Examination of Witnesses (Questions 1-19)|
MORGAN OBE, MAXINE
19 MARCH 2008
Q1 Chairman: I welcome our guests, Martin
Narey, Pam Hibbert, Dr. Roger Morgan and Maxine Wrigley. I am
tempted to shift to first names to make proceedings less formal.
Is that all right? Roger, I shall keep calling you Dr. Morgan,
if you want me to.
Dr Morgan: Roger will do fine.
Q2 Chairman: I will not call Martin
"Your Excellency". We have known each other a long time.
This is the first formal session of our inquiry into Looked-after
children. The Committee believes strongly that this is a real
marker for us. We are not members of an old Committee with a different
name, but a new Committee that has very interesting and challenging
responsibilities for children, schools and families and we want
to start, in particular, with discussions about some of the most
vulnerable children in our society. Some very interesting work
has been going on and, today, we shall explore where we are in
that regard. Various reports have been published of proceedings,
one of which was chaired by Martin while Julian le Grand chaired
another. We are aware of the literature and we have been doing
our homework, but today is our opportunity to ask you, as experts,
what stage has been reached and at what position are the Government
as well those young children who are in care. Martin, I usually
give witnesses a couple of minutes to explain all the circumstances,
so will you describe in a nutshell the position of looked-after
Martin Narey: Barnardo's has been
very encouraged by what has happened with looked-after children
over the past couple of years. It is not false modesty when I
stress that the three people on my left know far more about the
subject than me. I came to it relatively new towards the end of
2005 when I came to Barnardo's. My previous experience of looked-after
children was locking up a lot of them in places such as Feltham.
We published a very critical report in the summer of 2006, based
on the experience of children in care whom we supported. We have
been very pleased with the Government response to that report:
the honest way that Alan Johnson acknowledged that current arrangements
were simply inadequate, the determination to improve matters for
looked-after children, and some of the things in the Green Paper
or the White Paper and in the Bill or the implementation plan.
For example, there are the matters that everyone knows about,
such as children being moved during their GCSEs, the disproportionate
number of children in care who are excluded from school, and the
need to get children in care into the best schools. I have been
very impressed about how that has been gripped, so I am encouraged.
Q3 Chairman: Fine. Pam, what about
Pam Hibbert: I share Martin's
optimismwe have been pleased. I have been heavily involved
in quite a number of stakeholder groups and in lobbying on the
Bill. There are three areas, for me, where perhaps there is still
quite a lot of work to be done. One is around advocacy for children
in careI still think that we do not have that right, and
it is one of the things that we are lobbying hard about. The Children
(Leaving Care) Act 2000 was a brilliant piece of legislation and
has improved support for children leaving care, but we still do
not do enough. We still have too many children leaving care before
they are 18, so we are still concerned and think that more could
be done. I was particularly disappointed about the missed opportunity
in the current Bill for children from care who go into custody.
We know that around 50% of children in custody will have had some
sort of care experience. The Green Paper had some proposals for
how they might continue to be supported, but those have been watered
down considerably in the Bill. We think that that is a missed
Q4 Chairman: Thank you. Roger?
Dr Morgan: As my role, statutorily,
is to consult childrenparticularly children in careI
will try and base my evidence on their views. Four main points
keep coming through to me from the children's consultations that
we carry out. One is the need for individualisation of care, rather
than assumptions about groups or quotas or whatever. The second
is the need to consult children. While accepting that children
cannot always have the care or decisions that they want, their
views should always be sought and taken into account. We all say
that that is happening, but I still hear many children telling
me that that is not their experience yetor consistently.
The third is the need to be given information about what is happening
to you, and the fourth is consistency of delivery. One of the
worrying things that children have said about many of the current
initiatives is that they agree with many of themthey would
like to see some more, of coursebut they are sceptical
about whether their experience will consistently reflect the intentions.
Finally, I should make a quick caveat. I started by saying that
I would base my evidence on the views of children, rather like
a researcher. I am based in the Office for Standards in Education,
but I do not necessarily speak for Ofsted. I am basing my evidence
on children's views, rather than necessarily Ofsted's position
Q5 Chairman: Physically, where are
you based? What part of the country?
Dr Morgan: I am physically based
in Ofsted, but I have my own statutory functions to consult and
report children's views.
Q6 Chairman: With Ofsted in Londonits
Dr Morgan: Yes.
Q7 Chairman: Maxine?
Maxine Wrigley: Very similar to
Roger, we consult with young people, our main difference being
that we are service users ourselvesthe people who work
at A National Voice. That is what makes us a little bit different.
