Excellent social work transforms lives, which is why we are establishing a regulatory body to drive up standards and raise the quality of social work training and practice. We are attracting new talent to the profession, investing in high-quality training, rolling out a practice-focused career pathway and developing a new What Works centre to ensure that social workers are equipped with the best knowledge and skills for their practice. This clear strategy to improve child and family social work is set out in the children’s social care policy paper, “Putting Children First”, which I and the Secretary of State published today and by way of a written statement. I encourage all hon. Members to read it.
Will the Minister explain how the Department’s new graduate entry routes to social work, such as Step Up to Social Work and Frontline, and including the award-winning provision of children’s services from East Sussex County Council, have impacted the social work profession?
Step Up and Frontline are beginning to have a significant impact: more than 670 Step Up participants have qualified as social workers and more than 450 students and 103 local authorities started training this year. An evaluation of cohort 1 showed high retention, and 99 Frontline participants have now qualified as social workers. An independent evaluation in March 2016 was hugely encouraging.
Children can remain in foster care until they are 21, while those in residential care have to leave at 18, which creates a truly unfair system. I have organised for MPs to pledge their support tomorrow to show that we care equally about all looked-after children. Will the Minister sign the pledge?
I commend the hon. Lady for her continued and passionate commitment to this matter, based on her professional experience and desire to make a difference. If she reads the paper, “Putting Children First”, which I mentioned a few moments ago, she will find a response to a recommendation from Martin Narey’s review into residential care explaining that we will start to pilot “staying close” for children leaving care in residential care settings. This is in line with his recommendation and I am sure will be hugely welcomed.