Reforms for life in care 'too little too late'

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The Government was accused of doing "too little too late" to reform Britain's children's homes yesterday, as plans emerged of a campaign to give them a more positive image.

The campaign will be launched officially next month as Children's Homes Week by John Bowis, a health minister. It will focus on removing the stigma of growing up in care, and improving the status of workers in the homes.

According to the Department of Health, the campaign was inspired by the report into the running of Britain's children's homes four years ago by Norman Warner, former director of Kent Social Services. It followed the Leicestershire scandal in which Frank Beck was given five life sentences for sexual abuses in four homes.

But Mr Warner, who exposed the dismal status of homes and the lack of specialised training for workers, has criticised the Government for not backing the campaign with action, including following up more of the 83 recommendations he made in the report.

He said: "It's better late than never, but it's no good having a campaign unless you address the points we set out in that report. That includes improving the training arrangements for staff in residential care. Having a campaign without the substance of better training in my view is a waste of time.

"I still think they should also have set up a watchdog body, as the report recommended. The problem is that this sector fades from recognition, and there needs to be a group guiding the Government into action. It is still a Cinderella service that everyone forgets about once the scandals die down."

The image of children's homes has been battered by a series of disturbing scandals, including the sexual and physical abuse of hundreds of children in care. An Independent campaign has highlighted loopholes in the system which has allowed paedophiles to target homes, and many workers have become demoralised by lack of pay and status.

Ministers are examining ways of making children in homes more secure by introducing a register of convicted paedophiles and creating a professional body with disciplinary powers to regulate people who work in children's homes.

The Department of Health denied yesterday that the campaign, which has the motto "just like you", was a window- dressing exercise, that detracted from its failure to respond to recommendations made in a series of reports following scandals in homes. It will focus on the achievements of children who have succeeded in life, despite prejudice against them, from those who went into further education and started up their own businesses, to the more public triumphs of celebrities including Bruce Oldfield, the designer, Kris Akabussi, the athlete and Frank Bruno, the boxer.

Paul Robertson, director of the National Leaving Care Advisory Service which is co-ordinating the campaign, said: "We're trying to say to young people you can come through care and make it. These are young people being left with a massive stigma and misunderstanding."