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

Supplementary memorandum submitted by The Baroness Morgan of Drefelin, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, DCSF

  Thank you for the opportunity to give evidence to the Children, Schools and Families Select Committee inquiry into looked after children. I committed to providing further information on a number of topics. I thought it also might be helpful to build on the evidence I gave by briefly setting out how Care Matters will be delivered at the national and local levels and the impact this will have on individual looked after children.


  The experiences of looked after children are at the heart of the Care Matters reforms, which focus on improving the support for these children to ensure they have a better experience of care and achieve improved outcomes. During the consultation on the Care Matters Green Paper, children were very clear about what they wanted and this has shaped the agenda, in particular the central importance of stability in children's lives and of the voice of the child being heard in the care system.

  A key priority is to give children a greater say over their care by ensuring that their wishes and feelings influence their care plan and are considered during their statutory reviews. Strengthening the role of the Independent Reviewing Officer (IRO) will be key to securing these improvements.

  The Care Matters White Paper set a clear expectation for local authorities to establish children in care councils and to develop a pledge for children in care in partnership with this council. These mechanisms will ensure that looked after children are consulted about the services they receive; that they are able to influence decisions that affect them at a strategic level; and their views are listened to.

  Looked after children will directly benefit from the improved support and services that are being introduced by the Care Matters reforms. This includes visits for all looked after children, wherever they are living; extending the eligibility for independent visitors to all children who would benefit from one; placing the designated teacher on a statutory footing; introduction of the personal educational allowance and the Child Trust Fund Top-up; the presumption that looked after children will remain in care to age 18, and perhaps beyond; and the extension of the entitlement to a personal advisor for care leavers.

  Our emphasis on increasing stability for looked after children relates to the key individuals in their lives as well as their placements. Our workforce reforms include an emphasis on reducing social worker turnover and we have focused our efforts on improving placement stability for all looked after children.

  An example of policies that are already having a significant impact on the children is the Government's investment in the Multi-Dimensional Treatment Foster Care (MTFC) model to improve the chance of finding long term or permanent placements for young children with significant emotional difficulties and complex needs.


  The Care Matters White Paper provides a comprehensive examination of what needs to be changed and improved in the care system that continues to have support from across the sector. I am clear that we can only deliver on the White Paper's commitments if we see through our reforms, promote innovation and strengthen our oversight of the performance of the care system. This will ensure that we maintain the momentum for change that has been stimulated by the development of Care Matters.

Reforming the System

  The Children and Young Persons Bill strengthens provisions in the Children Act 1989 to take forward our reforms to the care system. To support the implementation of these changes we plan to revise the entire statutory framework of regulations and guidance. This will include producing, for the first time, a single set of care planning and review regulations and statutory guidance to provide the necessary clarity of focus on these key areas. Good care planning is closely linked to personalisation of the care and support arrangements, for instance by making the right contact arrangements that reflect the particular needs of the individual child. These changes will be a major driver to improve practice.

  I highlighted the importance of our long term children's workforce strategy in ensuring the workforce is equipped to deliver. We have already made clear our intention to ensure that training for social workers is of a high quality and relevant to the tasks social workers are required to undertake.

  In the Children's Plan we stated that we want to improve qualifying training and continuing professional development for children's social workers to ensure that all have qualifications and skills that are fit for purpose. We have made good progress towards achieving this ambition in the past year, launching a £73 million package of support for social workers who work with children and young people to be delivered through the Children's Workforce Development Council (CWDC) over the next three years. CWDC have already launched their Newly Qualified Social Worker pilots which form the first stage of their continuing professional development framework and which provide a protected first year in practice. They are currently developing the further stages of the framework, including an advanced practitioner status to attract and reward experienced social workers to stay in field work posts.

  The Government's 2020 Children's Workforce strategy will be published later this year.

Innovation and Dissemination

  Over the summer and autumn, a series of regional conferences have taken place across England to help spread best practice and maintain the momentum for taking forward the Care Matters reforms. A number of regions are currently holding sub-regional conferences.

