Mover: Layla Moran MP (Spokesperson for Education).
Summation: Cllr Lucy Nethsingha.
Conference notes that:
- A child or young person is referred to children's services every 49 seconds on average and the number of children in care has increased by more than 15% since 2010.
- Looked-after Children (LAC) are five times more likely to be temporarily excluded from school than their classmates; almost three-fifths of them have special educational needs or a disability (SEND), and less than a third of them leave primary school meeting the expected standards in reading, writing and maths.
- Children's social care budgets have risen faster than any other area of local council spending; councils spend over two-thirds of their children's social care budgets on LAC and safeguarding, meaning that early intervention services have been squeezed.
- Councils struggle to find suitable places for LAC; most children's homes are privately run and are often located where property prices are low rather than in areas with the greatest need.
- 'Unregulated accommodation', intended for teenagers transitioning from care into independent living, varies widely in quality and is too often used as a stop-gap for young people with more complex needs who need a children's place in a residential home.
- Almost two-thirds of foster carers believe their allowances and expenses do not meet the full costs of looking after foster children.
Conference believes that:
- Every child, no matter where they live or what the circumstances, deserves a great start in life so they have the support, relationships, skills and knowledge they need to succeed.
- The Conservative Government has failed to focus effectively on children's social care despite council spending on it rapidly increasing.
- Local councils should not have to choose between funding statutory children's services and supporting early intervention programmes such as children's centres and family support workers.
- Children in care should be able to live in high-quality accommodation close to their birth family or their other support networks if it is in their best interests.
- Foster carers, including kinship carers, should be compensated and supported properly so that they can care for foster children well.
Conference calls on the Government to:
- Provide additional funding to put children's social care on a sustainable financial footing, including dedicated funding for preventative services to stop children from getting into crisis.
- Ensure that LAC are prioritised within the education system; local councils should administer the admissions process, managed moves and SEND functions for all schools in their area, including academies, to support this aim.
- Address the shortfall in places for children in care so that every child who needs a place has one, by providing both capital funding and an underwriting mechanism to help councils run children's homes themselves where needed, taking account of regional variations in costs.
- Create a new kitemark for unregulated accommodation to help councils find high-quality places for those older teenagers in care who are ready to transition into independent living.
- Review the allowances for foster carers so that they reflect the actual cost of looking after children and require all councils to pay foster carers at least the minimum weekly allowance recommended by central government, ensuring councils are given funding to meet these costs.
- Explore whether an allowance scheme should be set up for kinship carers.
- Develop a national workforce strategy for social workers and children's home managers.
Conference reaffirms the Liberal Democrats' 2019 manifesto commitments to stop children getting into crisis, including:
- Investing over œ1 billion a year extra in children's centres and providing a dedicated youth services fund for local authorities.
- Reducing child poverty by abolishing the two-child limit and the benefits cap.
- Introducing new waiting time standards in children's mental health services.
- Allocating additional funding for SEND to reduce the amount schools pay towards supporting a child with an Education, Health and Care Plan.
Applicability: England only.
Mover: 7 minutes; summation of motion and movers and summation of any amendments: 4 minutes; all other speakers: 3 minutes. For eligibility and procedure for speaking in this debate, see page 11.
The deadline for amendments to this motion - see page 13 - and for requests for separate votes - see page 10 - is 13.00, Monday 2 March. Those selected for debate will be printed in Conference Extra and Saturday's Conference Daily which will be published here.