• The Guardian, Wednesday 30 June 2010
So Martin Narey thinks more children need to be taken into care (Report, 28 June). The Demos report adds little to what we already know – namely, that if care were marvellous, children might be all right. Narey's enthusiasm for residential care seems to overlook the stream of inquiries into child abuse in children's homes, the Waterhouse report and the child-on-child abuse that is also well documented. About a third of young homeless people and a third of those in prison are care leavers. The state has failed them since the inception of care.
The fact is parenting occurs on a spectrum, with dire parenting also occurring among affluent parents, whose children are rarely the subject of care proceedings. Research is clear that the difference in outcomes for at-risk children is influenced more by the number of additional stressors in their lives, such as poverty, social isolation, or poor parentalmental health, than by the quality of parenting alone. That's why it is vital to increase family support and to reduce the spend on child protection. Spain takes far fewer children into care and has one of the lowest levels of child maltreatment deaths. Let's learn from others and from the past, reduce the number of children in care, and properly support families, including extended families, in the care of their children.
Dr Charlotte Ritchie
Director, Oxford Social Research Group
• Martin Narey criticises social services for "keeping the birth family together". I have talked to him about the indisputable fact that when children are removed from their mothers, the mothers merely replace them with new pregnancies. My argument, based on my work with violent and dysfunctional women, was to keep mothers and children together on court orders in long-term shared housing. The costs are minimal to the taxpayer because the mothers take care of their own children and the houses. Professional help is brought in when needed and the success in mothering the mothers to enable them to mother their children is obvious. Isn't it time to break the cycle of violence and deprivation rather than, as Martin Narey suggests, conflate it?
• It's right that children's residential care should be properly resourced as for some children it will be the only option. But it is not the best option for all abused or neglected children. Most child-protection plans are for children at risk of neglect, and many of those adults who parent neglectfully do so because they are not obtaining support for their needs. For example, 154,000 children live with a parent who has a severe mental health problem. Many parents can be enabled to manage their mental health problems, with good outcomes for their children. At up to £5,000 a year a family, such programmes are more sustainable then residential care at up to £100,000 a child.
Chief executive, Family Action