Examination of Witnesses (Questions 520-539)|
29 OCTOBER 2008
Q520 Mr Stuart: I think we can
all agree with that, Minister. We look to the Government to set
down standards to ensure that that ceases to happen. We can all
join in with warm words about not wishing it to happen, but we
look to Ministers for concrete action that will change the system.
Baroness Morgan: We are producing
a single set of care planning regulations for local authorities,
saying that a local authority cannot move a looked-after child
to independent living arrangements without first conducting a
statutory review of their care plan. When such moves do take place,
they should not automatically result in the child leaving care.
The independent reviewing officer will review care plans and have
the role of challenging local authority decisions if he or she
feels that a child's welfare has not been properly considered.
The Children and Young Persons Bill will ensure that there must
be a review of a child's circumstances before they leave care
so that it does not happen in an unplanned or unsupported way,
as now. We are also mindful that when children and young people
leave care, they must have access to a personal adviser for further
support, should they need it, until they are 25I think
that is the age in the Bill. That is a significant change in emphasis
and support for young people as they go through the difficult
transition into adulthood and independent living.
Q521 Mr Stuart: At whatever age
that happens, there tends to be less of a transition and more
of a coming off the end of a conveyor belt. It is almost like
hitting a brick wall. Do you think there is a correlation between
the age of leaving care and the level of difficulties among care
leavers such as crime, drug addiction, mental health problems
and unemployment? Do you agree that more young people should get
the opportunity to stay in care until the age of 21, if they and
their foster carers or social workers feel it would benefit them?
Could not that have a positive impact on the appalling rate of
unemployment, mental health problems and other issues among care
Baroness Morgan: The advice that
I have is that a successful transition into independent living
and adulthood post-18 for young people leaving the care system
is absolutely about improving outcomes, whether in offending,
mental health or opportunities for employment. The transition
is difficult and important. We are funding some important pilots
to look at how we can improve the transition. One of those pilots,
which you have probably heard about, is "Staying Put",
which makes it possible for young people in foster care to stay
with their family past 18. Obviously, for those of us who are
parents, that is taken as read if our 18-year-old wants to stay
put. We want to consider all the practical implications. What
effect would this have on the tax status of the foster carer?
What effect would it have on benefits? We are running that pilot
at the moment. All being well and with the right outcomes, we
hope to take action in the next spending period, so that any care
leaver can have a reasonable expectation that they can stay in
a family placement.
Q522 Mr Stuart: When does the
next spending period start? When could this be expected, assuming
that you sort out the practical problems? As you said, it is axiomatic
to anyone else that support should be ongoing, yet all that we
have is pilots and talk about possible issues involving benefits.
It does not seem terribly convincing to state that it should certainly
be in place, run pilots and then make rather vague promises about
when it might be implemented when we all agree that it needs to
Baroness Morgan: I do not think
that I am being vague, I must say. The issue is ensuring that
if we make commitments to young people in care, we can fulfil
them in a practical and effective way in localities. It is important
that we understand all the implications of any new policy, and
that there is strong evidence to support it, before we roll it
out widely. What I am saying is that I see it as important. I
am sure that we will get great results from the pilots, and I
see this as an area that I would very much like to pursue.
Q523 Mr Stuart: That is good news.
I am just trying to pinpoint when, assuming the problems are overcomeI
know that you are not guaranteeing that todayit might be
expected to become a national programme.
Baroness Morgan: The pilot is
three years, and we are not going wait until the end of three
years to get the results. As soon as I get the opportunity to
learn how it is going, I will take forward the ideas as best I
can, using whatever opportunity I can identify.
Q524 Mr Stuart: I apologise for
accusing you of vagueness; I am sure you are absolutely not guilty
of that. In the spirit of not being vague, what is the earliest
date we could expect this to be implemented? I know that you will
not give a guarantee today, but what is the earliest date?
Baroness Morgan: I have just been
reminded that the spending review period, as we know, is 2011
to 2014. We will have to work towards those time frames in preparing
our evidence and ideas. We are obviously thinking about it now,
are we not?
Q525 Chairman: Do you think Graham
Stuart is pressing you? If the Prime Minister is serious about
bringing forward all sorts of programmes to help us to avoid a
recession, a programme such as thiswe know what the need
isis the sort that we should bring on without a pilot.
