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


Memorandum submitted by the Every Disabled Child Matters campaign (EDCM)

SUMMARY

    —  EDCM is the campaign to get rights and justice for every disabled child. The campaign has 28,000 individual supporters and a network of supporter organisations across the disability and children's sectors.

    —  EDCM strongly believes that disabled children in long-term residential placements should be given the protection of looked-after children status. Currently young disabled people can be in residential placements far from home for 52 weeks of the year, with little or no parental contact, without the protection that looked-after status offers.

    —  EDCM welcomes the amendment to the Children and Young Persons Bill that places a duty on local authorities to ensure a range of appropriate accommodation within the local area, that is sufficient to meet the needs of looked-after children. We urge the Committee to recognise that this duty could particularly benefit disabled young people, the majority of whom are currently placed a great distance from their families. EDCM encourages the Committee to recommend a shift in local planning, away from routinely placing disabled children far from home in expensive out-of-authority placements, towards developing local provision to meet local need.

    —  EDCM supports calls from The Children's Society and Voice to ensure the adequate supply of advocacy services to children in care, to ensure their views are heard in decisions about their lives. This is particularly crucial for young disabled people, who may face additional barriers to making their views known as a result of communication impairments.

    —  EDCM believes that access to essential communication aids should be a basic right for young disabled people who are looked-after. There is evidence that currently many disabled young people are missing out on these essential aids.[7] Our submission supports Scope's calls to secure this much-needed right.

    —  The government has recognised the need to improve services and support for families with disabled children through investing £430 million through the Aiming High for Disabled Children review. However, more needs to be done to ensure that this investment delivers for young disabled people in, or on the edge of, care. Our submission encourages the work of the Committee to dovetail with the Aiming High agenda, to ensure maximum benefit for all disabled children and young people wherever they live, and maximum returns on the government's investment.

INTRODUCTION

  1.  Every Disabled Child Matters (EDCM) is the campaign to get rights and justice for every disabled child. We want all disabled children and their families to have the right to the services and support they need to live ordinary lives. The campaign has 28,000 individual supporters and a network of supporter organisations across the disability and children's sectors, many of whom provide support to disabled young people in care.

  2.  The campaign is run by four leading organisations working with disabled children and their families—Contact a Family, Council for Disabled Children, Mencap and the Special Educational Consortium. We challenge politicians and policy-makers to make good on the Government's commitment that every child matters.

  3.  EDCM is grateful for the opportunity to submit evidence to the Committee on the critical issue of looked-after children, particularly as disabled children make up a large proportion of the care population. We would further appreciate the opportunity to give oral evidence to the Committee, if this would be of assistance.

  4.  Research shows that disabled children are more vulnerable to abuse than other children,[8] and are more likely to be placed in care at crisis point, further away from home than other children.[9]

  5.  These factors all increase safeguarding concerns for disabled young people placed away from home. These concerns are heightened further by the difficulty that some young disabled people have in accessing the communication aids they need to make their wishes known.

  6.  This submission focuses on our proposals to ensure young disabled people who are living away from home are kept safe, have a clear voice in decisions made about their care and their future, and are supported to achieve their full potential.

LOOKED-AFTER STATUS FOR YOUNG PEOPLE IN LONG-TERM PLACEMENTS

  7.  EDCM welcomes the improved framework that the Children and Young Persons Bill currently going through Parliament proposes to create for those children that have looked-after children (LAC) status. However, we have serious concerns that this has the potential to further disadvantage disabled children and young people who are living a long way from home, but do not have the protection of LAC status.

  8.  EDCM has serious concerns about young people in residential schools or long-term health placements who may be placed far from home for up to 52 weeks of the year, without the protection of looked-after status. We believe these children need and deserve the protection and support of LAC status. The 2005 review of disabled children in residential placements recommended more consistent application of "looked after status for disabled children spending long periods in residential placements, particularly where these are far from home".[10]

  9.  We have grave concerns that the measures outlined in the Children and Young Persons Bill to address this vulnerability will not deliver on a practical level. Clause 16, which proposes a visit to young people in this situation from the home authority, depends on sections 85/86 of the Children Act 1989, which require that the home authority is notified of children in long-term health or education placements. There is government research to suggest that many local authority officers are unaware of the existing provisions in section 85/86.[11] We welcome the attempt to provide a safety net for these children who are not currently offered any protection or support, but our concern is that whilst Sections 85/6 are not used, this attempt will have no effect.

  10.  More fundamentally still, EDCM believes that such a visit would provide insufficient protection and support for a disabled child placed a long way from home for 52 weeks of the year, with little or no contact from their family. The right approach is to ensure that these children are protected by looked-after children status.

  11.  We appreciate the assurances given by Lord Adonis at Committee stage in the House of Lords that most children in long-term placements should be looked after. We agree that the best way to achieve this is to create a flexible framework that can respond to individual needs. However, it is crucial that this framework ensures that where a young disabled person is placed a long way from home, their safety and well-being are given full consideration by the placing local authority. In some good practice local authorities this is already being done, in partnership with parents, as part of a children in need assessment.

