Many children in care ‘not achieving their potential’, Auditor General finds

THE educational attainment of Wales’ looked after children is slowly improving but youngsters’ development is being “hindered” by the inconsistent support available to them, a report warns today.

The report by Huw Vaughan Thomas, the Auditor General for Wales, concluded the overall attainment of looked after children varies across Wales and is lower on some measures than elsewhere in the UK.

While Welsh Government policies and initiatives have contributed to some improvement, and while there is growing evidence of good practice, there is inconsistency between local authorities in services, arrangements and outcomes, the report claims.

It also suggests a lack of clearly defined objectives and weaknesses in planning, performance management and corporate parenting is hindering progress.

Changes in the way data is collected also “hampers” the ability to monitor improvements and reduce scope for comparison across the UK.

However, the Welsh Government has set out proposals for greater regional and national delivery of education and social care while local authorities are continuing to develop local planning partnerships, which the report welcomed.

It suggested these developments would provide a framework with potential to develop clearer, coordinated strategies for young people with a focus on outcomes.

Yet it also warned there remained a risk that vulnerable children may not receive the necessary detailed and individual attention they require.

Mr Thomas said collaborative working was essential in improving educational standards.

“Although today’s report shows improvements in the educational attainments of looked after children, it is concerning that many of these children are still not achieving their potential,” he said.

“Collaborative working by Welsh Government and local authorities is vital and the new framework for policy delivery will hopefully help to achieve a clear strategy so that children and young people get the best chance possible to achieve positive educational outcomes.”

Catriona Williams, chief executive of Children in Wales, the national umbrella children’s organisation, said she was pleased the Welsh Government had prioritised addressing the needs of looked after children but raised concern about levels of consistency.

“It’s obvious there is some good practices developing but it’s very concerning that the rate of improvement is so slow considering that we have been aware of the crucial importance of looked after children reaching there full potential educationally,” she said.

“The variation across Wales is unacceptable, it should not depend on where you live or what members of staff you have at your school to determine whether you achieve your full potential,” she said.

“It’s not rocket science to understand it’s children who have experienced difficulties or trauma in life are going to need extra support to reach their full educational attainment.

“It’s also not rocket science to recognise that for looked after children who have no or little support that doing well in school is a key way of them having a stable and fulfilling life.”

Children’s Commissioner for Wales, Keith Towler, also welcomed the report saying it will bring “focus” to the issue. “It’s an area that continues to be a cause for concern,” he said.

“While some looked after children and young people can thrive in education, there is a pervading culture of low expectation that can lead them to limit their own educational aspirations.

“We need to make sure that every child and young person in care is given the opportunity to fulfill their potential – it’s a right that should be enjoyed by every child in Wales, whether they are looked after or not.

“This is why I think we should be focusing not only on ensuring consistent services across Wales but also the consistent use of Personal Education Plans. These are used to identify their strengths and any additional support that they may need. It’s not right that last year only 60% of looked after children were supported by these plans. Local authorities must make sure that all looked after children are supported by timely personal education plans.”