Education is at the centre of the largest scale plans for looked-after children’s services for a decade. But some campaigners are disappointed by the lesser emphasis on health and custody.
The £305m package in the Care Matters: Time for Change white paper, published last week, includes a requirement on councils not to move looked-after children from schools in years 10 and 11 “except in exceptional circumstances” and a pledge of £500 a year to support each looked-after child at risk of low educational achievement.
Overall, the white paper contains 288 references to schools and 240 to education, compared with 176 references to health, but only 17 to mental health. It has just 16 references to housing or homelessness, nine references to unaccompanied asylum-seeking children and seven references to children in custody.
While Paul Ennals, chief executive of the National Children’s Bureau, was among many campaigners who welcomed the white paper, he called its health plans “tentative”. Proposals include introducing a named health professional for all children in care, subject to funding becoming available in this year’s comprehensive spending review, and funding for multi-systemic therapy pilots to enable high-risk adolescents to remain living at home with their families.
David Chater, head of policy at young people’s charity Rainer, said he feared ideas previously aired concerning looked-after children in custody in last October’s Care Matters green paper last year had been “watered down” in the new set of proposals.
The green paper proposed putting a requirement on councils to carry out a voluntary assessment of the needs of looked-after children in their care who entered youth custody “in the expectation that they will continue to be supported as a child in care,” involving a social worker and a care plan.
Instead, the white paper places requirements on social workers to visit looked-after children in custody. Chater said this lacked the detail of the green paper and could lead to councils “lowering their expectations” in relation to their duty to looked-after children in custody.
White paper extra
Social work practices
As expected, the white paper set out details of pilots of GP-style social work practices that would contract with councils to provide field social work for looked-after children. A report published alongside the white paper said the practices could be made up of six to 10 “partners”, most of whom would be social workers. While the idea of the practices was met with widespread opposition when it was mooted in last year’s green paper, the report said it did not imply that the direct provision of social work for looked-after children by councils would be replaced by social work practices. There are expected to be nine pilots that run for at least two years and will include practices run by voluntary and private agencies. See next week’s Community Care for a full analysis.
Councils will be subjected to an “annual stocktake” where ministers will review progress for looked-after children. Children’s minister Beverley Hughes said this would not involve setting formal national targets, but will “look in detail at issues limiting progress”. She insisted the measure would not be a “bureaucratic exercise”.
Alongside the white paper, the government announced plans for a bigger role for business in supporting looked-after children. HSBC Global Education Trust is providing £1m to pilot individual tuition schemes for looked-after children that will run in Dudley, West Midlands, Gateshead in the North East, Merton, south London, and Warwickshire. HSBC has also pledged to pilot a scheme to give care leavers access to its management training programme, while BT has committed to getting care leavers on to its apprenticeship programme.
What are the key proposals?
● Requiring councils to ensure that looked-after children do not move schools in years 10 and 11 “except in exceptional circumstances”.
● Giving looked-after children the right to stay in care up to the age of 18 or remain with foster carers until they are 21.
● Strengthening the statutory framework so councils cannot place a child outside of their local area unless it is in the child’s best interests.
● Enable kinship carers to apply for a residence order if the child has lived with them for one year, and for residence orders to last until the child is 18.
● Introducing a newly qualified social worker status for children and family social workers, similar to the induction given to newly qualified teachers.