  12.  We urge the committee to look at ways to ensure that disabled children in residential schools that do not have regular contact with their families receive the protection of LAC status. We believe there are ways to achieve this that still allow the flexibility to ensure that where the young person enjoys ongoing contact with their family, the local authority is not required to consider the young person as looked-after.

DEVELOPING LOCAL PROVISION FOR DISABLED CHILDREN IN CARE

  13.  EDCM is concerned about the current practice of routinely placing disabled children and young people far from home and welcomes provisions within the Children and Young Persons Bill to increase the number of looked after children placed locally to their home authority. This has the potential to transform the experiences of disabled children and young people placed away from home, the majority of whom are currently placed a great distance from their families.

  14.  This distance increases safeguarding concerns and makes it very difficult, if not impossible, for family and friends to stay in touch with the disabled child or young person, due to the higher cost implications of visiting them. It also adds to the sense of isolation felt by many young disabled people, particularly if their communication support needs mean that staff may struggle to communicate effectively with them.

  15.  EDCM challenges the assumption that many disabled young people have needs that are too complex to be met locally. There are a number of good examples of innovative short break services that cater for young people with very complex health and behavioural needs within their local communities. We suggest that learning from these examples, and in particular from the short break pathfinder areas announced as part of the Aiming High for Disabled Children programme, can be used to support local authorities in increasing local provision for looked-after children with complex needs.

  16.  We propose that local and regional commissioners should monitor their out-of-authority placements for young disabled people, and be required to plan future services to meet that need within the local region wherever possible. Local authorities should look at innovative regional commissioning to ensure that disabled children and young people can stay in their communities where that is in the best interests of the young person.

  17.  We urge the Committee to acknowledge the particular benefit this new duty could have for disabled children and young people. We encourage the Committee to recommend that this new duty leads to a shift in local planning, away from routinely placing disabled children far from home in expensive out-of-authority placements, towards developing local provision to meet local need.

THE NEED FOR INDEPENDENT ADVOCACY

  18.  EDCM echoes the concerns of Voice and The Children's Society that looked after children and young people continue not to be heard in decisions being made about their care, their protection and their lives, despite successive legislation and guidance requiring a range of professionals to ensure this happens.

  19.  We have particular concerns about disabled children placed away from home, who are some of the most vulnerable children and would benefit enormously from access to independent advocacy. These children often live many miles away from home, and complex impairments can mean they have serious difficulty communicating. When they feel isolated, unhappy, lonely or unsafe, there is often no-one who understands them.

  20.  A survey of advocacy services across England carried out by The Children's Society between April and December 2006 found alarmingly that a quarter of advocacy providers surveyed reported that they had not been able to respond to a referral from a disabled child.

  21.  EDCM supports the statement issued by The Children's Society and Voice on a right to advocacy for all looked-after children and young people, and urges the Committee to recommend that robust mechanisms are enacted to ensure that the most vulnerable young people—including disabled young people in the care system—have a voice.

A RIGHT TO ASSISTIVE AND AUGMENTATIVE COMMUNICATION SUPPORT

  22.  EDCM supports Scope's position that access to essential communication aids should be a basic right for young disabled people who are looked-after. Without these aids, it becomes impossible for the local authority to fulfil its duty to seek the views of young people with communication support needs. As with advocacy, IROs and visitors will not be effective unless disabled children and young people have a right to the aids and equipment they need to communicate their wishes and feelings. We urge the Committee to recommend a right to this equipment, and that the resources be made available to deliver on it.

CONCLUSION

  23.  EDCM welcomes the measures within the Children and Young Person's Bill to improve outcomes for young people in care, and the new political priority given to disabled children through Aiming High for Disabled Children. However, we have profound concerns about the fundamental gaps between these two initiatives in terms of the need for:

    —  looked-after status for disabled children in long-term placements;

    —  development of local and regional care provision;

    —  access to independent advocacy services; and

    —  rights to essential augmentative and alternative communication aids.

  24.  Disabled children and young people in, or on the edge of, care face profound and multiple social exclusion and increased safeguarding challenges. Action against our recommendations will improve the safety and life chances of these young people, and help deliver on the government's commitment that Every Child Matters.

March 2008










7   Scope, (2007) No Voice, No Choice: disabled people's experiences of accessing communication aidsBack

8   NSPCC (2003) It doesn't happen to disabled children: Report of a National Working Group on Child Protection and DisabilityBack

9   Pinney (2005), op cit, p50. Back

10   Pinney (2005), op cit, p50. Back

11   Pinney (2005), op citBack


 
previous page contents next page

House of Commons home page Parliament home page House of Lords home page search page enquiries index

© Parliamentary copyright 2009
Prepared 20 April 2009