Examination of Witnesses (Questions 480-499)|
27 OCTOBER 2008
Q480 Chairman: Do you want the
last word on this one, Marion?
Marion Davis: I am not aware of
anyone having researched whether the political flavour of a council
has an impact on those sorts of decision, but over the years I
have worked with elected members from all the main parties. Some
have advocated for residential care and some against, some have
advocated for various policies, but in my experience, it has never
been split on party political lines.
Q481 Chairman: As a rider, can
I say to Steve Goodman that earlier you described the deficienciesI
exaggerated in one of my commentsin the training of social
workers. I am a director of the London School of Economics, and
I know the background of why we do not do it. On the other hand,
there is a problem of insufficient, good-quality research in British
research institutions. You draw your conclusions from your experience,
and you have a certain focus in Hackney. However, when we went
to Denmark, what impressed Committee members was the sheer quality
of the training of social pedagogues, educational pedagogues and
the whole team involved in children's issues. They were highly
qualified and had fantastic trainingI suspect that if one
delved, one might even find very good research in Danish university
departments. Their conclusion was that more children should come
into care and be looked after, and they worry about taking even
more into care. I and some members of the Committee got the feeling
that those people can figure out pretty quickly whether there
are serious problems in a home environment from which a child
should be protected. I put it to you that good training and research
lead to very different conclusions from yours.
Steve Goodman: The two things
are mutually exclusive. There is a need, if you are working with
young people and their families, as you and I have said, for a
highly skilled professionalI do not think that there is
any doubt about thatbut you could have a set of highly
skilled professionals, some of whom do what they are doing in
Denmark, and some of whom do what they are doing in other Scandinavian
countries. I do not think that the two things go together. I do
not think that having absolutely the best-qualified and trained
social workers would necessarily lead to more children in care.
I think that it would lead to what we have at the moment, but
a better systemthat is, an attempt by us all to try to
keep children in their families as much as possible. I do not
know enough about Denmark to comment further.
Chairman: Edward, do you want to lead
us through accountability to children.
Q482 Mr Timpson: I return to an
issue that I raised with Councillor Lawrence a little earlier:
accountability to children in care. We touched on the idea that
children in care should understand what a corporate parent is,
although it will have little meaning to them, and what should
happen if a child in care wants to challenge a decision that has
been made about their future, however small or great that change
may be. Not all children in care will go through the court system
and have a children's guardian to represent them. What is the
best mechanism for a child in care to voice his views and to get
them heard? Is it through an independent reviewing officer, an
independent advocate, or a foster care association? What route
should we take?
Marion Davis: We need to be very
clear about the roles of the people whom you mention and others.
We recently established a Children in Care Council, but we made
it clear that it was not a forum for young people to raise individual
complaints. There are a number of other mechanisms. They can complain
formally, but we recommend that they use the adult whom they trust
the mostwhether that is the foster carer, an advocate,
an independent reviewing officer or their social worker. If elected
members get into that territory, they can be on difficult ground.
That is not to say that I do not believe in open and active dialogue
between young people who are looked after and elected members.
In fact, we have had looked-after children giving presentations
to large groups of members, at full council and so forth, but
also in small workshop settings. Some very brave young people
have been prepared to tell their stories and talk about their
school moves and experiences in foster care and with their birth
families. I can tell you that several experienced elected members
were very moved by some of those stories, and in fact were quite
tearful. That led to a much greater understanding of some of the
experiences of our looked-after children, but we have to be a
bit cautious that elected members, or any other corporate parents,
do not inappropriately step into the role of advocate or social
worker and so forththey are different. It should be for
the young people themselves to choose an adult whom they trust.
Pauline Newman: I think that we
are doing right in relation to looked-after children. It depends
on many of the things that we have already discussed. It depends
on having a good care plan and on being involved. For the children,
it depends on them being able to express their wishes and feelings
at the review, and all the way through. It involves good relationships
with the people who have the caring role and with the school.
