Hodge slams DfE’s lax approach to children in care

11 Mar 15

The chair of the Public Accounts Committee has accused the Department for Education of ‘an alarming reluctance’ to work with local authorities to improve services for children in care.

Publishing a PAC report on the sector today, Margaret Hodge said the ministry had ultimate responsibility for overseeing services for children in care but was not playing an active role in improving services and securing a better future for this vulnerable group.

‘The department focused on limiting its responsibility rather than maximising opportunities for children in care,’ she stated.

‘It is reactive not proactive, only intervening after Ofsted has failed a local authority service.

‘It does far too little to support authorities to improve before they are failed by Ofsted. It sits on a wealth of information and knowledge which it fails to use in an active way to support better outcomes for children in care.’

In its Children in Care report, the PAC said the DfE effectively limited its work in the sector to passing legislation and publishing guidance.

However, this approach failed to understand that responsibility to act to achieve better for children in care should be shared, the report stated.

It called on ministers to do more to monitor performance through more active analysis of the data it collects.

In particular, the department should publish information about performance against key indicators to allow local people to see how well their council performs on foster and residential care compared to others, similar to its reforms to the adoption system. MPs also said the DfE should also set out how it will lead and work with others to improve the outcomes for children by improving the quality of care, including publishing a strategy and timetable for improving the commissioning of care places.

Hodge said that a ‘step change is required in the department’s attitude and leadership’ to improve provision.

‘Since 2008/09 the gap in educational attainment has gotten worse, and in 2012/13 only 15% of children in care achieved five or more GCSEs at A*-C, compared with 58% for children not in care,’ she added.

‘In 2012/13, 34% of children in care had more than one placement during the year, and one third of children in residential care. Fourteen per cent of fostered children were placed more than 20 miles from home. Shockingly, none of these figures have improved since 2009.’

MPs also called on the DfE to publish a new revised accountability system statement for the sector after criticising recent changes that removed a reference to the department’s responsibility to hold local authorities to account. This should be reinstated ‘in the near future’, the committee said.

Responding to the report, a Department for Education spokesman said it ‘purposefully ignores the very real progress government has made in transforming the life chances of children in care’.

He added: ‘It is a fact that vulnerable children are doing better than ever. Children in care are doing better at school and absences have decreased. We have introduced tough new rules to stop children going missing, are intervening in councils across the country to ensure children are receiving the services they deserve and we have undertaken a review of secure places for the victims of child sexual exploitation.

‘To tackle problems early on, we’re also enabling councils to look at innovative ways in caring for vulnerable children, backed by £100m of government funding. We will respond to the committee in due course.’

Did you enjoy this article?