rose to call attention to the educational needs of children and young people in public care; and to move for Papers.
My Lords, we have just had a stimulating and wide-ranging debate on the nature of public service. I believe that that debate has close links to this second debate which it is my great privilege to introduce. Services to children can be no more than the highest expression of what it means to aim for the highest standards in public service.
I am extremely grateful to all noble Lords who share my convictions that this is an important topic, particularly to those who have already taken part in, so to speak, the matinee performance and for whom this will be a second appearance. I am grateful to them for giving their time.
In the time available I want to set out what I believe are the key areas of need that we face in relation to the care of the educational needs of children in public care. Over the past two years we have seen a definite and welcome improvement. The biggest change has been that we now see the education of young children in public care as the heart of their care, the key to their future, and not something that is relegated to the margins.
It has taken an incredibly long time for this fundamental point to find its way into public policy. I was shocked to discover that four years ago hardly any local authority in this country knew where its children in public care actually were or how many there were. Two years ago, half of all local authorities did not know how those children were achieving at school.
Eighteen months ago, the joint guidance on the education of children in public care, which has followed the Quality Protects initiative, identified 15 different reasons why children were failing to thrive in schools, and not one of those reasons included the lifetime effects of separation from parents and siblings, the trauma of abuse and violence, or even exile from country, let alone culture. They mentioned the lack of information, the low value put on education by those who have day-to-day care and much else.
Much has been achieved, not least due to the public servants who are entrusted with the care and education of those children and the voluntary agencies that carry out magnificent work in championing their rights. My questions to the Minister--I am delighted to see him at the Dispatch Box as I feel we share a common bond this evening--are whether Quality Protects, the framework that has enabled so much improvement, is working properly, whether the definition of what it means to be a "corporate parent" is sufficient and whether that is and will be enough for the future.
I believe that it is fair to ask such questions because the Social Exclusion Unit, for example, which has made a habit of asking awkward questions, is now probing deep beyond the structures that enshroud children in public care, to ask about the subtle and complex reasons why they are failing to thrive, even when they regularly attend school and even when they are known to be able.
The debate is also timely because we have a fresh set of statistics that show just how steep the incline is. In March 2001, 59,000 young people were in public care, and one in five of those children was under the age of four. The statistics published last week show that in March 2001, 37 per cent had one or more GCSEs compared with 30 per cent the previous year. But 63 per cent do not have a single GCSE. The national target for those children is that half of them should achieve that minimum standard. Ninety-four per cent of other children achieve one or more GCSEs.
Likewise, in March 2001, five out of every 100 children in public care attained five top GCSEs, compared with four in the previous year. The national target for these children is merely 15 in every 100, but the national average is 50 children in every 100. Later I shall return to the issue of raising expectation in relation to targets because it goes to the heart of what I would like to see.
More troubling still is that children tend to do worse as they grow older and the longer they are in care. On average at key stages 1 and 2 they do half as well as others; at key stage 3 they do a third as well, and by the time they approach higher education, only one in 100 goes to university, compared with one in three children not in care.
The other day one of these young people explained that to me in the following words:
"There is very little support or love in the system. It doesn't promote the idea of a future . . . A single GCSE is considered a great achievement. If you go to college there is little financial support . . . and there is no parent to fall back on".
Some of the reasons for that failure are all too obvious. When there is no parent to fall back on, there is no one to encourage or to nag about homework and project work and key stage tests and exams are only one of a thousand worries about the future.
Also deeply troubling is that even when such young people have the love and support of a stable foster family, according to Ofsted they still do not achieve as well as they should--they still only "tick along"--and they do not achieve the expected level for their age.
There is another group of children whose lives are full of endings and constant changes of placements and who may end up miles away from their extended families and friends. They are likely to form an even more graphic set of statistics, namely that children who have been in care make up 26 per cent of the prison population and almost one third of all rough sleepers on the streets. That is why all those involved in helping these young people to live more successful lives are so concerned about the need to provide the right care in the right place near extended families, siblings and schools, not miles away where, as one said to me the other day, "I stand out because I am black".
For these children education itself protects. School is perhaps the only safe place that they have ever known; and it is probably the only place where they can rediscover--if they ever have known it--what it feels like to play, to have a book read to them, to be the same as other children and, crucially, where other adults believe that they can do well.
Yesterday I met a young lady who was one of the 5 per cent who had achieved five top GCSEs. She was one of the lucky ones. She had found someone in her school who was, significantly, a learning support assistant who "was always there for her", believed in her and encouraged her in the highest expectations. She is now training to be a child care worker herself. She told me she believed that no one thought she could do it but she had showed them.
Recently, the chief inspector of social services has reported major improvements. There are designated teachers looking after children in public care in schools in many areas. Personal educational plans are in place or in development which establish individual learning needs and goals. Information is finally being gathered on children's achievements. Quality Protects is beginning to work but needs to go much further before all local authorities become the kind of corporate parent that we would recognise as a good parent.
One cannot gloss over the well-known problems of capacity, whether it be finding the right and consistent care setting for many children or the social workers who are needed. There are substantial gaps in social work provision up and down the country. As a result, in many areas local authorities do not meet the major challenge of making sure that no child is out of school for more than 20 days. Losing out on school means constantly losing out not only on the curriculum but everything else: social life, the support that the school offers the child, motivation and friendship.
There is no quick fix. It is in that context that I should like to ask the Minister, first, for an assurance that Quality Protects is here to stay and is not a national project but a national policy which will survive beyond the lifetime of its technical funding. Secondly, there is an outstanding need to implement the guidance as fully and quickly as possible and bring all local authorities up to the level of the best. Why, for example, are only 30 out of 150 local authorities meeting the existing national targets for basic GCSEs?
I pay tribute to the excellent work that is being done by the joint implementation team, but I ask what else we can do proactively at national level quickly to spread the knowledge of what works among authorities, because one thing these young people cannot do is wait. We need to know what works best and why, whether it be about information systems, the recruitment of social workers, training care workers or listening to children.
To answer my second point, I believe that Quality Protects should and could go further, to the point where we are convinced that the corporate parent, albeit an ugly term, is a good one. Quite simply, a good parent wants all the people involved with these children to work closely together and talk continually to one another. Too often the life chances of these young people are hampered by bureaucratic barriers, hierarchies and egos as much as by family breakdowns. Where these have been replaced by joint services and joint working we see a dramatic improvement in quality. I should like to see that as the first step in providing a coherent service for children which does not treat them as a bundle of problems but as full participating citizens.
The personal education plans need to be embedded in care as well as education which means regular contact between teachers and social workers. It is no good social workers ringing up the day after GCSE results are published to ask, "How did you get on?" if they have not provided the support that the child needs at the right stage. If the joint guidance is being implemented at this stage, why are we not looking at the possibility of the joint training of social workers and teachers and joint monitoring by Ofsted and the SSI?
A good parent would also want his or her child to go to the best school available, not the only school. I also should like to see those decisions made by joint panels of education and social services, together with the child and foster parent or care home. A good parent would also want to know whether the right expectations had been set for the child and all its achievements were recognised and encouraged. Many children in care believe that they are set up to fail. In that context it may be that the time is right to revisit the national targets for achievement. They may be as yet unattained by the majority of local authorities, but they are seen as depressing aspirations and disgracefully low. They require to be thought about again.
One of the constant complaints of young people in care is that they are treated as stereotypes. While they want to have their personal histories acknowledged and understood, they do not want to be treated differently. Failing to acknowledge what they can achieve is to entrench low expectations. I believe that there is a more constructive way out of this tension; namely, to look at the possibility of adding real value to what they do in terms of measuring achievement. That might be recognition that the child had read aloud for the first time, received an attendance or good behaviour award or taken part in a school play. All of those matters can be huge steps for a child. Why is it that we do not recognise those in the targets? Those targets are not only for the child and school to see how the child is improving but also for the local authority to see what is being achieved and drive standards and provision.
Finally, a good parent would make sure that the child had what was needed in school when it was needed. It is not simply a question of including the child in the life of the school; it is providing what the child needs when it needs it. For example, for most children the change from primary school to secondary school is an enormously traumatic experience. They also need extra help for homework between key stages 3 and 4--no matter how well they are doing they tend to lose momentum--and also in the run-up to GCSE. One must also ensure that every children's home has a superb library with plenty of space for books, including a homework mentor and lots of ICT so that children can for themselves open up the virtual world of learning. The Who Cares Trust has a magnificent new site for this purpose, and I very much hope that it will be able to encourage foster parents and children to use it.
Often foster parents are isolated and extremely stressed by the task that they have taken on. They are reluctant to go into the school and do not know what kind of welcome they will receive. A much more proactive and conscientious programme must be worked out with the school in terms of family learning and family activities in an informal way. Above all, a good parent is there to listen and ensure that the child participates.
