Lord Sheikh: To ask Her Majesty’s Government what action they have taken to improve the physical and mental health of children and young adults in foster care.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Children, Schools and Families (Baroness Morgan of Drefelin): The Government are taking a number of steps to improve the physical and mental health of looked after children. In particular, we are currently consulting on revised statutory guidance on promoting the health and well-being of looked after children. This guidance will be statutory on primary care trusts, strategic health authorities and local authorities and it will clearly outline the steps that should be taken to improve both physical and mental health. In addition, we have introduced an indicator within the national indicator set to measure progress on improving the emotional and behavioural health of looked after children. Other actions being taken include taking forward the recommendations of the CAMHS review in relation to vulnerable children, the piloting of multi-dimensional Treatment Foster Care and our wider Care Matters programme to improve outcomes for looked after children. This programme includes a number of measures to improve the quality of placements and of care planning which impact on children’s health and well-being.
Lord Sheikh: To ask Her Majesty’s Government what system is in place to tackle the disproportionately high rate of teenage pregnancy among young people in foster care.
Baroness Morgan of Drefelin: We share concerns about England’s high rate of teenage pregnancies including among children in care. That is why this Government launched the Teenage Pregnancy Strategy in 1999, following a detailed report by the Social Exclusion Unit.
Between 1998 and 2007 we have achieved a 10.7 per cent fall in the under-18 conception rate and a 6.4 per cent fall in the under-16 rate, reversing the previous upward trend. Within the overall reduction in teenage conceptions, teenage births have fallen by 23.3 per cent over the same period.
Our strategy places a strong focus on targeted interventions with young people at greatest risk of teenage pregnancy, in particular looked-after children and care leavers. Government guidance to local areas on effective local teenage pregnancy strategies highlights the importance of training and support for foster carers in helping them talk to their foster children about sex and relationships. The CWDC’s Foster Care Training, Support and Development Standards, which set out the skills which all foster carers are expected to demonstrate, include sexual health promotion.
We are currently consulting on guidance on the health and well-being of looked-after children, which will be statutory for primary care trusts and strategic health authorities as well as on local authorities. This includes specific guidance relating to the prevention of teenage pregnancy.
While girls and young women in care are still far more likely to give birth than those not in care, there has been a welcome recent fall in the number of girls and young women who are mothers in the looked-after population (12 years old and older) from 360 in 2007 to 280 in 2008 (source: SSDA903 return on children looked after).
Lord Sheikh: To ask Her Majesty’s Government what action they have taken to reduce the proportion of young people in foster care entering the youth justice system.
Baroness Morgan of Drefelin: The vast majority of looked after children do not commit offences. However, we recognise that as a group they are more likely to be subject to a final reprimand or warning or convicted of a crime than other children. To support local authorities to prevent looked after children becoming involved in crime, in 2005 the Government funded the National Association for the Care and Resettlement of Offenders (NACRO) to produce a handbook for local authorities on reducing offending by looked after children with practical examples setting out how authorities might work with partner agencies to minimise the involvement of looked after children in offending behaviour.
To meet the commitments set out in the Care Matters White Paper and the Children and Young Persons Act 2008 we will be revising guidance to local authorities about how they must carry out their responsibilities towards looked after children. This revised guidance will include information about how we would expect looked after children to be supported and cared for to prevent them getting involved in offending, or, where they have committed offences, to minimise any further reoffending.