Headlines: September 21st, 2006



A report today sets out what it labels the ‘catastrophic failure’ of the system for looking after children in care. In “Handle With Care: an investigation into the care system”, the author Harriet Sergeant analyses each stage of the system and describes what the Centre for Policy Studies is calling “the betrayal of 60,000 young people in care.”

She has interviewed children in care and uses their own words to illustrate the extent of problems. The report finds that of the 6,000 young people who emerge from care each year, 4,500 will have no educational qualifications and within two years 3,000 will be unemployed, 2,100 will be mothers or pregnant and 1,200 will be homeless. Of the 6,000, just 60 will go to university.

The report says this is not just a tragedy for those individuals but is a major contributor to social exclusion. It claims that a successful system of care would empty a third of prisons and move half of all prisoners under 25 out of the criminal justice system. The number of prostitutes and homeless people would also be halved.

Harriet Sergeant says the state has complete control of young people when it removes them from their parents. “It should be a unique opportunity to transform these children’s lives. Instead, vast sums of money are being spent on a system that contains rather than cares or protects.”

She looks at the failings of each stage of the system, including children in foster care being moved from carer to carer far too frequently. Care homes, she says, too often focus on short-term containment rather than long-term success. In the education system she finds the gap betweentheGovernment’s good intentions and reality at its widest. Of the leaving care system, she writes, “Most parents do not trust their 16- year-olds on their own for a weekend. Yet we expect the most immature, emotionally damaged and ill-prepared teenagers to cope with little more than a text message every six months from their adviser. And for those who are single mothers, to look after a child as well.”

Hariet Sergeants says that many strong-willed and talented individuals survive the care system and many local authorities and social workers do make a real difference to the lives of young people but she adds that the figures speak for themselves. She believes the primary objective of reform must be to provide secure, stable, long-term and loving care for difficult children, which has to be provided for as long as it takes for them to be able to move successfully into society.

“Handle with care: an investigation into the care system” is published by the Centre for Policy Studies.