Looked-after Children - Children, Schools and Families Committee Contents

1  Introduction

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.[1] 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.[2] 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.[3] 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 views.

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 Bill.

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.[4]

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 Paper) Back

2   DfES, Care Matters: Time for change, Cm 7137, June 2007 (White Paper) Back

3   Children, Schools and Families Committee, First Report of Session 2007-08, Children and Young Persons Bill [Lords], HC 359 Back

4   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

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