On top of that, we found in Manchester that we needed to invest
in a good children's rights service, which has recently proved
its worth. I have seen stuff come across my desk in which people
are vigorously challenging decisions about them. That has been
important. If you are going to invest a lot in independent reviewing
officers, you have to be absolutely clear about how they achieve
their influence in the organisation. Whether they are independent
or an arm of the children's services, they have to achieve a response
to the challengeand to do it they need the routine backing
of the managers of the services. When the review shows that x,
y or z has not been happening properly, or that something needs
to happen to a time scale or whatever, they need to be able to
have the support of the organisation to get hold of the issue
and to get it moved forward. I am not sure, sometimes, that the
right issue is whether they are independent; the issue for me
is how they are enabled to make their contribution. That means
that people like me have to be strongly supportive of their role
and their challenge, and ensure that managers at all levels are
equally so and treat their work as showing a level of challenge
and involving support for the young person. Children's rights
services have a good part to play.
Steve Goodman: I agree with everything
that has been said. I think that checks and balances need to be
in the systemthey are probably about right at the momentbut
the main point is that we have to get things right first time
for looked-after children. We have to concentrate on the social
worker being able to do a good job for the looked-after child.
If we carry on putting more checks and balances into the system,
but do not address that fundamental issue, we will not improve
the experience of looked-after children.
Q483 Mr Timpson: May I go into
a little bit more detail about the children in care councils?
I know that one has been set up in Warwickshire and is going through
its early stages. Through Care Matters, there is a duty
on local authorities to come up with a pledge to develop them
through the children's trust arrangements. Is that sufficient
to ensure that the voices of children in care are heard? Does
it give sufficient detail for that to happen? Is there a danger,
again, of each local authority coming up with its own pledge?
I have read the Warwickshire framework that has been put together.
Is there a danger that that will increase the problem of inconsistency
among local authorities?
Marion Davis: I would not suggest
that that is the only way to hear the voices of children in care,
but I think that it is an important addition to the range of forums
and mechanisms that are already in place, because it requires
the Director of Children's Services and the lead member to have
direct interaction with spokespersons for looked-after young people.
That is where it becomes quite difficult. We have only an interim
council at the moment with a group of five or six active, articulate
young people. I have met them, as have the lead member and the
chair of overview. They are supported by advocates and other officers,
and they will move on to work out how they can communicate with
the wider body of looked-after children and those who have recently
left care. That is quite a complex undertaking. They will also
be organising the elections for the permanent Children in Care
Council, but that will, of course, be a rolling group of young
people, because the members will become older and some will leave
the system and so forth. However, not every young person will
find it easy to speak up in that setting, even with the best advocacy
and support, so we must pay a lot of careful attention to how
representative those views are and listen to the voices of young
people in a more localised setting, particularly those young people
who might have more specialised needs, perhaps because of a disability
or for whatever reason. It is not the only mechanism, but it is
an additional, direct communication between the director and the
lead member and a hopefully representative group so that they
can influence what we are doing. So far, our group of young people
is telling it like it is and giving a great deal of thought, time
and care to its messages in both directions.
Pauline Newman: Whatever the mechanism
is, it is only as good as the feedback that we give young people
about what we did with the information that they gave us. There
is no earthly point in listening if we never tell them what resulted
from what they told us.
Chairman: That is good common sense.
Pauline Newman: That criticism
can be levelled at a lot of adults.
Q484 Mr Timpson: I know that Annette
wants to come in, but may I ask one more question about the issue
of accountability more generally. Specifically, it involves considering
how we can make the voices of sons and daughters of foster carers
heard and how to get them more involved in decision making. They
play an important role within the dynamic of a foster care home.
Sometimes we look at just foster parents, rather than a foster
home and a foster family, but often the children of foster carers
can play a significant role in ensuring that there is a stable
and secure environment for the children in care. Do you agree?
Secondly, how do you think that we can try to ensure that the
voice, role and contribution of sons and daughters of foster carers
are better articulated in the care system?
Caroline Abrahams: One does not
want to impose a sense of responsibility on those children and
young people that they would not want. It strikes me that this
is about good practice on the front line. One would want social
workers and others who are actually working directly with foster
families to be aware and to take a family-centred approach, if
you like, by having a clear focus on what is going on for the
child for whom they are responsible, but seeing that in a broader
context. I think that that would be very helpful. It strikes me,
more generally, in quite a lot of this discussion that there are
some things that you can mandate from the centre that are about
strong leadership from the DCS and the lead member. The Government
can help by setting the right framework and all that, but in the
end, that is all the wiring, and what really matters is the quality
of the relationship between the worker and the child. Everything
we do should be about trying to make as conducive an environment
as possible for that relationship to flourish and to be stable.
