Examination of Witnesses (Questions 560-579)|
29 OCTOBER 2008
Q560 Chairman: Will you write to
the Committee about this? The advice is that there is not a requirement
to prioritise children's issues.
Baroness Morgan: I will be very
happy to clarify exactly where the duties lie.
Q561 Annette Brooke: Could I just make
one little point on that. It is very much the case that there
is not the duty to provide the actual treatment and, in terms
of therapeutic treatment, we know that many children in care have
been abused and desperately need it. but that the provision of
such treatment is very patchy throughout the country. As an aside,
may I ask you to look into the general provision of therapeutic
treatment for abused children? It is very defective, and no amendments
trying to tackle that problem yet again were accepted even for
debate during discussions on the recent Bill. Minister, you have
identified the many initiatives that have taken place over the
past 10 years, some of which were really exciting such as Quality
Protects, but we are where we are, and there has been no significant
improvement in outcomes or, indeed, even a slippage in the widening
gap in the GCSE educational performance of looked-after children.
You said that you intend to report annually, but surely you must
have some idea over what time scale you expect to see changes
Baroness Morgan: In terms of the
time scale, we are on a journey. We are building on the success
of the work that my predecessors set in place through the implementation
of Care Matters under the Bill. We are overhauling all
the regulations and the guidance, and are producing a simplified
and more accessible framework. We have pockets of good practice
and an inspection regime coming into play that I expect to bring
up the level of less good practice to the best. I know that hon.
Members have been concerned that the pilots are small initiatives,
but my hope and expectation would be that, through them, there
will be an actually normal innovation and a driving force for
new thinking, research, development of ideas and the pressing
forward of care so that we move into a phase when the system will
be about continuous improvement.
Q562 Annette Brooke: I should like
you to be more specific. Looking at all the indicators and poor
outcomes, it would not be very satisfactory if, say in 2012, there
was no improvement. Surely you must have some time horizon, otherwise
we shall drift on for another 10 years.
Chairman: Are you drifting, Minister?
Baroness Morgan: No, we are not
drifting. We have set targets through the national indicators.
Perhaps I am being a bit high level but, in practical terms, local
authorities will have specific targets for improving outcomes
in particular areas. I shall go through them if that will be helpful.
There are 150 national indicators, but an important number of
them are on outcomes for looked-after children. The indicator
for the stability of placements measures the percentage of looked-after
children with three or more placements during the year. At the
moment, 12% of looked-after children have three or more placements
and the target is to reduce that to 10% by 2011, which is in three
years. Is that the sort of thing that you wanted to know about?
Q563 Annette Brooke: That is the
setting of targets. The real question is what will be achieved.
We knowthere is quite a lot of evidencethat with
existing legislation, guidance and standards there is not a universal
level of provision across all local authorities. When the young
people talk they say, for example, that they have not had an input
into their care plans. We can have the fine wordsthe targets
and indicators are going to be importantbut given that
there are so many inconsistencies in compliance with the current
standards, surely you have just got to do a bit more to make sure
that this time it works.
Baroness Morgan: I totally accept
that. We have to do an awful lot more. A full programme of work
in the Department is driving forward this change. We have talked
about the programme board, which will be ensuring that that happens
on an official level and I will be accountable for the ministerial
stocktakes. There is no complacency at all about this work.
Q564 Annette Brooke: You have mentioned
inspection, but are there other ways that you will be addressing
underperformance by local authorities or care providers to ensure
that we really have the implementation of the excellent aspirations
of Care Matters?
Baroness Morgan: Potentially,
one of the most significant changes is the development of children
in care councils. If there is any barometer of our success in
creating the kinds of services that meet the needs of children,
it will be all local authorities having such councils, all councils
speaking freely and fully about the experience of care in their
locality and us hearing and listening carefully, through our stocktakes,
to what children and young people have to say about the services
that are there for them.
Q565 Annette Brooke: Will all councils
have to have a children in care council?
Baroness Morgan: Local authorities,
Q566 Annette Brooke: That was not
the impression that I got from answers that we had on Monday.
Baroness Morgan: It is in the
White Paper. We are confident that all local authorities will
Q567 Annette Brooke: It is not in
the Bill and it was clear from one answer that some authorities
think that they can do things better in other ways. Would it be
more important to put more emphasis on children's rights, along
with the United Nations convention on the rights of the child,
alongside the request that local authorities have a children in
Baroness Morgan: As a Government,
we have made it clear that we will pursue a rights and responsibilities
agenda; the Prime Minister made that clear. I would expect that
looking at the needs of children and young people would be within
that agenda. I think I am saying yes.
