New deal for children in care

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The Independent Online
SWEEPING CHANGES to the way children are looked after in care were announced yesterday by Frank Dobson, the Secretary of State for Health. "The whole system has failed," he said. "There can be no more excuses."

A new Criminal Records Agency to stop potential abusers working with children and a pounds 375m grant for children's services over the next three years are among the main points of the overhaul.

Tightening regulations for foster care, boarding schools and small children's homes are also included in the task force's recommendations. A new national group representing the voices of children in care will also be set up.

Mr Dobson told the Commons that he would look again at the idea of a children's commissioner, particularly to ensure that those who abuse children are not able to move around the country and work with young people again. "We owe it to ... all the children in care to root out and punish the wrongdoers and to put in place a system which really cares for children in care," he said.

The ministerial task force, which ranged across 10 departments, was set up in response to the inquiry carried out by Sir William Utting into children in care. Sir William, who published his report a year ago, said his inquiry "seemed at times a crash-course in human ... wickedness and the fallibility of social institutions".

His work was a response to continuing revelations of widespread abuse in children's homes, stretching back 20 years.

The outlook for children who spend time in care is grim. Research has shown that 75 per cent leaving care have no academic qualifications. More than half are unemployed, and 38 per cent of young prisoners have been in care. One in seven girls was pregnant on leaving care aged 16 or 17.

To stop potential abusers from working with children, Mr Dobson announced the setting up of the new Criminal Records Agency. It will give employers access to police records and separate lists from the Department for Education and Employment and the Department of Health.

Councils will now have a duty to children in care up to the age of 18 rather than 16 as at present. A further pounds 450,000 will be spent on establishing a national body so children in care, or those formerly in care, can voice complaints and concerns.

Local authorities are also to work to improve the educational record of children in care. In some authorities as few as 25 per cent of children leave care with one GCSE or GNVQ. The Government says the proportion must be raised to 50 per cent by 2001 and 75 per cent by 2003.

Campaigners against child abuse welcomed the reforms last night. Mike Taylor, of the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children, praised the Government's commitment to look after children when they leave care at 16.