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chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster

Volume 449: debated on Wednesday 19 July 2006

The Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster was asked—

Children in Care

3. What progress has been made in developing a coherent strategy for alleviating the social exclusion likely to be suffered by children in care. (86191)

The Government have made tackling social exclusion in respect of children in care a priority and have improved standards for fostering services and children’s care homes, put new duties on local authorities to promote the education of looked-after children and strengthened the rights and financial support for those leaving care.

We are also publishing our social exclusion action plan in the autumn, which will frame our cross-government approach to tackling the social exclusion of vulnerable groups, including looked-after children. The action plan will closely co-ordinate with the forthcoming Department for Education and Skills consultation on proposals to transform the outcomes of looked-after children, with all of those issues considered in the light of the forthcoming comprehensive spending review.

I thank the Minister for her reply, but will she tell the House whether there has been any attempt to study examples of good practice from other European countries?

Yes. On appointment, I looked into various examples of good practice elsewhere and I was particularly impressed with what looked like very good outcomes in Germany and Denmark. I visited Germany two weeks ago and found that there, as in many other European countries, children’s work force professionals—called social pedagogues—commonly look after children living away from home. The principles that they use to educate, challenge and engage with children seem extremely valuable and effective. The approach is focused on emphasising each child’s individual potential in a holistic way, involving education in health and overall child development. We will look very carefully to establish whether we can incorporate such principles in our children’s services.

Given that there are approximately 44,000 looked-after children in this country and that only about 8 per cent. currently obtain five A to C grade GCSEs and a mere 1 per cent. secure access to university, what discussions has the Minister had with her right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education and Skills about the need to ensure that most vulnerable children are granted a legal entitlement to personalised learning?

That is an issue that we all take extremely seriously. I have had discussions with colleagues in the Department for Education and Skills. Actually, the figures suggest that about 11 per cent. now gain five GCSEs. I accept that that is not good enough, but it is more than double the number in 1997. We are not satisfied and we want to do whatever we can to enhance learning and opportunities for looked-after children. Both I and the DFES are looking into that matter extremely carefully at the moment.

May I tell my right hon. Friend that in the London borough of Ealing, which for 12 years enjoyed the wise and sagacious leadership of a Labour council and is now temporarily in the hands of the Tories, 10 per cent. of the looked-after children go on to university—the highest level anywhere in England and Wales? May I invite her to visit Ealing, despite its current political complexion, to see how we have achieved that excellent result?

I congratulate Ealing, and I am sure that my hon. Friend has been keeping his eye on what has been going on and ensuring that, indeed, best practice is implemented. He understands that we are looking at tackling social exclusion very much by learning from what is working best, so I will be delighted to join him in looking at Ealing’s success.

Is the Minister aware of the activities of some private providers—noticeably, Greencorns—that move children around the country and provide homes not close to their family ties? When those children get into trouble, as they often do, they do not get the support that they need to help them.

I am concerned about too much movement of looked-after children. We are concerned to ensure not only that they have a stable experience, but that we do as much as possible to encourage contact with their own families. So I will take into account what the hon. Gentleman has said in relation to my discussions with the DFES and the proposals that it will produce later this year.