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Local authorities will be required to place children in care in the best schools under plans unveiled today by educ...
Local authorities will be required to place children in care in the best schools under plans unveiled today by education secretary Alan Johnson.

Looked after children should also escape repeated moves between foster homes and have the right to choose when they leave care once they reach 16.

Mr Johnson said: 'Children in care already face a tougher life than any child should have to. As a proxy parent, the state must raise its ambitions for these children, just as a good parent would, and transform their life chances through better emotional, practical and financial support at home and in the classroom.

'We can't immediately eradicate and solve all the problems children and young people in care face, but we can remove significant obstacles and ensure that our care system does what it says on the tin.

'A critical aspect will be enabling children in care to stay with foster parents once they reach 16, just as other young people stay with their natural parents when in further or higher education. This will provide a continuity of support that is absolutely vital when young people are looking at a crucial stage in their development.'

Les Lawrence, chair of the LGA's children and young people board, said while the green paper proposed many good things - mostly based on the ideas already implemented by local government - there was real concern that some elements could increase the complexity of service delivery.

'Local authorities are rightly identified as being central to transforming the lives of children in care which is only achievable if the government backs up its pledge of resource and commitment. Central Government must ensure that other partners are held more accountable and that local government is given the power it needs to best deliver services for these vulnerable children.'

The key proposals in the green paper Care Matters: Transforming the lives of children and young people in care, include:

-- a pledge for all children in care specifying in simple terms what each child is entitled to;

-- piloting the use of individual budgets for each child in care to be held by their lead professional - the social worker;

-- giving local authorities the power to direct schools to admit children in care even when the school is already full - backed up by an expectation on local authorities to place children in care in the best schools;

-- encouraging local authorities to provide free access for children in care to all their facilities including leisure centres, sports grounds and youth clubs;

-- the establishment of a head teacher for children in care in local areas, responsible for raising standards for those children looked after by the local authority;

-- guaranteed catch-up support in schools;

-- asking Ofsted to carry out a regular inspection of how each local authority is meeting the education needs of children in care and introducing an annual national stock-take by Ministers of the progress of children in care;

-- raising the quality of foster care and children's homes through new qualifications and training for the workforce;

-- support for young people as they move towards adulthood, including a£2000 bursary to enable young people to go to university; a boosted Child Trust Fund with an extra£100 for each year a child is in care;

-- giving young people a choice on when they leave care once they reach 16;

-- a package of support to help families on the brink of care to enable children where possible to stay with their birth families;

-- a named health practitioner for every child in care.

The Chief Executive of Barnardo's, Martin Narey, said: 'We at Barnardo's have been very frank in arguing that for many years we have failed children in care. So we warmly welcome this Green Paper. It is to the Government's considerable credit that they acknowledge that the system is not working as it should and we welcome their determination to effect substantial improvements as a matter of urgency.

'The challenge now is to move from the admirable intent behind the Green paper to delivering sustained change which has the potential to transform the life chances of these children. Barnardo's stands ready to do all it can to assist in that process.'

The green paper is now out for consultation until 15 January 2007.

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