Backbench Business Committee debate entitled, Children in care, in the Commons chamber on Thursday 7 January 2016, to be opened by Lucy Allan MP. This debate pack contains a background brief, press and parliamentary coverage and further reading.
The debate will be held on the motion:
That this House calls on the Government to take steps to help reduce the number of children entering the care system by bringing forward measures to support more children to remain safely at home with their family or extended family.
Under the Children Act 1989 as amended:
A child is a looked after child if it is subject to a care order or is provided with accommodation by a local authority for more than 24 hours;
A local authority can apply to the courts for a section 31 order in order for a child to be placed into its care, under a care order;
A child can be classed as a “child in need” under section 17 of the Act, although the level of local authority support is generally lower than for a looked after child.
The Department for Education (DfE) notes that “The number of looked after children has increased steadily over the past seven years. There were 69,540 looked after children at 31 March 2015, an increase of 1% compared to 31 March 2014 and an increase of 6% compared to 31 March 2011”. The DfE was reported as saying that the figure of 69,540 was “higher than at any point since 1985”.
Looking ahead, there are concerns that “care application could reach record levels this year if current trends continue”, based on data from the Children and Families Court Advisory Support Service (CAFCASS). The latest data shows that “there were 1,020 care applications received in November , the highest ever for the month, and a 15% increase on demand compared to the same point last year”.
The Education Select Committee, in its 2012 report Children first: the child protection system in England noted that the death of Peter Connelly, known as Baby P or Baby Peter, in 2008 caused a marked increase in the number of children taken into local authority care.
Research from the University of Lancaster, reported by the BBC found “there has been a ‘huge’ rise in the number of newborns who are subject to care proceedings in England, according to figures compiled for the first time”, adding “some 2,018 babies were involved in such cases in 2013, compared with 802 in 2008”. The study noted that “about half were taken from mothers with other children in care … and a third were from women who became mothers as teens”.
In terms of preventative measures, the National Audit Office in its November 2014 report Children in Care noted that:
Early intervention by government could support children, before they are placed away from home and incur costs. The Department has good experience of making such interventions, such as Sure Start children’s centres. The Department for Communities and Local Government’s Troubled Families Programme also shows how central and local government working together effectively on early intervention helps to keep children with their families, rather than enter care. As part of its Innovation Programme, the Department is seeking to support projects that provide services for children before they are placed away from home.
The Government’s “Children’s Social Care Innovation Programme” has “been allocated an additional £100 million funding for 2014-15 and 2015-16, targeted at supporting vulnerable children and those on the edge of care”.
The NAO noted that “the Department aims to learn and share what works. The programme will run until March 2016 and the Department has set aside funds to evaluate its impact”.
More information can be found in the Overview report – Department for Education Children’s Social Care Innovation Programme published in April 2014 by the Coalition Government.
The Government also funds a number of intervention programmes, for example, MST-UK: “Multisystemic Therapy (MST) is an intensive family and community based intervention for young people aged 11-17yrs, where they are at risk of out of home placement in either care or custody due to offending or severe behaviour problems”.
In addition, the Government’s “Troubled Families” programme aims to “turn around the lives” of those targeted by the scheme.
When a child might be taken into local authority care, an alternative is to seek an informal placement with kinship carers (although even after a care order has been made, a local authority may place the child with kinship carers).
Where a child is placed into the care of a local authority, the Government is keen that an adoptive family can be found for the child – the Prime Minister said in October 2015: “we need to speed up adoption processes. We should be reducing the number of children in care by ensuring that they can find loving family homes”.
Reference: Adcock, A. Jarrett, T. (2016). Children in care: Backbench Business Committee debate pack. CDP 2016/0002. London: HoC Library
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