At one level I support the commendable suggestion that we have a publicly funded advocacy service for children. I believe that that could lead naturally to a children's commissioner, but the important point is to provide somebody who is there when the child has a complaint which it cannot take to anyone else. At the moment, whether it ever finds the right person is very much hit or miss.
The designated teacher does not have enough time. The story of the young girl with the learning support assistant to listen to her is not a counsel of perfection but something which all good parents want for their children; it is a minimal standard. As one local authority leader put it to me the other day, frankly if we do not provide for these children something that is better than they have left behind we will have failed utterly. I am confident that we have the framework to make sure that that does not happen. I am grateful for your Lordships' support. My Lords, I beg to move for Papers.
My Lords, I am most grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Andrews, for initiating this debate. As the noble Baroness has so ably outlined, the situation for these vulnerable young people is serious and, if we as a society do not take appropriate action to enable them to benefit fully from their education, we are failing them miserably. What is more, we are depriving the country of their potential contribution and setting ourselves up with problems for the future.
There is clear evidence in Ofsted's last annual report that children in long-term foster placements function in school at a level which is reasonable given their abilities, whereas those in children's homes are more often the ones who are excluded from school, truant or run away.
The Department of Health's Children Act report of July this year showed that 42 per cent of children whose longest placement was with a foster family left care with one or more GCSE or GNVQ qualifications, compared with only 17 per cent of children whose longest placement was in a children's home. There is also some evidence that it is better for children's educational attainment, as mentioned by the noble Baroness, Lady Andrews, if they are fostered locally in their home area.
The evidence that foster care is better for the education of children in public care is backed up by a report carried out for Barnardo's by Sonia Jackson. Her researches show the importance of the quality of foster care in achieving good results. She found that in schemes where the carers actually focus on educational attainment, instead of just being preoccupied with overcoming disadvantage and working on building relationships, startlingly better results can be achieved. She quotes an American programme where the foster parents made efforts to encourage the children to read more and watch TV less, and their educational attainments were raised a good deal. Clearly, fostering is not just social work but should be a more varied, skilled job with clear objectives.
The National Teaching and Advisory Service, an independent not-for-profit organisation, has demonstrated what can be achieved by having teachers visit foster parents and schools, helping to promote effective home/school communications. The first results from independent fostering agencies working with NTAS were encouraging. All of the children in the study attained key stage 1 level 2 English and there was a dramatic improvement in their mathematics and science. All those eligible to take national exams did so and 25 per cent gained eight or more GCSE passes. These results are remarkable given that a quarter of these young people had been out of full-time education for two years or more before being placed with the agencies and supported by NTAS.
That brings me to a point about qualifications for foster carers. There is plenty of evidence that a lot of benefits can accrue from well trained foster carers, but these hard-working people cannot be expected to commit to courses of study if there is no benefit to them as well as to the children. Although some local authorities, such as Westminster, pay extra to carers with relevant qualifications, not all of them do. I should certainly like to encourage more local authorities to consider the advantages of doing this.
Evidence from the young people themselves dramatically supports the theory that good foster parents matter enormously to their education. One young care-leaver said:
"I couldn't have done anything without my foster dad. You need someone close to you to go to if you have any problems. I think if I'd been put somewhere else I'd have failed all my GCSEs. I need pushing and he pushed me".
"Probably my foster mum is my main source of support. She's the only one who's gone past GCSE stage. She went to university and she's been helping me".
"It's great to have someone to help you with your homework and take an interest".
I particularly like this one:
"If you can fit education into your survival pack it can beam you up to somewhere very different".
The abilities of children in foster care are often underestimated by society. Many of them have enormous potential as this moving letter written in August this year to the Fostering Network (formerly called the National Foster Care Association) shows. I think that this young woman wrote very movingly. She said:
"I wanted to inform you that I have now finished my degree course at Brunel University. I graduated on 18th July receiving a 2.1 in Psychology. I could not have done this without the support of my foster parents, Brent Social Services and the National Foster Care Association. I want to thank you for everything that you have done for me all these years. The help and support that you have provided extends to more than financial assistance. It is the encouragement that you provide and the faith you have in children who have been pigeon-holed by society as being criminals, single teen mothers, unemployed and a burden on the taxpayer. Schemes such as the 'My Place' scheme are beginning to break this myth and show people that despite their troubled upbringing foster children have the potential to succeed. Hopefully my success story has shown that everybody's hard work was worth it in the end".
As someone said to me recently, "Loving them is not enough".
We need high standards, training and a proper career and remuneration structure for foster carers if we are to attract good people into the job and keep them there. The Fostering Network has produced a set of standards--it calls it the "Gold Standard"--to underpin the provision of high quality foster care for children and young people. Although the Department of Health has produced a set of minimum standards, these are minimum standards. The best local authorities are going much further. I am pleased to say that my own county of Cheshire was given beacon status for fostering last year and Kensington & Chelsea also has many excellent innovative schemes. We need more opportunities to disseminate best practice and more incentives for local authorities to implement them.
I noticed as I came into your Lordships' House from my home in Battersea that the Borough of Lambeth is currently advertising on bus stops to recruit more foster carers. I wish it well in its efforts but I feel that certain nettles need to be grasped nationally before large numbers of good people will be attracted into this worthwhile job.
Currently, many of them are paid such low expenses that it actually costs them money to do it. The remuneration varies enormously from place to place, ranging from as little as £70 to as much as £500 per week. There is enormous inconsistency. Private agencies pay carers more, but then they charge local authorities more in turn. Only about 10 authorities make any extra payment for qualifications. Carers do not get any holiday pay and do not have a right to a week's break between placements. If they take such a break, they risk not being given a placement afterwards and they lose money.
Because much of the payment is expenses and not reward, they are not taxed, but also they do not get a pension. I know that the Inland Revenue is looking into this at the moment because some foster carers are paid just expenses and others get taxable remuneration. The whole thing is an awful muddle. I believe that foster parents should be paid proper wages, pay taxes and have pensions like everyone else. This, as well as the thanks I extend to them tonight for the wonderful work that they do, would send out the signal that they are appreciated and valued by society.
My Lords, we are all indebted to the noble Baroness, Lady Andrews, for introducing this debate. I particularly warmed, if I may say so, to the passionate detail with which the noble Baroness took us through her opening speech.
I do not intervene on this subject in your Lordships' House with any specialist knowledge, but simply to underline the responsibility that we all have as a society to ensure that these young people in public care get a better deal.
Many of your Lordships will have had the experience, which I have had, when meeting such young people, of remembering suddenly one's own good fortune. To have actually known the security of a home in which your parents love and care for you is the best possible start in life. But at the heart of this debate is the knowledge that that ideal is not available for far too many children. There may be problems of domestic violence, of physical, emotional or sexual abuse, alcohol or drug misuse, or one of the parents may just have walked away from their responsibilities.
Recently I visited one of our youth prisons. While I was there it came to light that the prison officer in charge of prison visitors and relatives visiting the prison inmates, when closing up found a child of four holding a little baby of about 10 months in his arms. No one was in the room. He was totally abandoned. For those and other kinds of reasons children often need to be removed from such environments.
The last figures I saw revealed that 58,900 children are being "looked after" in England. Of course the ways in which those children are cared for vary greatly, but in paying tribute to the dedication and commitment of foster carers and residential social workers--I am so grateful to the last speaker for her words about fostering--I know that they would be the first to say that they struggle to do their best, often in very difficult circumstances. In other words, the care they give cannot replace the things which so many parents can give to their children. I am haunted by those two young children in that visitors' room.
I welcome the Government's determination to address the challenge presented by the multiple needs of this group of young people. I am sure that the Minister will listen carefully to the responses to, for example, the consultation exercise being carried out by the Social Exclusion Unit. However, it is clear that we need more than words and the setting of objectives. We all welcome the objective of maximising the life chance benefits which flow from improved educational attainment. Let us be under no illusion about the multiple and interlocking causes of the staggering figures of under-achievement of which, in an earlier debate, the noble Lord, Lord Moser, reminded us. We need to remember that the emphasis--good in itself--placed on league tables, on competition and success, runs the risk of causing us to forget the special needs of children who have never known stability or the support of understanding parents who are there for their children in the bad times as well as the good. Many of these children cannot compete. Let us be realistic about that. Some of them do well to survive at all.
Again, I offer a general reflection from my own experience. Along with many Members of your Lordships' House, I have had the experience of attending parents' evenings at our own children's school--experiences which have been positive and less positive. I used to go with my heart in my mouth about what was going to be said about my middle son--I do not mind that comment appearing in Hansard. We have been able to think about how best to encourage people like him and, sometimes, even how to apply sanctions. But who is there to do that in the case of looked after children? We need to ensure that what happens at present in only the best cases becomes the norm. That will require not only resources, but also imagination.
