MPs urge action on children in care reforms

The government’s ambitions to improve outcomes for children in care will not succeed without significant improvements in the workforce and the supply and quality of placements.

That was the message from the House of Commons’ children, schools and families select committee in a wide-ranging report on looked-after children’s services published today.

Children and Young Persons Act 2008

MPs backed the ambitions of the government’s Care Matters agenda to improve outcomes for children in care, which were enshrined in legislation in the Children and Young Persons Act 2008.

This imposed a duty on councils to take steps to secure sufficient appropriate accommodation for looked-after children within the local area.

Placements duty ‘a tall order’

However, the committee warned that this was likely to be “an extremely tall order” for councils to fulfil given the current supply and quality of placements, particularly given government ambitions to increase the number of young people staying with foster carers over the age of 18.

The committee called on the government to assess the quantity of placements required to implement the Care Matters reforms.

It said tackling the shortage in the supply of foster carers required the replacement of local discretion with a national system of fee payments, including retainers when carers do not have placements, to ensure they are adequately remunerated.

Foster care registration urged

MPs also called on the government to reverse its opposition to a mandatory registration scheme for foster carers, which campaigners including the Fostering Network argue will raise the status and quality of carers.

However, the committee also called for a renewed emphasis on residential child care, saying it should not be seen as a last resort for children who have been difficult to place elsewhere.

‘Huge concern’ over residential workforce

It said the low-level of training and qualifications in the sector was a matter of “huge concern”, with a requirement in the national minimum standards for all staff to have achieved an NVQ level 3 in caring for children and young people by January 2005 yet to be met.

It said the government should make NVQ level 3 qualifications “mandatory at the soonest possible opportunity” and said that over the long-term “a more coherent and ambitious strategy for the residential care workforce must be a priority”.

GSCC urges registration

Responding to today’s report, the General Social Care Council renewed its call for residential child care staff to be registered – something for which there is currently no government timetable.

GSCC chief executive Mike Wardle said: “We share the aspirations of the select committee – and indeed of the workforce itself – to ensure that the skills and knowledge of children’s workers are significantly improved and that their practice and their conduct is of the highest quality.

“We believe that extending registration to residential care workers, which will require them to gain qualifications and keep their training up to date, will help to drive up standards.”

Other recommendations

Among its other recommendations, the committee:- 

  • Called on the Social Work Taskforce to consider how social workers can be freed up to carry out preventive work with families.
  • Urged the government to consider the practicalities of specifying optimum caseloads for social workers.
  • Called for a “national consensus” on the rationale behind entry and exit to the care system to tackle local variations in practice.
  • Said children accommodated under voluntary arrangements should retain their looked-after status if they enter custody.
  • Urged the government to guarantee the future funding of social work posts in young offender institutions.

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Putting Care Matters into practice for looked-after children

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