  The Committee asked a number of questions about the pilots that we are running as a result of Care Matters. These include adapting international models, for instance by introducing social pedagogy to children's homes and trialling the Multi-Systemic Therapy early intervention programme that has been developed in America. Although I appreciate the sentiments behind calls for us to consider rolling some of these out nationally at an accelerated rate, it is absolutely right that we are piloting these approaches. Pilots allow us to identify barriers that need to be addressed and to properly assess the impact on the workforce and on outcomes for children and families. The pilots will be carefully evaluated and we will also be looking at disseminating emerging findings to other local authorities during the course of the pilots.

  We will identify, support and disseminate good practice in this sector through the Improvement and Development Agency for Local Government (IDeA) and Regional Improvement and Efficiency Partners (RIEP). My Department has also recently established the Centre 4 Excellence in Outcomes. Looked after children has been selected as one of the priority areas for the Centre.

Strengthening Oversight and Accountability

  The National Indicator Set contains a combination of well established performance measures and new outcome indicators such as the indicator focused on the emotional health and well-being of children in care. Taken together the indicators provide a balanced picture of the outcomes for looked after children and reflect the priorities identified by Care Matters.

  The new programme board for Care Matters that has been established by my Department will oversee performance across the system, with a particular focus on all of the relevant national indicators. This board will be chaired by my Director General for Children and Families and a range of key partners from across national and local government and the voluntary sector. This board will meet regularly to examine the latest evidence and take responsibility for seeing the improvements in the care system we are all seeking.

  The Annual Ministerial Stocktake will draw the quantative and qualitative evidence together. This will be an annual chance to maintain the focus on this agenda, assess the progress that has been made and consider whether there is more that can be done to increase the pace of improvements. As I explained to the Committee, the Stocktake will culminate in an event that I will chair, which will hear directly from looked after children and Care Leavers. After each stocktake, a Report will be laid before Parliament. I hope that the Committee will contribute to this process each year and read this Report with interest.


  Improving local performance is central to driving up outcomes for looked after children. These improvements will need to be delivered through local partnerships from the frontline up to the strategic management level, building on children's trusts arrangements.

Local Reforms

  All local authorities are making progress on introducing the Integrated Children's System (ICS) and those that are furthest along the implementation process are seeing real benefits. ICS provides a conceptual framework, a method of practice and a business process to support practitioners and managers in undertaking the key statutory tasks of assessment, planning, intervention and review, underpinned by an electronic system. ICS also offers local authorities much richer data for analysis and to support local planning at a strategic level.

  Local authorities are already analysing their care populations and reviewing their strategies and service provision with their partners. The new sufficiency duty introduced by the Children and Young Persons Bill will increase this emphasis on strategic planning. Over time this will deliver whole system change, so we should see for example fewer reactive placements being made and less spot purchasing. Instead we will see local authorities building up their stock of local accommodation and reducing out of authority placements. We are also encouraging local authorities to increase their use of evidence based services and interventions.

  My Department funded Loughborough University to develop the cost calculator for local authorities to assist their service planning. Further tools are being developed to assist local authorities.

  The revised Public Law Outline and accompanying Statutory Guidance for local authorities came into force in April 2008. A range of issues had been identified in relation to care proceedings that were having a negative impact on children including delays and poorly prepared applications. Amongst the key reforms are a greater emphasis on the quality of pre-proceedings work by local authorities and a streamlining of the court processes. These measures will improve planning and decision making for children coming into care and ensure that they find permanence at the earliest appropriate time.

Adolescents Coming into Care

  I was asked to provide further information about trends of adolescents coming into care. According to statistical collections the number of children aged 10 and over becoming looked after has remained stable between 2003-04 and 2007-08 at roughly 48% of all children becoming looked after; the number of 16 and 17 year olds becoming looked after has actually increased from 6% of the total to 10% of the total over the same period. This does not suggest a trend of reducing numbers of adolescents coming into care. We will be publishing findings from a research study on adolescents and neglect soon.