We need to think ahead and see if we cannot find ways of increasing the amount of stability in the lives of such children and young people, which they so sorely need over a longer term. Schools and social services departments will need to work closely together--as the best do already--to ensure that that happens. But central government also has a role to play, not only in setting objectives but also, dare I say, by ensuring that resources are available to ensure that looked after children do not miss out because they lack financial support. That is why I intend to contribute to the debate tomorrow on student fees.
Finally, in debates of this kind there is a danger that we offer only generalised expressions of good will. We all know that we must do more than that. Research so usefully collected by the Social Exclusion Unit and other agencies shows that this problem is intractable because the majority of looked after children have been abused or neglected at an influential age. Sadly I do not always remember in detail the tender early years of my own children. I was too busy. However, now I am blessed with seven grandchildren. I think that it is both the vulnerability and capacity for recovery of the youngest children which moved me to put down my name to speak in this debate.
Young children, whether or not they are deprived, need intensive support over a sustained period. The professional services which are required are under huge pressure. I wonder whether the Minister can assure the House that, in addition to setting targets and objectives, the Government will ensure that serious shortfalls in the funding of mainstream and specialist services will be improved, so that they can be restored to a more adequate level. If we will the end of improving the lives of our looked after children, then we must will the means.
My Lords, perhaps I may add my thanks to those already given to my noble friend Lady Andrews for initiating this debate. Current legislation focusing on children in public care reflects, quite rightly, public concern. That concern is expressed in the view that such vulnerable young people are entitled to the best possible support from well qualified and highly motivated professionals in the field. The Children (Leaving Care) Bill, introduced in this House in November 1999, was a milestone along the way to achieving those objectives. Today's debate gives the House an opportunity to evaluate the progress made since that time. Sadly, at least for myself, that Bill passed through the House just before I arrived, so this is the first opportunity I have had to make a contribution on this subject. However, I am sure that it will not be the last.
As ever, I am keenly aware that in this Chamber I am surrounded by what I can describe only as "experts in the field". That is always a chastening experience. Indeed, listening to the other speakers in the debate will certainly prove to be a valuable learning opportunity for me.
It is right to acknowledge previous legislation made prior to 1999 which has transformed the ways in which our society treats its children. I refer in particular to the Children Act 1989, introduced by the previous government. As a magistrate I can confirm the remarkable effect that it has had on our dealings with young people. We take young people's views into consideration, listen to them and respect their preferences.
However, it is to a much earlier part of my life that I turn, a period which has compelled me to contribute to the debate tonight. Quite simply, as a very young child, I was taken into care for several years. The circumstances were not especially unusual. My father was killed in the war. My mother fled the bombing in London, taking me, then a toddler, to the safety of a village in Buckinghamshire. She found work as a cook in a large house. Just two years later, she was diagnosed with TB. In those days the illness was almost a death sentence. The only hope of a cure involved many months of rest in a sanatorium. We had no family and few friends; we could hardly have been more vulnerable.
Yet help for us was in place, from the local social services, from the teachers in my village primary school and from kindly people around us. I was taken into a foster home located in the same village, which was loving and happy. I stayed at the same school, played with the same friends, went to Sunday school and to dancing classes, just as before. Disruption was minimised. To give the story the happy ending that it deserves, a miracle drug called streptomycin was discovered and within months my mother came home cured of TB.
All that took place more than 50 years ago, but I can still close my eyes and become once again that five year-old child, terrified at the prospect of being left totally alone in the world. Who would take care of me? What lay ahead? I have frequently described myself as having been "lucky" to have been fostered in a good home. However, that acknowledges that others were unlucky. Today, I reject that difference. No child should be "unlucky"--and it is our responsibility to ensure that they are not.
When I studied the Ofsted report on raising the achievement of children in public care, along with the other reviews of public responsibilities, chords were struck in my mind. The notion of the corporate parent, with all that the role demands, is subject to very critical appraisal--and quite rightly. The failure of many children in terms of their educational achievement is a challenge to us all. There must be no "twin track" approach; every child must be given the best possible chance, irrespective of home circumstances. I find myself comparing my experience of care--in the same community, being able to attend the same school and so forth--with that of the disjointed fostering experience of so many children. They are moved from area to area, school to school, so that they lose the thread of their young lives.
So I welcome all the measures now in place, which ensure better qualified professionals in social services and in education, enabling young people in care to cope with their emotional and their academic progress. Better vetting of care itself, whether in foster homes or in local authority homes, clearly is essential for the safeguarding of our young people.
As the Ofsted report acknowledges, much has been achieved but there is still much more to be done. It is good work which affects the lives of hundreds of children in care now and will have a profound effect on hundreds more in the future. I hope that this debate will focus all our minds on the positive progress and reinforce our determination to see an even better performance in the future. Our children deserve no less.
Finally, I ask the Minister to take back the concerns expressed in your Lordships' House today and to share with us the future plans which will ensure a stronger and better framework for our children in care.
My Lords, I congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Andrews, on her speech and on bringing this subject before your Lordships' House. My speech will be focused on a group of people which has something of a magnifying effect on the negative social consequences which can flow from having been placed in care because you have to be and from not having support--that is, those people with hidden disabilities.
I choose this group quite simply because, if you happen to be in this group, to get assistance you have to be observed closely before the appropriate steps are taken. It is difficult to deal with the problems of those involved in the group--I am thinking predominantly of those suffering from dyslexia, dyspraxia and Asperger's syndrome--because the disability does not stand out. If you have not been socialised properly, if you are not getting support at home, if you do not know what is going on, if you are unaware of how you should behave, if you have become very unhappy at what may happen to you next time, if you have been moved from fostering that did not work to a home and care, you probably will not have most of the normal skills. You will have developed a defensive behavioural pattern. This will generally show itself in one of two ways: you will be very disruptive and very negative, or you will be very withdrawn. This means that you will be a person who is very difficult to understand and reach.
The normal way in which the people in the group I am talking about are picked up in our system is that the parents will notice that something is wrong. I have looked at the websites of the people I have mentioned and I have talked to them. They say that what the parent should look for is x number of behavioural changes and other things that are going wrong. If the parent is not there, it does not matter because they will not be noticed.
The noble Baroness, Lady Andrews, spoke about the number of people who end up in prison from care. The number of dyslexics--I certainly know about dyslexics--who are in prison is alarmingly high. I believe that the percentage points are roughly compatible with the number in care. There is absolutely no reason why we should find more dyslexics in care than in any other section of the population. Dyslexia runs through all forms of intellectual ability and social background. It was a middle class disease purely because middle class parents banged on the door loudest and earliest.
The same is undoubtedly true of every other disability. Every time you speak to someone they always say, "What the parents should do is go back and find out what they should be doing. They should batter the education authority and the school into doing the right thing". Fortunately, in some of these areas you no longer have to knock as hard as you once did. It is fair to say that we have made considerable progress over the years. Indeed, the previous government and the present one have continued to make progress.
I hope that we now realise the problem. It is calculated that something like 10 per cent of the population have dyslexia and that in about 5 per cent of those cases it is a noticeable drawback. Under these circumstances, I would suggest that the proportion may be higher among those in care because the negative effects will be magnified; they will not be seen and they will not be recognised.
The same is true of dyspraxia. Indeed, I have enjoyed learning about dyspraxia--I do not know whether "enjoyed" is the right word--because I have a nephew who suffers from the disability. Symptoms of dyspraxia are generally picked up earlier. The procedural and behavioural problems that identify the condition, together with problems in speech development, are seen at an earlier age. But in a dysfunctional family, what chance do these children stand?
Having waved a warning flag about a hole in the road, what can we do about the situation? We have got to train social workers and teachers to be able to spot the behavioural problems at an early stage. Once we have worked that miracle, I suggest we go on to something else such as draining the salt out of the Red Sea. There is a real problem in recruiting social workers at the moment, but we must start to address this issue. There is a terrible certainty about the fact that a social worker who notices one of these problems will say, "That is down to your bad environment"--it has happened repeatedly in all these fields--"Let us deal with the bad environment first".
If we train social workers properly, they may be able to cut through to the child concerned and say, "Do not worry. You are not stupid. You are not lazy"--the two standard labels that are attached to people who have problems that are not understood. "We can do something about it. It is merely a matter of changing your learning pattern". Or they can even say, "There are one or two things you simply cannot do".
If these coping strategies are given to a child, a better relationship will be established. Everything we have heard and, I am sure, will hear today, has referred to the parental support relationship being missing. We have to ensure that a support relationship is at least given in this way because it will open up children to support. We will have a chance to help children in this group of people to become a part of the mainstream, even those who are in care.
