Campaigners have welcomed today’s looked-after children white paper but raised concerns over a lack of resources, inadequate support for foster carers and insufficient emphasis on health.
Fostering Network chief executive Robert Tapsfield said Care Matters: Time for Change could make a real difference to the lives of children in care but he said the £305m promised over from 2007-11 was a “massive shortfall” on the charity’s estimate of a £633 annual deficit in the system in England.
Tapsfield also heavily criticised its failure to propose the registration of foster carers, which was mooted in last October’s predecessor green paper, saying this would have driven up standards and ensured children were protected from poor practice and misconduct.
NCB backed the white paper’s emphasis on the voice of children in care and recognition of the role of residential care, but criticised the lack of proposals on looked-after children in custody and said it fell short on increasing the role of health professionals.
Chief executive Paul Ennals said: “The white paper represents a step forward in creating a coherent system of support for the most vulnerable children and young people in our society. But the government has further to go to demonstrate that all government departments are speaking with one voice and working together to tackle all their needs.”
NCH chief executive Clare Tickell called on the Department of Health to follow the Departement for Education and Skills’ “impressive lead” in producing the white paper, by improving mental health services for looked-after children.
She said: “Most of us take it for granted that we can talk to a family member of friend about our emotions if we are feeling down, but for many children in care this is a luxury they don’t have. That’s why the government has got to get it right.”
The British Association for Adoption and Fostering said the government needed to take urgent action so children could benefit from the reforms as soon as possible, and warned some of the proposals would need “considerable” funding.
David Holmes, chief executive of BAAF, said: “This white paper is of vital importance. It is honest about failures with the current system – such as variations in service provision from one geographical area to another and the fact that too many children are still moving around too often. Professionals and carers are already working incredibly hard, but the Government has also recognised that local authorities need more support and resources to deliver the very best service to all children in care.”
Barnardo’s chief executive Martin Narey said that while the charity broadly welcomed the white paper, he wanted to know how councils would ensure that placements for older children were appropriate if they were to stay in care until they were 21.
He also called for more to be done to reduce school exclusions of looked-after children. “A principle of last resort is not enough without robust measures to ensure that schools comply,” he said.
The Care Leaver’s Association argued that the white paper did not “go far enough” in helping young people leaving care and questioned why a pilot was needed to assess whether foster parent support was needed up to the age of 21.
Will McMahon, chair of the Care Leaver’s Association, said:” The CLA has long argued that no young people should leave care before the age of 18, regardless of whether they are in residential or foster care. This is not rocket science. Every good parent knows the answer. Young people should be able to stay in care for much longer, until their early twenties if necessary, just like most other young people who live with their parents.”
Essential information about children in care