KCC boss says child care report ‘misses the point’
An influential group of MPs who want more children taken away from their problem families earlier are “losing the plot” according to county’s most senior civil servant.
Placing more young children into residential homes is not the answer to failings in the care system, according to Kent County Council chief executive Peter Gilroy.
A highly critical report by the Commons’ Children, Schools and Families Committee called for a “radical overhaul” of the care system, which it said was “catastrophic” for children who have suffered abuse or neglect.
The influential MPs said: “The committee is concerned that the care system’s poor reputation may contribute to a reluctance to take children into care.
“Reform of the system must go hand in hand with early intervention to reduce the potential for misery in children’s lives.”
Peter Gilroy, the chief executive of Kent County Council, has 30 years’ experience in social care and began his career as a psychiatric social worker.
He said he was disappointed by the findings of the study, which was published on Monday.
“It is disappointing because it misses the fundamental question, which is a cultural one,” he said.
“At what point does the state intervene in our lives in a free democracy? There are financial and social implications of taking the simple policy of taking children very early into institutions – it won’t work.”
Statistics for children in care show they do much worse at school than other young people, with more than 50 per cent leaving without any qualifications.
Children in care are seven times as likely to be expelled and twice as likely to be cautioned or convicted.
The committee found prospects for care leavers in the UK are much worse than in Germany, Denmark and Norway where care is not seen as a last resort but as a positive alternative.
“I do worry that we’ll get this panacea,” Mr Gilroy said.
“They have looked a residential care in northern Europe and come back with the belief that interfering early and removing children from their families in a much more aggressive way, but the outcome of that would be up to five times the number of children in the care system.”
He called for a historic perspective to be taken, he said: “It is worth going back to history and looking at why we are doing what we are doing.
“Research has shown since the beginning of the century that putting large numbers of children into institutional setting they will not thrive.”
He pointed to the Victorians who put vast numbers of children in residential settings and also the decision to ship children off to Australia.
“If the desired outcome is for the children to establish better relationships and cognitive development then I am afraid that residential does not have a good track record,” he said.
“For me, to have a public policy document that says residential care is a good idea and the earlier the better, flies in the face virtually every piece of research since the war.
“I have a view that this report in a way has seemed to lose the plot. Public policy in this country has been that families are still in the main across the UK the best way of raising children.”
Mr Gilroy said he was not against residential care for some children. There are currently 60,000 children in care in England.
He also agreed with the findings of the report that the current care home system did not provide the best outcomes for children and said there were cases in Kent of children going missing from the homes and committing crimes.
A high number of children in care suffer mental health problems, end up as teenage parents, homeless or in prison, the report found.
“I find that we as a country always want to go for simplistic solutions to complex problems,” Mr Gilroy said.
“There is an interesting dynamic which we have never really explored. At both ends of the spectrum in the UK we have difficulties with children and with people in their twilight period/
“Why have we not been talking about this culture? We take responsibility away from each other and the state controls everything that is the sort of debate we should be having.
“Is it residential or foster care, these are only part of the solution, what we ought to be asking are questions fundamentally about our education [system] and culture, why are we in this position?
“What is it that has created these problems for us? We sent children to Australia right through into the 50s passing them off to residential care.”
He said that there were problems in the current care system agreeing with the findings of the report about concerns over the quality of foster carers and those working in residential homes.
Mr Gilroy added that much more research into the system was needed before anything was ‘radically overhauled’