It is a difficult subject. The only answer is greater training, greater resources and a change of culture and approach. If we do not educate the key workers in charge of these people as part of their responsibility, the disabilities will continue to be missed. They are difficult to spot, particularly on the margins. Those with the most severe problems stand the best chance of being picked up.
I thought of an analogy when I was in the creative environment of the Guests' Bar in your Lordships' House. I was talking to someone about dyslexia generally and I said that it is always the ones with the most severe problems who get the help. I likened it to seeing someone whose car is stopped in the road, where you may stop and at least give him a push to the side or give him a hand. But if you see someone struggling along in second or third gear, you would probably get absolutely furious and end up trying to drive him off the road. That is the kind of situation we have to worry about.
I do not have many solutions rather than the obvious and slightly facile ones that I keep repeating. I suggest that we have to build them into the situation, otherwise the educational attainment of a section of the group I have referred to will never be dealt with because we will simply be doing the wrong thing.
My Lords, I, too, thank my noble friend Baroness Andrews for giving us the opportunity to discuss this issue and for drawing to our attention what are a set of damning statistics affecting children in care.
I wished to speak in the debate because I believe fundamentally that universities must play their part in addressing the poor opportunities which are open to young people in care. It is horrifying that only one in 100 care leavers go on to university compared to one in three school leavers in the population as a whole. That is a damning indictment for all of us, and I include the work of universities in that.
First, though, I must declare an interest as the chief executive of Universities UK. I should say at the outset that universities are committed to improving access for people from disadvantaged backgrounds, and, of course, that includes young people in care. Universities UK will publish a report later this year which is intended to highlight case studies from across the UK of ways in which universities are reaching out into socially deprived areas to encourage participation. I hope that the report will identify some good examples of young people in residential care and in foster care. As there have been no specific initiatives in this area, I am not at all sure that it will, but I hope that it will. The aim of all the case studies is to encourage the participation of young people from disadvantaged groups.
It is not surprising, given the data on the poor educational attainment that has been identified at GCSE level--documented by my noble friend Lady Andrews--that only a small proportion of looked-after children go to university. In preparing for this debate I looked at the recent Barnardo's report, Better education, better futures. It is a compelling document. Again, it chillingly catalogues the mountain of disadvantage that young people in care have to climb. The report highlights the importance of supporting young people in care throughout their education. It lists the main obstacles that need to be tackled to encourage more people in care to take up studies in further and higher education: the lack of accessible information on post-16 educational provision; the lack of support from social services for those who want to go on to further study; the difficulty in maintaining accommodation during term time and vacations; and, not surprisingly, financial problems. These issues must be addressed if we are to support the particular needs of young people in care and encourage them to take on educational opportunities that they would otherwise simply not contemplate.
Universities have already taken initiatives which I hope will begin to address some of these problems. The New Opportunities for All Concordat--a group linking schools and the FE and HE sectors--hopes to provide such young people with information about the way in which they might study in HE in an attempt to build up their confidence. The "Fair Enough?" project is looking at admissions criteria and widening access through improved potential to succeed. The Student Debt Project will examine the impact of student debt and term-time working on higher education in the UK.
There is one area where I do not think we have any good practice; namely, collaboration and links with industry and the various foundations that some companies have. To use an example that I know, Lattice Group--formerly British Gas--which includes Transco, is a major company with links all over the country. I declare an interest as a recently appointed non-executive director. Lattice has developed a partnership with National Children's Homes (NCH) to support an IT development with broadband access for children in residential care homes in London and Coventry. It uses the knowledge management and technological expertise of the company in innovative ways, while offering positively vetted website addresses covering a wide range of subjects across all four key stages. It offers help with studying, raising levels of IT literacy and milestones into HE. What is more, the software is being extended to cover access to NCH project workers, carers, guardians, parents and grandparents. Phase two of the project, which is currently being developed, will mean that software can link in with Learn Direct to offer on-line mentoring and the material for specific vocational training. I hope that we can build on this project with the universities.
I emphasise that excellent initiative because it is not only of benefit to young people. It is a project on which we should build, together with the commercial sector, because it is also of benefit to companies, linking into their local labour needs. It is also of benefit to the community, because it raises skills levels and educational aspirations in some of the most disadvantaged youngsters.
Let us remind ourselves of a chilling statistic. Seventy-three per cent of young people from professional backgrounds go on to higher education; 13 per cent of children from unskilled or rural backgrounds go into HE--already a huge difference in the numbers--but only 1 per cent of looked-after children. Even when looked-after young people have the necessary qualifications for HE, it has often been difficult for them to get to university, because local authorities have been keen to discharge them from their care as early as possible--sometimes at 16.
Therefore, I was delighted to see the introduction of the leaving care Act, which makes local authorities responsible for young people of 16 and 17 years of age, whether they are in care or have been discharged from care. So there should at least be less difficulty in staying on at school and negotiating what can be a problematic transfer to university.
That said, we know anecdotally that applying for university at the same time as preparing to leave care can be difficult. While most young people have the security of their family homes as back-up at this time, along with all kinds of practical help and support from parents, care leavers have to cope all alone. Delays in sorting out accommodation and student loans are much more worrying when you are coping alone. So it is important for staff in care homes and local authorities to believe in the importance of encouragement and raising aspirations.
There are some good examples. I know of three care leavers who worked on temporary contracts in the Department of Health. All three went to university, but sadly two of them dropped out. One can conjecture that not having parents supporting them was a major handicap. We know that financial problems are having an increased impact on the rates of those staying on at university.
I am not an expert, but in doing the background research for this debate I was horrified at what I learnt. I certainly intend to talk to my colleagues in the universities about how we can do more: how we might develop more student mentors to help in this area and more student ambassadors; how to ensure targeted access initiatives which might help in this most deprived area. I shall also make sure that we take advantage of a new study by the Institute of Education. It is a research project to help care leavers to go to university. I am determined that we shall come forward with suggestions for the Social Exclusion Unit, which I believe is due to report in March.
Finally, if the aspirations of all those who have spoken in this debate on behalf of those in care are to become a reality, adequate financial support for students is vital. That support must be targeted at those from under-represented groups. I know that there are more vocal groups, but it must be so targeted. In addition, more needs to be done at an early stage to alert young people and their carers to the lifelong benefits of higher education. It is important to focus on initiatives to encourage the recruitment of under-represented groups to higher education, but also to focus on measures to retain those students, to ensure their progress and to assist them into the labour market on the completion of their studies. As the director of the Buttle Trust has said,
"It is essential that the complex task of supporting care leavers in moving on to university should be properly understood".
My Lords, I congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Andrews, on her masterly portrayal of the overall picture of the education of children in public care. I also apologise for my rushed entry into the Chamber as the noble Baroness rose. I had just been freed from the locked disabled toilet in the nick of time--we nearly had to tear the door down!
I thank the noble Baroness for her help in preparing for this debate. It is a completely new area to me. I thank also the National Children's Bureau; SKILL, of which I am president; IPSEA, of which I am a member, and Mencap for giving me their thinking and much information on the education of children with special educational needs in public care. I shall home in on this area and ask the Minister one or two questions.
It is rather too early to know how the May 2000 guidance is working. I kept hearing references to the need for evaluation and monitoring, the importance of consistent and joined-up delivery of services, a clear understanding of roles, especially where there was cross-regional involvement, and the importance of understanding and responding to the needs of the child.
Section 9 of the guidance deals with children and young people with special educational needs. Section 9.3 deals with their need for,
"the support and advocacy of a vigorous parent--in their case the local authority".
"Vigorous" is a good description. The parent of a child with special educational needs has to be persistent, determined and an optimist to cope with the system, which relies heavily on the parent playing an active part. For example, most requests for reassessment originate from parents. Appeals to the Special Educational Needs Tribunal with regard to the outcome of an assessment are the responsibility and on the initiative of a parent. Checking on the adequacy of statemented provision requires the parent to be present at, and involved in, annual review meetings. It presents a big challenge to social workers in respect of those in local authority care, particularly those who in effect live in residential boarding schools.
IPSEA says that experience leads it to believe that it is rare for social services personnel to take part in the procedures I mentioned although there is little in-depth research on that. In the case of representation at tribunals, its impression seems to be backed up by research undertaken by Neville Harris of Liverpool John Moores University who found that appeals in respect of children in care featured very rarely in SEN tribunal business. There are probably two main reasons. The first, obviously and understandably, is pressure of work and perhaps also the fact that the child placed in a residential school may be seen, reassuringly, as essentially the responsibility of the professionals at that school. Secondly, there is the inescapable conflict of interest in a situation where a professional employed by one wing of the local authority social services department is placed in a conflict position vis-a-vis another local authority professional from the LEA. The problem becomes obvious when you think of the function of the tribunal. Is it reasonable or fair to the child for the same public authority to be making crucial decisions via its education department and to be responsible for initiating appeals against the same decisions via its social services department? I see that the noble Baroness, Lady Andrews, is nodding agreement.
