Services for children in care at breaking point

Politics / Sat 18th Jan 2020 pm31 05:57pm

SERVICES for children in care are at “breaking point” because of poor outcomes and increasing pressures, a senior Tory peer has warned.

Michael Farmer, a major Conservative donor who previously advised the government on prisons, says that a promised review of the care system must be far more comprehensive than previously envisaged reports The Guardian.

The number of children being drawn into the care system had grown from 64,460 to 75,420 between 2009-10 and 2016-17, he said. The number of local authority court applications to take children into care rose by more than a fifth and the number of children on a child protection plan increased by 38%, from 39,100 to 53,790. More up-to-date figures suggest care applications are now falling, from 24,136 in 2016-17 to 22,111 in 2018-19 in England. However, the population in care has reached about 78,000, including around 4,500 children seeking asylum.

“In 2017, just 2.7% of children who had been looked after for 12 months or more achieved GCSEs in English language and literature, maths, science, geography or history and a language, compared with 21.9% of the general population,” he said.

The Tory manifesto included a pledge to “review the care system to make sure that all care placements and settings are providing children and young adults with the support they need”.

Farmer, who donated to Johnson’s election campaign, said: “I would urge Mr Johnson to press ahead with a big review of children in care as a priority, because the system he has inherited is at breaking point. It needs to be looked at, root and branch.”

The peer said he was worried about the issue because he could have ended up in care. “This might seem like an unlikely subject for a former metal trader and treasurer of the Conservative party to champion, but I speak from a childhood lived under the dark cloud of parental alcoholism with all the stigma of neglect, shame and poverty this entails,” he said. “If I had not been sent to a state boarding school and experienced stable relationships, I would likely have ended up in care myself.”

Farmer added: “We must also prevent the care system from being a conveyor belt into crime, or other highly detrimental outcomes. The chief constable of Devon and Cornwall just said that young boys caught up in county lines drugs gangs should be seen as victims, not criminals. He points to the gap in family support as a root cause and he is right.”

Farmer called on the review to concentrate on ensuring “our most vulnerable children have the relationships which are, for all of us, the very essence of life”. He calls on ministers “not to sever existing ties but to do more, earlier, to strengthen families” – a position disputed by other care experts.

He said comparing educational outcomes for children in care with those outside care was “fatuous” given the high proportion with special needs and the neglect and abuse many had suffered. “We are sometimes slow to take children into care and we too frequently return children home to be neglected again,” he said.

“What is needed now is a manifesto for improvements which should include boosting the number of adoptions (in the interests of the child but something which would steadily reduce the care population) and making it easier for foster carers to adopt the children they care for, often for years. The government should address the terrible weaknesses in local authority commissioning of private and voluntary sector children’s homes and foster placements and allow foster carers far more discretion to make decisions about the care of the children in their care.”

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