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Last Updated: Thursday, 21 June 2007, 15:41 GMT 16:41 UK
Children in care plans 'fall short'
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The government has outlined in a white paper how it plans to improve the lives and opportunities of children in care.

The proposals include the right to remain in foster care until at least 18, no school moves for children in years 10 and 11, 'councils' formed for children in care and exclusion from school made an absolute last resort.

Children's charities and foster groups have largely welcomed the plans, but fear it may have fallen short in some aspects.

Mental health

Children's charity NCH described the White Paper as "a huge step forward" which will improve the lives of the country's most vulnerable youngsters.

However, it said the government needed to do more to improve mental health services and said there must be a greater emphasis on preventing children entering care in the first instance.

NCH Chief Executive Clare Tickell said: "Most of us take it for granted that we can talk to a family member or friend about our emotions if we are feeling down, but for many children in care, this is a luxury they don't have."

Research by the charity highlighted a link between the emotional well-being of a child and social mobility in later life.

Too many children dip in and out of care, resulting in unnecessary disruption and a lack of stability
Clare Tickell

The NCH said there were also concerns over the lack of reference in the paper to early intervention services that prevent children from entering the care system in the first place.

Ms Tickell added: "Too many children dip in and out of care resulting in unnecessary disruption and a lack of stability which can prove very damaging.

"By working intensively with families to prevent breakdown through stable support for both the child and parents, it is possible to keep the child in the family home."

No pay rise

Meanwhile, the Fostering Network, which oversees England's 37,000 foster families, praised plans to allow young people to stay with foster carers until 21 and the increase in training and support for foster carers.

However it said it was "disappointing" that the paper failed to address the registration of foster carers, which had featured in the earlier green paper.

Foster carers are increasingly required to undertake fostering as a full-time profession
Robert Tapsfield
Fostering Network

It also felt foster carers' pay should have risen - currently, two in five receive no income for their work, and a third rely on state benefits.

There are fears that without pay rises the current recruitment crisis - England is already short of 10,000 carers - will worsen.

Chief executive Robert Tapsfield said: "Foster carers are increasingly required to undertake fostering as a full-time profession. They are expected to take on a range of duties such as attending court and case meetings, and have to be skilled in many areas such as child development and education.

"Yet they are all too often treated as volunteers, despite looking after some of society's most vulnerable children."

A 2005 report by the charity suggested 633m a year was needed to transform foster care services in England so children in care had the same opportunities as other children.

What children want

What Makes The Difference? (WMTD), an umbrella group which lobbies on behalf of children in care, was involved in the consultation process for the green paper with the education department.

The group held four events in London, Newcastle, Manchester and Exeter where 400 young people told organisers what they wanted to see in the paper.

The main issue to emerge was the need for stability, at school and at home.

Lucy Sweetman, a WMTD manager, said children with stability were more likely to feel confident and their education was less likely to suffer.

This, she said, had been strongly reflected in the paper. There was also praise for the government in accepting that the council had to act as parent.

Ms Sweetman said there was a need for a "lead professional", whether a personal adviser or social worker, for every child in care.

This would mean that individual could deal with all the child's needs from buying them a new pair of trainers to fighting exclusion from school.

However she had hoped the paper would give children more of a voice within the local authority structures.

While there are plans for a 'council' of children in care, she wanted to see more evidence that young people would be at the very heart of decision making.

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21 Jun 07 |  Education
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23 Aug 06 |  Education

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