20 March 2008
Stability must be priority for looked-after children, say MPs
The Children, Schools and Families Committee today publishes its report on the
Children and Young Persons Bill [Lords] . 1
A major recommendation of the report is the need to maintain the continuity and stability of services for children in care, regardless of who is the provider. The Bill will allow local authorities to contract out responsibility for services to "a provider of social work services" and these arrangements will be piloted over the next five years. The Committee welcomes the pilots but says that they must be properly monitored and evaluated.
Stable relationships with adults are vital for the development of looked-after children and as such the Committee recommends that every looked-after child has one key individual to whom he or she can turn. Where possible the child should be entitled to say which individual should perform that role.
The Government has confirmed that schools must have a designated teacher responsible for looked-after children's educational achievement. As this proposal does not currently apply to Academies, the Committee also advises that if all Academies do not designate a teacher for this crucial role, the Minister should consider including them in this legislation.
The independent reviewing officer system2 is not yet working effectively. The Committee suggests that if problems continue the Government should look again at the need to introduce professional advocates to work on behalf of the child or young person.
The Committee also advocates a broader bursary system to include not just looked-after children who gain a university place but all of those in post-16 education and training.
The Chairman of the Children, Schools and Families Committee, Barry Sheerman MP, said:
"This is the first report of our new Committee. From the outset we have taken a close interest in children's services and the broad scope of children's issues for which the new Department has responsibility.
"Our key message to the Government is that continuity and stability for looked-after children should be the priority at all times. Looked-after children must be able to thrive in an environment where they are given every opportunity to develop both socially and in terms of educational achievement.
"We hope that our report will help to ensure that this remains the primary objective of this important Bill."
1 The Government has been consulting over policy on the care of looked-after children since the publication of the Care Matters green paper in October 2006. The consultation on the green paper led to the White Paper Care Matters: Time for Change in June 2007, and various working groups were then established by the Government to shape proposals further. As part of this process, Children and Young Persons Bill [Lords] was introduced earlier this session to implement changes which required primary legislation.
2 Independent reviewing officers are social workers who chair all looked-after children's statutory review meetings, from which position they can identify any problems with the child's care or with the care plan.