Children in care
According to the latest official figures there are more than 83,000 children in care in the UK, including 64,400 looked after children in England.
It is well established that these children are more likely to have poor educational experiences, leave school with fewer qualifications, are at higher risk of offending, becoming a teenage parent and being not in education, employment or training.
Barnardo’s has services throughout the UK supporting looked after children and young people and those leaving the care system.
Visit our fostering and adoption website to find out more about Barnardo’s family placement services.
On our Own Two Feet
Barnardo’s is working in partnership with Action for Children to call on the Government to set up an asset-based savings account (ISA) for looked after children. Our proposal is based on the new voluntary ISA scheme due to be introduced in 2011 which will afford families the opportunity to invest in their children’s futures. With the majority of children in care having little or no contact with their parents, they are unlikely to benefit from this opportunity and end up with nothing.
The report sets out our scheme which will cost an estimated 6.6 million and ensure that scarce public resources are targeted towards those who need them most. It shows that savings accounts for looked after children will:
- Provide practical help, particularly around the critical periods of transition to independence
- Help improve educational outcomes and access to employment
- Support Social Mobility
- Offer an opportunity to improve financial education and responsibility
- Raise aspirations and help young people make positive choice about their future
Download the full report (PDF)
Barnardo’s revealed new data – in August 2010 - showing that children are being damaged due to unprecedented delay in the courts. Vulnerable children are waiting on average more than a year (57 weeks) in unstable family homes or emergency foster placements before a county court decides if they will be taken into care. In the family proceedings (magistrates) court the average time is 45 weeks – more than 10 months. The overall average is around 51 weeks – almost a year of a child’s life.
The data also uncovers a ‘postcode lottery’ in England and Wales with a five month difference in the average number of weeks to come to a decision.
Delays cause long term and irreversible consequences for a child’s development by damaging the ability to form positive attachments; this can result in multiple problems in adolescence and later life. Costs associated with child care proceedings also increase.
There are a number of factors causing delays but Barnardo’s is particularly concerned that too often the courts order further assessments from experts and that there is a lack of confidence in evidence provided by social workers.
Barnardo’s is calling for all cases to be made dealt with in less than 30 weeks (seven months) with a tiered, fast track target of 12 weeks for children under 18 months.
The Government should consider:
- ensuring greater use of family group conferencing prior to court proceedings
- training all court staff on the impact of delay on child development
- establishing liaison forums to improve links between the legal and social work professions to ensure there is greater confidence in social workers’ professional expertise.
In Loco Parentis
A Demos report commissioned by Barnardo’s – June 2010
The report examines what the care system would look like if it were reconfigured to avoid the delay, instability and abrupt transitions that many young people still experience and demonstrates that a smoother, more proactive care system could also be less costly to the state. It shows that looked after children who have a poor quality of care – characterised by delay and instability – can cost children’s services up to £32,755 per child each year more than a positive care experience. Overall the potential emotional and financial savings that could be made if the care system was more proactive are considerable.
The report makes a range of targeted recommendations including:
- the care system must be de-stigmatised and viewed as a positive form of family support
- the Department for Education needs to strengthen care planning guidance to ensure there are fewer failed family reunifications
- foster carers should receive mental health training
- local authorities need to make respite support and placement support workers to fosters carers on request
- the Department for Education should make mental health assessments of children entering care mandatory, using a standardised multi-disciplinary measure
Taking children into care
Following on from evidence given to the House of Commons Children, Schools and Families committee and an article for the Institute for Public Policy Research, Martin Narey, Chief Executive of Barnardo’s, provoked a public debate when in an interview with the Observer newspaper in September 2009, he questioned the orthodoxy of ‘birth family is always best’.
- We can and should try to fix families and we often succeed. But we should not persist where experience tells us that the prospects of success are bleak.
- When in care, fostering should be the first and will be the best option for most children. But we should not repeatedly expose children to one placement after another. Stability is vital and for some children that will be best delivered through high quality residential care.
- The best outcome for children however, when we are very clear that a baby cannot be adequately cared for is early adoption and we need to be braver about taking those decisions and effecting the adoption swiftly.
Failed by the system
Failed by the System - published by Barnardo’s in 2006 - reported on the educational experiences of children in care.
We surveyed 66 young people aged between 16 and 21 who had been in care and were supported by Barnardo’s Leaving Care projects.
The results revealed a range of negative educational outcomes for these children:
- 79% had no GCSEs on leaving school
- half had been in more than 4 care placements
- they were much more likely to have been bullied and been excluded from school
- they were and less likely to have someone attend a parent’s evening than children who were not looked after.
The report called for changes in schools, local authority children’s services and government to address the poor educational outcomes for children in care, including:
- a statutory requirement to have a designated teacher for looked after children in each school, and that all teachers receive basic training in the care system
- a requirement to maintain placements for children at the same school unless it is completely untenable due to distance, and to not change placements during GCSE years
- children’s services plans should have a requirement to address how agencies work together to support children in care and improves their educational experiences and outcomes
- looked after children should be consulted in decisions regarding their education, and this should form part of the statutory review process
- the Government should research practice in the best performing authorities and ensure that learning is applied by all authorities
- A level results and university entrance by children in care should be monitored and there should be a statutory requirement for all universities to support care leavers
- annual statistics and targets for school exclusions should include those for children in care.
Download the full report (PDF).
The government has taken forward many of these proposals in its recent implementation of the Care Matters reform programme.
For more information on Barnardo’s policy work on looked after children please email Louise Bamfield, Assistant Director of Policy.