The Department for Education holds policy responsibility for children in care, and has national oversight of the local authorities who provide the services for these children. Although the Department is clearly best placed to provide the leadership required in many cases, it shows an alarming reluctance to play an active role in securing better services and outcomes for children in care. It chooses to limit its role to passing legislation, publishing guidance and intervening after Ofsted has failed a local authority service. It does far too little to disseminate actively what works and to support authorities to improve before they are failed by Ofsted. It sits on a wealth of information and knowledge which it fails to use in an active way to support better outcomes for this most vulnerable group of children.
There has been little or no improvement in outcomes for children in foster and residential care and how well they are looked after. While 62% of children in care have suffered abuse and neglect, too many still do not get the right placement first time, too many are moved too often, and too few are placed close to their homes. A lack of placement stability can have a long-term impact on the emotional and physical health, social development, education and future employment prospects of these children. In 2012-13, 34% of children in care had more than one placement during the year; and one third of children in residential care and 14% of fostered children were placed more than 20 miles from home. None of these figures have changed since 2009. The Department collects lots of data about children in care, but it is too passive and leaves responsibility to local authorities, failing to understand that responsibility to act to achieve better for children in care should be shared. If the Department is serious about its objectives to improve the quality of care, which we support wholeheartedly, then a step change is required in the Department's attitude and leadership.