Care reforms 'need incentives'

THE Government's programme of sweeping reforms to the care system, announced last week, has been applauded by children's agencies.

But they warn its success will depend on knocking heads together where it matters.

The reforms, including educational targets, a new criminal records agency for carers, and a major shake-up of local authority provision, form the long-awaited response to last year's damning report by Sir William Utting, ordered in the wake of a string of scandals in children's homes.

A taskforce of 10 ministers led by Health Secretary Frank Dobson spent a year drawing up the response - a collaboration in itself hailed as a sea-change in the way Government works. A key finding of the Utting report was that too many public bodies passed the buck between each other.

Roger Smith, social policy manager of the Children's Society, warned that co-operation between the education and care systems will require incentives for both sides. Local authorities will get Pounds 380 million over three years to overhaul their children's services, tackling attitudes as much as delivery and with an emphasis on collaboration. A new agency will provide a voice for children in care.

Moves aimed specifically at the education of children in care dovetail with earlier attempts to tackle wider social exclusion issues and raise educational achievement.

They include targets for school-leavers in care. Around three-quarters of children in care leave school with no qualifications. Ministers want 50 per cent to gain at least one GCSE or general national vocational qualification by 2001, rising to 75 per cent by 2003.

One third of children in care receive no education, either through exclusion or truancy. Ministers hope they will benefit from behaviour support plans and other recent measures aimed at cutting exclusions.

Local authorities' duty of care will be extended from 16 to 18, with teenagers given more help with the transition to independence.

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