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Children in Care

Volume 651: debated on Monday 17 December 2018

1. What recent estimate his Department has made of the number of children in the care system. (908209)

At 31 March this year, there were just over 75,000 looked- after children in England, 4% up on the previous year following a small fall in the number entering care, but also a decrease in the number leaving.

Does the Secretary of State agree that if funding for family support and early intervention was ring-fenced, that would reduce the number of children subject to expensive statutory intervention and care proceedings?

I understand why my hon. Friend makes that point. It is important that authorities should have flexibility in managing their budgets in line with local priorities, but I also very much agree that early-help services have a really important role to play in promoting the welfare of children and supporting them in achieving better outcomes.

Will the Secretary of State review the amount of resources put per family to support the birth mother around raising their children? We have had so many cases in York where children have been taken into care or for adoption because of a lack of resources reported by the local authority.

We do believe that in most cases it is right for the child to be with their parents and that they should be taken into care only as a last resort. We are putting resources into local authorities to help with that, but money is tight—I totally recognise that—and that is why we are seeking always to improve processes, including by some of our partners in practical innovation programmes.

I thank the Secretary of State for appointing a children’s commissioner to Northamptonshire. Why did he feel it necessary to effect such an appointment, and how quickly does he expect results to be realised?

Of course, the safety of children must always be paramount, and we consider it to be the right approach, in the circumstances in Northamptonshire, to do that. These things do not all change overnight in terms of systems and processes, but we do expect to see good progress.

Seventy-three per cent. of children’s residential care providers are now run purely for profit. Alongside this, Ofsted has reported a rise in serious enforcement action against providers with regard to safeguarding concerns, poor use of physical restraint, children going missing, and children at high risk of sexual exploitation. How much longer will the right hon. Gentleman preside over the commodification of vulnerable children, and how many children’s residential homes has he visited in his time as Secretary of State?

I do not recognise the hon. Lady’s characterisation of what she called commoditisation. A variety of providers are operating in children’s residential placements, and we expect the very highest standards of care for those children. That is why the Ofsted inspections are as they are.