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

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 40-56)


19 MARCH 2008

  Q40  Annette Brooke: May I ask a very quick question about advocates? I have to go shortly and would obviously like to follow on from my questioning of the Minister. In some ways, as I recall, the Minister found it quite difficult to suggest that advocates would not be introduced in the circumstances that I mentioned. I picked up the obvious cases of a severely disabled child, and young people with mental health issues who may not be able to express themselves. Why do you think that the Government do not currently accept—hopes in the Commons obviously—that every child should have the right? It is accepted that there is a clear role for advocacy. It is almost as if the Government think that there is much more around than there actually is.

  Maxine Wrigley: As I said when I came in, if one thing needs changing in the Bill, it is that one: the independent advocacy rule. I know Roger and Pam agree. It is that simple idea that in, say, a court of law, you cannot have the same person represent you as makes judgment on the case. It is that same thing, I am afraid. Funnily enough, literally in the past two weeks, A National Voice urgently did a poll of 139 young people and what they thought of their independent reviewing officers, because I know that the Government are trying to take that angle, too. One thing we found was that about one fifth of those young people did not understand the role of the IRO. They seemed to think that first, IROs were connected to the local authority, which they are, and I am not quite convinced myself about why they are called independent reviewing officers, and secondly, given that the IROs chair the reviews, that they were not able to speak up purely on behalf of a young person. I know that it is a thorny issue, but young people at A National Voice have felt strongly about it for many years. The issue is about having independent representation, which is different from the people who then make judgments about your welfare or services.

  Pam Hibbert: I support that. The Government seem to have a lack of understanding. In the Green Paper, the roles of independent visitors and advocates were confused. Despite the efforts of several organisations to make it clear, there is a lack of understanding about the role of an independent advocate. I support Maxine's view that when key decisions are made about you, and you are not able to make representations in your own right, you must have the right to someone who is independent of that decision-making process. I, like Maxine, do not necessarily agree that the independent reviewing officer is independent. Further, they cannot play a dual role: they cannot provide an impartial view and decision, and advocate on behalf of the child. They cannot do both.

  Q41  Chairman: That reminds me of our discussions about special educational needs assessment. Roger.

  Dr Morgan: Clearly, children see the independent reviewing officer and the advocacy role as separate. Currently, if you are a child in care, you have a right to an advocate only to enable or assist you to make a complaint. There is a strong case, which children have put to me, for a right to an advocate in any process when you have a statutory right to give your views or to participate—for example, in review processes and so on. That would mean a legislative change, but children proposed it; I did not make that one up. One that I have, well, not made up, but which follows that issue, is the concern of children that they should, as we said earlier, have a means of challenging their local authority. In some areas, challenges—bringing court processes into some decisions or referring to section 8 orders under the Children Act 1989, which I have mentioned in other evidence—are available to some children but they are not open, or only one of them is open, to and for children in care, because the local authority is seen to be looking after them and to have their best interests at heart. From the children's point of view, if the corporate parent is getting it wrong, for example over a move of placement that may be contrary to the care plan, a lack of a care plan, or a care plan with which they disagree, they need a process. It does not matter whether that means an independent reviewing officer or access to such orders. They need a process that will enable them to challenge effectively and one that they know about and understand. Very few of them understand what an advocate is, if they have not experience of one. They also need someone to guide them through the process and metaphorically hold their hand through it, which is what an advocate does. On average, about three children a week contact my team purely because they wish to engage us in taking up issues with their local authority that they wish to challenge, and we can do that. I am not very effective in that, however, because it is only the most articulate young people who are likely to come through to me. They need a more local service.

  Q42  Chairman: I want to move on to fostering, but because we are talking about such issues, can I quickly insert something? The NSPCC saw me this week about the health aspect of care. An amendment to the Bill was moved last night in the House of Lords regarding a duty on health providers to provide appropriate health care, but I do not know what happened. The NSPCC said that many young people, particularly teenagers, often have mental health therapeutic needs, but that there is not a duty on the health sector to provide that sort of help. What do you think of that?