There might indeed be a human rights issue arising from this point. What would be very helpful is if the Government were to initiate some research into this area to establish the size and nature of the problem and explore the practical solutions; for example, the role of guardian ad litem, because of its independence, may be worth considering as a replacement for the social-worker-as-parent in respect of proceedings arising from the special educational needs of a child who is in public care. I should welcome the Minister's views on that, but if he cannot give an answer tonight I hope that he will agree to take it away and think about it.
For children and young people with severe learning disabilities in public care there is a great need for the "vigorous parent" and for joined-up provision, particularly for those in distant residential schools. Mencap makes the point that children with very severe learning disabilities tend to stay in public care all their lives, becoming adults in care rather than achieving independence at 18. It is very important that they do manage the transition, achieve adult status and develop to their maximum potential. Where possible the parents' continuing involvement must be encouraged and made easy, but if this is not possible the public authorities should play an active part in the children's overall welfare, health, social needs, training, and work possibilities. It is important that their achievements are recorded whether or not they fall within conventional academic and vocational achievements.
Much of the criticism of special schools by ex-pupils has come from pupils with abilities which were not recognised and developed because there was under-expectation. But much of the criticism of mainstream schools by parents of more severely disabled children has been based on the failure to recognise, foster and record achievements which are important for the child but do not give the school points on a conventional achievement scale.
In the wider sense of education it is important that disabled children in care, particularly if they have not remained part of a wider family network, are helped to develop and maintain relationships and go on to live and perhaps work in whatever environment suits them. For those with very severe learning disabilities, this may be in small groups, sheltered homes, or whatever suits them and whatever they choose.
I turn now to students with learning difficulties and disabilities leaving care. SKILL and the National Children's Bureau have identified three issues which they feel need clarification and attention from the Government and which reflect their and others' concern about the lack of joined-up and consistent delivery in provision both locally and nationally. First, there is the question of divided responsibilities. There is a need to ensure effective collaboration and bridge building between young persons' advisers allocated to young people leaving care under the Children (Leaving Care) Act 2000 and Connexions personal advisers, especially for young people with disabilities who have more complex needs. It is a particularly important issue for young people in care in residential schools, especially where a regional boundary has been crossed and where there will be additional issues surrounding the duties of home and host agencies.
Secondly, what can be learned from the experience of the Connexions pilots in relation to care leavers and young people with disabilities; for example, in helping them to understand their choices in relation to housing, education, opportunities, and sources of income? We have heard from the noble Baroness, Lady Warwick, of the amount of problems facing such young people when moving on. Will the Government evaluate the pilots? I hope that the Minister may be able to give an encouraging answer on this.
Thirdly, and finally, I turn to the question of helping young people up to the age of 25 who have disabilities. Under the Children (Leaving Care) Act 2000 young persons' advisers have a continuing responsibility to care leavers up to the age of 25 whether or not they are in care. SKILL hopes that Connexions personal advisers will have the same responsibility to disabled people up to the age of 25 whether or not they are in care. I very much hope that the Minister can say something positive on this issue. I look forward to hearing his reply to all of our questions. The noble Baroness, Lady Andrews, asked a lot of very important questions. If the Minister does not have the time to answer all of mine tonight, I should be grateful if he could write to me. We all want to see that the education of children in care works as well as possible. We have heard from the noble Baroness, Lady Billingham, how successful it can be. We hope that it enables such young people to become happy and fulfilled adults with much to contribute to society.
My Lords, I, too, am grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Andrews, for introducing the debate and expressing her concerns so eloquently. Other noble Lords have highlighted a range of issues with great passion and insight. A common theme is that children and young people in care or leaving care face all kinds of difficulties and that the services often do not co-ordinate to meet their needs.
I shall focus mainly on the need to listen to children and young people and take their opinions into account when planning services. Young people have clear views about many of these issues, for example what helps them to relate constructively to school, as the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, said.
Another Barnardo's report on young people's views of care shows that they are concerned about looking after money, employment, services, peer pressure and leisure activities as well as school subjects. Many feel that they do not receive enough advice on health issues and growing up. These concerns and anxieties can all affect performance in school.
Children and young people in whatever context--school, home or care--have multiple needs, as the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Lichfield said. They need stability, attention to health, to be talked to and given affection, the encouragement of communication skills, curiosity and literacy. All children have differing abilities or disabilities as discussed by the noble Baroness, Lady Darcy de Knayth, and early intervention is important.
Why consult young people? As a recent Carnegie report stressed, participation and asking what young people want contributes to self-esteem which in turn influences physical and mental well-being, young people feeling more in control and more likely to access the information and practise the skills they need to lead successful lives and to be more assertive with services. Consultation with young people can also improve the services they comment on or help to plan. It is a two-way benefit. The Children Act 1989 and the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child both state the need for those in charge of children to establish the wishes and feelings of children. However, that does not always happen.
Guidance on the education of children and young people in public care states:
"Much of what is now known about the impact of care upon education comes from young people who have experienced the care system. They know what care feels like from the inside. Like other children they also know what interests, engages and motivates them, and what undermines their motivation".
The recent Ofsted report on raising achievement of children in public care--this has been referred to several times--has a section on the views of young people, their teachers and carers. Young people identified quite clearly which factors affected their achievement. These included schools where the history of the young person is known, a teacher chosen by the young person who can act as a counsellor and keep confidences--confidentiality is a key issue--no attachment of stigma and the wish to be treated as any other young person with no allowances for bad behaviour, continuity of support from a social worker who is interested in schoolwork, a commitment from the carer to attend school events, support from the carer for homework and school activities, remaining in the home area rather than being moved from the school and sent away from friends and access to facilities available to young people who live at home, including a computer.
The National Children's Bureau, in its helpful summary relating to the education of children in public care, acknowledges the effects of children's pre-care experiences but also draws attention to failures in the care system itself, including the organisation of systems around the child, the failure of departments to work together and the need for adequate skills in carers, social workers and teachers to support children. The failures of those systems can result in broken schooling, low self-esteem, low expectations and poor continuity of care; and all that will affect achievement in school.
The Education of Looked after Children project within the Department of Health highlights guidance for social workers and foster carers. These encourage social workers and foster carers to,
"take an active interest in young people's educational progress, champion their educational needs, celebrate their successes and ensure that they have access to the full range of educational opportunities".
That is what young people want.
The NSPCC recognises that the new Quality Protects plans do help to address the needs of children in care but so much is dependent on the local authority culture and communications between schools, LEAs and social service departments. I, too, would like reassurance on Quality Protects.
There is surely a triangle of effect here: the care system, the school and the child. The child is in the middle of all this but sometimes the child is the last person to be consulted, if he or she is consulted at all, about what is appropriate education and welfare. There is good evidence that young people resent this lack of consultation and involvement and so resent those who make decisions for them. If this is how they feel, little wonder that they may be disaffected by what school has to offer.
As one pupil in the Barnardo survey said:
"I left school last year. First year you say, 'Look, I don't like this, I don't like that, I want something done about it'. Second year, nothing's done about it, third year, fourth year and I'm leaving school by fifth year and they've done nothing and they wonder why we don't like school?".
What chance of achievement if that is the case? School tutors and special support for young people in care were mentioned positively as encouraging dialogue and motivation. Another pupil in the survey said:
"I think school mentors are quite good because if you're having a bad time you can explain to your mentor and your mentor will have a word with the teacher".
Young people in all circumstances need support at some time and confidentiality is a key issue.
It is encouraging that the Government have set up the Children and Young People's Unit which will monitor the impact of cross-government guidance, lead the development of objectives for services and develop a unified strategy for children. It is also encouraging to see the vigour and energy with which so many children's organisations have expressed their concerns and will clearly not allow the needs of children and the need to involve them to slip from the agenda. I am grateful to those organisations for supporting me in my work on this issue.
There are, of course, good and bad experiences of care, as my noble friend Lady Billingham said. Some young people in care succeed very well. In the Who Cares Trust report on the messages young people bring from care, one said,
"I settled down to school every day and passed 10 GCSEs".
But another said,
"I have no qualifications and I face an uncertain future".
It is worth noting that 50 per cent of the 2,000 children questioned in the report felt that being in care had improved their school performance. But what were their expectations?
The Social Exclusion Unit--it was mentioned by my noble friend Lady Andrews--is carrying out a project to investigate how the educational attainment of children might be improved. This involves a series of questions, some of which will be put to children. Questions on the learning environment include: "What aspects of school have the strongest influence on the educational attainment of children in care?"; "How effective are pastoral support services?"; and "What training and support do teachers receive and need in supporting children in care?" It will be interesting to learn how children respond to those questions and what examples of good practice emerge.