Similar to Roger, we have concerns that young people have been
a little sceptical about whether things are going to change. Sometimes
young people talk about consultation fatigue, in that they have
been asked their views many, many times. I know that it has been
going on since I was in care, many years ago. There is a little
bit of scepticism, and I think that we need to take this chance
to prove that some of the changes can happen. Similar to Pam,
we believe that some elements from the Green Paper have been watered
down. One is around custody, but another is around mental health
support. We know that some of the young people from care have
mental health issuesthey are over-represented in that groupand
we would like to see more support. The biggest gap in the Bill,
for us, is the independent advocacy role. I have read what Kevin
Brennan said about it when he talked to you last week and was
questioned by Annette Brooke, and I am not sure that people understand
the important role that the independent advocate can play, which
is quite distinct from the independent reviewing officer.
Q8 Chairman: We will be drilling
down on a lot of those questions. In a seminar that we had, there
seemed to be a feeling that people had gone too far in criticising
the quality of care in this country because sometimes the evaluation
and comparators are unfair. They might say that there are a certain
number of children in care, but only so many GCSEs and so on.
Some of the participants in the seminar felt that care had perhaps
been evaluated a bit harshly and that it was certainly not as
bad as some people seem to paint it. Is care getting a rough deal
in that regard, or has it been poor in this country? How does
it compare with countries such as France, Germany and the United
States? Is it better or worse?
Maxine Wrigley: There was a programme
on Channel 4 quite recently that looked at a residential unit
in Germany, a big tower block, where the children were doing better
in terms of education than the average for the rest of the population,
so young people in care can do well in education if they are given
the right support. Our care system is worse than a lot of others,
and that is to do with how we view children's rights in this country.
Dr Morgan: There is a discrepancy
in children's experience of how well they are doing in care. When
asked to give an overall assessment, nine out of 10 gave a positive
score for how they were looked after, but inconsistencies quickly
arise. Roughly two thirds told us that they agreed with their
care plans, but a quarter said that they had not had an input
into their care plans, and just under half said that they did
not feel that their care plans were being fully kept to.
Pam Hibbert: There is an issue
particularly around residential care, and the quality does vary.
For me, there is an issue about how the staff who work in residential
care are trained and what our expectations of them are. Again,
there are great contrasts between us and some European countries
in the approach to training and the status of staff who work in
residential care. There was an interesting piece of research done
across three countries, for which staff were asked what they thought
the most important thing in their job was. In France and Germany,
80% of the staff said it was to meet the needs of the children
they care for. In England, they said it was to follow procedures.
That says something very interesting about how we train, support
and prepare staff for looking after children.8
Q9 Chairman: Certainly, I suspect
that work force issues will be a big part of our inquiry.
Martin Narey: I have some sympathy
with the feeling of those who work in the care system that they
have been over-criticised. In the past, I have had personal experience
of that when running prisons. Sometimes when you are doing the
best job that you can, you lose sight of the fact that it is still
not good enough, and I think that that is the position with the
care system. Of course, no one at this table would expect the
GCSE results of children in care to be the same as those of the
UK population at large, but the truth is that we take an already
disadvantaged population and do things to them in the sphere of
education that makes success almost impossible, such as moving
them frequently from home to home and between schools, but schools
are crucial. The gap in educational attainment is absolutely huge.
I had a very telling experience in 2006 when we published our
report on children in care, which was written by Pam. I spent
the best part of a day going around the radio and TV studios with
a young woman who was just leaving care and had no GCSEs. I can
tell you that if she had had the sort of upbringing that our children
got, it is absolutely inconceivable that she would not have been
studying at university at that time. In fact, the product of her
experience in our corporate parenting was that she did not really
believe that she would ever have a place in that world. She was
a really bright woman, and that is just a single example of the
system letting someone down. I accept entirely that the system
is full of people doing their best under difficult circumstances,
but some things are patently not good enough.
Chairman: Right. I am what they call
the warm-up act. John, perhaps you would start drilling down and
asking more questions.
Q10 Mr Heppell: We have drifted into
the area that I want to get to. You spoke about periodic consultation
with children and young people. What have they said? Do they regard
being in care as something negative? How do they perceive what
is happening and what the care system is supposed to do for them,
and has it worked?
Dr Morgan: I return to the same
point about consistency, but I will try to go beyond simply repeating
that point. It depends very much on the front-line person who
works with a child or young person, on who their social worker
is, whether that social worker remains consistent and whether
they get on with them. When children leave care, we consulted
them about the objective of care, which is that of preparing them
adequately to cope independently. There is massive inconsistency
in children and there is no middle ground. Children either tell
us that they have had a good experience because they had a good
leaving-care worker, or that the experience was very poor, because
they did not have a good leaving-care worker or they had none
at all and they were not given the information that they needed.
