Care system must be ‘radically overhauled’, MPs say

The care system is “catastrophic” for the prospects of abused or neglected children and needs a “radical overhaul”, an influential group of MPs said.
In a highly critical report, the Commons Children, Schools and Families Committee said that the quality of residential and foster care is too often governed by luck.

The state fails as a “parent” because it does not demand enough from public services, it added.

“The Government is too timid in demanding that health services and the criminal justice and asylum systems give special consideration to looked-after children,” it said.

Children in care or who have recently left care should get more protection from the risks of sexual exploitation, homelessness or starting a life of crime, it added.

The MPs said that while schools are made to prioritise cared-for children in admissions, teachers are specially designated to them and their performance is closely monitored, they still perform much worse than other children.

In 2007, 13 per cent of children in care who sat GCSEs achieved five good grades, compared to 62 per cent of all children.

Cared-for children are also seven times as likely to be expelled and twice as likely to be cautioned or convicted for an offence.

Half of those in prison aged 25 or under have been in care, as have a third of the whole prison population. The report also condemns local authorities for encouraging children to leave foster homes when they are 16. It said that 21 should become the regular age to leave care.

Barry Sheerman, the committee’s chairman, said: “It is imperative that the government tackles the perception that entering the care system is catastrophic for a child ‘s future prospects.

“It must be seen as a positive experience, but this will only happen if the state can better replicate the warm, secure care of good parents for every child in the system.”

The MPs also said that ministers must not neglect residential care as an alternative to foster care, pointing out that care homes are used far more widely elsewhere in Europe.

Of the 59,500 children in care in England, 71 per cent are looked after in foster care.

Delyth Morgan, the minister for children in care, said that a new social work task force was being established to deal with the issues highlighted in the report.

“We know that outcomes for children in care are not good enough, which is why we put in place record investment and a comprehensive programme to improve outcomes for these children,” Baroness Morgan said.

“In the last decade we have made progress, with better educational attainment and more care leavers than ever before in employment or training, but we agree there is more to do.”