  Dr Morgan: First, yes. Continuity of health care is another issue that is disrupted by moving placements, such as passing records from one place to another, the continuity of GPs and continuity of treatment. There is a high level of mental health support need among children in care. As we know, the provision of mental health services for young people, let alone young people in care, is not consistently available. There are some particular projects, but there is not special access for children and young people in care, who are particularly vulnerable, to those services.

  Maxine Wrigley: Given that young people in care are statistically five times more likely to have a mental health need, it is crazy that some of them are on a waiting list of up to 12 months to see a counsellor, therapist or someone who can offer support. Those young people need a fast track. It is recognised in society that they are vulnerable, so I am keen to do something. It was a disappointing part of what changed after the Green Paper. We were hopeful at the beginning that there would be some more mental health issues, but matters have not translated into that. Perhaps what you said happened last night will make a difference, but I am not sure.

  Q43  Chairman: Pam, are you in favour of such an amendment?

  Pam Hibbert: Certainly in terms of health departments having a duty.

   Chairman: Let us move to fostering, on which we shall be led by Lynda.

  Q44  Lynda Waltho: I was privileged to be invited to a premiere last Thursday of a film made by Dudley children in foster care and some of their carers. Their take on the lack of advocacy, social workers and trainers, which have been mentioned, is that it is like wearing a uniform on mufti day and being different from others. I recommend the film to not only members of the Committee, but others. It was so key; it touched everyone who saw it and mirrored a lot of things that have been said. That is my plug for Dudley's young people. I was interested in Barnardo's telling the Committee about the body of evidence that suggests that the qualities that make a good foster carer and contribute to placement stability cannot necessarily be measured by examination and qualifications, such as warmth, tolerance and patience. I met a group of foster carers on Saturday who welcomed the fact that they could get qualifications and saw a need for them. However, they felt that that often involves ticking boxes and looking at areas other than the main issues. What factors make a good carer and a good relationship between young person and carer?

  Pam Hibbert: It is important that we offer foster carers the opportunity to train, learn and gain a qualification. If we want to attract foster carers, there has to be something in it for them. We must work with them as part of a team, so that they are seen as not only the people who care for the child, but a part of the overall team who liaises with the social worker, the school and so on. It is true that it is very difficult to measure some of these things. I drew again on research carried out by Ian Sinclair in my comments in our submission to the Committee. You cannot measure warmth, empathy, tolerance and the ability to negotiate. However, you can train people in those things. Going back to Roger's point about risk, I think that our foster carer training sometimes focuses on child protection and self-protection and does not necessarily always focus on how to develop relationships. On adolescent children, I was looking at a foster care training pack recently, which contained a huge amount of stuff on child development until the age of 10, but virtually nothing about it from 10 to 16. We know that foster care placement breakdowns are most likely to happen in the teenage years. Those of us with teenage children know how bloody difficult it can be to live with them and to deal with them. If they are fostered, there is an added dimension. I think that that is difficult. This issue comes back to some of the things that we discussed about customer satisfaction and acknowledging that our foster carers are our customers as well. At the end of a foster placement, are we talking to children and young people about their experiences of that placement, about what was good, what was bad and what could have been better or changed? Are we also talking to the foster carers about what was good, what was better and what could have been changed? From that, we can start to measure some of those softer things. Some years ago, I sat on a fostering approval panel. I resigned from that panel because it would not disapprove some foster carers who were up for their annual reviews. There was nothing concrete—they had not abused the child and had done all of the things that they were supposed to do—but they did not have that warmth, empathy and relationship. Because we are often short of placements, it is too easy to keep people on who do not do the job well, even though they tick the boxes. I think that we need to look at how we recruit, how we get customer satisfaction and the role of approval panels in trying to tease out much more those soft measurements as well as the hard ones.

