Select Committee on Children, Schools and Families Written Evidence

Memorandum submitted by What Makes The Difference? (WMTD) and the National Leaving Care Advisory Service (NLCAS)


  What Makes The Difference? (WMTD) and the National Leaving Care Advisory Service (NCLAS) are strongly supportive of the majority of the provisions in the Children and Young Persons Bill. However we believe the provisions in the Bill can be strengthened in a number of ways to improve outcomes for young people in and leaving care.

  We are proposing amendments to the Bill on the following issues:

    —  Stability in Visiting Arrangements.

    —  Extension of Visiting Provisions to Care Leavers.

    —  The Pledge.

    —  Extension of Entitlement of Payment in Respect of Higher Education.

    —  Publication of Entitlement of Payment in Respect of Higher Education.

    —  Transitional Status for Care Leavers.

    —  A Duty to provide sufficient accommodation.

    —  Regulation of supported accommodation and post-18 foster care placements.

    —  Independent Reviewing Officers.

  We hope the Committee will support our suggestions.


  1.1  The National Leaving Care Advisory Service has the single focus of policy and practice in relation to young people as they prepare to move on from care and have left care. It provides a range of information, advice and project services to policy makers and service providers.

  1.2  What Makes The Difference? (WMTD) is a project that is working to identify ways to improve poor outcomes for older children in care and leaving care in England. WMTD is a large partnership involving 60 organisations from national and local government, voluntary and independent sectors and is partly funded by the European Social Fund EQUAL initiative. To facilitate success, young people from care are at the heart of every part of the project.

  1.3  The National Leaving Care Advisory Service is part of Rainer, the young people's charity. Rainer is the lead partner in What Makes the Difference?


  2.1  The National Leaving Care Advisory Service supports the aims of Care Matters and the Children and Young Persons Bill. We believe that its provisions will bring positive benefits for children in care and young people moving on from care.

  2.2  In particular we support:

    —  The right to be given to young people to stay in care to 18.

    —  The extension of placements with foster carers beyond 18.

    —  The right to a leaving care personal advisor to 25 for those care leavers in education.

    —  The entitlement of young people in higher education to a bursary.

  However, we believe the provisions in the Bill can be strengthened in a number of ways to improve outcomes for young people in and leaving care. These are outlined below.


  3.1  We strongly welcome the move to formalise the arrangements for visiting children and young people in care. However, we believe that, in order for this to be of maximum benefit, these visitors should be the child's lead professional, and must be known to the child.

  3.2  Our research has highlighted the importance that relationships have in making the difference for young people in care. Good relationships will provide the attachment that these young people need to succeed. However, young people have told us how difficult they find it to form these relationships as a result of the large number and high turnover of professionals who deal with them.

  3.3  As some of the young people we interviewed as part of our peer research project explained:

    "There's a huge network of people and you're just confused. You don't know who's who".

    "You can't keep up with all the changes. You can't keep up with a support worker and a social worker and a PA and a foster carer".

    "I've had too many social workers to care".

  3.4  We are concerned that local authorities may assign people as visitors who do not play any other role in the child's life which would both limit the value of these visits and introduce yet another professional into a child's life.

  3.5  An amendment designed to ensure that the worthy intentions behind the provisions on visiting actually benefit the child and do not result in another unstable and changing presence in their life could be:

    Clause 13, amending the 1989 Act: in Clause 23ZA (5), page 11, line 14, after "must" insert:


    Clause 13, amending the 1989 Act: in Clause 23ZA (5), page 11, line 16, at end insert:

    "(b)  ensure that, except in exceptional circumstances, the person chosen is the child's lead professional; and

    (c)  ensure that, except in exceptional circumstances, the person chosen is known by the child".


  4.1  At present, local authorities have a large amount of discretion over their visitation policy for care leavers. We believe that, in order to secure their successful transition to adult life, local authorities should guarantee care leavers that they will have regular visits from their Personal Adviser.

  4.2  While we are aware that some local authorities have such schemes in place, we also know that in some areas young care leavers are slipping through the net at a time when they are most vulnerable. One of the care leavers we worked with told us about his experience:

    "Support from my leaving care worker was diabolical. The area I was living was half an hour's drive from the area where my leaving care worker was based. And I think in the two years I was there, she came to see me twice".

    "I didn't understand the point of her being my leaving care worker. She didn't help me. The simple things could have made all the difference. One phone call each week to say, How are you? How are things going? The leaving care worker is meant to be like a parent, kind of thing. And normal parents would care".

  4.3  This amendment is designed to formalise the visiting arrangements for care leavers in the same way as is proposed for children in care could be:

    Clause 13, amending the 1989 Act: in Clause 23ZA (1), page 10, line 37, at end insert:

    "(c)  a young person aged 18 to 21 who is classified as relevant by their local authority".


