Reaction to the looked after children green paper
Directors of children’s services have welcomed many aspects of the government’s Green Paper on children in care published today. And, speaking as their statutory, corporate parents, said they are `delighted’ to share the government’s ambitious aims and objectives for the children concerned.
According to John Freeman and John Coughlan, co-Presidents designate of the Association of Directors of Children’s Services, “we have been deeply impressed by the number of excellent proposals that the DfES have come forward with.
“We are particularly pleased that government will be setting up a structured framework within which its ideas can be further developed, and we shall give all the forums in which these debates are to be held our full and active support.”
But both co-Presidents stressed that the Green Paper needs to be seen in the context of new children’s services departments being set up in most local authorities under the Children Act 2004 and which, headed up by a director of children’s services, are responsible for delivering the five outcomes for children.
“These new departments are steadily bedding into local government and tackling their new responsibilities keenly. They are providing significant new opportunities for children in care, and are promising to help us, alongside our partners, achieve substantial advantages and benefits for all our children,” they said.
“We remain doubtful about the practicality of any proposals which could undermine those departments by confusing important lines of accountability within the local authority.”
Robert Tapsfield, chief executive of the Fostering Network, said: “The plans outlined in the green paper could make a real difference in the lives of children in care. In particular, allowing teenagers to stay with their foster carers until the age of 21 would offer massive benefits for many young people who are currently forced out before they are ready.
“We are particularly pleased to see that the Government has listened to the Fostering Network’s campaign messages and will develop a national qualifications framework for foster carers, as well as recognising the importance of paying foster carers for the work that they do. We are also delighted to see the inclusion of registration for foster carers.
“The emphasis being placed on schemes to keep children out of care is also welcome – we support any steps to help families care for their children.
“This green paper demonstrates a genuine concern over current poor outcomes for thousands of children in care, and lays out the foundations for an ambitious programme of change. But the implementation of these proposals will undoubtedly require significant additional funding: in order to translate well-meaning words into meaningful action, legislation must therefore be backed up by real resources.”
Clare Tickell, Chief Executive of NCH said: “The proposed changes will go a long way to address the stark gap in life chances between children in care and others. For too long these children have been let down by the state; unable to fulfil their potential and confined to a life of missed opportunity.
“We particularly welcome the Government’s emphasis on preventing children from going into care in the first place. It’s far better that where possible families are given the support they need to stay together – something NCH does every day.
“Rightly the Government has committed to consulting with the children and young people themselves. They know first hand the daily obstacles and difficulties of the care system and should have the right to influence decisions that will impact on their whole lives.
“But to make a genuine difference to the lives of children in care it will take more than ideas in a green paper. NCH is committed to making sure they are translated into legislation and ultimately real change for every one of these children.”
Other welcome proposals include:
· Individual budgets for each child in care to be held by their lead professional – the social worker.
· A named health practitioner for every child in care, which NCH hopes will help identify those with mental health needs and ensure they can access services.
· A ‘children in care council’ in every local authority that will ensure the voices of those in care are heard.
· Better matching for foster carers and children, to ensure limited disruptions and movement of placements.
· Giving young people a choice on when they leave care once they reach 16.
Unison today warned that setting up childrens’ services to mirror GP surgeries is not the answer to improving the lives and prospects of children in care. Instead, urgent action is needed to tackle the chronic shortage of children’s social workers and residential care staff, to ensure that vulnerable youngsters receive continuity of care and individual attention.
The warning follows the publication of a consultation document “Children in Care” which looks at improving the opportunities for children taken into care.
Helga Pile, UNISON Head of Social Services said: “Instead of setting up complex new structures the Government needs to get back to basics and tackle the recruitment and retention difficulties plaguing children’s social work.
“Children taken into care will already have had a very difficult start in life. They deserve the best possible chance of a good future and continuity of care is vital to help them achieve that aim.
“UNISON is calling for proper systems of workload management to tackle stress and high caseloads so that staff have enough time to spend with individual children.”
“Almost 70% of local authorities report difficulties recruiting children’s social workers with vacancy rates running at 12%. The situation for residential staff is equally grim with unfilled vacancies running at 15% and a 12% turnover in staff which is unacceptably high.
“Mirroring the GP model by setting up independent practices is not the answer. It may sound good in theory, but in practice it is likely to lead to widespread confusion and varying standards. The system would also need careful regulation and the setting up of very strict monitoring and control procedures to ensure good practice and standards.”
The British Association of Social Workers broadly welcomes early indications on the content of the Government’s proposals on children in care.
Social workers have a major contribution to make in transforming the lives of looked after children and the excellent work that many social workers are undertaking throughout England should be applauded.
However, in order for children in care to fulfil their potential the new provisions must be accompanied by proper resources. Equally, if higher expectations are to be turned into genuinely improved outcomes for children in care, it is essential that they are made a priority by all agencies and receive high quality support and services in education, health, housing, specialist mental health services, and from the criminal justice system.