  Dr Morgan: Going back to the point about matching and choice, from the child's perspective, going to live with a foster family is a major move. There are minor questions such as, "What are the rules in this family about whether you can take something to eat from the fridge to eat when you are hungry and when you want to? How do I feel about the fact that this foster carer talks rather differently to me? Should I try to change my accent? Are they going to try to adopt me later on or are they happy to stay as long-term foster carers, because I do not think that I want to be adopted?" Those sorts of issues are very clearly the things that are in children's minds. On the issue of choice, children have been saying that they want to be able to do an exercise of selection for themselves. They want to meet a number of possible foster carers and not just have the social worker saying, "We have found foster parents for you." They want to be able to do visits and to have back-ups if the first introductions do not work out. It might not be that the people are wrong or that they should be disapproved, but the child might think, "I do not feel totally at ease in this family, can I have a look at a different one, please?" In considering gradual introduction, the word "gradual" is important. Children say that they want a lot of information for themselves. They believe that foster carers need more information about them, too, before they even start visiting. Children are saying time and time again, "Why can't I have photos, videos, video clips etc. about the foster family—their pets, the other children there, what the locality is like and what the school's like?" It would assist the introduction. The other point that I wanted to make is that many foster carers have said to me that there are two quite different sorts of training. One is training to be a foster carer, which is basic stuff, but the other is child-specific training, if a child who may have mental health problems or some issue for which the foster carers will need particular support in order in turn to support the child to be placed with them; that immediacy of training, which helps foster carers with particular children, is sometimes not available.

  Maxine Wrigley: Young people told us that they wanted a pre and post-contact plan. They wanted to know that, when they leave a foster placement with which they were happy but from which they have moved on, they would be able to stay in touch. Are they able to stay in touch with foster siblings? Our siblings report reveals quite a lot more about that, and I am happy to send it on. The introduction to foster caring is exactly as Roger says. People want to know before they go. "What kind of family are they? Have they got a dog? Have they got a cat? Do you have to take your shoes off before you go in?" So many of those kinds of question need answering. It is a very difficult thing to go into a whole new family, and we know that there is quite a large breakdown across placements when those things are not done properly—there can be a major difference if they are done, and they do not take that much time. One of the working groups chaired by Lord Laming discussed the idea of an anonymous directory, so that people who had been in a place could leave a visitors' book message—

  Q45  Lynda Waltho: A rough guide?

  Maxine Wrigley: Yes, a rough guide to the placement, so that other young people could ask, "So what did the last 15-year-old who lived there think of that placement?" Young people quite like that idea. There are lots of ways to make foster care better, and a lot of them are very simple and easy. Young people often care very much for their foster carers and want them to be recognised as professionals, paid well, supported and trained. On the idea of a 24-hour support line, young people wanted foster carers to have that as well, because they thought that having a negative experience with a young person might put carers off fostering in future. They thought that if there was someone to let off a bit of steam with, talk to and get some advice from more regularly—especially out of hours, when things can go wrong—it might prevent a foster carer from stepping down from doing it again in future.

  Q46  Lynda Waltho: That was certainly a massive issue with the group of foster carers, as well as not being able to get adequate respite care or general backup. It was not about money in their wallets, actually; it was about backup. That would cost money, but it was not about money for them specifically. I want to explore whether the drive to get qualifications will skew what sort of people come forward to be carers or to stay as carers. One of the foster carers said, "Are we going to end up in a situation like it was years ago, when only middle-class people were allowed or able to?" That was a big issue.

  Maxine Wrigley: You are absolutely right. There are a lot of new foster carers who do not necessarily have literacy skills and so on. It should not be forced at all.

  Q47  Lynda Waltho: They have warmth, love and patience.

  Maxine Wrigley: Yes, absolutely. Foster carers would like to learn more skills and help themselves and young people. Something that concerned us when we did an education survey of about 200 young people was that they felt that one of the barriers to getting an education was that their carers had not helped with homework. Although I appreciate that we must not ensure that carers who are not literate cannot foster—I am not saying that—we must ensure that they are willing to learn enough to help young people of certain age groups with homework. Obviously a teenager is different from a child of primary school age, but it is important that young people get support from home. Anyone would read to their children; it is that kind of thing. It is important that such support is available, or one-to-one tuition to catch up on any school missed. Getting an education came top, above even pocket money, in a poll that asked young people which issues, from a list of about 30, were most important to them. That poll was across all age ranges. It is a myth that young people do not want to do well in education. They chose getting an education as the No. 1 issue—above pocket money.

