Nadhim Zahawi responds to a debate on supporting children in need into adulthood

6th September 2018

Nadhim Zahawi responds to a debate on supporting children in need into adulthood and outlines the Government’s commitment to ensuring that all vulnerable children receive the support they need to fulfil their potential, which means getting the support right throughout childhood and as they make the transition to adulthood.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairship, Ms Buck.

I congratulate the hon. Member for Birmingham, Selly Oak (Steve McCabe) on securing this important debate. He takes a keen interest in the subject in his valuable role as chair of the all-party parliamentary group for looked-after children and care leavers. I echo the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon) in saying that this is such an important subject that we are here on a Thursday afternoon to debate it. I thank the hon. Member for Enfield, Southgate (Bambos Charalambous), the right hon. Member for Knowsley (Mr Howarth), the hon. Members for Strangford and for Newcastle-under-Lyme (Paul Farrelly) and my hon. Friends the Members for Brentwood and Ongar (Alex Burghart) and for Congleton (Fiona Bruce) for their contributions, and many other hon. Members for their interventions.

The Government are committed to ensuring that all vulnerable children receive the support they need to fulfil their potential, which means getting the support right throughout childhood and as they make the transition to adulthood. I will discuss children in need and care leavers, because both groups have been mentioned today. There are important, indeed fundamental, differences between children who are looked after and other children in need, for whom their parents still retain responsibility. We know that care leavers can experience extra barriers when making the transition into adulthood, including financial hardship and the difficulty of living independently at a young age. That is why we have extended the support that we provide to the children for whom we—the state—have corporate parenting responsibilities, where the baton of parenting has been passed on to us for all sorts of harrowing reasons. However, it is of course vital that we also support children in need to make a successful transition to adulthood. That requires the identification of needs and appropriate responses by a range of agencies working in partnership. Our key statutory guidance, “Working together to safeguard children”, describes how agencies should jointly agree on and deliver joined-up support for children in need.

We know that children’s needs may change as they get older and that older children are likely to have very different needs from younger children. The recent update to the “Working together” guidance is clear that local authorities should consider new approaches, such as contextual safeguarding for older children, if current approaches are not meeting their needs; some very good work on that has been done in the London borough of Hackney. The guidance also offers links to further advice regarding child sexual exploitation.

The update to “Working together” also makes it clear that known transition points for a child should be planned for in advance, including situations where children are likely to transition between child and adult services. The hon. Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme challenged his two clinical commissioning groups on this issue, although I will not comment other than to say that I will ensure that his remarks are passed on to the relevant Minister in the Department of Health and Social Care. As I say, such work includes identifying the points where children are likely to transition between child and adult services. The local authority should hold a review around the time of the child’s 18th birthday to consider whether support services are still required, and to discuss with the child and their family what might be needed, based on a reassessment of the child’s needs.

For all children, getting the best possible education is a critical part of preparing for adulthood; the right hon. Member for Knowsley focused on that point. That is why this Government are delivering on our manifesto commitment to review the educational outcomes of children in need. We have already published significant new data and analysis on the educational achievement of children in need, and I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Brentwood and Ongar for his remarks about the work we are doing. We have received submissions in response to our call for evidence from hundreds of professionals and organisations on what works in practice to improve outcomes. The review is now considering the responses to the call for evidence and conducting further analysis to understand what works in practice to improve educational outcomes for these children.

I want that review to be tightly defined, impactful and focused on evidence. These issues are complex ones, as I think has been demonstrated in the debate today, but if we open things out too widely and try to solve everything, we are in danger of solving nothing. Having said that, our data and analysis publication looks beyond education at NEETs’ outcomes. As part of the data strand of the review, we are examining the possibility of linking with other datasets to understand more about employment outcomes.

The pupil premium was mentioned by a number of colleagues. Children in need have additional needs, which are catered for through the education system. Already the majority of children in need receive support in schools through pupil premium funding. We have provided over £13 billion of additional funding since 2011, targeted at reducing the attainment gap between disadvantaged pupils and their peers. Since 2011, that gap has been reduced at both the age of 11 and the age of 16.