When we ask children about their key expectations and the one
thing that staff need to get right for them in care, the answer
is the right placement. About half the children whom we consulted
said, "Yes, the placement I'm in is the right one."
The other half had reservations and were concerned that the matching
of child to placement had not worked, that there was only one
choice and not enough alternatives, and that there was no back-up
system if it began not to work out.
Pam Hibbert: Again, I do not see
as many children and young people as Roger, but we try to consult
them when we can. For some of them, coming into care is not a
negative experience. I have certainly heard young people say that
they felt safe for the first time in a long while when they came
into care. The actual coming into care is not necessarily a negative
experience, but some of the things that then happen are. Young
people consistently tell us that of course the big things matter,
such as being involved in their reviews and care planning. However,
it is some of the very small things that can really make a difference
and for me, the issue is about how to make front-line workers
and local authorities responsible for those things. I will give
a couple of examples. One young man said, "The one thing
that I was really good at was sport, but no one ever came to my
school sports day to cheer me on." Another example is a 19-year-old
young woman who had been in care virtually since birth who said,
"When I talk about my history they show me my file. I don't
want to see my file, I want to see photographs of when I was four."
She did not have that, and it is those small things that would
make a difference that we are not very good at doing.
Q11 Chairman: I want to call Martin,
but I remind the Committee that Martin is here for a restricted
period. If there are questions that you particularly want to favour
Martin with, concentrate on him for the first hour, and then we
will focus our attention on the other witnesses. I remind the
Committee that they can bop from question to question if they
want to pull Martin in.
Martin Narey: With regard to the
children in care whom I have met: we published a report in 2006
that we did not present as a statistical survey, but we spoke
to 52 children in our work. I was struck that, objectively, in
their responses, the descriptions of care were frequently positive.
However, what they often talked about was the assumptions made
by others about their experience. They said that at school, they
recognised that some teachers supposed that they were not interested
in school work, that they were, by necessity, not academically
able, that they were trouble makers and even that they were unlikely
to tell the truth. Young people's feelings about the conclusions
that others make about being in care are sometimes more important
than their objective experiences, which are sometimes quite positive.
Maxine Wrigley: I would like to
reinforce that point. We have done various polls and the public
attitude towards young people in care is getting better. In the
past, people assumed that they were youth offenders or that their
behaviour had led to their going into care, which we know is absolutely
not true in the majority of cases. Sometimes it is young people's
perception of the public's perceptionif you see what I
meanthat in itself becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.
Last night, I was reading in some research that Roger did a while
back that a quarter of young people felt that they were viewed
Q12 Chairman: How do young people
in care like to be called"looked-after children"?
What is the politically correct term?
Maxine Wrigley: It is about to
Q13 Chairman: What do young people
like to be called?
Maxine Wrigley: It was always
children in care, young people in care, and care leavers; about
10 years ago it changed to looked-after children and care leavers
and I think it is kind of on the precipice of changing back.
Dr Morgan: I am not sure that
children are actually that fussed about the politically correct
term. "In care" tends to be what children are using
with me, and they understand and respond to "looked-after
children", but the critical issue for children is who knows
that they are in care or that they have come from care and what
do they do with it? Children are equivocal on that. Some have
had the experience that when a teacher or their peers know that
they are from care, they actually get some extra support. Others
have said that it alienated them and that they were put into a
special category to which all sorts of stereotypes applied. Quite
a high proportion of children try to keep the fact secret from
their peers at school that they are in care. Quite a proportion
of children have told us that being fostered, being from a children's
home or even having been adopted is one of those things that singles
them out as being sufficiently different to be the focus of bullying.
The important issue is what people do with that information and
the need to keep the fact that you are from care on a need-to-know
basis and to have correct assumptions for those who need to know,
rather than stereotypical ones.
Q14 Mr Heppell: Have you had any
feedback about Care Matters? Have children commented on
it, what do they say are the good things in it and are there any
omissions that should be pointed out?
Dr Morgan: Yes, we have specifically
consulted children on Care Matters. Overall, a number of
issues in Care Matters came from children or were endorsed
by children. To exemplify, it underlines an issue that Maxine
and I have been negotiating about and advocating on for many yearsclarifying
that children in care can go on overnight stays, like other children
can. There is also the focus, which has already been mentioned,
on the ability to leave care more gradually, at a time of choice
up to the age of 18, rather than necessarily, as was many children's
experience, much earlier than that. There are one or two omissions.