  Pam Hibbert: May I make a quick point? I agree with Maxine. We have to be careful that we do not exclude people who would be nurturing, caring, good foster carers because they do not have one particular thing. We could do more in the selection process to test people's attitudes rather than their aptitudes. It is important that a foster carer recognises both the importance of education and the need to do all they can to support that young person. They do not necessarily have to be a genius in maths.

  Q48  Lynda Waltho: Foster carers in one area felt strongly that they were not being invited to review meetings and that they often found out information only because the young person or, sometimes, the social worker or natural family, told them a week later. That might be due to the way in which the relevant authority, which I shall not name, works, but those carers felt very excluded. They talked about having the equivalent of a children's champion—a carers' champion—who could oversee their rights within the system. They felt strongly that they were the professionals in the situation as they were dealing with the children 24/7, day in, day out, and they wondered why on earth they were not at least being informed about matters, or invited to contribute and give their opinion.

  Pam Hibbert: Some of the structural issues that we were discussing earlier that would help children to understand the system better and know where to go also need to be put in place for foster carers. Clearly, we need to have checks and balances for front-line workers who care for children, but my personal view is that we could delegate much more decision-making responsibility to front-line carers than we currently do.

  Q49  Lynda Waltho: There was a definite feeling that the newer social workers—they said younger, but we always think that such people are getting younger—were almost being too professional and that carers were not being given status. That came from all quarters. I do not know whether that is specific to the social workers at that authority or whether it is a general feeling.

  Pam Hibbert: Maybe it says something about our social work training, but I suspect that there is also an awful lot about risk aversion involved.

  Maxine Wrigley: I was going to say that it is to do with risk aversion as well. We can get a little too paranoid about risk. It concerns me greatly that young people have a real issue about physical contact such as hugging. Workers like me take a risk when they hug a young person; I know that that could go hideously wrong for me. We are in a strange world where our young people, who are among the most vulnerable in society, are the ones around whom people are very nervous of something like a friendly hug—but that is a whole can of worms for another day.

  Dr Morgan: That underlines, yet again, that the right decision must be taken for the particular case. I remember a child saying, "One child in care fell off a horse, so no children in care can go on a horse now." You assess the individual situation and make the right decision at the right time. With foster carers, we must not forget that members of the child's family—we referred to this earlier—may also legally be foster carers. Training issues are a totally different field as far as they are concerned. May I add something quickly? There is a difference between induction and training. Induction is about teaching people about the system and who can make what sort of decision, as well as about their responsibilities and what the dangers are. Training must be more related to the needs and requirements of the particular situation, the particular placement, or your particular career path as a foster carer.

  Q50  Fiona Mactaggart: I would like to take up that point, Roger, about how members of the family can be carers. It seems to me that there is a conflict here. If you look at the research, Sinclair's work being an example, sometimes those family settings are seen as the most successful settings, because they tend to last longer, and so on. At the same time, there is a conflict, because the foster carers are less likely to be literate or in good health, and they fail on some of the other things that we rate highly. Are there sensible methods to support family placements, and what do young people say about them?

  Dr Morgan: Young people say very clearly, "I would like them", and looking at the Green Paper, kinship care was one of the things that they endorsed very highly. "I would like the idea of members of my own family looking after me to be looked at," they said, and then they used a very interesting phrase: "before I am received into care." Technically, that might be part and parcel of the same package, but they were seeing that family placement as a step in the process of supporting where they are, considering whether other members of their family could support them and then considering other care solutions. There are all sorts of reasons for kinship carers having foster care status, not least because it can bring all sorts of financial support and other support that they might not otherwise receive, which would enable them to look after the child. However, we need to have a test, one that we can apply to any legislative or guidance system that we have, that does not preclude a competent parent, who happens not to be the child's natural parent but is in their wider family, from parenting that child if that is the best available solution for that child as far as we can assess, even if they do not meet some other criteria. There are no deliberate trip wires in the system, but as we know and as we have said repeatedly today, there are inconsistencies in people's attitudes. That is why I think that the issue of what is said in guidance becomes very important, as much as what is said in the legislation itself.

