Rising number of children in care 'not good enough', says children's minister Michelle Donelan

Michelle Donelan (r) said the government was committed to reducing the numbers of children in care. Pic: PA
Michelle Donelan (r) said the government was committed to reducing the numbers of children in care. Pic: PA
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The children’s minister has described the rising number of children in care as “simply not good enough”, after figures this week showed it has reached a 10-year high.

The children’s minister has described the rising number of children in care as “simply not good enough”, after figures this week showed it has reached a 10-year high.

Speaking to the Yorkshire Post on a visit to the region, Michelle Donelan said the government was committed to reducing the number of children being put in care, and helping families stay together.

As well as tackling the rise, she said the government was encouraging more people to get into foster care, as she visited carers in Leeds.

Commenting on the figures by the Local Government Association, which showed there were 78,150 children in care in England at the end of March 2019, she said: “I think there are a number of reasons why the number of children in the care system has been rising but it's not good enough. It’s simply not good enough.”

“And that's why, in our manifesto, we committed to doing a wholescale review of the care sector, which is something that I've already started to have the initial conversations and early stage planning on. That will be a key focus for me and my department because we have to get this right.”

One issue that foster carers regularly raise is that the allowances for the work do not cover the costs of fostering, leaving carers out of pocket.

Ms Donelan, whose role finishes in March as she is acting as a maternity cover for Kemi Badenoch, said the money foster carers receive was “always under constant review”.

“It's something that I do look at. But the message I’ve had actually has been about the need for more support, which is something that we've been focusing on, particularly in recent years,” she added.

Ms Donelan was in Pudsey yesterday talking to families who are part of an innovative fostering support network.

Mockingbird is a scheme run by The Fostering Network that creates local connections between foster families to allow them to do activities together, share experience and ask for help. Practically, this can mean sleepovers and short breaks that can give foster carers and children time off.

As part of the scheme one family with a lot of experience in fostering acts as a “hub” and holds social events and initiates support.

The scheme was originally developed in 2004 in Seattle and was brought to the UK in 2015, after government funding was secured to run the scheme until this year.

Ms Donelan said though there are no plans to continue the funding into next year and beyond, the scheme should now pay for itself because of savings made when foster families stay together and children do not need to be placed elsewhere.

“The scheme was always about giving the tools to local authorities and setting up the kind of infrastructure and the structure to carry it on in the future,” she added.

Across the UK there are now 35 fostering services that are part of the scheme.

In Leeds, there are 10 “constellations” - networks of about six foster families each - which meet up regularly and speak on social media, allowing them unlimited access to peer support.

Lily Stevens, head of the Mockingbird programme at The Fostering Network said: “ Once they’re part of this community the benefits are obvious - it’s innovative and the appetite for it is incredible.”

Though foster families always have regular contact with a social worker, this can be limited at evenings and weekends, unless there is a crisis, which means having an “extended family” can be useful.

“A lot of what we hear and see is about the benefit of just having someone to call that understands where you’re coming from,” she added.