Professional Zone

Coram Voice comments on study showing thousands of children being looked after by councils in need of improvement

Posted date: 
20 Aug 18

A new study by the Social Market Foundation has found that tens of thousands of children are being looked after by English councils that are deemed to be in need of improvement. The study, covered by The Observer, warns that a £3bn shortfall in the budget for children's services will emerge by 2025.

Linda Briheim-Crookall, Head of Policy and Practice Development at Coram Voice said:

“We are deeply concerned that so many children are looked after by services that are inadequate or require improvement. We know from our homeless outreach services with 16 and 17 year olds that children who need to be looked after do not always get the help they need, and once in care, our research into children’s wellbeing has shown that the state is not always the best parent.

What is essential is that what is seen as ‘good’ reflects children’s experiences and how they feel about their lives. Ofsted is increasingly focusing on the child’s journey through care, but current official statistics provide only a partial picture of children in care and care leavers’ lives. Data focuses on areas such as where children live, how many moves they have had and how they are doing in terms of education and employment. None of this information tells us about the experience of care from children’s own viewpoints: are they happy, safe and feel they are doing well?

Our Bright Spots programme directly addresses these gaps in our knowledge. Coram Voice, together with the University of Bristol, has created a set of wellbeing indicators to allow services to design their work around what children and young people say is important to them. Last year 2,263 children in care responded to our Bright Spots surveys in 16 local authorities. Four (25%) of these were deemed good by Ofsted, the remainder were ones who had been judged to require improvement (62.5%) or inadequate (12.5%).

There are some positive messages from the children we surveyed, not all children are being failed – 83% feel their lives are getting better; they are more likely than children in the general population to feel safe at home and feel that carers take an interest in what they do at school or college.

However, there are also many things to improve. Too many of children’s comments highlighted individual poor experiences, disrupted relationships and lack of stability. The issues faced differ by local authority, but there are some common themes. Almost a third of young people in care have had three or more social workers in the past year and those young people are less likely to trust their workers.  The youngest children (4-7yrs) too often don’t even know who their workers are. 15% of 8-11 year olds did not know that they could speak to their workers on their own. All of this makes it less likely that children will go to their social workers to address concerns with their care.

Looked after children have generally had very difficult experiences before coming into care and need help to deal with the issues they face. Unsurprisingly they are more likely to have low wellbeing than children in the general population.

For the youngest children low wellbeing is associated with not understanding what is happening – adults not explaining why they are in care or not knowing who their workers are. For older children and young people not having a trusted adult, not being trusted and not feeling included in decisions were common themes.  These are children who have experienced trauma and a loss of relationships with the key people in their lives and we need to address these issues if we are to help them to focus on better educational outcomes or overrepresentation in the criminal justice system - although in reality, a very small proportion of children in care actually end up in the criminal justice system.

Children need to be given a voice in services – only when this is routine practice will services be able to meet their needs. This includes involvement in care planning, access to advocacy to challenge when services are not as good as they should be, as well as ensuring their views feed into service development.”

Find out more about our Bright Spots programme here.