There are one or two issues that children would like to see stronger
emphasis on, which I will quickly summarise: the principle of
trying to provide as normal a family-type experience as possible
for children in careexemplified by the overnight stayand
the issue of what you do, as I was indicating earlier, if you
disagree with your care authority about what it is doing or you
do not feel that it is fulfilling your care plan. What happens
with the independent reviewing officer is critical, as is where
else you might go if they do not pursue the issue. Information
for children is important. One final point is that children say
that there are some assumptions in Care Matters, one of
which is that changing school is a bad thing. Well, we have asked
children who had changed school recently about that experience.
Half of themin a sense, it is not surprising that it was
halfthought that the change of school was actually a good
thing for them, either socially or educationally. It boils down
to trying to avoid making some of those global assumptions and
going back to individualisation of decision-making in care.
Q15 Chairman: Martin, do you want
to come in on that?
Martin Narey: I do not disagree
with Roger's point about a change of schools being sometimes positive.
The problem with the children whom we surveyed in 2006 was the
proportion of them who had had numerous school moves. On average,
the 52 children we worked with had attended five schools. More
than half of them had attended more than six schools, and about
15% of the group had attended 10 different schools. It is the
regularity of change that is worrying.
Pam Hibbert: We also consulted
children and young people in our response to the Green Paper,
Care Matters, and some of the issues that Roger mentioned
came up from the children that we consulted.9
There was real approval for the suggestion that they should go
to the best schools and that they should have the best opportunity,
but there was some concern that if that were not supported correctly
we would be setting them up to fail. If the school was taking
them reluctantly, if there was no package of support and they
did not have the right equipment, uniform, etc., the plan would
fail. The other big one that came up, from I think something in
the region of 70% of themI will have to look through my
paperwork, sorrywas access to somebody, other than their
immediate carers, to talk to, at any time, not just Monday to
Friday 9-to-5. There was a real feeling that sometimes when young
people were in crisis and that crisis involved their foster carers
or their residential unit, there was no one else to go to, sometimes
even in working hours but certainly not out of working hoursaccess
to their social worker, or someone to speak to, to help them to
work through some of the things that were immediate for them.
Chairman: I will come back to you, but
Fiona wants to come in quickly.
Q16 Fiona Mactaggart: I want to ask
a particular question about that. Are there any models that involve
mentors who provide the kind of stability that we have read about
in the background papers provided by Maxine's organisation, Roger's
organisation and so on? Are there any models of such provision,
where someone who is not just a social worker is available 24/7
and does not change every other year?
Maxine Wrigley: I know that in
Stockport there is an online serviceit is not just for
young people in carewhich boys particularly have made use
of. Often, boys do not want to ask for help, or they would like
to have it anonymously. It is an online service, which obviously
means that young people need to have access to computers. It is
a sort of online support counselling service. It has won awards,
it has been working really well, and young people also like the
idea that it is not just for young people in care and so is not
in itself stereotyping. The other witnesses may know better, but
I am not sure that there are many examples around England where
there is 24/7 access to support, which was No. 2 in young people's
favourites of all the pledges that were talked about. It was very
important, and we were disappointed that it did not make it through
to the White Paper from the Green Paper.
Dr Morgan: In my experience, children
are not necessarily asking for different models; they are asking
for consistency of and access to the same model. There is an important
difference there. They say, "If we could have 24/7 access
to our social worker, if they were prepared to give us their mobile
phone number and actually answer, if when we left messages they
did get through, and if social workers would phone us back quickly
and be able to see their promises through". I do not have
a proposed solution to the turnover of social workers, but children
are very conscious of the deleterious effect of that on their
care, consistency of care, and access to that sort of support.
Just one further point on that, when children are asked to whom
they would turn when needing advice and support, very large numbers
will turn to friends and peers. Manyfor example, those
placed for adoption or fosteredexpressed very different
views about whether it is a good idea to set up groups or support
arrangements for those in similar situations. The consistent message
from children is not that they all want that, but that they would
all like the opportunity of it being available, if they wished
to have it.
Maxine Wrigley: I would just like
to say that in one of our servicesnot for children in care
but for children leaving carewe operate a 24-hour assistance
model. It is very good and productive and not hugely expensive,
which, of course, matters.
Q17 Mr Heppell: You touched on this
before, when you said that children should not feel that they
get stereotyped one way or the other. Do children feel that, when
the state is their parent, the state has the right sort of expectations
and ambitions for them, in the same way as a normal parent? Or
do they think that nobody cares?
Maxine Wrigley: I think that it
varies across England. However, I know for a fact that some young
people feel that there is an expectation that they will not do
well and that they will end up as one of the traditional statistics
in the care system. A quarter of young people said that they had
never heard the phrase "corporate parent", and the ones
who had heard it were not keen on it. The state as parent is a
very difficult concept for people to get their heads round. Who
is the state? Who is the parent? It is only recently in the Green
and White Papers and the new Bill that it has been made clear.
