Memorandum submitted by the Local Government
The Local Government Association (LGA) promotes
better local government. It works with and for member authorities
to realise a shared vision of local government that enables local
people to shape an instinctive and better future for their locality
and its communities. The LGA aims to put councils at the heart
of the drive to improve public services and to work with government
to ensure that the policy, legislative and financial context in
which they operate, supports that objective.
The LGA has consistently expressed support for
the Care Matters agenda, which sets out a welcome, but ambitious
programme of change and improvement for children in care. Our
key messages to Government remain:
The LGA is committed to working with
councils, their partners and with central Government to implement
the Care Matters proposals effectively. There is a lot of work
to do to translate good policy ideas into effective practice for
children and young people and it will be important to get the
phasing and timing of the implementation right.
We want to work with central Government,
the Improvement and Development Agency (IDeA) and councils to
ensure Lead Members for Children get the information and support
they require to carry out their tasks. Our recent research with
the NFER has revealed some useful insights into how best we may
support the Lead Member in their corporate parenting role, and
we are open to a discussion with the Department about the lessons
this research has to offer.
However, we are still not sure that
sufficient resources are being made available to help councils
to implement the Paper effectively.
The Paper is extremely comprehensive
but we are disappointed not to see more specific measures coming
forward to ensure children in care receive the health services
they need. The LGA is working with partners to push for a step
change on this issue through the Children and Young Persons Bill.
A full briefing on our concerns about the role of health services
in the lives of children in care is available on the LGA website.
The LGA broadly welcomes these proposals as
a positive step. We would urge the Government to ensure that where
new expectations for a children in care council and pledge are
created, the DCSF should work with stakeholders to develop clear
guidance. However, none of us should view the pledge or existence
of a Children in Care council as an end in itself. The strength
and value of these two initiatives must be judged in relation
to outcomes for children in care and how children in care view
those initiatives as contributors to happier and healthier lives.
In addition, the corporate parenting training
materials suggested in the White Paper, due to be launched this
year, must include strong input from Lead Members and Directors
to ensure that the materials reflect users' needs. In this respect,
the LGA is happy to share the findings from a research programme
looking at the role of the lead member for children's services.
Family and Parenting Support
Much like many other proposals covered in the
Care Matters White Paper, this part of the programme seeks
the wide spread implementation of a number of examples of local
authority good practice. The LGA has a specific concern that the
funding to support an increase in the availability of provision
of short breaks for parents of disabled children and funding for
the development of multi-systemic therapy must be long term funding
if any impact is to be achieved on outcomes.
It is a goal that we share to deliver a system
that provides the best and most appropriate placement for every
child in care. However, we expressed some concern previously at
the description of a new duty around sufficiency. Our concern
here was not around the aspiration of principle, but how it would
be resourced and enforcement arrangements. It seems now that this
proposal may no longer be one that the Department wishes to take
forward, although no explanation has been offered as yet.
It is important that initiatives to improve
local authority commissioning of placements are not taken forward
at the expense of existing good practice regionally, sub-regionally
and locally, but build on practice that is already working well.
It is pleasing that so far it seems that the Department is following
a partnership path on this issue.
In terms of placement inspection, the LGA is
aware that in addition to the Comprehensive Area Assessment, due
to commence in 2009, services for vulnerable children will be
subject to a programme of rolling inspection. It is disappointing
that the Department did not choose to consult with us on the nature
and detail of this inspection regime as we are working hard to
ensure future inspection is targeted appropriately and is genuinely
a tool for improvement.
The LGA firmly believes that it is right that
schools recognise the individual needs of children in care and
ensure support is in place within the school setting to help that
child achieve their full potential. In that respect, guidance
on the role of the designated teacher is welcome, provided it
has been developed in partnership with stakeholders, including
schools and local authorities.
Statutory guidance on school exclusions, published
in September 2007, is a welcome step and the LGA hopes that it
will allow constructive solutions to be developed for children
in care who are experiencing difficulties at school. We believe
it is right that every effort be made to ensure that the child
remains at the school and is supported to achieve positive outcomes.
Similarly, we are pleased that children in care
now have the highest priority in school admission arrangements,
including a local authority power to direct schools to admit children
in care even if the school is already fully subscribed.
Health and Well-being
The LGA would urge the Government to ensure
that sharpening the focus placed on the needs of children in care
by local health partners is supported by robust guidance and consistent
policy direction from the centre. In that respect, the LGA is
concerned that what is currently proposed will be inadequate,
and we are working on an amendment to the Children and Young Persons
Bill to achieve a new clause that will ensure that NHS bodies
are fulfilling their duties under section 10 of the Children Act
2004 to improve the health and well-being of children and young
people. We feel that this is an area where Care Matters is
relatively weak and would urge for more ambitious steps to be
In terms proposals within the White Paper around
transforming the availability of positive activities for children
and young people, including free part time access to extended
activities and free music tuition in schools, priority status
for children in care within local authority youth work and introducing
an expectation that local authorities will make their own leisure
provision free for children and young people in care, the LGA
is unclear as to the status of proposals. There will no doubt
be benefits for children and young people in care as a consequence
of the Children's Plan and Aiming High for Young People, but those
documents do not make explicit any from of prioritisation for
children in care. We are keen for the Department to say more about
how Government will work with councils to enable them to deliver
enhanced access to children in care, if that indeed is what was
intended. This is especially the case in terms of addressing the
specific challenges in two-tier areas.
Transition to Adulthood
We are pleased at the proposals to pilot a veto
around leaving care, and pilots for extending foster care up to
21 because we believe they will benefit young people in the care
system. However, the resource implications of this must not be
underestimated and a national roll out of this veto would need
to be matched by recruitment of additional foster carers. The
outcome of extending care up to 21 will be fewer foster care places,
additional pressure on supported living provision, and increased
pressure on suitable residential care for older young people.
We look forward to seeing evidence from pilot schemes as to how
these challenges will be overcome.
Providing a £2000 bursary available for
all children in care who go onto higher education is also welcome,
but there is a compelling case for extending the eligibility to
a bursary to help support children in care or care leavers who
wish to participate in other forms of post-19 education and training.
The role of the practitioner
The LGA believes that the views it expressed
previously about independent social care practices remain relevant.
We have reiterated those in our work on the Children and Young
Persons Bill. While accepting the need to explore the potential
of new ideas for improving the outcomes of children in care, the
LGA has consistently expressed concerns that "independent
social care practices" will weaken accountability to councils.
The Association hopes that pilot schemes will thoroughly test
this. It is important that the pilots are constructed in a way
that ensures this happens.
Workforce planning and development are critical
to shaping and delivery of policy. Looked after children require
confident, consistent and competent cadres of social workers to
ensure long term care management arrangements are both stable
yet imaginative. Local government supports investment in post
qualifying training and learning and views the new framework as
suitable to achieve such a requirement of experienced and highly
trained workers. Whilst the care management social work function
to children in care is one that is currently carried out by local
authority employed social workers, there is merit in exploring
both the use of the budget-holding lead professional and the alternative
of commissioning the service from social work practices. The LGA
is supportive of initiatives that demonstrably improve the lives
of children in care and/or evidence better value for money.
Equally those services either provided or commissioned
by the local authority to ensure care and accommodation to children
in care (residential and foster care) should be undertaken by
trained, qualified and experienced social carers. There is a need
to think through an integrated and equitable model of evidence
based learning for these workers and carers that is characterised
by flexibility of delivery, portability and a career options and
rewards. The LGA welcomes the exploration of social pedagogic
thinking into residential care and would hope that this could
be extended into foster care and other areas of children's services
by utilising the theoretical platform for securing increased integration.