong.
<Kevin Brennan:> The Bill also contains a clause that will give the Secretary of State the duty to promote the welfare of children, which I think will be fairly broadly welcomed, and gives him the power to promote the welfare of young people beyond the age of 18, which dovetails with the point that you are making.
<Chairman:> I brought that point up because the best evidence about those things can be found in one's own constituency. I have talked to the police and children's services across Yorkshire and discovered that there are systematic and organised gangs preying on looked-after children, especially young females. They are absolutely organised, and I hope that the Bill will do something to redress that. Actually, it is the campaigns by Helen Southworth on runaway children and by Sharon Hodgson on dyslexia that highlight those issues, so we still have a role in our constituencies as well.
Q68 <Mr. Chaytor:> I have just a couple of quick points for clarification. Is there an existing duty of co-operation between primary care trusts and local authorities, or will there be such a duty in the Bill?
<Kevin Brennan:> There is an existing duty on local authorities, but it is not a statutory duty on PCTs and strategic health authorities. However, it will become a statutory duty as a result not of the Bill, but of the Government issuing new statutory guidance in relation to the Children Act 2004 by the end of the year.
<Chairman:> You have been handed an urgent piece of paper.
<Kevin Brennan:> I hope that it is telling me what I just said, Chairman.
<Mr. Chaytor:> Let us wait and see if it does say what you have just said.
<Kevin Brennan:> It concerns statutory guidance on how child and adolescent mental health services should provide dedicated provision. Suddenly, I have received further divine inspiration during the course of saying that. We intend to put guidance on promoting the health of looked-after children on a statutory footing for health services as well as for local authorities, which is the point I have just made. The detail that I did not give you was that we will do that under sections 10(8) and 11(8) of the Children Act 2004. That will cover strategic health authorities, primary care trusts, NHS trusts, NHS foundation trusts, and, as is already the case, local authorities.
Q69 <Mr. Chaytor:> That is even more useful, because my second question is whether this simply leads one to reiterate the concerns that Fiona Mactaggart expressed earlier about people in different organisations passing memos to each other? Surely, the service is going in a direction where front-line responsibility will not necessarily lie with the local authority if independent social care providers take on a larger share of the work. What duties will be placed on independent social care providers to co-operate?
Secondly, what are the implications of practice-based commissioning for PCTs? My concern is that it is all well and good to put the duty to co-operate between PCTs and local authorities in a particular subsection, but if, in reality, the front-line day-to-day responsibility lies with the GPs, and they are now commissioning the service at practice level, or with independent social care providers, they are the people who ought to be co-operating, and yet no statutory duty covers that.
<Kevin Brennan:> We believe that it would be wrong to tinker too directly at that level within the health service. There needs to be sufficient flexibility for local commissioning. With regard to the relationships of social work practices, as I said earlier, the local authority remains the corporate parent in that sense, so that obligation is applicable to the social work practice. In designing the model contracts for these new relationships, with which our Department will be closely involved, those factors will be taken into account. If a social work practice was not following that sort of conduct, the council would want to terminate its contract with them.
Q70 <Mr. Chaytor:> Following on from your comments about GPs, is there not a risk that the Government could find themselves in the same position as they are with academies? Because academies are not defined as maintained schools and are therefore outside the legislation, you subsequently have to legislate to bring them in if the academy or individual GP is not following good and reasonable practice. Is it not better to bring them in from the start so that the ground rules are clear from day one?
<Kevin Brennan:> We follow the general principle of not legislating unless we have to. There are probably good, long-established reasons for doing that. If your fears were realised, we would have to look at the matter in detail.
Members of the Committee might be interested to know that, although I did not have the opportunity to use them, I have the statistics on looked-after children for each of their local authority areas. You may already have those, but if not, you may find them helpful.
<Chairman:> That would be most useful. Annette Brooke has a tail-end question.
Q71 <Annette Brooke:> I wanted to ask a little more about private providers, particularly when children's homes are located some way away from the area from which the young person comes. I appreciate that the Bill will try to overcome such placements, but it will not happen overnight.
One problem that has been reported to me is that a local authority will not necessarily notify another local authority of a child who is moving into its area. Another is that Ofsted might do an inspection of a home but not communicate with the host local authority, and, of course, the local youth offending team might want to know more about the child. I am sure that I can throw health into the pot here as well. We have spoken a lot about making everything more joined up, but what about those children who are not in their original area-are we convinced that we have enough measures in place now, while hopefully we move to a different situation over time? I can see that we must have at least 10 more years of this.
<Kevin Brennan:> We are doing more to try to join that up, in particular in relation to inspection. For example, if the inspection shows that there is a problem in a particular children's home it will become the duty of the inspector to inform every local authority in the country of that problem.
Q72 <Annette Brooke:> Did you say "become"? Is that not the case now?
<Kevin Brennan:> That is correct. I think that I am right in saying that we are creating a new duty in the inspection system to ensure that every local authority in the country is informed if there is a problem in a particular children's home. In addition, we are introducing new powers-inspectors will be able to put a freeze on new entries into a children's home, for example. If they think it would be wrong to close a home down, and create the kind of instability that we have talked about for those young people, they may issue a notice for improvement and give the home time in which to improve. In the meantime, if they have concerns they can impose a freeze on new entries, as an extra lever in relation to improving the quality of care in that home. That again would be notified to every local authority.
Q73 <Annette Brooke:> Is there a duty on the home, local authority, PCT, etc. to notify the host authorities?
<Kevin Brennan:> Of the presence of that child in their area?
<Annette Brooke:> Yes. Is there that duty now? It appears not to be happening-I have quite a few examples.
<Kevin Brennan:> I think that there is a duty and it would be a breach of the regulations if that did not happen. I am fairly sure that that is the case, Chairman; I will confirm to you if it is not. I think that a local authority already has a duty to inform the local authority in which the home is located. That is the point that I think is being made.
Q74 <Chairman:> How many homes are there roughly, around the country?
<Kevin Brennan:> I do not know the number. All I do know is that 13% of the 60,000 young people in care are in residential accommodation of that kind. I can certainly write to you with the exact figures.
<Chairman:> Minister, it has been an informative session and an excellent start for our look at the Bill. Thank you for your attendance and for being on the ball after the very late night we all had.
<Kevin Brennan:> Thank you.