MPs accuse Ministers of ‘failing to help’ most vulnerable children

Ministers are today accused of failing to take action to help the nation’s most vulnerable youngsters amid mounting concerns that beleaguered services are being allowed to “fester”.

Mothers returning from maternity leave 'should be offered flexible conditions to allow them to re enter the work place at the appropriate level'.

MPs on the Commons Public Accounts Committee said there had been an “alarming reluctance” by the Department for Education to play an active role in securing better services and results for children in care. In a new report, MPs suggest the department does “far too little” to support local authorities before they are declared inadequate by Ofsted, instead leaving them to “fester”.

The findings come the day after Ofsted warned many councils are struggling to offer good standards of care and protection for their most at-risk children. The committee report said the department showed an “alarming reluctance to play an active role in securing better services and outcomes for children in care”.

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“It chooses to limit its role to passing legislation, publishing guidance and intervening after Ofsted has failed a local authority service. It does far too little to disseminate actively what works and to support authorities to improve before they are failed by Ofsted,” it said.

Nationally, there has been little or no improvement in results for children in care and how well they are looked after, the committee said. In 2012-13, about a third of children in care had more than one placement during the year, while a third of those in residential care and 14 per cent of fostered youngsters were placed in care more than 20 miles from their homes.

It added: “The department collects lots of data about children in care, but it is too passive and leaves responsibility to local authorities, failing to understand that responsibility to act to achieve better for children in care should be shared. If the department is serious about its objectives to improve the quality of care, which we support wholeheartedly, then a step change is required in the department’s attitude and leadership.”

Councils currently look after more than 68,000 children, the report said. At the end of March 2013, three-quarters of children in care were in foster homes. In 2012-13, councils spent £2.5bn on foster and residential care.

Committee chairwoman Margaret Hodge said the Department for Education had recently tried to “water down its responsibility for holding local authorities to account for their performance”.

“Unless the department steps up and takes on this leadership role the system will not improve. Children in care get a raw deal, and there has been little or no improvement in outcomes for children in foster and residential care and how well they are looked after,” she said.

Meanwhile, a survey today by Action for Children said 40 per cent of frontline professionals questioned in Yorkshire have felt powerless to intervene in cases of child neglect, with more than one fifth saying they lack the necessary resources. Social workers, teachers, police and doctors said reduced funding will make it more difficult to intervene over the next year.

The charity’s director of children’s services in Yorkshire, Carol Iddon, said: “Limited resources, rising caseloads and professionals feeling powerless are combining to create a perfect storm, putting children in danger. Frontline professionals want to help children in need, but relying on a crisis response alone is unsustainable. The most effective way to take pressure off services is to invest in early action because in the majority of cases, neglect can be prevented or reduced.”