A year ago, when I was appointed as Education Secretary, I said that children in care would be my top priority so I am genuinely delighted to be able to announce that the White Paper “Care Matters: Time for Change”, is available on the DFES website. There is no more deserving or vulnerable group than the nation's 60,000 children in care. This White Paper aims to ensure that the State's expectations for them match the aspirations that loving parents would have for their own children. The measures focus on improving stability and outcomes for children in care, backed by a £305 million financial package over the next four years.
The paper includes measures on promoting family and friends care:
requiring local authorities to consider family and friends as carers at each stage of the decision making about the child's future—as a first resort not a last;
legislating to enable relatives who are carers to more easily apply for residence orders;
providing better intensive support for families with young people on the edge of care—'Multi-systemic therapy'.
There are also measures to promote stable, successful placements and education:
increased funding for parenting support for foster carers (£6 million), with clear national skills and standards, and increased access to specialist training and support;
improved recruitment and retention: support for new social workers and improved training across the board;
piloting European models of social work (social pedagogy) to improve the quality of residential care; and
protection against unnecessary school moves—particularly in the GCSE years.
The White Paper will ensure access to leisure activities, personalised education for all children in care and increasing educational support for those who are falling behind:
children in care have the highest priority in school admissions, with an expectation that they will get places in the best schools, even if they are full;
children in care at risk of falling behind will get a £500 allowance to support their education and we will improve support for attendance, in part by revising the minimum standards for children's homes; and
free access to after school activities, free music tuition in schools and an expectation that local authorities will make their own leisure provision free for children in care.
Lastly, there will be greater support for young people moving from care into adulthood:
piloting “Right2B Cared4”—giving young people a greater say over when they leave care, so they move when they ready;
extending the entitlement to a personal advisor up to age 25 for care leavers who are in education or want to return to education;
introducing a national bursary of a minimum of £2000 for all young people in care entering university;
expecting local authorities and their partners to offer employment opportunities and training to care leavers and young people in care; and
for every year they are in care, each child will get a £100 top up in their Child Trust Fund account.
This document builds on the Green Paper “Care Matters: Transforming the Lives of Children and Young People in Care”, published in October 2006. It also takes on the messages we heard from young people in care and others in the consultation responses, which we published earlier this year and which are also available on our website.