Last-ditch attempts by campaigners to amend legislation on services for looked-after children in England and Wales failed this week, as it moved towards becoming law.
The Children and Young Persons Bill had its third reading in the House Commons on Wednesday. It will now go back to the House of Lords for changes made in the Commons to be ratified, and is expected to gain Royal Assent next month.
Among its measures, the legislation would enable councils to pilot contracting out social work services for looked-after children to new independent teams of practitioners, known as practices.
Campaigners failed in their efforts to secure the right for all children to remain in foster care until 21, as opposed to 18, and for foster carers to be registered with a professional body, to increase their status. Neither issue was pushed to a vote in Wednesday’s debate.
The Fostering Network, which had campaigned for both measures, expressed its disappointment. Robert Tapsfield, its chief executive, said “nothing will change” for young people outside the ten areas where the government is piloting increasing the care leaving age to 21.
On professional registration for foster carers, he said: “We will continue to lobby the government to introduce the registration of foster carers as we believe this will safeguard children, improve the training and support of foster carers and give them the status and recognition they deserve.”
Two amendments were pushed to a vote on Wednesday – both of which were defeated – on giving councils responsibility for all children in care who enter custody, and introducing compulsory registration of private fostering arrangements.
Shadow children’s minister Tim Loughton tabled both.
Currently children who are in care as a result of an agreement between their parents and a local authority – under section 20 of the Children Act 1989 – lose their looked-after status and the support that goes with it on entering custody.
Loughton said: “It is sad that such a good bill should have missed such a good opportunity to protect some very vulnerable children. We wanted to ensure that children in care who entered custody would be guaranteed continuity of care and would not find their personal care needs lost in the system.”
The Children Act 1989 placed a duty on carers to notify councils about private fostering arrangements, under which children are looked after by someone who is not a parent or relative through a private arrangement.
The Children Act 2004 strengthened notification arrangements including by placing a duty on councils to publicise the need to notify. It also set a deadline of 2008 for the government to decide whether to introduce registration of private fostering arrangements should efforts to improve notification levels prove insufficient.
However, as currently stands, the Children and Young Persons Bill would extend this deadline to 2011.
Matter of urgency
Loughton said registration needed to be introduced “as a matter of urgency” and said the government “completely failed to justify” its opposition to his amendment.
As of March 2008, 1,330 children were recorded as being in private fostering arrangements in England, though it has been estimated that around 10,000 children are affected.