Consultations with young people by many young people's organisations make clear that young people do have practical ideas about ways of improving systems which affect their lives. They can, and should, contribute to the decision-making process. They are, after all, the ones who know best what makes systems supportive and what helps or hinders achievement. Do we consult them enough?
My Lords, I join with my fellow Peers in thanking the noble Baroness, Lady Andrews, for initiating the debate. I appreciated her overview of the subject. I have appreciated her advice in the past on the issue of vulnerable children in care. If I may say so, she does a tremendous job with regard to children in care and I hope that we shall hear from her on many occasions.
I pay tribute to the Government's attention to children in care during the previous Parliament. There has been earlier reference to the Bills involved. I have an interest in this area as patron of Voice for the Child in Care which provides advocacy services for children in care.
It is a timely debate because we are now in the middle of Parents Week. Many of the young people about whom we speak have not had good experience of parenting. I attended a seminar run by the National Family and Parenting Institute established by the Government. Dr Eia Asen of the Marlborough Family Services in London said that his experience was of families in poverty with several generations of dysfunction. The grandmother, the mother and the children all hurt one another and the family fails to move forward. We must intervene in the most effective way possible to break that pattern. Not only may the children of this generation grow up to go to prison but also their children may do so. Although I cannot give the figure off the top of my head, the number of fathers in prison is significant.
I shall concentrate on residential social care workers and on how the children for whom they care may become models for good education. I shall concentrate on residential care even though only 12 to 15 per cent of looked-after children are in residential care. It is the Government's policy to encourage children to stay within their families as long as possible. That is good for the majority of children. However, those severely damaged before arriving in care are the most vulnerable of the vulnerable children.
Professor Sonia Jackson was kind enough to write to me on today's debate. She emphasised that we must raise the educational standards of the carers if we want children to succeed in education. My father grew up with a French governess. When travelling abroad as children, we would hear our father speak French fluently. All my siblings have sought to learn a foreign language. My older half-sister speaks French fluently. I shall not comment on my other siblings' achievements. I have endeavoured to speak French. My only regret about the timing of this evening's debate is that it clashes with my class at the Institute Francais.
When visiting a hostel, I overheard one of the residents, a young person of 17 or 18, saying to one of the volunteers, "You're always learning". I looked into this, and apparently the volunteer, when he was not engaged in making beds, opening locked doors or helping in food preparation, would take the Encyclopaedia Britannica from the shelves and read it. He would also ask the young people from Eritrea or Ethiopia about their background or learn a bit of their language. We would like children in care to see that sort of example.
I recently spoke to the manager of a children's home with many years' experience. She said that many of her staff were semi-literate and that she has to use agency staff more and more. These young people stay for a few months, leave abruptly and are replaced by other agency staff. They often have very little education.
From all that we have heard tonight, we know that those children often have serious difficulties. Your Lordships may have listened at the weekend to Arthur Ashe being interviewed by Professor Anthony Clare about his life. Arthur Ashe's mother died when he was six. As a consequence, he withdrew into his books and into playing tennis. At the end of the interview, he was asked what he expected when he died. Ashe had spent a lot of time visiting crematoriums and seemed to be fairly interested in death. He said that he expected to see his mother. When he was asked, "What would you ask your mother if you saw her?" He said, "I would not ask her anything. I would just want her to hold me."
Many of the children whom we are discussing have lost contact with their parents. They have had bad experiences, such as having a hand held over a gas ring, or suffering sexual abuse by a parent. Their parents may have been killed in a conflict far away, or they may know that their family is being bombarded elsewhere in the world.
The staff who work with these children need to be emotionally literate. One mental health nurse said that staff were not adequately equipped and were helpless to the needs of these children. I know from working with such children that it can be the most stressful experience if one does not understand what is happening. I remember Buffy House hostel at Centrepoint, which is for medium-support-needs children who are homeless and have been through many hostels. These young people come from difficult backgrounds. The staff at that hostel are supported by a psychotherapist who visits once a week and who has introduced psychological concepts and helped them in the work that they do. That hostel had the lowest sickness rate in the whole of Centrepoint's operation. The manager began life there with no qualifications whatever. Her family comes from Ethiopia and the last time I saw her she had just returned from visiting them there. She achieved a degree and an MSc in psychology. She is now directing the Cumberlow community, consisting of several children's homes.
I welcome so much of what the Government have done, such as the introduction of an NVQ3 for residential care workers. That will certainly sort out some of the problems of literacy, or lack of it, among workers. I welcome the fact that Sir William Utting will develop a new residential care qualification and the concentration and outcomes for children, which Quality Protects has introduced.
However, to make a significant difference, one must encourage more graduates to enter and remain in residential care work. Professor Sonia Jackson said that on the continent most people in residential care have a degree and further professional qualifications. In Germany 58 per cent of looked after children achieve the Abitur--the equivalent of A-levels. In this country, no record is kept of those figures because they are so minimal.
There needs to be a clearer career progression for residential care staff. There should be more support for training and better remuneration. A shopping mall opened in north-west England and staff left a residential care home because they received £1.50 an hour more for working in a shop and doing regular hours than for working in the care system. The entry level must be akin to that for nurses and teachers. They should be allowed time to study and not become bound up in paperwork, although we understand why paperwork is needed. These workers often have their own children and they need time to study and develop.
I have two questions to ask the Government. Will they consider funding the training programme of voluntary organisations which run children's homes and look after foster carers? There are some good examples of training programmes, but they are short of money. What are the Government doing to increase incentives for graduates to enter residential care work with children and to remain in that work?
My Lords, I join other noble Lords in thanking the noble Baroness, Lady Andrews, for initiating this extremely timely debate. We have had an excellent and wide-ranging debate, covering many different issues, but we have raised all the most important ones.
I shall start with the statistics. There are 58,000 children in public care where local authorities act as so-called corporate parents. Only one in three of those children gets any GCSEs at any grade; only one in 20 gets five GCSEs with grades A to C, which is 5 per cent rather than the 50 per cent average in the country generally. Children in care are six times more likely to be truants than other children. The noble Baroness, Lady Warwick, said that only 1 per cent go on to university.
Among our rough sleepers, 33 per cent of them have been in care, as have 25 per cent of the prison population. Despite the fact that local authorities have the role of corporate parent, the Times Educational Supplement two years ago revealed that two-thirds of councils had no idea of the test scores of those in their care and two-fifths of them did not know whether any of those children achieved any GCSE passes.
As the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Lichfield said, it is a staggering set of figures of under-achievement. It is also a shocking set of statistics and shows a complete dereliction of duty on the part of a great many people. These children are among the most vulnerable in our society. They are in care because their own family relationships have collapsed. They have often been traumatised and it is vital that we give them the most that we can.
Having said that, as the noble Baroness, Lady Andrews, explained, a great deal has changed in the past two to three years, and we must thank the Government for that. New guidance was issued in May 2000. Each child in care must have a personal education plan. Each school must have a designated teacher who is responsible for acting as an advocate or mentor to the child and to liaise with the social services and others. There will be a limit of 20 days in which local authorities must find an educational placement for these children.
It is shocking that those children can be excluded from a school and have no education whatsoever for a year or more. Twenty days is now the limit for a new educational placement to be made. Local authorities are required to set up established routines for keeping in touch with those involved--the schools, the social workers, the foster parents and the health officials--and keep them informed of developments. Targets have been set for educational attainment. There must be personal education plans for each child. The target for this year, which I think was not achieved, was for 50 per cent of such children to gain at least one GCSE at grades A to G. By 2003, the target will be 75 per cent.
These new practices are beginning to have an impact. Several of your Lordships have mentioned the Ofsted report produced in the spring entitled Raising Achievement of Children in Public Care. It contains a touching story of a girl from Bradford referred to as "G". It says:
"G had been in care for six years and in that time had experienced five foster placements and periods in children's homes. She was very aware of her own difficulties but said that she could at last see a future. A teacher within the school acted as part-time counsellor and G reported frequent contact over the past three years. The counsellor has helped her to establish herself in a stable foster placement, had supported her through an abortion and two suicide attempts, had stayed firmly beside her through periods of rage and despair. In Year 11"-- which was the GCSE year--
"the counsellor was ensuring that all was in place for G to take GCSEs with predicted grade C results. The young woman expressed her gratitude to the counsellor; without the stability provided by the school and the regular contact with a listening adult, the outcomes could have been very different".
