HC Deb 14 May 1985 vol 79 cc160-1
6. Mr. John Fraser

asked the Secretary of State for Social Services what steps he is taking to reduce the number of children in care.

Mr. John Patten

I am glad that the number of children in local authority care has been decreasing. We support the growing emphasis on preventive measures in child care. It is for local authorities to provide services for children in need, so as to keep them with their families or, in the interests of the children, to provide alternative arrangements for their care.

Mr. Fraser

Will the Minister take steps to amend section 1 of the Child Care Act 1980 to enable local authorities to spend money on preventing children from going into care as well as spending resources to get them out of care? Secondly, as the number of children in care is often concentrated in the areas of greatest deprivation, will he in future disregard, for rate support grant penalty purposes, the money that local authorities, such as Lambeth and Southwark, spend in keeping children out of care instead of penalising those authorities for spending money in that way?

Mr. Patten

Matters relating to rate support grant penalties are for my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment, and not for me or my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Social Services. However, the hon. Gentleman raises a serious point, and I know that he means it seriously. The provisions under section 1 of the Child Care Act 1980 are very important. Some councils use them in such a way as to aid preventative measures, and social workers do a very good job by and large in preventing children going into care. We are adding our contribution by doing more to get children out of care. Yesterday, we announced the bringing into force of the provisions of custodianship from 1 December this year, and we are seeking to introduce a new and better system of review of the cases of children in care so that they will be brought out of care as soon as possible and put into a proper family environment where possible.

Mr. Pawsey

Will my hon. Friend confirm that the best place to bring up children is in the family? Will he remind the House of the actions that his Department has taken over the past five years and what it proposes to do in future to ensure that more children remain in the family?

Mr. Patten

Above all else, we want as soon as possible to get out of care as many children as we can from among the 85,000 children in care at the moment—and that is a fall from 100,000 five years ago. That is why we introduced the custodianship provisions of the Children Act 1975. That is why we are seeking, through regular and better reviews of children in care, to get them out of care and into foster homes, homes that provide custodianship or adopted homes, as soon as possible.