  Pam Hibbert: I welcome the focus of the Care Matters report on kinship care. For a lot of children, it is a really good option and it should be explored. One slight caveat is that there is some concern among some of the children we spoke to about why the decision is being made and whether it is being made on financial grounds. Certainly, one striking case illustrates that issue. A 19-year-old who had been in care herself was put under a lot of pressure by the local authority to become a kinship carer for her younger sister, because that would have stopped the local authority having to take the younger sister into care. However, the local authority was not offering the right package of support. We just have to be a little wary. Going back to Roger's point, we should ask whether it is the right decision for that child at that time and whether we will support it adequately.

  Maxine Wrigley: I echo what Pam and Roger have said.

  Q51  Fiona Mactaggart: One of the old chestnuts about care issues is about the ways in which social workers decide on cultural matching and placements. I wonder how important those matching issues are to children themselves. I have seen quite a lot of research about outcomes, but not very much research about what children themselves say about matching.

  Maxine Wrigley: There has been some special work done on that issue. I think that Roger would be best placed to speak about it.

  Dr Morgan: We have asked children that question. The answer from children, basically, is "It is important that my foster carers and I have a lot of things in common," but they do not list the standard things that we might look at, including race, class or whatever it may be. Those things may well be on the child's list, but there may well be other things that are just as important. Earlier, I referred to a child whose overwhelming concern about matching with their foster carers was the fact that the child had a very strong accent and, rightly or wrongly, they were worried that that might make it hard for them to fit in with people from a different part of the country. Whether or not that is correct, that was the commonality issue, far more than the things on the standard list. Issues in common are important to matching, rather than always the standard issues that we might put at the top of that list, as professionals or politicians.

  Q52  Fiona Mactaggart: To return to a theme that worries a number of us on the Committee, which is the provision for older children, I think that the evidence adds up to saying that we are not doing as well by them as we might be beginning to do for other children. What could we do differently to make us do better by them? Is it an issue of social worker training or of leaving-care support? Is it an issue, for example, of having family intervention and parenting support that deals with teenagers, rather than with just getting your baby to sleep? Are those some of the things? Is it just training? I do not know what it is that would change this significantly enough.

  Maxine Wrigley: I think that there is a crisis with teenagers generally in England. From the recent United Nations report, our young people are not feeling that well understood. Maybe there is a generational crisis, which I think is magnified in the care system. One of the things that Martin and I talked about in the future of the care population working group is that sometimes teenagers do not want to go to another foster family. It is always seen as the best option, and for the past 10 years there has been a real push towards foster care—the majority of people are placed there. Sometimes teenagers do not want to do that. If they have had a few placement breakdowns already and they feel that they are getting nearer to that age of getting their own flat and having supported accommodation, they do not necessarily want to try another foster family. That is something that needs to be borne in mind. Often social workers will try and push down the road of foster families, but if you have already had a few broken ones, you will probably not want to carry on with that. Residential care and different options around independent living in supported accommodation are really important. The aspirations of the Children (Leaving Care) Act were good, but they need revisiting, because in lots of cases it is not really working. The issue is that teenagers—particularly teenagers we come across, young people who may have had many placements that have broken down—have become disillusioned with the whole care system. I understand why young people may run away, or may not want to be associated with the care system any more. They feel that it has failed them. It is very sad, but a lot of them end up homeless or with drugs and lots of other horrible things. The whole thing for us is about making sure that these young people know that there is a safety net and somewhere to come back to. It is a kind of unconditionality, so that they are able to come back if they want to—people are there for them—right up until the average age of leaving home. There is an element of, "You are going to be kicked out of the care system at 16 anyway", so if you are 14 and it is not that much longer to go then you may as well go and hang about on the streets for a bit. That seems to be the attitude that I hear from young people. If they felt that there was going to be a corporate parent there into their early 20s, they may feel that someone wants them more and that there is some support. I worry that young people, the ones we come across at the sharp end, feel that there is a cut-off, a cliff, where the care system may just end, and that is the end of that. That can be a very distressing concept.