We all know the real problem. Three years seems a long time for
a pilot. Is this not something that the Prime Minister could give
you the money for, saying, "Come on, get on with it."?
Have you got the capacity to do it now?
Baroness Morgan: I have to be
honest, Chairman, and say that if the Prime Minister asked me
to jump, it would be a question of how high.
Chairman: I did not know that the writ
ran that strongly in the House of Lords.
Baroness Morgan: It does on some
Chairman: As Graham is leaving, I want
to put it on the record that this is David Lloyd's 309th sitting
since he took over as Clerk to the previous Education and Skills
Committee. He is leaving us, so the "Staying Put" initiative
has not worked with him. While we are in formal proceedings, Minister,
I want to say that you are at quite an historic sitting. The only
reason why this is the best Select Committee of them all is that
it comprises a team, and David Lloyd has been absolutely central
to making our reports as good as they have been. The Committee
thanks you, David, for all that you have done for us. We wish
you very well in the next part of your career.
Q526 Mr Chaytor: Minister, you
referred earlier to the great variations in quality between different
local authorities. There are also huge variations in policy in
respect of the thresholds that are used to start care proceedings
and in the choice of residential or foster care. I am interested
to know whether the Government consider that acceptable and whether
you intend to take steps to get greater standardisation in the
thresholds for starting proceedings and the use of residential
Baroness Morgan: You are touching
on a very interesting area. There is no doubt that the direction
of travel not only in the Care Matters arena, but across
the board through the children's plan and children's services
more widely, is about early intervention and ensuring that we
are targeting the right services on children and young people
to meet their needs as early as possible. A lot of that is about
professional judgment and professionals using their skills, knowledge
and experience to make the right judgment at the right point.
My thinking on the matter is about the work that we are promoting.
We are engaged actively in developing a work force strategy for
children's services across the board. In a field that is about
providing local services that are targeted on the needs of local
populations and individual children, we must have a framework
that has the right regulation, the right inspection and the appropriate
guidance. We also have to have the right level of professionalism
from the work force, who have to make the judgment calls. We are
on a journey in that area and we still have a way to go on the
work force side of things. I am not sure whether I am touching
on the points that you wanted me to discuss to answer your question,
but that is how I think about questions of the sort you are asking.
Q527 Mr Chaytor: The consequence
of what you are saying is that, for example, there will still
be enormous variation between different local authorities in the
proportion of kids in residential care. Are you saying specifically
that that is acceptable because you believe that those are issues
of professional judgment at the local level or do you want to
reduce the extent of those variations?
Baroness Morgan: I do not want
to sit here and say that there should be target numbers in a particular
locality for children and young people to be placed in particular
settings. That would be a real mistake because we have to ensure
that every child is placed in a setting that is most appropriate
to meet their needs. We have a higher-level principle, which is
that it is more appropriate for children and young people, when
it suits their needs, to be placed in a family setting. First
and foremost, that should be with their parents, but if that is
not in their best interests they could be placed with kinship
carers or foster carers. We recognise that some children must
be placed in residential care because that meets their needs.
The most important consideration is the interest of the child.
Q528 Mr Chaytor: The received wisdom
for a number of years has been that there ought to be a reduction
in the proportion of the care population who are in residential
care. You are reaffirming that that is still the received wisdom.
Has that been challenged since the publication of the original
Green Paper? Other European states that appear to perform far
better on the welfare of children in care place a far higher proportion
of them in residential settings. Is there any rethinking on the
long-term trend of shrinking the residential care population?
Baroness Morgan: You are touching
on an incredibly interesting question. Comparing ourselves with
other European countries, it could be said that the outcomes for
looked-after children in this country are by no means as good.
However, we must understand that there are very different traditions.
The philosophy in this country places paramount importance on
children being looked after by and staying in the family. That
is not true of the rest of Europe. If the children in care are
a very distilled group who have the most difficult, challenging
and tough experiences, you will find that they go on to have the
least best outcomes. This is a very difficult issue, but we are
very different in the way that we approach that arena.
Q529 Mr Chaytor: Another trend in
recent years has been the reduction in the number of adolescents
who are taken into care. You stressed earlier the importance of
early intervention. Do you think that this issue should also be
revisited? We are all aware, and you are particularly aware, of
the growing public concern about a small number of young people
who are not in education, employment or training, are on the fringes
of criminal activity and are disconnected from the wider community.