  Nevertheless, we are aware of cases in which local authorities are purported to exercise their powers inappropriately, for example by providing accommodation and other services to adolescents under section 17 of the Children Act 1989 instead of under section 20 of that Act. We will address this head on in the revised statutory guidance. This will make it clear that where there is an assessment that a homeless young person needs to be provided with accommodation by the local authority in almost all cases they should be supported as a looked after child.

Safeguarding and Exploitation

  Safeguarding the needs of sexually exploited young people is vitally important. I committed to provide further information on the safeguarding arrangements.

  We are producing new guidance on safeguarding children and young people from sexual exploitation to replace our current guidance, Safeguarding Children Involved in Prostitution which was issued in 2000. The new guidance applies to children and young people under the age of 18—boys as well as girls—and reflects our current understanding of the inter-related nature of different forms of sexual exploitation.

  The guidance sets out an inter agency approach to developing and implementing local policy and procedures and covers all the important elements that practitioners will need guidance on. This includes the roles and responsibilities of different organisations involved in safeguarding and promoting the welfare of children; action that can be taken to prevent and reduce sexual exploitation; how to manage individual cases and what needs to be done to identify and prosecute perpetrators.

  Consultation on the draft guidance closed on 10 October and we aim to publish the new guidance by the end of the year. We will also ensure that the updated guidance on Missing from Home and Care, covers the particular needs of both those young people who are in care because they have been trafficked, and those young people who have been groomed whether they have been persuaded away from either their home or care.

  The MTFC programmes for adolescents I referred to earlier in this letter specifically address the issues for young people who are being sexually exploited and enable them to reduce their risk taking behaviour.

Involvement of Health Services

  Concerns were raised about whether local health bodies prioritise children's issues. Section 10 of the Children Act 2004 provides that local authorities, NHS bodies and other partners in their area must co-operate in the making of arrangements to improve the well-being of children. My Department is currently revising the statutory guidance on Promoting the Health of Looked After Children, this will be issued under Section 10, which means that both the local authority and the NHS must have regard to it.

  All Primary Care Trusts (PCTs) must work jointly with local authorities to produce a Joint Strategic Needs Assessment (JSNA) in relation to health. The statutory guidance on the development of Joint Strategic Needs Assessment makes it clear that the needs of vulnerable groups such as looked after children should be taken into account in the development of this assessment.

  Since April 2008 all looked after children have been screened for emotional and behavioural difficulties. This is done through annual use of a Strengths and Difficulties Questionnaire (SDQ), conducted for each looked after child by their carer. This should be followed by action at the local authority and individual child level where problems are identified. We are also rolling out specialist training for foster carers and residential care staff in responding appropriately to children.

Local Performance Improvement

  Without trying to micro-manage local authorities and their partners, we must be able to examine at the national level whether we are seeing consistent improvements in outcomes for looked after children. That is why we are significantly strengthening our oversight of the system, working with our partners.

  Performance must be closely monitored at the local level if we are to deliver improved outcomes for looked after children. There is a robust framework that supports this:

  The positions of Director of Children's Services and Lead Member for children's services have established clear lines of accountability within the local authority;

  There will be a new programme of inspection, led by Ofsted, of services for looked after children and safeguarding services for children inspecting each local authority area once in a 3-year period; and,

  Performance against all national indicators will be considered and reported annually by the Audit Commission as part of Comprehensive Area Assessments. In addition local authorities agree specific targets for the statutory education indicators (including three for children in care) and up to 35 indicators that are included in their Local Area Agreements.

  Local authorities and their partners will examine the impact of their reforms and assess whether they have the right priorities to maintain the necessary focus on the needs of looked after children.

  I look forward to reading the Committee's Report and welcome your contribution to improving the lives of looked after children.

November 2008

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