Drug Tests For Care Children Aged 10

Children in care will be forced to undergo drug tests from the age of ten under radical plans unveiled by the Government yesterday. All 61,000 youngsters currently in the care system would be given compulsory mouth swabs to test for cannabis, Ecstasy and cocaine every year until the age of 16.

The hardline measure is an attempt to reverse the growing trend of children sliding into a life of drug abuse, crime and homelessness once they leave care.

Youngsters who have lived with foster parents or in children’s homes are more likely to end up living on the street, misuse drugs, be unemployed or go to prison than if they are raised by their family in a stable home.

Education Secretary Alan Johnson said the tough measures would help tackle the “inexcusable and shameful” betrayal of tens of thousands of children in care.

But critics warned that testing for drugs at such a young age could risk them becoming stigmatised as potential addicts.

The drastic plan is part of a raft of measures Ministers claim will improve the opportunities for thousands of youngsters in the care system. They include:

* forcing councils to send children in their care to the best schools, including independent boarding schools;

* handing social workers £500 per child to spend on school books and equipment of their choice;

* better training for foster parents and social workers on sex education;

* awarding salaries to foster parents for the first time;

* £2,000 bursaries for children in care to attend university;

* allowing children to remain in care homes until they are 18 or with foster parents until 21.

* an extra £100 in their Child Trust Fund for each year they spend in care.

The plans follow the publication last month of a damning report by writer Harriet Sergeant which revealed how youngsters in care have been let down by the system, which costs taxpayers £2.5 billion a year.

The investigation, published by the Centre for Policy Studies think tank and serialised by the Daily Mail, revealed that a quarter of girls in care are pregnant by the time they leave at 16, and half are single mothers within two years.

Half of all prisoners under 25 have been through the care system, a third of the homeless are people brought up in state care, while half the 6,000 young people who leave care every year, usually at 16, are unemployed within two years.

Mr Johnson, who narrowly avoided being taken into care after being orphaned at the age of 12 – instead being brought up by his 15 year old sister – said he wanted to see “stability, stability, stability in these children’s lives.”

Publishing the plans in a Green Paper, entitled Care Matters, he said: “The mark of a decent society is how it treats its most vulnerable people. Children in care already face a tougher life than any child should have to.”

He said paying foster parents a proper salary would encourage more people to come forward and take up the 10,000 foster placements which are currently vacant.

Schools will be forced to accept children in care, even if their rolls are full, while the Government will fund free school transport to help children to stay on at the same place even if they are moved to a new foster home.

Ministers are already considering introducing random drug testing in every secondary school.

But Miss Sergeant said last night: “What will happen if the child tests positive for drugs? The next step is to send them to drug rehabilitation, but in London and other areas all rehabilitation centres are full.”

“There are many other things they should be doing for young people. The far more fundamental problem is that there aren’t enough social workers.”

The document is the fifth major initiative to be unveiled by Ministers in just five years. The plans are open to consultation until the New Year.

Shadow Education Secretary David Willetts, said: “The plight of cared for children is deeply shocking.”

“There is nothing short of a crisis in recruitment of social workers, there are 10,000 vacancies for foster carers, and local authorities are overwhelmed.”

“There are wider issues too. Many children in care have troubled and chaotic lives, and all too often Government initiatives have mirrored that chaos.”