2 The care system in England|
10. At any one time around 60,000 children are looked
after by local authorities in England, representing roughly 0.5%
of all children. Children
enter care for many different reasons. 62% of the current care
population came into care because of abuse or neglect; others
due to family "dysfunction" or "acute stress",
absent parenting, a parental illness or disability, or "socially
unacceptable behaviour". Four per cent are looked after because
of their own disability, and just under six per cent are unaccompanied
11. The Children Act 1989 provided two main routes
through which children could become looked after: care orders
and voluntary accommodation. A care order is a court order made
under section 31 of the 1989 Act which places a child compulsorily
in the care of a designated local authority. The court may only
make a care order if it is satisfied that the child is suffering,
or is likely to suffer, significant harm attributable to the care
given or likely to be given to the child, or to the child being
beyond parental control. The local authority assumes parental
responsibility, shared with the birth parents, for that child.
Under section 20 of the 1989 Act, children can come into the care
of a local authority by a voluntary agreement. Parental responsibility
remains with the parents or primary carer, and parents may remove
their children from such accommodation at any time, without notice.
At 31st March 2008, 63% of looked-after children were
on interim or full care orders, and 30% were voluntarily accommodated.
Most of the remainder were placed for adoption.
12. The number of children in care has fallen significantly
over the past 30 years, reaching a low in the mid-1990s. Numbers
then rose modestly to 2004, since when they have fallen very slightly.
Surprisingly, fewer children are now entering care than in 1994,
when the care population was at its lowest, but they are staying
longer. This is strongly
associated with the greater proportion who are in care under section
31 care orders rather than section 20 voluntary agreements.
However, these proportions vary widely between local authorities.
As many as 85,000 children will spend some time in care over the
course of a year, with many entering and leaving the system very
rapidly; only 13% stay in the care system for five years or more.
Many children will have more than one spell in care.
Source: Health Committee, Second Report of Session
1997-98, Children looked after by local authorities, HC 319-I;
DH, Children Looked After by LAs, year ending 31 March 1998; DCSF,
Statistical First Release 40, November 2004; DCSF, Statistical
First Release 23, September 2008.
13. Despite falling numbers of children in care,
the rising unit costs of placements has led to a substantial increase
in expenditure. Total
gross expenditure on children in care in 2007-08 was £2.19
billion, 51% of which was spent on fostering services and 41%
on children's homes. The average cost per looked-after child per
week across all placements was £774. For children in residential
homes the average was £2,428, and for foster care £489.
71% of looked-after children are cared for in foster placements,
living with an individual in their family home.
Foster carers must be approved by fostering services registered
with Ofsted; these can be local authorities, or voluntary or private
sector agencies. There are currently 276 independent and 140 local
authority fostering agencies.
14% are placed in residential care, principally in Ofsted-registered
children's homes. Ofsted inspect fostering services and children's
homes against National Minimum Standards, introduced under the
Care Standards Act 2000. In 2006, only around a quarter of children's
homes were meeting 90% or more of the Standards; one in four fostering
services were failing to meet the standard on providing suitable
Figure 3: Expenditure on looked-after children,
numbers of children looked after and number of days of care provided,
years ending 31 March
Source: Beyond Care Matters: Future of the care
population working group (DfES 2007)
14. Each child in the care system should have a "care
plan" setting out their needs and the services required to
meet them. A care plan should be drawn up before the child becomes
looked after, or in the case of emergency entry to care, within
14 days. It includes a health plan and personal education plan,
and informs the decision about the most appropriate placement
for the child. Statutory reviews of care plans should take place
at least every six months, chaired by social workers with no involvement
in the case (Independent Reviewing Officers).
Historical development of the
15. The historical development of the child care
system in England has been influenced by shifts of emphasis in
ideas about the purpose of the system, often precipitated by scandals
and their impact on public opinion.
Prior to the Second World War, provision for children who could
not live with their parents had principally evolved from workhouses
under the 1834 Poor Law. The death of a child, Dennis O'Neill,
beaten and starved to death in 1945 in a foster home subject only
to cursory inspection, prompted a wholesale review. The Curtis
Report, published in 1946, set out the basic form of the present
care system and the principles underlying it, including the ideal
of bringing up each child in a way resembling as closely as possible
ordinary family life. The Children Act 1948 established children's
departments in every local authority to oversee children's care
as a result. Since then, the balance of policy has tipped back
and forth between attempts to improve the care system and attempts
to keep children out of it.
The latter included the 1963 Children and Young Persons Act, which
for the first time authorised local authorities to spend money
in order to avoid the need to receive children into care, and
the 1975 Children Act which introduced measures to make it easier
for children to be adopted.
16. Our predecessors, the Social Services Select
Committee, published an influential report on the subject of children
in care in 1984.
