Queen's Speech: Significant Steps Forward for Children, But There Is No Fix-All

18/05/2016 16:56

Today's Queen's Speech promises some significant steps forward for the most vulnerable children and young people in the UK today. While we share the Prime Minister's high ambitions for children, the proposed legislative changes are not, by themselves, a fix-all.

Every child deserves to have a happy childhood and to get the support they need to succeed in life. They are our future.

We're glad the Government has indicated improving children's life chances is a priority, alongside tackling some of the UK's deepest social problems. This has been Barnardo's driving force for 150 years.

In particular, I support the drive to speed up adoption where it is the right decision for the child. A permanent, stable home is in every child's best interests. However, finding children the right home in which to thrive is much more than a numbers game. All types of permanent living arrangements, including foster care and special guardianship, must be stringently considered and supported.

Local authorities must never shy away from tough decisions, always putting the long-term best interests of vulnerable children first. But courts and professionals should be doing this already, so it's not new.

Our worry is that this is the second adoption bill in as many years. It is well-intentioned, but this time it must translate into actual improvements in practice.

Good parenting sets the foundation for happy, healthy children - regardless of if that's a birth parent, adopters, foster carer or residential care worker.

Bringing together a clear set of principles for care as announced today should make responsibilities clearer for those employed by the state to look after children. As with adoption, the true test of how well this works will be if it actually improves a child's life chances in practice as well as principle.

The speech today also talked about improving support for children leaving care. These young people don't have a parent to guide and support them into adulthood and can be more vulnerable due to the instability they've faced in their lives.

Barnardo's has long called for care leavers to have a personal advisor until they are 25 years old, which we have already secured in Scotland, so we're pleased the right to this crucial support will be extended to all young people in England.

The challenge will be about making sure young people who have fallen off local services' radar find out what help they are entitled to and how to access it.

What children and young people in foster or residential care want is to have the same chance of reaching the top as their peers. Other huge gaps in support for them also need to be addressed, such as having the right accommodation in place or with getting into education, employment and training.

What we'd like to see now is a firm commitment from Government to measuring outcomes for care leavers, as that transparency could then drive further progress.

Measuring children's life chances is complex, so Government's proposals must do this is in a meaningful way.

For all the legislative plans announced today, the devil, as always, will be in the detail and implementation of change. Our biggest questions are if these changes will translate into real improvements for the most vulnerable children in our society, and how success will be measured.