1. In October 2006 the Government launched a long
period of consultation and policy development about looked-after
children with the publication of the Green Paper Care Matters:
Transforming the lives of children and young people in care.
Several aspects of the Green Paper were considered in detail by
a series of working groups, and the revised proposals were then
contained in the White Paper, Care Matters: Time for change
published in June 2007.
The Children and Young Persons Bill was introduced to provide
for the changes which required primary legislation, and received
Royal Assent in November 2008.
2. This Committee came into being following the creation
of the Department for Children, Schools and Families in June 2007.
We felt it was important for us to consider from the outset the
full range of the Department's responsibilities for children and
young people, and we decided to focus on some of the most vulnerable
among this section of the population: children who are in the
care of the state because they cannot live safely with their own
parents. The Care Matters Green and White Papers provided
ample evidence of the need for urgent improvement in services
for children in care. We wanted to understand the reasons for
the apparently poor performance of the care system in England,
to consider whether the Government's extensive proposals for reform
were soundly based and likely to succeed, and to find out whether
the Care Matters programme would go far enough in its ambitions
for looked-after children.
3. We issued a call for written evidence on 18 December
2007. We asked for evidence in two stages. The first stage was
an examination of the provisions of the Children and Young Persons
Bill, in order that we might assist the House in its consideration
of the legislation. We took oral evidence from Kevin Brennan MP,
then Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Children, Young
People and Families, and published our Report on the Bill on 20
March 2008. The Report
set out our thoughts on selected aspects of the draft legislation,
including social work practices, support for post-16 education
and training, post-18 fostering, and representation of children's
4. The second, more extensive phase of our deliberations
was an examination of provision for looked-after children in the
context of the whole Care Matters programme. We invited
written evidence on the topics addressed in the White Paper: corporate
parenting, family support, care placements, education, health
and wellbeing, transition to adulthood, and the role of the practitioner.
This inquiry has allowed us not only to broaden our knowledge
and vision, but to re-visit in greater detail some of the issues
we commented on in the report on the Children and Young Persons
5. We received nearly 40 written memoranda on these
broader topics. Witnesses from a wide range of organisations came
to give us oral evidence; they are listed at the back of the report.
We conducted visits to Copenhagen, Hampshire County Council and
the London Borough of Merton, and would like to record our thanks
to those who hosted us and helped us deepen our understanding
of the care system as a result. We are particularly grateful to
the parents, foster carers and young people who gave up their
time to meet with us informally under the auspices of the NCH
Phoenix Project, the Fostering Network and A National Voice respectively.
Their insights and experiences have been invaluable. We would
also like to extend our thanks to our Specialist Adviser, Dame
Gillian Pugh, for her help throughout the inquiry.
6. The inquiry's oral evidence sessions took place
from March to December 2008. Inevitably during that time the context
continued to evolve, not least through the passage of the Children
and Young Persons Bill and a change of ministerial personnel.
Implementation of the Care Matters programme began in earnest,
and some specific initiatives such as the 2020 Children and Young
People's Workforce Strategy were launched. We have taken account
of these developments in drawing our conclusions.
7. The development that had the most profound impact
on our thinking was the news that emerged in November 2008 about
the circumstances of the death of Baby P. The details of this
appalling tragedy underlined the seriousness of our task in weighing
up the merits of the child care system and the effectiveness of
family support services. We extended the inquiry to take further
oral evidence in the light of these events, and, although many
of the lessons of that particular case relate to child protection
practice rather than the looked-after system, we were as a result
able to reflect more deeply on issues such as the entry point
to care and the role of social workers. It is a sobering thought
that a lack of confidence in the state's ability to be a good
parent may contribute to professionals' reluctance to remove children
from their parents' care. Our ambition must be to ensure that
the care system can command the confidence of professionals, families,
the general public and most of all, children themselves.
8. "Children in care" describes children
who are looked after by a local authority under Part 3 of the
Children Act 1989. We are aware that, strictly speaking, the expression
"in care" should only be used in respect of a child
who is subject to a care order made under section 31 or section
38 of that Act. "Looked-after children" is the collective
term for children who are the subject of care orders, those voluntarily
accommodated by a local authority under section 20, and children
in certain other specific circumstances. We have, however, followed
the Care Matters White Paper in using the term "children
in care" to include all children being looked after by a
local authority, whether on a voluntary basis or under a care
order. Hence throughout this report we use "looked-after
children" and "children in care" interchangeably.
9. It has not been possible for us to comment on
every issue that has been raised with us either informally or
in evidence. We have decided to concentrate on particular themes,
but this should not be taken to imply that we do not consider
others to be important. We are particularly aware that we have
only lightly touched on services for disabled children in care,
use of adoption as a route out of care, and the importance of
facilitating safe returns for children to their own family home.
That education does not feature as a major theme is testament
to the high degree of consensus in favour of the range of educational
measures in Care Matters. We will maintain a keen interest
in how these measures are implemented and the impact they have.
1 DfES, Care Matters: Transforming the lives of
children and young people in care, Cm 6932, October 2006 (Green
DfES, Care Matters: Time for change, Cm 7137, June 2007
(White Paper) Back
Children, Schools and Families Committee, First Report of Session
2007-08, Children and Young Persons Bill [Lords], HC 359 Back
Dame Gillian Pugh is Chair of NCB (National Children's Bureau),
a Board member of the Training and Development Agency for Schools,
a member of the Children's Workforce Development Council, a member
of the DCSF/LGA 'Narrowing the Gap' project, and an adviser to
various sections of the Department for Children, Schools and Famillies. Back