That shows what a difference good practice can make. However, it is often difficult to fit the different pieces of the jigsaws into place. We need, to use that hackneyed phrase, joined-up thinking, but it is not always easy to get. I spoke at some length to one of the managers in charge of care for children in my county of Surrey. He talked about a new creative scheme that has been running in Surrey for the past 12 months which illustrates good practice. The High Ashurst project is an active learning programme that involves formal and social education of young people aged 14 to 16. It works intensively with six young people at any one time. The programme is individually tailored to meet the needs of young people who have multiple complex needs and have either been permanently excluded from mainstream education or cannot cope in such an environment. Under the Connexions service, they would fall into the higher need levels of 3 to 4. One of the key features of the programme is that young people are fully involved in the design of their own programmes. That picks up on a point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Massey, about the importance of talking to the young people. Those programmes are reviewed on a daily basis.
The service was initially established as a pilot through the Connexions start-up funding, which again shows how some of the different programmes that we have been talking about are rolling through. Due to the success of the scheme, it is hoped that it will be picked up by the Learning and Skills Council, with the European Social Fund also providing some finance.
Let us hope that the project goes forward, but it provides for only six children out of the 600 that Surrey has to cope with. Many of those children are in foster homes, some of which are very stable, but many problems are still presented to the local authority. Four issues in particular arose from my conversation. The first is the culture of blame and the morale of the social workers. Many social workers working with children in care, and particularly in residential homes, feel that over the past 10 or 20 years they have been blamed and blamed again for the failures that have occurred. They recognise that on occasions they fail, but they feel that the failures are also failures of society, because the young people are so vulnerable and come from such traumatised backgrounds. They are highly disturbed young people with enormous behavioural and emotional difficulties. They often need the one-to-one help and guidance that the Ashurst programme can provide.
Secondly, there are problems of recruitment and retention, particularly in areas around London, the Home Counties and the South-East. Housing is so expensive that it is very difficult to recruit good social workers in Surrey and to keep them in the children's service. The Ofsted report that I mentioned instances case loads of 17 to one and often higher. There is enormous stress among social workers. When one leaves, a colleague has to cover for them. That means that children do not get the consistent help from one individual that they need. That came through in the story that I told about the girl in Bradford. There are often lots of different individuals who deal with the children, struggling to cope with enormous case loads. They cannot give the children the attention that they really need.
Thirdly, there are problems in getting the psychiatric help that the children need. They are not classed as mentally ill by the National Health Service, yet they are undoubtedly not mentally well, because they have enormous emotional and behavioural problems. They are not getting the psychiatric help that they need because the National Health Service says that they are untreatable. That poses enormous difficulties and puts all the burden on the social workers and those in schools to cope with the problems. They cannot look to the help from the National Health Service that we need to bring in with our joined-up thinking. That poses yet another problem, because resources are needed. The National Health Service does not have the necessary resources any more than social services departments or schools do.
That leads to the final problem of school placements. The noble Baroness, Lady Darcy de Knayth, mentioned the real conflict of interest between the social services authorities and the education services. The children may have been excluded from schools on a number of occasions and exhausted the range of schools in their locality. They are then taxied miles across Surrey to schools right out of their home environment, which is not necessarily the right way to solve the problem. There are also increasing numbers of foundation schools or specialist schools that these children cannot attend. Schools that are popular and good are full up and the children cannot be placed in them. The schools that are not full already have a disproportionate number of those with special educational needs and emotional and behavioural difficulties. That poses a great many problems.
From these Benches we endorse many of the Government's new initiatives. We also endorse the request of the noble Baronesses, Lady Andrews and Lady Darcy de Knayth, for a re-examination of the concept of corporate parenting. We call for the establishment in this country of a children's commissioner, just as there is in Wales, to bang heads together and get things moving on occasions and to secure the joined-up thinking that we need. We ask the Government to consider the whole issue of the training and remuneration of foster parents, just as we also echo the thoughts of the noble Earl, Lord Listowel, in calling for better qualifications for those working in residential homes with children and for greater opportunities for training there.
Lastly, but not least, we ask the Government not simply to blame local authorities for the failures of their social services departments and LEAs or to blame health authorities. The Government must ensure that those bodies have enough resources to do the job properly. Part of the failure of joined-up thinking comes from competition for resources. There are not enough resources in the health service and social services to provide what they ought to be providing. That is a real problem. If we wish the end, we should also will the means.
My Lords, like other noble Lords, I am grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Andrews, for introducing this debate with a speech of such genuine concern for the needs of children. I agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, that it has been an excellent debate.
Meeting the educational needs of every child is a subject of enormous importance. Yet adequate provision for their education presents real challenges. Many of these youngsters face frequent changes of location. Many had experienced difficulties with their families, and corporate parental responsibility in the form of the local authority presents a unique situation. All those things can affect a child's ability to learn, concentrate and behave. Their progression through the school system is subject to conditions very different from those experienced by children living full time with their natural families.
Recent figures suggest that those conditions do affect children's educational achievement. When measured against national averages, the educational attainment of children in public care looks poor. Seventy-five per cent leave school with no qualifications, compared with only 6 per cent who live with their families full time. The noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, mentioned two notable exceptions: Cheshire and Kensington & Chelsea. I am sure that the noble Baroness, Lady Warwick, will be pleased to hear that the latter has a very good number going on to university.
Disruption and instability are critical factors in educational under-achievement. Pressure on foster homes and a lack of appropriate children's homes can create difficulties for the placing authority. As a result, some children are moved to foster agencies away from their original area. Children and carers often assume that "moving on" is inevitable. Such a sense of uncertainty can lead to a degree of disinterest in education on the part of the child. Moving on can mean leaving friends, trusted carers and teachers. Often, moves take place regardless of educational commitments and add to the pressure of examinations.
The education of children who live at home is determined and monitored largely by their teachers and parents. For children in public care, the situation is far more complex. The local authority has a duty to ensure the health, safety and welfare of each child in public care. The social services, as the placing authority and as the service responsible for designating a social worker to each child, should be closely linked with the local education authority. The LEA is responsible for ensuring a school place for each child and for monitoring progress, as well as issuing a statement of special educational needs where required.
There is often a lack of understanding between education authorities and social services. Several noble Lords have made that point tonight. One manifestation of it is the apparent reluctance of social workers and schools to share information. That may be due to reasons of confidentiality. Some children are in schools where the head teacher, or the named teacher, does not know that the child is in a foster placement or a temporary placement in a children's home.
Interestingly, children themselves have emphasised the importance of regular contact with a social worker who has a real interest in educational achievement. Presumably, that can be realised only where a social worker has a good understanding of the relevant education system and is in close contact with the school.
The importance of understanding and support from a child's school cannot be overstated. Where a teacher has been appointed to handle all matters relating to children in public care, it has been successful. The teacher has access to all information relating to a child: where he or she is living, and the identities of the carer and the social worker. That information is updated regularly, even if the school placement remains the same. Difficulties caused by ignorance or misunderstanding can be resolved only by effective communication between local authorities and schools.
The complex system of responsibility in public care can also affect children who have special educational needs. As the noble Baroness, Lady Massey, said, early identification is vital. It is most likely to be the parents or the teachers who identify such difficulties. They are able to do so because of their familiarity with the child. Some children in public care, sadly, are not identified simply because they lack that continuous contact. The shortage of social workers in nearly every local authority visited by the Ofsted inspectors, coupled with their heavy caseload of up to 17 children, means that genuine familiarity and a close relationship between child and social worker are rare indeed.
Yet there is another dimension to this issue. In an article commissioned by the Who Cares Trust, the author describes how, until recently, problems were attributed to a child's traumatic childhood rather than to any possible educational difficulty. That point was well made by the noble Lord, Lord Addington, in a very thought-provoking speech.
The difficulties at school experienced by some children are a result of emotional abuse, low self-esteem or insecurity. But many, in addition to a difficult start in life, have a specific learning difficulty of some kind. Dyslexia, dyspraxia and other SpLDs have specific symptoms that are not necessarily characteristic of emotional disturbance. Dyslexia is manifested in both abilities and difficulties. Once identified, appropriate educational plans can be put into place.
In the best children's homes, the children are part of a family and the care workers have a commitment to ensuring school attendance, supervised homework and support for school events. I am sure that the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Lichfield would agree with that. However, many homes cater for a wide age range, different abilities and different behaviour patterns, and that can affect children's attitudes significantly.
In such circumstances, it is perhaps unsurprising that the difficulties are not picked up as rapidly as they might otherwise be. Problems arise for children in public care who are approaching the age of 16. Until recently, young people have usually been encouraged to move out of care into semi-independent residences on, or soon after, their 16th birthday. But, if they plan to continue beyond GCSE, it seems extraordinary that they should be encouraged to leave behind the framework of support that is so necessary for academic achievement.
However, I understand that some local authorities are dealing with that issue. The appointment of the young persons' adviser is helping 16 or 17 year-olds leaving care--there are 5,000 each year--by ensuring that they receive the best opportunity to secure their futures. Every young person needs to be supported until it can be demonstrated that he is able to sustain himself within further education or in employment.