For me, your point is very good, but we do not need a system for
that. We need committed, skilful, intelligent, humane, aware workers
with time to be able to think about that. I think that is mostly
about practice and training supervision.
Marion Davis: In the past few
days, I have received our foster carers' newsletter, and an article
in it, entitled Kids Who Foster, is about a piece of work
done by our fostering service with the sons and daughters of foster
carers. We have involved them for some time in the training process
for fostering, where we run specific sessions for the children
of the household, for whom fostering can have a very great impact.
We have also run social events and sessions. However, like any
other group of children, they all have different views. Some of
them want to be involved in groups and some of them definitely
do not. They want to be normal, not singled out as the kids who
foster. Again, it is a question of listening to the voices of
those young people and what they would find supportive. I am very
happy to leave the newsletter for the Committee to read.
Q485 Chairman: Just on that point,
they are all fragmented anyway, are they not? They are all over
the place, in different settings, and going to different schools.
We visited Merton, where they have a virtual head teacher for
all those peopleI do not know what number you mentioned
for Warwickshirebut I think it is not uncommon to have
such a virtual school and virtual head teacher who keeps tabs
on every child in care so that there is an overall responsibility
for someone. Do you like that sort of system?
Steve Goodman: We do not have
a virtual head teacher; we have a real head teacher.
Q486 Chairman: A head teacher
of a virtual school.
Steve Goodman: Yes. Actually it
has been really good. Ours has been around for two years now.
It really focuses the minds of foster carers and social workers
on educational attainment. We know, of course, that educational
attainment is a good route out of deprivation, so it is really
important for looked-after children to have the best opportunity
to get the best education, and we are again very lucky in Hackney
that the new academies there pencil in the names of looked-after
children before any other children. If children are fostered in
Hackney, we are now able to get them a place in the academy. It
is really important that educational attainment is right at the
top of the agenda for social workers and foster carers.
Q487 Chairman: Pauline, does Manchester
do anything like that? Would it not help with the problem that
David described of all those kids wandering around with nobody
knowing where they were?
Pauline Newman: We opted not to
apply to have one when they first came out, but I am not knocking
them because I am not in a position to do so, nor would I want
to. I suppose that we felt that we had to make an impact on all
23 secondary and high schools that we havewe are now also
going to have some academies. They feature highly in our admissions
policy and in our fair access protocol, when children are looked
at by a group of head teachers when they are not in school for
Q488 Chairman: Are you going to
do your academies in a rather strange way?
Pauline Newman: No, we are doing
them in an excellent way.
Q489 Chairman: But you are not
even going to change the heads. I thought that the way to deal
with failing schools was to change the regime, get rid of the
heads and make a fresh start.
Pauline Newman: I am afraid that
you have heard some mythology. We have recruited principal designates,
who are appointed for each academy. We have one more to go, but
the leadership will not be exactly the same. I will not digress,
even though I could go on for ages, but the key to our model
Chairman: It is me who is digressing.
Pauline Newman: The key is collaboration.
Sponsors come from growth sectors of the economy.
Chairman: Sorry for that digression.
Q490 Annette Brooke: I just want
to ask a quick question, to which I would like a short answer.
Should every authority have a children in care council?
Pauline Newman: I agree with what
Marion said. It is one method, but you would not say that it is
everything. We have a children and young people's engagement strategy,
within which is provision for young people who are looked after.
They may be with other young people in the engagement strategy
in district forums, and the fact that they are looked after is
just an accident. There needs to be a range of mechanisms within
engagement work for children and young people. I believe that
the idea of a council is good, but I would not trust everything
Q491 Annette Brooke: I accept,
as you said earlier, that it is only one method, but my question
was whether every authority should have one.
Pauline Newman: Does that mean
that there should be a law to that effect?
Annette Brooke: Well, yes.