Q568 Annette Brooke: I certainly
hope so. You mentioned the indicators, which we all agree with,
to try to reduce the number of placements within a year and, obviously,
if possible and appropriate, within the local authority. But has
the Department done any analysis about why so little progress
has been made on this over the past five years? It seems such
an obvious reason for the underperformance and difficult behaviour
patterns of young people, given that they are constantly moved
from pillar to post. Why have we, generally, as corporate parents,
failed in this so badly?
Baroness Morgan: There will probably
be an enormous range of technical and correct answers to that
question, but in my view it is only now, having had this crescendo
of work, that we are really in a position to take the root and
branch developmental steps that need to be taken. It takes time
to change an enormous system, but I think that now, building on
our past success, we are giving it the right level of attention
through legislation, inspection and the enormous programme of
change. Why we have not succeeded is a very difficult question.
Why will we succeed? It is because we have all the right elements
in place with the work force strategy, when that piece is done,
to create a strong system of continuous improvement. That is where
we have to be. It is not about creating a fixed state system that
delivers a level of care that was okay when it was created. We
need a resilient system that will be able to improve as we go
Q569 Chairman: Is it not a question
of political leadership as well? Many of us celebrated the fact
that it was the Children, Schools and Families Committee and the
Department. Perhaps this Committee is taking children in care
more seriously than the Secretary of State. Do you think that
the Secretary of State really cares about the issue? We have enjoyed
the information that you have shared with us today, but as you
pointed out, you have only been in the job for a short time, as
the Minister responsible for the area has been changed quickly.
Your predecessor was here for just over a year. Now he is gone
and you are with us from the Department for Innovation, Universities
and Skills. Is that a sign that the Secretary of State thinks
that this is a bit of a nuisance area, and that his heart is not
Baroness Morgan: I think that
I said at the beginning that having the new Department and the
Children's Plan has created a momentum around an integrated approach
to considering the services that we provide for children, whether
education or residential care. Looking at the needs of the child
is at the centre, as is creating the system around that child.
That is a leadership question, and it is something that the Secretary
of State has promoted tirelessly.
Q570 Chairman: So Ed Balls cares
Baroness Morgan: He does. But
in terms of junior Ministers, our job is to get in there and do
a good job. Only being three weeks in the post is not a reason
Q571 Chairman: That was not a criticism
of you. We have had great value from your evidence. What I am
saying, as Chair of this Committee, is that I see a much greater
profile and leadership from the Secretary of State on a range
of other issues that this Committee considers.
Baroness Morgan: It depends what
prism you look at things through. If you use the prism of the
media, it is rare that you will see attention given to the kinds
of issue that children leaving care worry about in a way that
is sensitive and productive for them. Look at the work that the
Department is doing, the resource and the intensive nature of
the work programme around Care Matters. It has really impressed
me. Also, on a personal level
Q572 Chairman: Sorry, I am getting
confused. Are you saying that there is not much media interest
in the issue but you still have the political leadership, or are
you saying that the political leadership is weaker because there
is not much media attention? Are there any media here today? I
do not think so. The British media are not interested in children.
They talk about Jonathan Ross.
Baroness Morgan: No, what I am
saying is that the Department's work is being done because of
the leadership. In terms of the leadership and the team, I am
greatly supported by Beverley Hughes, and I am impressed by the
balance of the Children's Plan. The issues for looked-after children
are key, and it is a great time to join the Department and to
work in this area, because there is such a high level of acceptance
and enthusiasm for this area of work, and for working in partnershipthat
is important, and something that I have not said enough aboutwith
local authorities, social care partners and the work force, and
creating the emphasis on the voice of the child. Ultimately, we
shall be tested by whether looked-after children notice the difference
in the support that we are providing.
Q573 Fiona Mactaggart: You spoke
earlier about the national indicator on responsibility of placements,
which is important. Are you aware that only 29 councils have included
that in their targets for assessment under local area agreements?
Does that give you confidence that local authorities are making
looked-after children a priority? That is the one that has been
chosen by most. Of the eight indicators, one has been chosen by
16, and the others by eight or fewer councils. What are you going
to do about that?
Baroness Morgan: We do not need
those indicators to be chosen for the local area agreements for
inspectionfor our interventionto bite. That is important.
When I was looking at the national indicator set, that was the
first thing that I wanted to know. Some of our indicators are
new, so there is no baseline, and it is more difficult for local
authorities to show progression, but that will change over time
and as we go forward. It will not mean that we cannot inspect
against them, or that we will not be able to see, and exert pressure
for, real progress. We are on to that one.
Q574 Fiona Mactaggart: Are you expecting
more local authorities to choose those indicators in future?
Baroness Morgan: I hope that local
authorities will feel that this is an area where they can shine
in future. I hope that they will.
Q575 Fiona Mactaggart: But that is
just a hope.
Baroness Morgan: I am reminded
that some local authorities are already meeting a stability indicator,
as we would all hope, and that all education indicators are in
every local area agreement. I had not realised that until now.
