Children left in misery because state care is so poor

By Richard Garner

April 20, 2009 / The Independent

Children are being left in misery with inadequate and sometimes violent parents because of the poor reputation of services for youngsters in care, an influential report warns today.

MPs on the House of Commons Committee monitoring children's services say social workers are reluctant to take youngsters into care because they are worried about the standard of care they will receive.

The report comes just four months after official figures revealed three children a week were dying as a result of abuse or neglect in the home.

The MPs began their inquiry before details of the Baby P case emerged – but extended it to cover issues raised by the death of the Haringey toddler, who suffered more than 50 injuries.

A recent report by the education standards watchdog, Ofsted, warned that thousands of the country's most vulnerable children were at risk because councils were failing to move swiftly enough to protect them.

Barry Sheerman, the Labour chairman of the Children, Schools and Families Committee, said it was "imperative" the Government take action to improve "the perception that entering the care system is catastrophic for a child's prospects".

The MPs were alarmed by the fact that "luck" appeared to be the key factor in how children in care fared.

"The quality of experience that children have in care seems to be governed by luck to an utterly unacceptable degree," the report says.

However, it acknowledges that "even the best child protection systems will not be capable of eradicating murder" by violent and abusive parents before adding: "We are convinced that better early intervention is vital to reducing the likelihood of child misery and ensuring children's wellbeing."

The report recommends that care staff should act as "pushy parents" to ensure youngsters get access to the best schooling, health care and housing.

Too often, they lost their care places at 18 – only to be lodged in sub-standard accommodation as adults – where they were easy prey for those wishing to subject them to sexual exploitation as prostitutes or rent boys.

"A local authority that was truly acting like a parent would not contemplate allowing a vulnerable young person to strike out unsupported on their own even at age 18 – much less if they were going to live, as many do, in substandard accommodation," it says. The report recommends that every youngster in care should have access to a personal adviser until the age of 25. MPs accuse the Government of being "too timid" in demanding that children in care get top priority for services such as education and housing.

"While some differences in care populations are inevitable, we are concerned by the huge variations in the rates of children in care across the country. Too little emphasis is placed on using residential care – including the use of both state and private boarding schools – for vulnerable youngsters, it adds.

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