My Lords, I am extremely grateful to my noble friend for this Question, as it is a subject close to my heart. We are very keen to encourage more local authorities to consider boarding for vulnerable children. This summer we launched the Boarding School Partnerships service, very ably chaired by Colin Morrison, the former chair of the Royal National Children’s Foundation, and this service operates jointly with the boarding schools sector and charities to help local authorities collaborate with charities to place vulnerable children in state and independent boarding schools.
Does my noble friend agree that children in care can benefit greatly from a boarding education where they are suited to it? Is it not the case that many local councils once recognised this, with some 10,000 placements being arranged in the late 1960s?
I agree entirely with my noble friend that boarding can have great benefits for the right children, and we want to see more vulnerable children able to access it. My noble friend is quite right that boarding was more common at one time. Boarding school, with its 24/7 level of pastoral care, can be particularly suitable for vulnerable children, and that is why we are encouraging its use more widely and why we have set up the Boarding School Partnerships.
That is a very good question from the noble Baroness. The scheme was launched only a few months ago and we will be concentrating initially on promoting it with local authorities. The department recently had a very successful event with local authorities to launch it with a number of people who had been in care and at boarding school speaking passionately about it. Our first step is to promote it with local authorities, but we will, when appropriate, evaluate it.
My Lords, does the noble Lord agree that it is easy to say that this facility should be for children when it is appropriate for them? But please let us not gloss over what happened in the 1960s. Many children were sent to boarding schools where, frankly, they were out of sight, out of mind and they had some terrible experiences. Let us go for a wide range, but make sure the placement is appropriate to the child’s needs.
My Lords, as the Minister is aware, those who live in tied accommodation as part of their employment or the holding of an office have an unintentional structural disadvantage when it comes to their children’s schooling. This is ameliorated in the case of military families but not in the case of others, such as clergy and their children. Will Her Majesty’s Government now act to address this disadvantage by amending the code?
My Lords, the appropriate word is “appropriate”, and we must do what is right for the individual child in care. It might be that boarding school provision is correct, but would the Minister agree that, where boarding school provision is provided, we must have the most vigorous safeguarding assessment of that provision?
I agree with the noble Lord that that is essential, but we have moved a long way from the 1960s. It may have been, as a reaction to some of the points the noble Lord, Lord Laming, made, that we have moved too far in the other direction and there is a certain overreluctance by some local authorities. We have definitely seen that local authorities are now better informed and visit schools. If noble Lords visit the Boarding School Partnerships website— at boardingschoolpartnerships.org.uk—they will be impressed, as there is a lot of information there to help local authorities on which schools are providing this and how they might assess whether it is appropriate for a particular child.
My noble friend makes a very good point, as local authorities do remain responsible. In holidays there are some facilities that may be able to keep children and we have initiatives to try to extend such arrangements, but it is certainly the case that local authorities continue to be responsible.
My Lords, is it true that this whole programme is being driven by the need to save money, as against placing children in foster care? In so far as we know that only 100 children nationally are now in such placements, surely we should fully evaluate the effect on those children before we proceed further down this route.
It is not driven by money at all; it is driven by a passionate belief by a number of people, including the noble Lord, Lord Adonis, and others who have been to boarding school that it can help and that we had lurched into a certain prejudice against boarding schools. We are just inviting local authorities to look more widely at the options and making much more information available to allow them to evaluate those options.
My Lords, while acknowledging the potential benefits of the Boarding School Partnerships, the noble Lord will be aware that most children in care will have experienced some kind of trauma and a high proportion have unmet mental health needs. Extending the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Laming, I think that it is questionable whether boarding schools are equipped to provide the sort of wraparound support that these children may need. Indeed, such a placement does not necessarily address the reasons a child was taken into care in the first place. For many of the children being placed at a state or independent boarding school, that will be outside their local authority. Research by the Children’s Society demonstrates that the further children are placed from home, the more likely they are to go missing from care. Will the Minister give an assurance that, when children in care are placed in boarding schools outside their home local authorities, the placing local authority will share appropriate information with the host authority to ensure that these children are appropriately safeguarded and have their particular needs met?