Education Committee to investigate outcomes of children in care homes

MPs are to carry out an inquiry into children’s homes, but critics question the timing and possible overlap with the Review of Children’s Social Care in England.

24/02/21

Education Committee to investigate outcomes of children in care homes

The Education Committee announced an inquiry into children’s homes to examine the issues faced by what it calls ‘left behind groups’.

Just 7% of looked-after children (LAC) achieve a good pass in GCSE English and Maths compared with 40% of non-looked after children, as well as being four times more likely to have a special educational need (SEN) than other children, according to Office for National Statistics (ONS) data.

The inquiry is likely to examine areas such as data on academic outcomes and progression into employment, apprenticeships and higher education, as well as what further support is needed to improve outcomes for children with special educational needs in children’s homes.

Longer-term, around a quarter of both homeless people and those in prison are care-leavers, and children aged 16-17 living in children’s homes are 15 times more likely to be in the justice system than their peers of the same age.

The Committee says it will look into what can be done to improve educational and longer-term outcomes for children and young people living in children’s homes, as well as the disproportionately high rates of crime among young people in children’s homes.

The impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on the children’s residential care sector, and on the demand for children’s home places will also be a focus of the probe.

The full terms of reference for the inquiry will be published shortly along with a call for written evidence.

The Committee says it will be welcoming written evidence from everyone with experience of working in children’s homes, academic and policy experts, and young people who live or who have lived in a children’s home.

“With many children in care struggling to achieve good basic qualifications and leavers more likely to end up in prison or on the streets, those in the care system are falling behind every step of the way,” Chair of the Education Committee Rt Hon Robert Halfon MP said.

“This inquiry will get to the bottom of why children and young people living in children’s homes are facing such an uphill struggle to get on in life.

“There is also worrying evidence of the consequences of a lack of oversight in some homes. The most basic of rights for a child must be to have somewhere safe to live, where they are not at risk of abuse or preyed on by gangs. We will be examining whether more needs to be done to protect young people in unregulated provision.

“Children coming into care will already have had a traumatic start to their lives. We therefore owe it to them to ensure that their homes are safe and secure and that they are given every helping hand to access the ladder of opportunity and succeed in education and beyond.”

However, critics have questioned the timing of the inquiry, just one month after the Department for Education launched a wide-ranging Review of Children’s Social Care in England.

As part of his initial assessment as Chair of the review, Frontline Founder and Chief Executive Josh MacAlister – who will step down from his role to lead to the Review – had already raised the concerns around the insufficient supply of homes for children that meet their needs and the high and rising costs of placements, and called for the Competition and Markets Authority to investigate.

Peter Sandiford, Chief Executive Officer of the Independent Children’s Homes Association, said he welcomed and supported such scrutiny of the residential child care sector, but questioned the timing of the announcement.

“In a few days the long-awaited care review starts and surely Josh MacAlister’s task is to conduct just such an enquiry but, rather than concentrating on what is one small part of the public care system centering it on the whole system,” Sandiford said.

“That being said, the focus of the Committee’s enquiry on what can be done to improve outcomes is welcomed.

“The system itself is in disarray. All too often children come into homes because they have been failed at every step of the ‘care journey’.

“Their poor outcomes are known to be attributable to adverse childhood experiences, late intervention, use of unregistered provision and frequent moves.”

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