HC Deb 02 April 2003 vol 402 cc771-2W
Mr. Wray

To ask the Secretary of State for Health (1) how many children's homes there are in England; how much funding is allocated to each per year; and what estimate he has made of the number of children living in institutions in each year since 1997; [105933]

(2) what plans he has to improve the training of staff in children's institutions; [105935]

(3) what measures are in place to ensure that children in institutions have access to healthcare and education and are given skills to live and work when they leave the institution; [105937]

(4) what progress has been made in cooperating with community organisations to remove children from institutions by restoring family ties, placing them in foster families or making alternative arrangements. [105934]

Jacqui Smith

The table shows the number of children's homes and number of looked after children in children's homes at 31 March 2002. The National Care Standards Commission (NCSC) now collates data on children's homes. Figures for 2002–03 should be available later in the year.

England All children's homes1 Looked after children placed in homes2,3
1997 1,200 6,600
1998 n/a 6,700
1999 n/a 6,600
2000 1,100 7,000
2001 n/a 6,800
2002 n/a 6,800
1Figures are available for 1997 and 2000 only.
22 Some homes may include children who are not looked after
3 Excludes children placed in homes under an agreed series of short term placements. Includes children in secure units, homes and hostels.

In 2001–02, the gross expenditure by councils in England on children's homes was £716.7 million. In 2002, 89 per cent. of the 59,700 children looked after in England were in alternative placements to children's homes. The Children Act 1989 is based upon the belief that children are generally best looked after within the family, with both parents playing a full part and without resort to legal proceedings. When a child is being looked after by the local authority, the local authority is required to make arrangements for that child to live with a member of his family unless to do so would be impractical or inconsistent with the child's welfare. If they cannot live with their family, their placement should be best suited to their needs. The "choice protects" review focuses on the way in which placement options for looked after children are commissioned, and on support for fostering services.

The "quality protects" programme has focused on ensuring children looked after gain the maximum life chance benefits from educational opportunities, health care and social care. The Department of Health recently announced a new public service agreement target for the education of children in care, to improve life chances for children by substantially narrowing the gap between the educational attainment and participation of children in care and that of their peers by 2006. Joint Department for Education and Skills/Department of Health Guidance on the Education of Young People in Public Care (May 2000) sets out clear steps for local authorities to take to improve attainment. The Department of Health also published new guidance in November 2002 on "Promoting the Health of Looked After Children".

National Minimum Standards (NMS) for Children's Homes were published in April 2002. They set out standards covering provision of healthcare, education and life skills to children looked after as well as the training and qualifications of care staff and registered managers. A new grant, the National Training Strategy Grant, is to commence this year. A proportion of this grant (£17.9 million) will support the completion of National Vocational Qualifications required under the NMS.