  Pam Hibbert: It is interesting that David referred earlier on to the youth taskforce action plan. I have not had time to read it in full yet, but there seems to be a lot in there to commend it—about supporting families where children are at risk of poor outcomes, particularly getting involved in criminality. Are the measures in that going to apply to children in care, because they are one of the most at-risk groups in terms of criminality and other poor outcomes? That issue goes back to the local authority's responsibility. Are the things that local authorities and others are putting in place to support families with children at risk going to be there for children in care who are also at risk? There is particularly an issue around leaving care, about not necessarily making the most of the other support networks that young people leaving care are able to have. Obviously we need to improve our leaving-care services and make sure that all the issues mentioned around gradual transition are dealt with. However, young people often have their own support networks—their own families may still be involved. We have been working in Northern Ireland using group conferencing. That is frequently used to stop children coming into care and to provide support for families at that stage. We have been using it to support children leaving care and looking at other existing networks that can support them and that do not rely only on the professionals—social workers, ex-foster carers or leaving-care teams.

  Q53  Mr Chaytor: Returning to the question of children's voices being heard, I want to ask Roger about the report from September 2006 and about children's views on standards—I found that quite interesting as there were a large number of statements from children. I have two questions. First, which of the views expressed are likely to be the most difficult to implement? Secondly, is there not something self-selecting about this? It occurred to me earlier when you said that children had contacted you recently to make such and such a point. Surely it is only a narrow group of the most confident children who know how to get their views across. Is there an issue of some children being completely under-represented? Are we missing a big area of experience, or do you think that the views of those who are most confident and have the best access, adequately reflect the views of all children looked at?

  Dr Morgan: I will take those issues in reverse order. When I referred earlier to children contacting us, it was in the context of that discussion. As far as possible, the reports are based on a representative and random selection of children and young people. We randomly select which children's homes and authorities to invite children from, and we then take the children in the order they wish to come. Earlier, a reference was made to consultation fatigue. There are certainly some children who are consulted over and again—they tend to be the articulate ones. In my team, we have a principle of trying to give a voice to the quiet child, the one who does not like to talk—that was originally a request from a group of children. As you will have seen in some of those reports, we give those children alternatives and different ways to feed in their views: mobile phone text panels, written formats, web survey formats, discussion groups and so on. Sometimes, they can join a group or write their views on a piece of paper and hand that in, or do both—whichever they want. The views that we have been expressing, and that I have drawn on in those reports, are, as far as possible, representative and not exclusive. It depends on total numbers. Some reports have larger groups of children than others. There are some areas where we need to improve, and I referred earlier to children with communication problems. We are working on that, but we have not got there yet and we need to improve the inclusion of those groups. The first part of your question was about which areas of children's expressed views and requests are most difficult to implement. There are two answers to that. The straight answer is that it is those areas that rely most on the attitudes of individual people and children having somebody who they can trust and who listens to them. It is difficult to legislate for that, and it impinges on all sorts of areas such as recruitment, training, monitoring, support and so on. Those are the most difficult areas, but others are not at all difficult. Often, children do not request a new system, project or idea, but ask for things that can be found in existing legislation or guidance. It is a matter of the linkage between the intent and the implementation. Initially people's concern about Care Matters is, "Great, but will it happen for me?" That implementation chain comes back to the monitoring process and again to all those softer issues about support, training, monitoring, staff supervision and so on.

  Q54  Mr Chaytor: May I ask Maxine and Pam about the situation at the local level? I am interested in the best examples at local authority level of systems that are in place to give a voice to people in care. Are you aware of particularly good local authorities that are leading the field in that?

  Pam Hibbert: Generally, in my experience, looking at the local authorities that we work in, it is those that have a children's rights service, a children's rights officer, a children's participation worker or that sort of service.

  Q55  Mr Chaytor: What proportion of local authorities have that kind of service?

