The independent think-tank Demos has today published its report on the care system, In Loco Parentis, commissioned by Barnardo's.
The 300-page report concludes that "the popular notion that it is the care system alone which generates poor outcomes is simply not grounded in the evidence, and so the view that care somehow fails all children catastrophically is inaccurate" and that "we should not doubt the capacity of the system to provide a nurturing, safe haven for many children, and we should be using care more confidently and proactively to provide this when it is needed". The executive summary goes further by saying that: "The mistaken belief that care consigns all looked after
children to a lifetime of underachievement and poor outcomes creates a culture of uncertainty, increasing delay and leading to instability later on".
The report identifies three areas in need of reform, and makes recommendations in each:
1. Delay in entering care. They argue that 'early or decisive' entry into care (where appropriate) is likely to lead to better outcomes for the children concerned, and could even result in considerable cost savings to the state.
2. Instability in the 'care journey': "Stability can promote resilience for looked-after children in two respects: by providing the young person with a secure attachment (which can also reduce the likelihood of placement breakdown), and by providing continuity in other areas of the child’s life, such as their school and their friendship group". Here, they see a significant correlation between the child's emotional and behavioural problems and a high risk of placement breakdown. Their recommendations therefore include that mental health training be included in training standards for foster and residential care workers.
3. An abrupt exit from care: "There are four factors that can significantly improve a young person’s experience of leaving care and give young people a chance of better adult outcomes: the age at which young people leave care; the speed of their transition; their access to preparation before leaving care and support after leaving care; and maintaining stability and secure attachments after leaving care". One recommendation here is that the care leaving age be raised from 16 to 18.
The report broadly supports the views of Barnardo's chief executive Martin Narey, who caused controversy last year when he suggested that many more children need to be taken into care at birth to stop them being damaged beyond repair by inadequate parents, and that less effort should be directed at "fixing families that can't be fixed".