They criticised the care system for its failure to plan effectively
for children, disregard of parents' rights, neglect of children's
education, and the poor outcomes of care leavers. The Committee
concluded that the system needed to be rebalanced to allow for
more family support alongside out-of-home care and adoption. Their
recommendation that a Child Care committee be established was
accepted, and the work produced by that group led to the Children
Act 1989. This profoundly important piece of legislation rationalised
a large body of regulation concerning children in care. It sought
to put the emphasis back on care as a service to parents rather
than a punishment for inadequacy (hence voluntary "accommodation"),
emphasised parents' rights and the least possible use of coercion,
and introduced the category of "children in need", for
whom local authorities were now required to provide services.
The 1989 Act also affirmed the right of children to be consulted
on matters which concern them. An associated development was the
"Looked-After Children system", a planning and recording
system rolled out through the early 1990s better to assess and
promote good outcomes for children in care.
17. In practice, the good intentions of the Children
Act 1989 were subject to the resource constraints under which
local authorities operated, and child protection work increasingly
dominated children's social services to the detriment of family
support and active intervention with children in care.
A number of child abuse scandals in residential homes in England
and Wales came to light in the 1990s, and were investigated in
reports by Sir William Utting (1997) and Sir Ronald Waterhouse
(2000). Concerns raised by these reports led again to a greater
emphasis on adoption as a route out of care, in a review commissioned
by the then Prime Minister, Tony Blair.
The initiative led to the introduction of the Adoption and Children
18. In 1998 the Department of Health launched the
Quality Protects programme to support councils in transforming
the management and delivery of children's social services. The
programme led to the development of a number of key indicators
of excessive movement between placements, and set outcome targets
for all aspects of looked-after children's lives. It was backed
by additional spending of £885 million over five years.
Quality Protects introduced the concept of "corporate
parenting". The principle is that the local authority as
a whole is the corporate parent of children in care, and thus
has a legal and moral duty to provide the kind of support that
any good parents would provide for their own children. This was
to include enhancing children's quality of life as well as simply
keeping them safe.
19. The Care Standards Act 2000 supported the introduction
of National Minimum Standards for child care provision, and the
Children (Leaving Care) Act 2000 extended local authority responsibilities
towards former looked-after children.
A new initiative, Choice Protects, was launched in March
2002 to improve outcomes for looked-after children through better
placement stability, matching and choice. This programme was motivated
partly by recognition that the emphasis on adoption had in some
local authorities been achieved at the expense of improving standards
and choice in foster and residential placements.
In 2003, a Social Exclusion Unit report on the education of children
in care highlighted the factors behind this group of children's
markedly poor educational performance; the Children Act 2004 would
impose a duty on local authorities to promote the education of
children in care.
20. The 2003 Green Paper Every Child Matters
widened the policy focus to all children, not just those in care,
stressing the need for multi-agency collaboration and early intervention.
The changes precipitated by Every Child Matters included
the bringing together of responsibility for education and children's
social services in the same government department for the first
time since the 1940s, and the formation of children's services
departments in local authorities with the same responsibilities.
Lead Members and Directors of Children's Services became responsible
for corporate parenting locally. Our predecessor Committee examined
some of the issues relating to the Every Child Matters agendaa
number of which remain highly relevant to the present inquiryin
Current issues and Care Matters
21. Some improvements in the situation of children
in or leaving care have been achieved since the 1990s; there have
been increases in the proportion of care leavers in education
and employment at age 19, for example, and far more care leavers
now remain in touch with their local authority.
However, despite the large deployment of expertise and resources
by the Quality Protects and Choice Protects initiatives,
outcomes for children in care remain poor. In 2007, 13% of looked-after
children who sat their GCSEs obtained at least 5 at grades A*
to C, compared with 62% of all children. Attainment at Key Stages
1, 2 and 3 is also substantially lower for looked-after children,
and they are seven times more likely to be permanently excluded
from school. At the end of Year 11, 66% of children in care remained
in full-time education compared to 80% of all school-leavers.
Looked-after children aged 10 or over are more than twice as likely
as other children to be cautioned or convicted for an offence.
In the long term, those who have been in care are over-represented
among teenage parents, drug users and prisoners.
Outcomes are poor even when compared to other children with roughly
comparable backgrounds and problems.
22. It was in recognition of this apparent lack of
progress in outcomes, and continued evidence of chronic instability
in looked-after children's lives, that the Government's Green
Paper Care Matters was published in 2006. The Green Paper
Quite simply, it is now clear that this help
[the Quality Protects programme] has not been sufficient.
The life chances of all children have improved but those of children
in care have not improved at the same rate. The result is that
children in care are now at greater risk of being left behind
than was the case a few years agothe gap has actually grown.