Ofsted inspectors have paid particular tribute to,
"examples of carers and teachers who on their own initiative have pressed for improvements for individual children. These children benefited from their efforts but it should not be a matter of luck whether the children encounter such a supporter in their school or care situation".
The difficulties experienced by children in public care largely revolve around the substitution of the parent or guardian by the corporate parent. This is emphasised in almost every report on the education of these children. Many authorities have been successful in devising strategies to improve the quality of education for children in care, but to ensure that every child experiences these benefits we should continue to review the needs of children in public care.
My Lords, like many others I think that the noble Baroness, Lady Andrews, has initiated a timely and important debate. I should like to respond robustly to the very many interesting and important comments made by Members of the House, setting out briefly why it matters as an issue, and to comment not only on what the Government are doing (as noble Lords would expect) but also on why more needs to be done. I shall pick up some of the comments that have been made and feed those into the very serious process of reflection that the Government will be taking part in over the next few months.
Why this subject matters has been set out clearly in the debate. The Government have noticed a slight improvement: now only 63 per cent of young people leave care with no formal qualifications, but we can take no comfort whatsoever from that figure. It is disastrous and appalling for those people and for society.
The consequences of poor education are particularly serious, as was mentioned by the right reverend Prelate, the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp of Guildford, and others. Let me nail down those consequences relatively rapidly. Fifty per cent of those who leave care are unemployed; they are nine times more likely to be homeless and, finally and most significantly, 26 per cent of the prison population have been in care at some stage.
As we know, poor education weakens life chances and increases the an individual's likelihood of having a miserable quality of life. That is morally significant and of concern to us generally in government, but it is also extremely expensive in terms of its economic and social costs. Let us reflect for a moment: if we were Utopian and could reduce the proportion of those in prison who have been in care to the average for the population generally, we would reduce our prison population by a quarter and our criminal costs by a quarter. We are talking in terms of billions of pounds of public money and a massive amount of social misery on both sides of the criminal experience.
We have talked a little bit, perhaps not sufficiently as yet, about some of the causes: low expectation, a disruption in the pattern of experience and education, lack of continuity and support, frequent care placements, and difficulty in securing suitable places; the story goes on. Noble Lords have added to the list; and there are plenty of others. It is not difficult to find some of the reasons for what causes that tendency to failure.
Perhaps I may switch to what the Government are trying to do. I am very grateful for the acknowledgement from many parts of the House of the seriousness and commitment of the Government to this endeavour. If we are serious about social exclusion, which I believe we are, we have to focus on this problem, perhaps above all others.
There are probably six limbs to the target. The first is prevention. Noble Lords are well aware of the importance of early intervention--the noble Baroness, Lady Massey, mentioned that--and of how essential the Sure Start programme is to this, in trying to tackle child poverty at its roots even before the child is born. That is clearly a massive programme of work which time does not allow me to go into.
Secondly, the Quality Protects initiative is absolutely central. Noble Lords will be disappointed to know that I cannot commit the Chancellor beyond March 2004, but the funding is there until 2004. If, as we hope, success and achievement on this most serious of problems can be demonstrated, no doubt there will be persuasive arguments as to why it should continue after that. As to the level of funding, £885 million is going in over five years. That is very significant funding. The noble Baroness, Lady Andrews, asked whether it was making significant progress. Yes, I think that it is, but more still needs to be done.
We should not forget adoption and the push to try to get more children adopted. Those figures are rising, but they will never rise to the level that will crack the problem by itself.
I turn now to the DfES/DH Guidance on the Education of Young People in Public Care. Noble Lords have mentioned the push for all schools to have a designated teacher; for all children in care to have personal education plans; and the need to secure suitable educational provision within 20 days. As part of supporting that, implementation advisers have been set up, drawn from the best local authorities, to try to retail the good practice as fast as possible around the country, as many noble Lords have mentioned.
I could mention many other matters, but I refer next to the performance assessment of social services departments. That has not been mentioned, although the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, was right in saying how crucial it is that we know what is happening, that we know where there is poor performance and that we stimulate people to do something about it. The Government are committed to rolling out performance assessment of local authority social services departments to improve child protection so that we can identify where performance is good and where it is bad. We "incentivise" improvement and we support the process of improvement through, for example, the Performance Fund and the social care institutes for excellence.
One of the most significant consequences of the performance assessment process will be to raise the political significance of looked-after children in many local authorities. This is not the stuff that wins or loses elections. I suspect that if one asked many leaders, good leaders, of local authorities, they would struggle to say how many children they have looked after in their authorities or what they are doing about it. I hope that the performance assessment programme will put an end to that.
That is what the Government are doing, but it is quite clearly not sufficient given the scale of the problem and the importance of solving it. So perhaps I may start to set out not solutions but some thoughts for further inquiry over the next few months that have been stimulated by the quality of the debate and the contributions offered by noble Lords from all parts of the House. This is also the product of some very interesting discussions with officials in the two departments and with the Social Exclusion Unit.
First, it is crucial that we are clear what works; in other words, that we have some evidence of where things appear to work better than not, and why.
The Ofsted publication of April 2001 on the educational achievement of children in care was extremely thought-provoking and a good basis. Secondly, the National Federation for Educational Research will complete its study on what we can learn from care practice. Thirdly, as the noble Baroness, Lady Massey, reminded us, when we are shaping future policy, we need more frequently and systematically to listen to young people. Finally and most usefully, we are given an opportunity to put what we have heard in the debate into practice by the work of the Social Exclusion Unit. It is undertaking a serious study in conjunction with the two main departments and it will report in May 2002.
In the time available to me I shall not be able to respond in detail to all the interesting questions raised and suggestions made in the debate. However, I guarantee that the Government will look seriously at all the suggestions as part of the review process and that I shall respond in writing to specific questions which were raised.
If we are clearer about what works, the next challenge is to ensure that the practice is implemented across local authorities and through government where appropriate. Perhaps I may suggest from what I have heard during the debate and from our studies what may matter most. The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Lichfield, the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, and the noble Lords, Lord Addington and Lord Astor of Hever, mentioned the word "stability". Common sense says--and it is reinforced by the research evidence--that if you are constantly moved in your experiences, in education and in support, the chances of being able to learn well are reduced and the emotional disturbance will be increased. Therefore, placement in the area from which the child originated appears to be fundamentally important.
There are many reasons why that is difficult and I shall return to them. A stable care placement looks to be fundamentally important. Children should not move from foster home to foster home or from children's home to children's home. A stable educational experience is also important. Children should stay in the same school as far as possible throughout their care and educational experiences. It is also important to have the same social worker throughout--a social worker who knows one, is committed to one and is one's champion. Finally, the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, put this better than I can--there should be high expectations from the foster home or care home and those expectations should be reinforced in practice, day in and day out, by someone asking, "Are you doing your homework? How are you doing?", signalling that someone notices and cares about how your educational practice is working out. That should be turned where necessary into advocacy so that the system is challenged, as all of us have challenged the system on behalf of our children when we felt it was failing them.
Therefore, stability in all those respects appears to be fundamental to progress. Yet that is not the practice which we are delivering in many situations. Noble Lords have pointed out why it is not being delivered: because we cannot get the social workers; or the foster parents do not have the mindset, experience or skill; or we can get foster parents in Kent or Norfolk but not in Southwark so we shift 12 year-old black girls into a completely alien environment, out of touch with their homes, friends and so forth. No wonder people fail.
If stability in those environments appears to us in government to be central to success, we must no longer offer up the reasons why we cannot provide it; we must find solutions. Often they will need to be radical in order to make it possible to increase the proportion of children in care who receive a more stable educational and care experience. I repeat my thanks to noble Lords and to the noble Baroness, Lady Andrews, for stimulating the debate. It has reinforced our determination to ensure that the Social Exclusion Unit study grapples successfully with many of the key problems.
My Lords, I began by saying that it was a privilege to introduce the debate. As it has progressed, I have been deeply impressed not only by the personal recollections, knowledge and experiences which have been opened up to us today, but by the hard work that has been done on research. I have also been deeply impressed by the way in which the voices and experiences of the children have come forward in the debate. I am extremely grateful to all noble Lords.
I want also to thank the Minister for his open and frank statement about the Government's intention and for the seriousness with which he addressed the major issues of detail that have been raised. He spoke with conviction, frankness and without a trace of complacency when he acknowledged that we have more to do. At the end of such a debate, that is the best position to be in. He offered us the challenge of continuing to try to persuade him on several important issues. As he said, he is faced with a wealth of questions and suggestions. I am sure that each of us will try to keep him on his toes.
My Lords, I beg leave to withdraw the Motion for Papers.