There is already strong emphasis on the education indicators.
To focus on the stability indicator, it is an incredibly important
indicator for looked-after children, and it is important that
it is included in more local area agreements.
Q576 Fiona Mactaggart: I am beginning
to get a senseI did not think I would ever say thisthat
in a way we are over-emphasising educational achievement. The
Every Child Matters outcomes are: to be healthy, to stay
safe, to enjoy and achievebetween them that is one targetto
make a positive contribution, and to achieve economic well-being.
"Achieve" is just half of one of those outcomes. However,
with regard to those children who are finding it really hard to
get the other outcomes, the thing that we seem to be best at measuring
is their educational outcome. We do not seem to be very good at
measuring how they are staying safe, being healthy and enjoying
Baroness Morgan: I think that
some of the indicators are new. Interestingly, because of our
thinking about the development of 21st-century schools and the
need to wrap services around schools for all children so that
they are more accessible, we have recently put more of an emphasis
on the role of schools in promoting well-being and all the elements
that you have just mentioned. There is a lot to learn from both
sides in that regard, but I believe very strongly in the importance
of having good measures and using them to focus the minds of those
responsible for services locally. Those looked-after children
measures will be important for focusing attention on the need,
not just to contain, but to develop and promote better services.
I think that there is a lot of learning, and you are right to
highlight the stability issue.
Q577 Fiona Mactaggart: In the Green
Paper there was a whole load of proposals for the pledge that
were quite specific at the beginning, but by the time they were
set out in the White Paper they seemed to have become consistently
less specific. That is a thing that politicians do, but children,
when engaged in those things, do not have the experience to ask
such questions as, "How often will I get a review?"
and "On what days will my social worker talk to me?"
How can we engage young people in making pledges and ensure that
they are involved? Is there a risk that we will create a mechanism
that is devolved locally where young people are involved and end
up with nice, vague stuff, rather than stuff that young people
can touch and feel and hold their corporate parents to account
Baroness Morgan: I think that
those are really important concerns and that the pledge idea is
valuable. I understand that Bradford is launching a pledge today
and that young people have fed into the development of that pledge,
so perhaps that example would be worth scrutiny. Coming back to
the importance that the Secretary of State places on the voice
of children and how that can work practically through children
in care, looked-after children and councils, their role in feeding
into pledges is very important. That theme permeates every aspect
of the guidance that we are reviewing and the regulations that
we are producing. The needs of the child or young person, as articulated
by them, must be central and must be listened to and taken into
account. I think that that is a fundamental shift that has happened
in recent years. The system will take time to absorb that shift
fully, but we will press that as hard as we can from the Department.
Q578 Mrs Hodgson: I was very pleased
that Fiona mentioned the measuring of outcomes, specifically the
Every Child Matters outcomes, and she quite rightly pointed
out that only a small element of those relates to educational
outcomes. As you will be aware, I had a private Member's Bill
on special educational needs and the collecting of information
and measuring of outcomes for children with special educational
needs. I was therefore interested to read that the Refugee Children's
Consortium has talked about the limited availability of data on
unaccompanied asylum- seeking children in the UK. It has said
that there are no official national figures, for example, on the
numbers of unaccompanied asylum-seeking children in school, on
the number who go on to higher education, the number who get into
trouble with the law and the number of trafficked children who
go missing. Also, as yet, there is no definitive data set for
the proportion of young people in the youth justice system with
looked-after status, although the Youth Justice Board believes
that it might be possible to collect the data from 2009-10. I
know you mentioned the annual stocktake that you will do across
Government Departments, but will that be one of the gaps you are
looking to address in that annual stocktake?
Baroness Morgan: To paraphrase
what I was advised by the Department, this is an incredibly data-rich
area of policy. Apparently, there is an enormous amount of data.
Q579 Mrs Hodgson: So it is not collected
Baroness Morgan: Well, what I
am interested in is how we can understand what all the data mean.
It is all very well having numbers, but what are the trends? On
the stock takes, we will be having quantitative research, but
we will also be doing qualitative researchparticularly
with young people, but also with professionalsto find out
what people think about those numbers. I do not know about the
list of particular points that you just gave. I will have a look
and see what data we do have on those, but it is also a matter
of what people think about those numbersare they going
up or going down? On unaccompanied asylum-seeking children, I
was interested to understand that when the regulations and the
policy we currently work with were decided, there were virtually
no unaccompanied asylum-seeking children. We are now talking about
something like 6,000 a year, which is a significant difference.
I am also interested in understanding the trends.
Chairman: Minister, we have kept you
a long time in your first session in front of a Select Committee.
We have really appreciated your presence and your answers, and
we hope to have a continuing relationship with you over a good
period of time.
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