Pauline Newman: It is possibly
beneficial that there is some consistent expectation for local
authorities, but it would be a mistake if that was not seen in
the context of what else an authority is doing with children to
engage and to do other things as a result. Consistency is helpful
for Government expectation and guidance, but in one place, such
a council might be the only thing, and in others it might be one
of 10 robust measures.
Annette Brooke: That leads me on to another
question, but could you give a quick answer to the question, Steve?
Steve Goodman: My short answer
is yes; link it to the Youth Parliament, but do not think that
it is a panacea.
Q492 Annette Brooke: Following
on from thatyou led me beautifully to my next point, Paulineone
of the really big problems that we have revealed this afternoon
is the lack of consistency between standard and practice at the
moment. What do the Government need to do to ensure that all the
expectations in the White Paper, including children's care councils,
come to fruition, so that you have much more consistency across
Caroline Abrahams: As Councillor
Lawrence said, some sort of minimum expectations are helpful.
I do not think that you can mandate all this change from the centre.
The approach that the Government have taken with the Care Matters
implementation planthey got all of us to sign up as delivery
partnersis right. All the evidence that we haveyou
would expect me to say this, but I am going to say it anywaytells
us that if you get people working with you from the start, you
get a much better impact. Certainly, the strong preference expressed
by staff in children's services, particularly DCSs and senior
managers, is that they should learn from one another.
Q493 Chairman: What was that acronym
for poor old Hansard?
Caroline Abrahams: DCSs are directors
of children's services. I was talking about the power of peer
approaches and learning from others about good practice. It is
right to give more support to help people to do so. We need to
make that a campaign. There is a lot of good will out there and
many people want to do it, but the trick is ensuring that there
is sufficient, relentless focus on the subject, within a broader
context. The likes of us, the Association of Directors of Children's
Services, the Improvement and Development Agency for local government
and the Centre for Excellence want this to work. I think that
we can make it better.
Marion Davis: There has been a
huge amount of change for children's services. We do not need
many more initiatives or pilots that are not evaluated. We must
concentrate on investing in Children's Trusts as partnerships,
and on the development of the children's work forceI do
not mean just within local authorities but right across the partnershipso
that we speak the same language, and develop a united culture
about what we are trying to achieve with regard to outcomes and
experiences for looked-after children and all children in our
area. We need resources, but not just money. Having said that,
in the current economic times, local authorities will be struggling
for the rest of this comprehensive spending review period. We
need to invest in the people who can make a difference, and to
continue to listen to the voices of children, young people and
families. We must continue with some of the positive initiatives
that we have begun. We need to see them through, as Caroline says,
in a relentless, focused way that is based on the evidence about
Steve Goodman: The complexity
of children's social care needs to be recognised. We need to help
councils manage that complex task by helping social care to focus
on edge of care, child protection and looked-after children, and
not to become involved in other situations. As I have said, we
need to learn from what is going on in other countries. I do not
mean just Denmark, but Australia, New Zealand, Canada and South
Africa. That involves a separation of the social work training
required for adults and for children, which is not a popular view.
The training course should concentrate on teaching methodological
approaches. The emphasis should be on changing what goes on in
families and not just on assessment, although assessment is important.
As the councillor said earlier, there should be a national campaign,
such as the one that was successful for teachers, to attract high-quality
people into children's social care. Lastly, Integrated Children's
System (ICS) should be stopped.
Pauline Newman: I was going to
ask why, but that is not my brief.
Q494 Chairman: Why, Steve?
Steve Goodman: Because I think
that it is very burdensome on social work tasks. You end up getting
lots of paperwork, but it does not help social workers, especially
if they are working systemically, to think through the complexities
of what they need to do to intervene in families.
Marion Davis: And the IT systems
are not sufficiently developed to support it.
Pauline Newman: I do not have
much to add. Broadly, I feel that children's trusts work. The
work that we are all doing is bearing fruit. We must get a real
quality focus. Inconsistency is okay if it is justified either
geographically or in some other way. What is not justified, however,
is different qualities of interventional support. The issue about
work force leadership development is hugely important. I know
that we have a responsibility to influence the work force of lots
of independent sector providers, but, for me, there is something
about core public sector values and a strong child-focused way
of going on.
