Huge variation found in children's care services

31 Oct 11
Council services for children in care vary hugely, particularly in adoption rates, according to performance tables published for the first time today.

By Nick Mann | 31 October 2011

Council services for children in care vary hugely, particularly in adoption rates, according to performance tables published for the first time today.

England’s local authorities are ranked against 15 indicators for children in care, covering areas such as the percentage being adopted and their educational performance.

The tables reveal that the percentage of children leaving care for adoption between 2009 and 2011 ranged from 26% at Derby City Council to just 2% at the London Borough of Croydon.

York, South Tyneside and Hartlepool councils were rated top over the past three years for placing children for adoption within 12 months of the decision being made that they should be adopted.

Figures for education also show significant differences in performance. In 36 local authorities, fewer than 10% of children in care achieved five A* to C GCSEs or their equivalent, including English and maths. This compares with 25% for the best performing council, the London Borough of Sutton.

The government has said it wants to overhaul the care and adoption system to improve chances for vulnerable children. Today’s publication of the council performance tables by the Department for Education is intended to act as a challenge to local authorities to do better for the children in their care.

Commenting on the figures, Prime Minister David Cameron said: ‘It is shocking that of the 3,600 children under the age of one in care, only 60 were adopted last year – this is clearly not good enough.

‘So we will publish data on how every local authority is performing to ensure they are working quickly enough to provide the safe and secure family environment every child deserves.’

The education secretary has powers to intervene in local authorities deemed to be failing to fulfil their duties to children in care. Councils can be required to set up an improvement board, twin with another local authority or outsource services.

Children’s minister Tim Loughton said there was ‘no excuse’ for the ‘poor performance’ revealed by the performance tables.

He added: ‘Local authorities should be in no doubt that we expect to see improvements in the coming months. We simply will not tolerate continued failure when that failure means a child’s future put at risk.’

However, the Association of Directors of Children’s Services defended councils’ performance. President Matt Dunkley said: ’Local authorities take their corporate parenting responsibilities towards children in their care extremely seriously, and this includes seeking permanent and stable loving homes for these children wherever possible.

‘There is evidence that local authorities are increasingly successful in finding permanent placements for these children and young people.’

The ADCS also highlighted the alternatives to adoption available to councils, such as special guardianship, and stressed that any attempts to speed up the adoption process should not be at the expense of the ‘depth and quality’ of decisions made.


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