  Pam Hibbert: I cannot answer that question, but I can find out for you from our membership. May I find out and let you know?[11]11 Going back to consultation fatigue, those authorities tend generally to be the ones where children and young people feel not only that they have been consulted but that they have actually had some feedback and that something has changed. Obviously, that cannot always happen, but it relates to the customer satisfaction that we have been talking about. In local authorities where there is that sort of service system person, there seems to be a higher degree of real consultation. Children get to give their views, and, importantly, they are recorded. I may be wrong—Roger, you might help me with this—but, as far as I am aware, the legislation that relates to our duty to take into account children's views and opinions says nothing about recording those views and opinions. I have heard young people say, "I did say that, and they said they took some notice, but it was not in the notes of the meeting. It was not in my review report, so how can anything that happens be monitored?"

  Maxine Wrigley: To echo that point, the Children's Rights Alliance for England suggested amendments around that. It is really important that young people's views are recorded, or, if they are not recorded, the report needs to say why they were not recorded. Pam is right: many times young people will say, "I definitely said that, but it was never written down." Given that the pathway plan is the only legally binding contract between the young person and the local authority, things need to be written down and adhered to properly. On local authorities, the children in care council idea is a fabulous one, but young people feel that unless there is some legislation behind the pledge—they call it a pledge, but it is a promise—nothing will happen. The council will have no teeth, it will be exactly what we just said. It will be for the most articulate young people, but it will not be representative or accountable. We really should not miss this huge chance for local authorities to set up local children in care councils, but only if the councils have real teeth and are not just some guidance kind of thing. It was quite disappointing to find out that the councils would not have the backing behind them that we were all excited about at the beginning, when the Green Paper came out, yet such councils would make a big difference. On listening to young people, 600 young people spoke to the National Children's Bureau and the Children's Rights Alliance, and one quarter of them said that they did not feel listened to, generally. Most of them said that they had a pathway plan, but only half felt that somebody actually listened to them. Even when we listen to young people, I am not sure that they perceive that we are.

  Chairman: We are running up against the time. Paul wants to ask a quick question and get quick responses, because people are keen to get to Prime Minister's questions, which begin at 12.

  Q56  Paul Holmes: This topic has been touched on several times during the past couple of hours. Near the start of the session, Douglas Carswell reflected one view that people have, that there are many people who would love to be foster parents but who are being turned down because of political correctness, bureaucratic procedures, whatever. I believe that Pam said that we were 8,000 foster parents short. From your point of view and your different perspective, are local authorities too politically correct and bureaucratic about who they approve to be a foster parent? Should they be fairly cautious about what they are doing?

  Maxine Wrigley: I am not sure whether Mr Carswell really understands the care system at all, given the way that he spoke about it. His terminology told me that he thought there was a difference between public care and foster care. I know that the general public tend to think that children in foster care are not in care, so that might be what was going on there. There is a shortage of foster carers; otherwise, people would not be constantly moved around, looking for decent foster carers. The case is simply that local authorities need to recruit, train and support more foster carers, but I do not think that it is through lack of effort that that is not happening.

  Pam Hibbert: We have to have protections. I do not think that the shortage is because of political correctness, and I do think that the bureaucracy for selecting and checking foster carers is about right. There is a cultural thing about people's willingness to become foster carers, which may say more about the way in which society in general is moving. Back to Roger's point, we must ensure that we get the right foster carer for the right child, and that is a real issue.

  Dr Morgan: I do not think that the explanation is bureaucracy or political correctness. There is a shortage, and certainly there are not sufficient carers to give children a choice according to the sort of matching criteria that we discussed earlier.

  Chairman: May I say in conclusion that this session has been extremely valuable. We got tremendous value from the answers to our questions, and I hope that you think that we have asked some of the right questions. We would like to continue the relationship. I did not mean to say that any of your organisations have not given evidence—you have—but some people behind you did not give evidence, and I believe that they have now left. Pam, Roger and Maxine, will you stay in touch with us. We are keen to make this the very best inquiry and report that we possibly can. We will need your help to make it even better.

11   See Ev 25 Back

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