Better deal in care

12th January 2007 at 00:00
Improved monitoring and support are planned to raise the prospects of looked-after children

COUNCILS, SCHOOLS and care providers will face a new duty to satisfy inspectors that they are meeting the educational needs of looked-after children.

Hugh Henry, the Education Minister, is expected to unveil plans on Monday that will raise the educational outcomes for children in care. These are likely to include arrangements for better tracking, monitoring and support.

Latest statistics show that only 62 of the 1,267 teenagers leaving care last year gained one Higher - fewer than 5 per cent, compared with 38 per cent for pupils generally. Half had no Standard grades, against under 10 per cent of pupils overall.

Only 37 per cent of those leaving care are known to be in education, employment or training, compared with more than 80 per cent of pupils generally.

Mr Henry is expected to announce the Scottish Executive's response to the recommendations of a working group, led by his predecessor, Peter Peacock, which met between November 2005 and June 2006.

One of the key changes is the creation of a more specific responsibility on HMIE to ensure that schools, councils and care providers are tracking the education of looked-after children and trying to meet their particular needs. Unlike England, there has been no suggestion that schools in the independent sector be given a role in their education.

David Cameron, director of children's services for Stirling Council, said that the working group had looked at the need to provide stability of care placements. One of the most useful contributions to the discussions had come from Damion Hartley, who had had a number of different placements while in care and was now a member of the team setting up a care action group with Kathleen Marshall, Scotland's Commissioner for Children and Young People.

Mr Cameron said that Damion's description of the disruption and consequent instability caused by multiple placements showed that this was a critical factor. "We should be trying to ensure that young people are supported in their first placement, in terms of educational and care provision," he said.

Recommendations from the working group include better tracking and monitoring of looked- after children, and a greater recognition of their vulnerability.

Help for children in care could include more individual tuition, homework support and the provision of IT support in foster homes.

"We need to recognise that a number of young people benefit significantly from the support they receive once they come into the care system," Mr Cameron said.

"We may also need to provide more support to help these young people develop their self-esteem and help with their anger management. Some have had very difficult experiences and have much to be angry about."

Placements sometimes broke down because the challenges presented by the young people were so great, Mr Cameron said. This meant that carers needed more training and support and better financial rewards.

Anna Fowlie, team leader for children and young people at the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities, is being seconded to the Scottish Executive to lead its work on looked-after children.

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