VITAL ROLE OF COUNCILS IN TRANSFORMING LIVES OF CHILDREN IN CARE
The green paper, published by the DfES, puts councils at the centre of radical and wide-ranging reforms to improve the quality, range and choice of care for society’s most vulnerable children. The outcomes of the 60,000 children in care at any one time have improved in recent years, but there is a wide difference between children in care and others. They are three times more likely to be cautioned or convicted of an offence, four times more likely to have a mental health disorder and one in five homeless people are care leavers. Only 11% of children in care attained 5 good GCSEs in 2005 compared with 56% of all children.
A major weakness of existing arrangements is the lack of a consistent adult in the lives of children in care. The paper proposes a corporate parenting role to address the issue. The feasibility of piloting new independent ‘social care practices’ with small independent groups of social workers who would contract with the local authority to provide services is to being explored. Individual budgets for each child in care would be held by their lead social worker.
Local authorities would act as corporate parents to secure the very best education possible for the children. The aim would be to ensure that every child in care is in a good school, and is given the support they need to make the most of being in that school. This would continue into the further education system. A ‘virtual headteacher’ in every local area would be responsible for driving up the performance of schools in relation to children in care. In addition, local authorities would be given the power to direct schools to admit children in care, even where the school is fully subscribed.
A major issue is how to keep children out of care and it is proposed to set up a National Centre for Excellence in Children’s Services to identify and spread evidence-based solutions to the problems experienced by families whose children are on the edge of care.
There would also be improved links between adults’ and childrens’ services in order to ensure that professionals working with either group see the family as a whole.
It is also proposed that a ‘children in care council’ would be set up in every local authority to ensure that the voices of those in care are heard.
The proposals have been drafted to relate closely to the Future of Local Government white paper which is due to be published shortly.
The green paper has been welcomed by the Local Government Association and NCH, the national children’s charity. Consultation on the paper will end on 15 January 2007.