Chairman: We are really enjoying these
answers, but we have to move into more rapid-fire questions and
Annette Brooke: I am happy to stop now
and then come back on section 6.
Chairman: Paul, will you give commissioning
placements a go?
Q495 Paul Holmes: Clause 10 of
the Children and Young Persons Bill requires local authorities
to secure sufficient local accommodation to meet the needs of
looked-after children. Why do you need to be told to do that?
Surely, you do that automatically. Marion said that they have
done that in Warwickshire already.
Pauline Newman: We would all try
to do it, but it would be a significant problem for Manchester
because, geographically, it is long and skinny. In other parts
of the country, some local authorities would be like our suburbs.
It is a highly deprived place, so quite a significant portion
of our foster carers live in Tameside, Trafford, Salford or wherever.
We would be in difficulty about what has been proposed. We totally
accept the principles and we know that some things are much harder
if somebody is in a foster home in another authority, but for
us it is a major challenge. I do not look forward to plummeting
performance on yet another indicator on the basis that we cannot
do it straight away.
Q496 Paul Holmes: But surely you
cannot deliver effective care for children in care unless you
have appropriate residential settings, whether care homes or foster
Pauline Newman: Clearly, we have
to commission the right range and choice of places. I talked before
about some of our commissioning in that respect. You may be a
certain way in terms of your population and geographical boundaries.
Youngsters traverse Greater Manchester in loads of different ways.
Travel-to-learn patterns show that. The idea that we can have
hard-edged boundaries that say a foster carer in Trafford is now
a no-no will be very hard for us.
Q497 Paul Holmes: But the provision
will not necessarily say you have to provide the places within
the boundaries of your authority. Presumably it could say that
you do it by using more private providers and so on.
Pauline Newman: For what it is
worthother authorities may have had a very different experienceone
of the issues has been regional commissioning. Hand on heart,
I cannot say that regional commissioning has made a massive impact
in Greater Manchester. In fact, in terms of Manchester city, we
were able, as a big-volume user of placements, to make efficiencies
and savings much more effectively by going out to bat on our own
Chairman: I think we gave up regional
commissioning in Yorkshire.
Pauline Newman: It is difficult.
I think regionally and perhaps in London you can find some of
the best examples. The London boroughs together can achieve things,
but it has not been significant for commissioning.
Q498 Paul Holmes: What about Hackney?
Steve Goodman: We placed only
one child more than 20 miles from Hackney in the last year. Obviously,
our looked-after children population coming down makes the job
easier for us. We have a lot of foster carers in adjacent boroughs,
so there is still some complexity when we have to make decisions
about whether a young person will continue going to their school
or move to a school in another borough. London has the problem
that if you travel just a few miles you are in a different borough,
but generally we should enable young people in care to live as
close as possible to the school and particularly to try to retain
contact with it, if that makes sense. That is very important.
Sometimes it is important for a young person to move away, depending
on the circumstances, and sometimes there is a particular issue
that we need to address with a young person that necessitates
specialist provision. Although you have heard my comments about
residential care, I am not saying we never use residential care.
Sometimes that might be necessary and a young person might need
to be placed a long way from Hackney, but I do not think that
there are too many difficulties in our finding foster placements
close to Hackney, and that is absolutely what we do when it is
the right thing to do.
Q499 Paul Holmes: Marion, you
said near the start of the sitting that Warwickshire had solved
the problem by paying and supporting foster carers well.
Marion Davis: Not 100%, unfortunatelyI
wish that it were. We still need to make sure that there is a
greater level of choice of placements in the system. Although
we are better supplied with foster carers than most local authorities,
it is still not always easy to find the right match in the right
place to fit the child's needs. As the Bill looks at the moment,
it seems over-prescriptive. I think many local authorities will
struggle to meet the requirements as suggested. One of the things
that happens in Warwickshire is that our virtual school head takes
responsibility for children's educational needs wherever they
are placed, so even if they are outside the local authority boundary,
she is still responsible for education plans and so forth for
them. If a placement is a distance away, it presents a problem
for social work staff and others to maintain the kind of relationship
that we have been talking about, which is so important for helping
children and young people through their period in care.