Many of those adolescents come from dysfunctional home backgrounds.
Is there not a case for the Government to reconsider the pattern
of recent years in which you do not look at care proceedings for
Baroness Morgan: I am not certain
of the right answer to give you on this issue. The trends I see
are that we are going in the right direction in terms of educational
outcomes for looked-after children. I do not wish to overstate
it, but there is very slightly more stability for looked-after
children and young people. The vast majority of those who leave
care go into appropriate accommodation and the outcomes are improving.
I will come back to you on the specific point about adolescents.
I am not sure about the answer.
Chairman: A written response will be
Q530 Mr Chaytor: May I ask one
more question. This goes back to Edward Timpson's point about
foster carers. You stressed the importance of recruiting more
foster carers, and noted the variation of payments between local
authorities above the minimum amounts. Given the global economic
slowdown, the likelihood of increasing unemployment in Britain,
the policy of the Department for Work and Pensions of looking
at those on incapacity benefits and assessing what skills people
have to return to the work force, is now not the right time for
a serious, concerted attack on the problem of the lack of foster
carers? Would that not be appropriate in the context of what the
Department for Children, Schools and Families is doing? We have
a rising number of people likely to be unemployed, a growing number
of people whom the Government want to get back in the work place,
and a growing emphasis on the importance of skills. Is there not
a huge opportunity for the Government to tie those separate strands
together and recruit a new pool of talented foster carers?
Chairman: Minister, do you agree with
Baroness Morgan: I do. We are
currently developing a work force strategy, as I have mentioned.
That is absolutely pivotal. The legislative work has been done
with the Children and Young Persons Bill, regulations and guidance
are being reviewed, inspection systems are being put in place
and now, the next important step is the work force strategy. We
will publish that this autumn or before ChristmasI am not
sure what the correct civil service term is, but it will be soon.
We will be thinking about the roles of all professionals who work
with children. That obviously includes the social work profession,
but we will also look at the role of foster carers and how we
can make the most of the opportunities before us in the coming
Q531 Fiona Mactaggart: Can I add
one supplementary question to your offer to come back in writing
on the issue of older adolescents coming into care. Something
that will not necessarily be immediately obvious from the information
you receive, is that a significant reason why older adolescents
are not brought into care is the costs and duties that local authorities
have in relation to them. Too often, local authorities duck about
for a couple of years until it gets to the point where they are
no longer at risk of having to pay the bills. I am concerned about
an answer that you gave to one of my colleagues about there needing
to be a formal review before someone leaves care. That is another
point at which a local authority might say, "We have housing
costs, we need to go through a formal review process, it is only
a year or so before that person is 16we will run away from
this." Can you answer that point when you write about the
issue of older children. Is there evidence of local authorities
avoiding the costs that they incur because of their responsibilities
over these very vulnerable young people?
Baroness Morgan: I will very happily
Fiona Mactaggart: Thank you.
Q532 Chairman: Baroness Morgan,
one aspect of your responses is worrying, although I know that
some things are a necessity for Ministers. Let me take this across
to a Freudian sort of answerI refer to David Freud, who
was asked by the former Prime Minister to come up with radical
views about how to cut the number of long-term unemployed and
people on long-term disability payments, and he came up with a
whole package of measures. Have you looked at any of his work
or at the role that he has played in the Department for Work and
Pensions? The evidence that we have been given so far is that
there is a patchwork system that does not work. Children have
only one chance at education and childhood. If a Minister tells
the Committee that we are going to have a pilot that will take
four yearsthat we are going to do a bit of this and a bit
of that, have a bit of localism and a bit of centralismit
looks like fiddling while Rome burns in terms of those children's
childhoods. Is there not a Freudian answer? For God's sake, hire
a private company to look after the 60,000 kids; 60,000 is not
that many. Do it properly, or get a new national organisation
to do it; have a virtual head for all 60,000 kids. This Committee,
and certainly I, as Chairman, would like some answers soon, not
in five years' time when another generation of kids have had disappointing
Baroness Morgan: I do not think
that it would be practical or that it would help looked-after
children and young people to completely rip out the current system
and put it into another box, with all the upheaval, transition
and risk of failure that that would bring. It is important to
focus on the areas that do not live up to our expectations, but
that means, by definition, that we then do not focus on all the
good things that are going on.
