Children in Care - Public Accounts Contents

3  Improving good practice and outcomes

20. The Care Leavers' Association told us that good practice exists in caring for children, but it has not been rolled out. This can be due to competitiveness between local authorities, but is also because there is not one central point where evidence is collected and analysed to help inform whether new practices should be adopted.[43] The Department admitted that dissemination of good practice is not as good as it could be although it shares good practice 'when it sees it'. Ofsted also identifies good practice in the course of its inspections.[44]

21. In 2014, the Department's launched a £100 million Innovation Programme designed to identify and spread successful practice. It also told us about an example of where it had imported evidence-based interventions from the United States like multi-systemic therapy and multi-intervention foster care, and had tested them in 70 local authorities. To enable local authorities and their councillors to question their own performance, the Department has created an online benchmarking tool-the local authority interactive tool, which is used by central and local government officers and Ofsted. It provides access to key data held by the Department and other government departments about children and the services provided to them. The tool has on average 1,000 users a month, but not all will be accessing data on children in care.[45]

22. Ofsted said that the level of educational attainment among children in care is "shockingly poor", and the gap between them and their peers is "shockingly wide".[46] We agree. The Department confirmed that absolute measures of attainment have improved for children in care, as they have for all children although the gap between their educational attainment and that of their peers not in care has not narrowed. At GCSE level, the gap in attainment was 38% in 2008/09, but was nearly 43% in 2012/13.[47] But there have been some improvements in absence rates and exclusions from school.[48]

23. To help improve educational attainment, all local authorities must now have a virtual school head, and the Department has doubled the amount given in pupil premium for children in care to £1,900 a year.[49] The Department has not put in place a system for measuring the direct impact of virtual school heads.[50] Instead it intends to rely on data on the educational attainment of children in care to gauge their impact, and the three-yearly Ofsted report on how well virtual school heads are performing in specific local authorities.[51]

24. The most vulnerable children are at particular risk of becoming victims of child sexual exploitation. The Department told us that placing children at risk of sexual exploitation in secure accommodation was a complicated issue as some local authorities considered that taking away children's liberty to protect them was not the right answer, while other local authorities think that it is exactly the right thing to do, In these latter cases finding a suitable, secure welfare place is inefficient, with social workers having to telephone around providers in England, or even Scotland, to find an available place.[52]

25. Ofsted also reported that local authorities spot purchase placements as and when required, for those at risk of or subject to child sexual exploitation. As a result Ofsted had found that children experienced multiple placement moves, due to poor placement planning and poor commissioning of initial placements that fail to meet the needs of the young person. By contrast, the Youth Justice Board commissions places nationally as part of its secure estate for children and young people remanded or sentenced by the courts.[53]

26. The Department is now providing an informal clearing-house facility to identify secure welfare places for children at risk of child sex exploitation, though it stated that it had no statutory responsibility to do so. It recognised that it needs to put its clearing-house on a firmer footing. It told us that it had been working with the Association of Directors of Children's Services to develop some form of central co-ordination and whether this will be run by the Department or another body has yet to be decided.[54]

27. Children who go missing from care for extended periods of time are the ones who are the most vulnerable and often get involved in child sexual exploitation. Ofsted told us that there was either a lack of understanding, or a lack of urgency, on the importance of having a national register of missing children. At present the local data that the police hold on missing children do not always align with what the local authority holds. Ofsted said that ensuring there was an up-to-date national register of missing children was a role that the Department should fulfil. Ofsted inspectors are disappointed to find inconsistent information on which children are missing when assessing the adequacy of local systems for safeguarding missing children.[55]

43   Q 12 Back

44   Qq 139, 152, 159 Back

45   Qq 140, 146, 190; C&AG's Report, para 1.12; Written evidence from the Department for Education, January 2015 Back

46   Q 105 Back

47   Q 97-100, 103-107; C&AG's report Figure 6 Back

48   Q 157; C&AG's report para 2.13, Figure 8 Back

49   Q 105, 117; C&AG's report para 2.10  Back

50   C&AG's report para 2.11 Back

51   Qq 105, 117-118, 122 Back

52   Qq 13, 164, 157; C&AG's Report para 1.24 Back

53   Qq 163, 175; C&AG's Report para 1.25 Back

54   Qq 171-175 Back

55   Q 199 Back

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Prepared 11 March 2015