Of all children in need, 49% receive support due to a special educational need or disability. The SEND code of practice explicitly states that all children and young people, whether or not they have an education health and care plan, should be prepared for adulthood and that this preparation should start early. For the 23% of all children in need on an EHCP, there must be an explicit focus from year nine onwards on preparation for adulthood.

Data published in the “Review of Children in Need” document has shown that children in need are more likely than their peers not to be in education, employment or training. We are determined to ensure that disadvantaged students are properly supported in their post-16 education. The Government have invested significantly—£7 billion in the last academic year—to ensure that there is a place in training or education for every 16 to 19-year-old. That is for all young people, regardless of whether they have had involvement with children’s social care. Local authorities have a statutory duty to identify and support all young people who are not in education, employment or training. We are extremely proud—I am extremely proud—that young people are now participating in education, employment or training at the highest levels since consistent records began, although we rightly recognise that there is still much more to do for some young people.

Regarding the funding for 16 to 19-year-olds, we want to make sure that vulnerable children are accessing education beyond the age of 16. In 2017-18, about £520 million was allocated to providers through the national funding formula to attract and retain disadvantaged 16 to 19-year-olds and to support students with SEND. We have also provided around £130 million directly to the young people who need the most help, to cover costs such as transport, which was mentioned in one of the interventions, and course equipment, through the 16-to-19 bursary fund. This fund is available to children who have vulnerabilities such as disability, or who are living independently without the financial support of their family.

Regarding wider outcomes, mental health was mentioned. Although education is of course critical to the long-term outcomes of children in need, in some areas that affect these children disproportionately we are working as a Government to improve services—specifically mental health, child sexual exploitation and of course homelessness services. Poor mental health can have a profound impact on the entirety of a child’s life, which is why we are investing an additional £1.4 billion nationally to transform children and young people’s mental health services.

Time is short and I would like to leave a minute for the hon. Member for Birmingham, Selly Oak to respond to the debate. The only other thing I will say now is that I was very pleased to hear my hon. Friend the Member for Brentwood and Ongar mention the troubled families programme, through which we are now spending £920 million to help 400,000 families. Given that a man with his experience is saying that that is the area we should focus on, I will certainly champion that programme and ensure that our voice is heard in the imminent strategic review.

I thank the hon. Member for Argyll and Bute (Brendan O'Hara) for his passionate articulation of what is happening in Scotland. In England, we are also supporting care leavers. We have extended the support that we provide to the children for whom we, the state, have corporate parenting responsibilities, and the offer of support from local authorities now extends to the age of 25. In addition, personal advisers can help care leavers to get support from mainstream providers as well as provide, or help to facilitate, access to practical and emotional support.

As time is short, I shall end there. Suffice it to say that a number of colleagues made some other important points, including about care leaver accommodation. Of course, my great friend and passionate advocate for family hubs, the hon. Member for Congleton, who I look forward to visiting—

Will the Minister give way?

I have no time left to give way, because I think we are ending at 4.30 pm and there is only a minute to go, which I want to give to the hon. Member for Birmingham, Selly Oak to respond—

I think that the hon. Member for Birmingham, Selly Oak is indicating that he may not wish to speak.

I am happy not to respond to the debate.

If the hon. Gentleman is happy not to speak again, I am happy to give way to the hon. Member for South Shields.

I thank the Minister for giving way. I am just a little confused about his response to the debate. Children in need are a distinct category from those requiring child protection, looked-after children and care leavers, but most of his comments in his response to the debate were about other distinct categories of children in need and not about the distinct category of children in need themselves. I am just a little baffled by his response. I appreciate that he does not have time now, but could he put in writing to me what the Department is doing about children in need—not looked-after children and not care leavers, but children in need?

I am very grateful to you, Ms Buck, for allowing that intervention, but I suspect that the hon. Lady, the shadow Minister, may not have been listening to me, because I actually talked very specifically about our document, “Review of Children in Need”, to which we committed in our manifesto, unlike the hon. Lady herself, who could not answer my hon. Friend the Member for Brentwood and Ongar on the funding that she is asking for in order to spend more. I am happy to give her a copy of my speech, which was all about children in need.

Hansard

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