All children are vulnerable but children in care are the most vulnerable of all. They must navigate the tricky waters of childhood and grow into emotionally and intellectually fully- formed adults with little or no access to their parents. Of course those parents have often been removed from the picture for very good reasons, but that does not make the challenges posed by a childhood in care any less steep.
Some of the luckier youngsters gain new families when they are adopted, but many others must make do with care home workers as their only parental figures.
Many of us would find growing up in this way difficult to imagine.
And yet sadly – both for society and the children affected – demand for places in care is at all-time high. According to CAFCASS (the Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service), there were 10,199 applications between April last year and March this year: that’s almost 11 per cent higher than in the same period last year. January 2012 alone saw 912 applications – the highest ever number for a single month.
Without the support of a family and with only the patchiest of access to positive role models, many care home kids drift into lives of disadvantage and underachievement. Recent figures from the Department of Education are stark: in 2011 just 12.8 per cent of children who had been in care for a minimum of one year took home five good grade GCSEs, including English and Maths. For other children the figure was 57.9 per cent.
Children in care often struggle with the legacy left by those parents no longer in their lives. Many have come from troubled or abusive homes and as a result they are a telling ten times more likely to have special educational needs and eight times more likely to be excluded from school, according to figures from the Who Cares? Trust.
These kinds of figures have led to claims that the education system is failing children in care, a concern which lies behind a new proposal from the All Party Parliamentary Group for Looked After Children and Care Leavers. They have suggested that schools be given a ‘pupil premium plus’ – £1,000 in extra funding for every child in care on their books.
Committee chairman Edward Timpson has extensive personal experience of the problems faced by children without families: two of his younger brothers are adopted and his parents have fostered a remarkable 90 children. He is a straightforward about the importance of education for ‘looked after’ children, as those in care are now known:
“Education can be a lifeline…The pupil premium plus would be a well-targeted way to get extra resources directly to the children and really make a difference. It is a practical acknowledgement of the deeper-rooted problems children in care have in education and a demonstration of our commitment to help them fulfil their potential.”
I think the pupil premium plus is an excellent idea and I sincerely hope the Prime Minister gets behind it too. Children in care deserve all the help they can get.