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Radical overhaul of care system needed, say MPs

Date:20 APR 2009

The Government must be more willing to take on the role of a 'pushy parent' for children in care and to put the experience of the child at the heart of policy, says a report by the Children, Schools and Families Committee, published today.

The report warns that the state fails as a parent because the Government is "too timid in demanding that health services and the criminal justice and asylum systems give special consideration to looked-after children".

The Committee said that children in and formerly in care are not adequately protected from the risks of offending, sexual exploitation or homelessness, and there are not enough of the therapeutic services that many of them need.

MPs said that luck plays too big a part in determining a child's experience because of inconsistencies in the quality of care. Children's satisfaction with their lives in care should be at the heart of everything including quality assessment and inspection.

In 2007, 13 per cent of children in care who sat GCSEs achieved five good grades, compared to 62 per cent of all children.

Looked-after children are also seven times as likely to be expelled and twice as likely to be cautioned or convicted for an offence.

The report says that social workers and foster carers need to have the right backing to respond to children's needs in a more 'parent-like' way. These parts of the workforce have the greatest influence over a child's day-to-day happiness, but are often undervalued and overburdened.

The Committee is concerned that the care system's poor reputation may contribute to reluctance to take children into care when necessary.

The Chairman of the Committee, Barry Sheerman MP, said: "It is imperative that the Government, through its Care Matters reform programme, tackles the perception that entering the care system is catastrophic for a child's future prospects.

"It must be seen as a positive experience, but this will only happen if the state can better replicate the warm, secure care of good parents for every child in the system."

The Government has announced that a new Social Work Taskforce will be set up to look at the issues.

Mike Wardle, Chief Executive of the General Social Care Council, the public body that regulates social workers, welcomed the report's findings: "We share the aspirations of the select committee - and indeed of the workforce itself - to ensure that the skills and knowledge of children's workers are significantly improved and that their practice and their conduct is of the highest quality.

"We believe that extending registration to residential care workers, which will require them to gain qualifications and keep their training up to date, will help to drive up standards.

"We also support the committee's call for social workers time to be freed up so they can undertake preventative work with families. Getting the right mix of social workers and support staff will help to ensure that social work skills are used where they are most needed and children get the support they need.

"It is also absolutely crucial that newly qualified social workers are provided with training and support to ensure they can successfully use their skills and knowledge in practice and we welcome the government's investment in the newly qualified social workers framework.

"These, and other issues raised in the report, will be looked at by the Social Work Taskforce and we are contributing to this."