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Looked-after Children

Volume 460: debated on Thursday 24 May 2007

The “Care Matters” Green Paper set out for consultation a proposed package of reforms to transform the lives of children in care. Following a comprehensive consultation process, my Department published a summary of the responses that we received on 17 April. Those documents are available on the Government's “Every Child Matters” website. The Government will set out their firm proposals for transforming services for children in care in a White Paper this summer.

The Green Paper proposes the appointment of a body of specialist foster carers for children with complex needs. Given that there is a national shortage of approximately 10,000 foster carers, what resources does the Secretary of State propose to make available for the recruitment, training and retention of those specialist carers?

As was pointed out by Martin Narey, chair of Barnardo’s, the issue of children in care is—curiously for a political issue—not about resources. Plenty of resources are going in—the problem is that children slip into care too quickly, are moved around too often and are pushed out too early at the age of 16. If we include the proposals that were in our consultation document in the White Paper and subsequently in legislation, we shall need to make more resources available. We recognise that if we are to have a more professional, better-trained body of foster carers, additional resources will be needed.

I am a former chair of a local authority scrutiny panel that produced a report on the services available to young people in care. We found that co-opting young people in the care system was useful. What opportunities are there for young people who are currently in care to contribute to the direction and shaping of policy?

My hon. Friend has raised an important point about how we can involve children who are in care, as well as children who have been in care. Twenty-seven per cent. of the prison population were in care as children. As part of our consultation exercise, we have spoken to those people. I think it essential for the final proposals to be drawn up on the basis of the widest possible consultation not just with the public, but with children in care.

My hon. Friend the Member for Clwyd, West (Mr. Jones) mentioned the chronic shortage of foster carers. Will the Secretary of State study kinship care programmes, such as the one run by Hampshire county council, to try to find ways of increasing the number of people who will offer loving homes to children in this position?

That is precisely the sort of scheme that we want to examine. The Hampshire scheme provides a very good service, and there are other schemes around the country whose services are excellent. We should learn from them and ensure that such services are spread more widely. We are taking a comprehensive, root-and-branch look at how we can transform the life chances of children in care, and we are obliged to take account of the very best practice.

The Secretary of State may be aware that the level of care provided by some companies, such as Green Corns in my constituency, have given cause for concern. What steps will he take to ensure that young people in care receive the level of care to which they are entitled?

I do not think we would have been able to embark on this stage of such a radical transformation for children in care without “Every Child Matters”. That was the essential building block, and it is working very well in every part of the country. Local authorities, social services departments and others have done a tremendous job. We are not 100 per cent. there yet, but “Every Child Matters” is the foundation stone when it comes to tackling the problems that the hon. Gentleman has described.