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Last Updated: Thursday, 21 June 2007, 12:04 GMT 13:04 UK
Schools to help children in care
Pupils using computers
Children in care move schools often
The government has pledged to spend more than 300m over the next four years to improve the lives and opportunities of children in care.

Plans set out in a White Paper, just published, call for "urgent, sustained action" across central and local government in England.

Education Secretary Alan Johnson says such children need stability to help them overcome their bad start.

There are about 61,000 children in care in England, 69% of whom are fostered.

Children in care are more likely than others to become homeless and go to prison. Studies show only 11% of children in care currently get five good GCSEs, compared with 56% in England as a whole.

Young women aged 15 to 17 who have been in care are three times more likely to get pregnant.

Much of the White Paper is focussed on improving the education and overall development of children in care.

By the age of 19, they are more than twice as likely not to be in education, employment and training, official figures show.

If there is one word which can sum up what these children need in their lives, that is stability
Alan Johnson, Education Secretary

Plans include making schools give places to children in care, even if they are full, and providing bursaries of a minimum of 2,000 for those who go on to university.

The government will also pilot a scheme in 11 local authorities for children to receive help from a "virtual head teacher", who would check on the progress of all children in care in their area.

It says children should not be moved too often, and that no one should be moved in the crucial GCSE years of 10 and 11.

They should have "personalised learning", plus 500 a year to support their education and development if they are at risk of not reaching expected standards.

Education Secretary Alan Johnson said: "For too long society has failed children in care and it is nothing less than a scandal.

"We should have the same aspirations for these children as we do our own."

Proposals in the White Paper "Care Matters" include:

  • Access to the best schools
  • 500 to help pupils catch up
  • 2,000 bursary for university
  • Fewer placements
  • Stay in foster care until at least 18
  • 'Virtual head teacher' to track progress
  • No school moves for children in Years 10 and 11
  • 'Councils' formed for children in care
  • Exclusion made last absolute last resort

Mr Johnson told BBC Breakfast: "The problem has been from our wide consultation, is that they are allowed to slip into care too easily, moved around too much and then pushed out too soon.

"If there is one word which can sum up what these children need in their lives, that is stability."

'Vital importance'

The White Paper says every local authority must set up a "children in care council", where looked-after children can give their views and influence service provision.

Councils would be told to do more to try to keep children with their families, for example by offering more support including short breaks.

Children in care should have more one-to-one time with social workers.

The quality of placements should be improved, with better training for foster carers and the statutory framework strengthened so that local authorities can only move children out of their areas if it is in the best interests of the child.

Children should also be encouraged to stay in care for longer. Mr Johnson said: "The average child leaves their parental home at the age of 24, yet a quarter of children in care will leave at the age of 16.

"We will support young people for longer - well into their twenties if necessary."

'Tinkering at the edges'

David Holmes, of the British Association for Adoption and Fostering, said: "This white paper is of vital importance. It is honest about failures with the current system and the fact that too many children are still moving around too often.

"Professionals and carers are already working incredibly hard, but the government has also recognised that local authorities need more support and resources to deliver the very best service to all children in care."

Shadow education secretary David Willetts said: "The government has been letting down children in care even more than they admit.

"The government needs to focus more on educational standards. Launching 'virtual head teachers' and letting some children in care into over-subscribed schools is tinkering at the edges.

"What we need is more good school places for all children in care by focusing on tried and tested teaching methods."

Liberal Democrat spokesperson MP Annette Brooke said: "The government has made some good recommendations but the test is whether they will be effectively implemented.

"Absolutely critical to the success of these policies will be recruitment, retention, and training of foster carers and social workers.

"Extra resources for looked-after children outside school is welcome but it is disappointing that the scheme which provided children in foster care with their own computer hasn't been reinstated."

Schools promise for care children
10 Oct 06 |  Education
Foster care to get funding boost
13 Sep 06 |  Northern Ireland
'I was shipped back and forth'
23 Aug 06 |  Education

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