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


Memorandum submitted by the Local Government Association

ABOUT THE LGA

  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.

KEY MESSAGES

  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.

FURTHER COMMENTS

Corporate parenting

  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.

Care Placements

  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.

Education

  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 taken.

  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.

February 2008





 
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