New unit to monitor conditions for children in care

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FUNDAMENTAL changes in the running of residential homes to protect children in care and new powers for council and private homes to check on the criminal records of potential staff were announced yesterday by Tim Yeo, Under-Secretary of State for Health.

A support force to help local authorities improve conditions for children in care and to close under-occupied homes - so as to release resources - will be set up, and a campaign to improve the image and promote the positive aspects of residential child care will also be launched.

The Department of Health and the Department for Education will produce joint guidance to education authorities on how to improve the quality of education for children in residential care. A recent survey by the Who Cares Trust, for children who have been brought up in care, showed that 75 per cent leave school with no qualifications.

The changes were announced at a seminar of the Association of Directors of Social Services in Manchester. They are being introduced following recommendations from an inquiry team headed by Norman Warner after the conviction of Frank Beck, who was given five life sentences for sexually and physically abusing children in residential homes he ran in Leicestershire. The support force will act as consultants to local authorities from September. It will be headed by Adrianne Jones, a Warner inquiry member and director of Birmingham social services from 1985 to 1993.

Accepting a Warner report recommendation, Mr Yeo announced that the police had agreed that private and council-run homes would be able to make checks on whether potential staff have convictions which would make them unsuitable to work with children.

The Department of Health is to discuss with the Home Office ways of cutting down on delays of up to three weeks in making such checks.

Mr Yeo also announced that the Government is to commission work to draw up a set of 'prototype' standards by which social workers must abide to meet obligations to their clients and the public. However, he said he was not yet convinced of the need for a General Social Services Council for the regulation and discipline of the social services professions.

Peter Smallride, president of the Association of Directors of Social Services, welcomed a support force to help improve the training, selection and management of residential staff working in children's homes.

But he said the full objectives of the Warner recommendations could not be achieved without considerable new resources.