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Children in Care

Volume 633: debated on Monday 11 December 2017

We are driving forward reforms in children’s social care to ensure that all vulnerable children and families receive the highest-quality care and support. We have invested more than £200 million through the innovation programme to test and develop better practice, including testing approaches to help vulnerable children remain safely in their own home.

With record numbers of children being taken into state care, and with more and more families being subjected to statutory investigation, funding for children’s social care is increasingly directed at such last-resort interventions, instead of at supportive measures to help families at an earlier stage. Given the lifelong cost to children of this skewed model, will the Minister consider a fundamental review of children’s social care to ensure that families are supported to achieve the best outcomes for their children?

I agree with my hon. Friend that a serious programme of reform for children’s social care is needed. We set out our vision for delivering excellent children’s social care in “Putting children first”. It outlines our reform programme, which seeks to improve the quality of social work practice; create systems and environments where great social work can flourish; and promote learning and multi-agency working, where all involved in supporting children and families can work effectively together.

The hon. Member for Telford (Lucy Allan) is absolutely right on this, and there should be agreement across the House that early intervention is not only more cost-effective, but more effective in human terms. Does the Minister accept that there is a crisis in the funding of children’s care, and that unless we are prepared to make the money for early intervention available up front, we will simply force local authorities to chase the crisis and not do the early intervention work we need?

I absolutely agree that early intervention, and innovation to learn how it can be more successful, is vital to delivering good children’s social care. That is why we have our £200 million innovation programme, which aims to ensure that we can best deploy the resources we make available to local authorities.

The Minister is presiding over a rise in care numbers and a shortage of foster carers. More than 70% of children’s homes are now run for profit. These providers are warning of imminent closures if his Government do not get their act together and tackle the issue of backdated sleep-in shift payments, which have led to debts of up to £2 million for some homes. Where on earth does the Minister propose placing our looked-after children when his Government’s reliance on the private sector fails?

The hon. Lady draws attention to the figures. Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service statistics show an increase of 14% in care order applications in 2016-17 compared with 2015-16, although the latest available figures for 2017-18 show a plateauing compared with the previous year. I pay tribute to all those who are developing effective children’s care—not only those in the private sector, but the many local authority providers and of course foster carers who operate outside local government employment rules.