This is neither acceptable nor inevitable and we are determined
through the proposals in this Green Paper to first halt the trend
and secondly to reverse it. Addressing every aspect of these children's
lives and every public service they encounter, the Green Paper
aims to transform both the way in which the care system works
for children and the quality of experience they and others on
the edge of entering or leaving care actually receive. And in
doing this, we are determined to put the voice of the child in
care at the centre both of our reforms and of day-to-day practice.
23. The premise of the Care Matters programme
was that the corporate parent's aspirations for children in care
should be exactly the same as any parent's aspirations for their
own child. Poor outcomes for looked-after children are partly
explicable by their extremely challenging and disadvantaged circumstances
prior to coming into care, but the Government stated that "it
is inexcusable and shameful that the care system seems all too
often to reinforce this early disadvantage, rather than helping
children to successfully overcome it." Time in care, however
short, should make a positive difference to a child's life.
24. In our report on the Children and Young Persons
Bill, we referred to the progression from Green Paper to White
Paper and to legislation as "an exemplary way for policy
to be developed and implemented", and we congratulated the
Government for a "thorough and serious consultative process".
Although we have heard much evidence that suggests the principles
on which Care Matters is based need to be followed through
with greater rigour and ambition, we stand by our assessment of
the Government's process for arriving at its reform programme.
25. Care Matters acknowledges the majority
of the problems that we have highlighted in our evidence. We do
not doubt the Government's commitment to tackling these problems.
What we have sought to concentrate on is where we believe that
the excellent aspirations of the reform programme have not been
rigorously carried through, where underlying causes of problems
have not been addressed, or where opportunities for some sections
of the care population have been missed.
26. We firmly believe that care should be seen as
a potential solution for children and families in certain very
difficult circumstances. It is, however, dispiriting to consider
just how intractable serious deficiencies in the care system have
been. The preoccupations of the Curtis Report included lack of
stability, a shortage of good quality foster homes, and the low
expectations that society had for children growing up in care.
More than 60 years later, we still hear of children who go through
multiple placements each year, children being slotted in to placements
wherever a bed happens to be available, and teachers whose expectations
for children's achievement far underestimate the child's own hopes.
That is not to deny that significant advances have of course been
made; the care system today rests on a much more solid foundation,
achieved by steady progress in legislation and in understanding
of children. We must remember that there are children who experience
the modern care system who are able to thrive because of it. However,
we would be unwise to underestimate the challenges we continue
to face in providing our most vulnerable children and young people
with care in a stable and loving environment.
5 The figure as at 31 March 2008 was 59,500.
DCSF, Statistical First Release 23, September 2008 Back
Martin Narey, Beyond Care Matters: Future of the care population
working group report (DfES June 2007), p 9; Care Matters
Green Paper, para 1.18 Back
Beyond Care Matters, para 19 Back
Ibid., para 21 Back
Care Matters Green Paper, para 1.23 Back
Beyond Care Matters, para 28; Care Matters Green
Paper, para 1.13 Back
NHS Information Centre, Personal Social Services Expenditure
and Unit Costs England 2007-08, February 2009 Back
DCSF, Statistical First Release 23, September 2008 Back
Ev 311 [Ofsted] Back
Care Matters Green Paper, paras 1.36-7 Back
Sonia Jackson, "Looking after children away from home, past
and present", in Chase, Simon and Jackson (eds.), In care
and after: a positive perspective (Abingdon, 2006) Back
Jackson, 'Looking after children', p16 Back
Social Services Committee, Second Report of Session 1983-84,
Children in care, HC 360 Back
Jackson, 'Looking after children', p19 Back
Ibid., p 20; Q 57 [Professor Tunstill] Back
Care Matters Green Paper, para 1.11 Back
Ibid., para 1.10 Back
See para 180 below. Back
June Thoburn, Children in public out-of-home care: 21 years
of policy (Action for Children, 2008), p 4 Back
Social Exclusion Unit, A Better Education for Children in
Care, September 2003 Back
Education and Skills Committee, Ninth Report of Session 2004-05,
Every Child Matters, HC 40-I Back
Care Matters Green Paper, para 1.11; the proportion of
care leavers in education and employment at the age of 19 rose
from 46% in 2002 to 59% in 2005, and over the same period the
proportion remaining in touch with their local authority rose
from 75% to 89%. Back
Care Matters Green Paper, para 1.16 Back
Ibid., para 1.14 Back
Ibid., Foreword Back
Ibid., para 1.3 Back
Children, Schools and Families Committee, First Report of Session
2007-08, Children and Young Persons Bill [Lords], HC 359,
para 1 Back
See paras 61 and 84 below; Q 17 [Martin Narey]. Back