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Children Entering the Care System

Volume 670: debated on Monday 20 January 2020

Both I and the Department are concerned about the number of children in care, which has increased by 21% since 2010. That is why we have a multi-tiered approach based on trying to keep families together, improving the supply of each type of care so that it can be child-focused, including work to bolster the number of foster carers, and placing an emphasis on permanence. We recognise the scale of the challenge and the importance of getting this right, which is exactly why we are conducting a care review.

I am delighted that the Government are going to conduct a comprehensive review of the care system; that is very welcome. The Minister has urged local authorities to prioritise adoption. Does she agree that stability and permanence can be achieved by a range of different care provision, such as kinship care and long-term foster care, and that the circumstance and the needs of the individual child should determine the best option for them?

Absolutely. I believe that the system needs to be child-focused. My hon. Friend will have noted that in my letter to local authorities last week, I highlighted other forms of permanence, including kinship care and special guardianships in particular. However, let us not forget that 41% of children with a placement order have not been placed in an adoption setting within 18 months. This is not acceptable and I am determined to bust the myths around adoption, including regarding race and religion, so that we can help those children into permanent, stable homes as quickly as possible.

Too many children in the care system are being placed in unregulated hostels, as we have heard, without the support that they need to keep safe. Lance Scott Walker was killed aged 18 when we was placed with a young person with schizophrenia who chased him out of a window and stabbed him to death. In another hostel, a young person on bail for murder was placed with a victim of child trafficking, who he got involved in drug dealing. We know that children are at risk right now. We do not need to wait for a review to find that out, so when will the Government properly regulate all housing where vulnerable children and young people are placed?

This is something that we are committed to getting right, and I am working with Ofsted, local authorities and the Children’s Commissioner to tackle it. While there is and always will be a place for semi-independent living within our system, I cannot imagine a circumstance where that is acceptable for under-16s. Currently, all local authorities must ensure that their placements are suitable, and my right hon. Friend the Education Secretary recently wrote to all local authorities about that. To be clear, unregistered settings where care is provided are illegal and Ofsted conducted over 150 investigations of those last year.