Too often, children in care are moved into independent accommodation as young as 16 as a result of resource limitations, rather than the needs of the individual, a situation that must end if young people’s life prospects are to be enhanced. In determining the appropriate strategy for each young person, it is fundamental that we listen to the voices of children and young people, and work at their pace.
BASW believes that all looked after children have tremendous potential and capacity, with some having gone on to make great lives for themselves and their own families, whether they attain educationally or not. Our aspirations for looked after children must match the aspirations that most parents have for their own children, with the systems of care we put in place clearly reflecting this considerable ambition.
Commenting on the proposals, Ray Jones, Chair of BASW, said: “Too often, competing Government policies have led to children who are not doing so well in schools being discarded and not given the support they desperately require because of their perceived lack of potential. We must remember that children in care have never operated on a level playing field; many will struggle to achieve the same qualifications as their counterparts in the rest of society because of the traumas they have experienced throughout their young lives, coupled with the fact that many have special educational needs. It is critical that the needs of these children are prioritised and that financial support continues for them well into their 20s.”
The National Children’s Bureau (NCB) has welcomed the government’s Green Paper on looked after children published today, which the charity believes is a useful next step in improving outcomes for this group of children and young people and ensuring that they can fulfil their potential.
NCB particularly welcomes the Green Paper’s emphasis on education and on corporate parenting – but is disappointed by the lack of proposed action for unaccompanied asylum-seeking children.
‘The publication of today’s Green Paper is an indication of the political will to improve the lives of looked after children and young people – and in particular to ensure that the state fulfils its responsibility as corporate parent to each and every child in its care,’ said NCB chief executive Paul Ennals.
‘We look forward to working with the government during the consultation period to shape these proposals into clear, practicable action.’
Barnardo’s welcomes the Government’s much anticipated Green Paper. Barnardo’s is particularly pleased that this Green Paper – for the first time – brings together all aspects of life in care from the prevention of children being taken into care , better support for education and improved provision for care leavers.
Chief Executive, Martin Narey, said: ‘Children in care either have no parents or parents who either will not or cannot look after them adequately. That is disadvantage enough. But when the state takes over as parent we fail them miserably, almost ensuring that a disadvantaged childhood will be followed by an adult life of poverty, disadvantage and, all too often imprisonment”
“ So we very much welcome this Green Paper with its acknowledgement that, despite significant investment, we are failing these children and need nothing short of a revolution in their care with a particularly pressing need to transform their educational prospects. The challenge now is to translate the admirable intent behind the Green Paper into practical reality. Barnardo’s stands ready to contribute to that process”.
However, Barnardo’s has concerns:-
We would like the Government to look in more detail at the use of residential care as a positive option for some children and young people. We believe this option would be particularly appropriate for some of the 40 per cent of children and young people who come into care aged 10 to 15 years and are likely to have links with their own family and who do not want or are not able to respond to a substitute family.
Barnardo’s welcomes the proposals for a new qualifications framework for residential staff, but remains concerned that it may not be sufficient to address the issue of consistently being able to recruit and retain the high quality and skilled people needed to provide the stability and professional support to meet the needs of vulnerable children.
Boarding school may be an appropriate option for a small number of particularly challenging children in care. Boarding school can sometimes make long term fostering – because it may be for 20 weeks of the year rather than 52 – a much more achievable outcome.
The proposal for pilots to enable young people to stay in foster care until they are 21 is a very welcome step in ensuring that young people do not have to live unsupported at too young an age, but we believe that all children in care should have this option – those in residential as well as foster care.
NSPCC director and chief executive Mary Marsh said: “The NSPCC welcomes the Government’s strong commitment to improve the lives of looked after children. However, two thirds of looked after children will have experienced abuse or neglect and yet the green paper fails to ensure that the needs of this vulnerable group are met.
“Children who have been abused are confused, scared and angry about their experiences. Placing them into care without therapeutic assessment and provision can leave them raw from the traumas they have experienced.
“Abuse can affect a child’s mental health and their ability to learn and develop socially. They can be left exposed and vulnerable to depression, substance misuse, self harm and suicide.”
The NSPCC wants the government to provide stability – children should be given high quality foster or residential placements with carers who are trained to understand the impact abuse can have on their behaviour and development.
Foster carers themselves need support to help them understand and cope with an abused child’s emotional needs. This will increase the likelihood of a successful placement.
Mary Marsh continued: “Looked after children already have the odds stacked against them. Placing them in care without appropriate support means children don’t have a decent opportunity to overcome their experiences. The Government must not miss this chance of providing therapy and stability for these particularly vulnerable children.”
Social care professionals give their views on independent social care practices, mooted in the green paper.