Children in care could be given the power to overrule decisions about them leaving care before the age of 18, under proposals to reform the care system.
Launching the long-awaited green paper on looked-after children, education secretary Alan Johnson criticised the current system, under which a quarter of children in care leave home aged 16.
The green paper, Care matters: transforming the lives of children and young people in care, proposes piloting both a veto for young people over any decisions about moving on from care before they turn 18, and allowing young people to continue to live with foster carers up to the age of 21.
“We want to abandon a system where young people are forced to leave care as early as 16,” the paper states. “We want an approach which continues to support them as long as they need it, which ceases to talk about ‘leaving care’ and instead ensures that young people move on in a gradual phased and above all prepared way.”
As expected, the green paper also proposes a tiered framework of foster placements, underpinned by better training and a new fee structure. However, Department for Education and Skills officials warned that only foster carers providing specialist care to children with severe or complex needs were likely to end up drawing a salary.
A working group is also being set up to explore the feasibility of piloting new social care practices, run by voluntary or community organisations, social enterprises or private business.
Each practice would hold a budget, provided through a contract with a local authority, which they would use for individual social workers to fund the placement, support and activities for ‘their’ child.
However, while welcoming the government’s aims to improve the lives of children in care, the Association of Directors of Social Services warned against over-complicating the system, stressing the need to see the proposals in the context of the new children’s services departments being set up under the Children Act 2004.
“We remain doubtful about the practicality of any proposals which could undermine those departments by confusing important lines of accountability within the local authority,” said co-presidents designate John Freeman and John Coughlan.