Children whom we have spoken to now realise that the elected member
and the director of children's services are ultimately accountable
for their care. We are beginning to get some transparency, which
Dr Morgan: Generally speaking,
children in care do not feel that there is an entity that they
can relate to called a corporate parent. It is a theoretical construct
and a statutory body. I remember a child saying, "Who is
my corporate parent? Is it my social worker? Is it the director
of children's services? If I want to have a row with my parent
about letting me do something, who do I have it with?" A
further important element is that on asking such children where
they believe the sorts of decisions that parents make about their
children's futures are made for them, very few know. Some give
a worrying account of how their social worker wishes for a particular
line of action and agrees it with them, but elsewhere in the system,
as they see it, somebody else has the final say, whether it be
a committee dealing with the financial situation or an assistant
director in a social care department who manages the budget but
who has never met them. The issue of who children should go to
if they want to have an argument is very important. It goes back
to the issue of how someone can challenge the local authority,
if they feel that it is not making the right decisions for them.
That is a particular issue, if the social worker has supported
the starting point.
Martin Narey: Low expectations
is a crucial area. I will read a recent quotation from a pupil
with whom we work: "I didn't think my GCSE results were very
good, but my teacher said she thought they were okay, considering
my background." That is the issue in a nutshell; children
perceive that not much is expected of them. Very frequently, they
will fulfil those non-expectations.
Chairman: You are looking quizzical,
Q18 Mr Carswell: I have one very
quick question for Dr. Morgan or the other witnesses. We talked
about how the state is perhaps not the best parent and that looked-after
children perhaps have low expectations from the outset, because
the state is not doing a very good job. This question may tell
you about my ignorance, but surely there are more people wanting
to foster, care for, adopt or look after children than there are
children available to be looked after. Is that the case? In Essex,
I know a number of would-be foster carers who have been denied
the ability to look after people. Are we not giving the state
responsibility to do something and do it badly, while not letting
civic society and real parents provide a warm and loving environment,
which they could do much better than the state?
Dr Morgan: I will come back to
the children's experience on that point. They are not telling
me that their experience has been that they have had a choice
of more than one foster carer who is suitable for their particular
placement. That matching issue is critical at the time of decision
making. They also very often report that it can take quite a long
time to become fostered, not because of legitimate processes such
as a gradual introduction to a new place to live, the sharing
of information and preliminary visits, but because it takes a
long time to find their foster carers. There is certainly a great
deal of variation in the availability of foster carers across
the country. Talking to children in some inner city-areas, for
example, the situation is far tighter and the supplyif
I may use that termis far lower than in other areas of
Pam Hibbert: There are issues
around fostering. The British Association for Adoption and Fostering
estimates that we have a shortfall of about 8,000 in foster carers.
There are issues about which foster carers would like to foster
which children and matching them, which sometimes causes some
of the problems. Even if we had enough foster carers, the decisions
that Roger was talking about around finance, budgets, placements
and planning will still be made by the local authority, not the
foster carer. Now there are some issues about whether foster carers
should be given more autonomy over some of those decisions and
there are arguments for that happening in some cases, but I would
suggest that recruiting more foster carers alone will not solve
some of the issues about corporate parenting.
Chairman: We are going to come
back to foster carers. Hold your horses for a moment, Douglas.
Q19 Mr Heppell: In Care Matters
there is a lot of emphasis on positive activities. Presumably,
children find a deficiency in what is available in terms of positive
activities. Do they think that the things in Care Matters
will make a significant difference?
Dr Morgan: Having been asked that
direct question on the basis of Care Matters, the children
have said, "That looks good, but what will the delivery be
like?" There are two points. First, the need for a range
of suitable activities and for more activities for young people
comes up again and again in consultations with young people about
what they would like and what they regard as helping them to maintain
and develop social contacts and friendship groups, keep them out
of trouble and all those other sorts of effects. Secondly, just
as schooling is disrupted by changes of care placement, so are
hobbies and activities in terms of both the groups you are with
and what is available. There is a difference between there being
activities available in the local area and having the encouragement,
financial support, time input and consistency to develop your
own personal hobbies, and those surviving over a number of placement
changes. It is easier if your hobby happens to be something that
most communities provide for. It is less easy if it is something
that you are passionate about but is actually quite idiosyncratic
and you have some support for in one place, but not necessarily
Chairman: We are going to move
on and David is going to look at another aspect.
8 See Ev 25 Back
See Ev 26 Back