Q533 Chairman: But here you are,
a Minister in the Department for Children, Schools and Families,
and I have asked you about the complex issues of health and criminal
justice, and there is no virtual supremo whom you can ask, "What
is happening? Why are kids in Manchester not getting the same
deal as kids in Warwickshire?" We do not want to revolutionise
the system; we just want to improve it, and not through a quick
fix, but through some sense of purpose that seems to be lacking
from the Government.
Baroness Morgan: I disagree. In
the past few weeks, I have seen a real sense of purpose and direction
come into the Department to take the Every Child Matters
agenda through into Care Matters and to engage in what
will be a transformation of children's services, over a period
of time, particularly services for looked-after children. In preparing
to come here today, I asked for a map of how we got to where we
are. We started in 1998 with Quality Protects, went on to the
Children (Leaving Care) Act 2000, and continued, in 2002, with
Education Protects. There was then recognition that that work
was not enough, and that is where the 2006 Green Paper Care
Matters came from. We have directors of children's services
who are accountable for those services.
Q534 Chairman: Minister, we have
heard about all those laudable documents, but when we met children
with a recent experience of being in care, it was appalling. Children
are wrenched from one setting to the next, or not sent to education.
It was heart-rending to hear that during the time when Labour
have been in Government, those children have had a rotten experience.
We did not think that they were exceptions; we thought that they
were pretty representative. On the other hand, look at the evidence
from the heads of children's services before this Committee on
Monday. Look at the director of children's services for Hackney,
who said that he would not employ anyone trained as a social worker
in this country. He recruits in South Africa, New Zealand, Australia
and Canada. What on earth is going on when a director of children's
services thinks that even the training of social workers is so
bad? It seems to me that the delay of pilots is not what we need.
We need firm action now.
Baroness Morgan: If I might reiterate
it, the importance of pilots is that they ensure that the changes
we make are well evidenced and will embed properly in the system.
I cannot emphasise enough the point that I made earlier about
the work force strategy. That is absolutely key for moving forward
Q535 Chairman: Even if that means
taking an axe to social work training in this country?
Baroness Morgan: It might be early
in my career to suggest taking an axe to anything.
Q536 Chairman: But you will read
the Hackney evidence that we heard yesterday?
Baroness Morgan: I certainly will.
I am incredibly interested in the experience in Hackney. The work
force of social workers has vacancy rates that are far too high.
We need to raise the status and profile of the social work profession,
and I am interested in and committed to considering how we should
Chairman: Thank you for that. Annette.
Q537 Annette Brooke: Could I return
briefly to questions about the "Staying Put" pilot and
the situation that we are in now? Obviously, not all young people
have the opportunity to stay with their foster parents after 18.
Indeed, many foster children choose at 16 or 18 to go into independent
accommodation. I asked the local authorities about that on Monday.
Do the Government have a bigger role to play in accommodation?
For example, could a duty be placed on local authorities to secure
sufficient accommodation for care leavers? How will the Government
support local authorities in improving the supply and quality
of accommodation, of whatever type? We know that the situation
of care leavers must be improved if we are going to make any impact
on the outcomes.
Baroness Morgan: I think that
you are absolutely right. The role of the local authority in securing
a range of appropriate, acceptable accommodation for young people
is an important one. Through the Children and Young Persons Bill,
we are creating a new duty on local authorities to ensure that
they can accommodate their population of children in need within
Q538 Annette Brooke: I think that
that is geographical in many cases, rather than involving the
quality and necessity for support.
Baroness Morgan: I agree. It comes
back to what I was saying before about leaving care, access to
a personal adviser and the assessment that must be made. The pilots,
particularly the leaving care pilot, have focused on the importance
of empowering the young person to take, as you would expect, a
pivotal role in their own decision-making about leaving care,
such as having the opportunity to make their own assessment of
any accommodation that they might be offered, which to me just
seems like common sense. One thing that I was particularly concerned
Q539 Annette Brooke: But if it is
one unsatisfactory flat or unit as opposed to another unsatisfactory
unit that is being offered to them, is that a real choice?
Baroness Morgan: No.
2 See Ev 271. Back
See Ev 273 Back