There are currently 61,000 looked-after
children in care and a further 323,000 children in need of care in England,
who are supported in their families or independently by local authorities.
The combined total of 384,000 is equivalent to 5 per cent of all English
children. A further 5,000 children are permanently excluded from
mainstream schools and are housed in residential special referral units.
This data was supplied by Government officials to the author for his
paper ‘Who Will Champion our Vulnerable Children’?
Sadly, the academic performance of most
children in care is poor, with only 12.6 per cent of children in care
for a year or more obtaining five good GCSE in any subject in 2007,
compared to close to 62 per cent for all children.
The Government’s 2007 White Paper ‘Care
Matters: Time for Change’ recommended a number of positive steps to
improve the education of children in care. However, even bolder
steps are needed to ensure that children in care receive the education
As well as the 61,000 permanently looked-after
children in England at any one time, a further 25,000 children spend
at least some time being looked after during the year. Government figures
reveal that the total annual cost of looking after them is £2.4 billion,
or approximately £40,000 per child. A study by the London Schools
of Economics shows that the real costs of failing to look after our
vulnerable children is close to £10 billion a year including such costs
as apprehending and incarcerating young offenders who were in care,
as well as welfare and health costs.
Some 41,700 of these children are placed
with foster carers, 5,700 are living in children’s homes, with a further
7,000 placed with relatives. The Fostering Network estimates there
is a shortage of at least 8,000 foster families. The total annual
cost of a child in foster care is close to £20,000 per child, with
some independent fostering agencies charging up to £50,000 per child.
The foster carer, however, typically receives only £200 per week or
£10,000 per year of this amount. The balance of the £40,000 is used
for administrative costs.
In my forthcoming book "A Good
School for Every Child" to be published by Routledge in early 2009,
I recommend four major reforms to improve the way we look after children
responsibility for mentoring the children and supervision of foster
parents should be moved from social services department to the schools
attended by the children. Each school would assign responsibility
for mentoring children in care to a particular teacher.
we need to provide more special needs boarding schools for looked after
children with emotional, behavioural and social difficulties, similar
to the schools run by the Priory Group.
Third, better training for foster
Many children in care are moved several
times a year. One way to reduce this turnover with its damaging
impact on the children is to provide better training for foster parents.
Fourth, provision of boarding school
places for children in care.
It is acknowledged that boarding schools
would only be able to accept a small proportion of the total number
of children in care. Nevertheless, even a 5 percent target or 3,000
places would be a great step forward. We currently have 34 state boarding
schools with some 4,000 boarders with the average annual boarding charge
being £7000 per year, plus a tuition fee of £6,000 paid by the local
authority. This is much less than the cost of a foster family placement
and dramatically less than the cost of residential care, although additional
arrangements would need to be made for school holidays. Charities, such
as the Royal Wanstead Children’s Foundation, Christ’s Hospital and
JET, arrange for hundreds of vulnerable children to attend independent
The Royal Wanstead Children’s Foundation
has recently published a research study on how boarding schools can transform the lives of vulnerable
children ‘Breaking Through: How Boarding Schools can transform
the lives of vulnerable children’. Copies can be obtained from
the Royal Wanstead Children’s Foundation.
In addition to the state boarding schools,
many independent preparatory and secondary boarding schools have indicated
their willingness to accept children in care for the same fee (£7000
boarding and £6000 tuition per year) as charged by state boarding schools
– this would be £7000 less
than the cost of foster care.
It is of course accepted that vulnerable
children should only be placed in a boarding school with the consent
of the school, the child and the family or guardian. Clearly, children
in care with severe behavioural problems cannot be placed in a regular
boarding school since they would disrupt the education of the other
pupils. Such children belong in residential special schools such as
the Priory special needs boarding school. 1,100 looked-after children
are already placed in residential special schools, some on a 52 week
per year basis.
The Government has launched a pilot initiative
to place children in care in boarding schools, but sadly progress has
been very slow to date.
Charter of Rights for children in
- The right of every child to
be assigned an adult mentor who must be consulted on issues affecting
a particular child, such as change of foster family or school. Children
would only be able to contact their mentor by mobile telephone number
and would not be given the home telephone or address of their mentor;
- Better monitoring of children
- Each authority should be required
to publish annual data on the children in their care to include information
on how many children had changed either foster parents or schools, their
examination results and statistics on those staying in full time education.
- Where possible, children in
care should be given the possibility of being placed in a boarding school.
For an improvement in the care given
to looked-after children, it will be necessary to achieve fundamental
changes in attitude in the way local authorities’ social services
department handle vulnerable children. Their educational progress and
not just their physical welfare must be made the priority. We must continue
to press for better integration between educational and social care