  5.1  The Pledge was introduced as a proposal in the Care Matters Green Paper in October 2006. It is a promise from a local authority to all of its children in care, including care leavers, detailing what it will provide for them in terms of its services and support. The proposal was overwhelmingly supported by young people during the consultation period for the Green Paper, although they had some strong caveats regarding how they should be involved in the process of developing it if it was to be effective.

  5.2  We strongly believe that the process behind developing the pledge is as critical as the content. There is no "one size fits all" answer, and the success of the pledge will depend on whether local authorities take into account the particular issues in their area, listen to the needs of their children and take into account the things that matter to them.

  5.3  In addition to ensuring that the pledge meets their needs, involving young people in its development could have significant additional benefits. All our research shows that children in and leaving care have better outcomes when they are empowered to act positively and effect change in their own lives. The process of involvement in the pledge sends a message to young people about their importance and the local authority's determination to place them at the centre of their own care. It will also offer the children and young people the opportunity to develop new skills and establish strong self-esteem.

  5.4  From November 2006 to January 2007, WMTD ran four regional consultation events with young people on the Green Paper. Young people shared their views on the Pledge proposal:

    "If our corporate parents want us to feel special and cared for, they need to listen to us. The Pledge could help them to do this".

    "The current system is unfair. They always seem to think they know best".

    "The Pledge is a good idea, as long as it's not a token gesture and local authorities actually stick to it".

    "It's our Pledge too, so we should have a say on what's in it".

    "Corporate parents spend too much time trying to provide services they think are good without asking us what we want. The Pledge is a chance to change this and let us have our say".

  5.5  We propose a probing amendment to establish the Government's thinking on the guidance they will provide on the Pledge. It is intended to secure a commitment from the Government that local authorities will all be required to develop their own pledge, and that they will work with young people to do so. We suggest:

    After Clause 16, page 13, line 38, insert NEW CLAUSE:

    "The Pledge"

    NEW CLAUSE: In developing their pledges, local authorities must:

    (a)  Ensure that they consider and address the needs of children and young people in care in their authority area; and

(b)  Ensure that the children and young people in care in their authority area are actively consulted and involved.


  6.1  WMTD and NLCAS strongly welcome the provisions to make payments to care leavers who are pursuing higher education. However, we believe that these provisions should be extended to include those care leavers who wish to pursue further education, apprenticeships and vocational training.

  6.2  The poor statistics relating to the educational achievements of children and young people in care are well known. According to Government statistics:

    —  66% of children in care did not gain a single GCSE or GNVQ.

    —  Only 7% obtained at least 5 GCSEs at grade A* to C.

    —  At age 19, 26% of care leavers are in further education and only 6% are in higher education.

    —  29% of care leavers are not in education, training or employment at age 19.

  6.3  Care experience young people told us about some of the issues they faced at school:

    "I had too many personal issues, so school was never a priority".

    "I got bullied at school, got told that `family don't love you'".

    "I lived too far away from my school when I should have been taking my GCSEs".

    "When I went into care, I felt like no one cared anymore. So I became really bad at school, I got kicked out".

  6.4  Given the barriers that young people in care have to overcome to succeed, it is clear to us that the Government should be doing everything possible to encourage care leavers to pursue further education or training. While it is of course admirable to promote higher education it needs to be realised that, when 66% of care leavers do not gain a single GCSE, this is simply beyond the reach of many of these young people. In contrast, further education, apprenticeships and vocational training could make a real difference to improving the life chances of care leavers.

  6.5  As a result we would propose that the payment proposed for those going on to higher education is extended to include all those care leavers who want to continue with their education, or develop their skills through apprenticeships and vocational training. This will allow care leavers the resources to invest in their future. An amendment could read:

    Clause 18, page 14, line 42, at end insert:

    "further education, apprenticeships and vocational training".

    Clause 18 (2), page 15, line 3, after "higher education" insert:

    "further education, apprenticeships and vocational training".

    Clause 18 (2), page 15, line 8, after "higher education" insert:

    "further education, apprenticeships and vocational training".


  7.1  We believe that local authorities do their utmost to ensure that care leavers are aware of these new provisions in order that they can benefit fully from them. An amendment designed to ensure this could be:

    Clause 18 (2), page 15, line 15, at end insert:

    "(5D) It is the duty of the local authority to ensure that every reasonable effort is made to publicise this entitlement and ensure that care leavers are aware of its existence".


  8.1  We strongly support the proposals by Barnardo's which recommend a transitional stage for young people leaving care.

  8.2  The average young person does not leave home until 24, and will usually go safe in the knowledge that they can call on their parents for advice and support. Care leavers do not have this safety net and their outcomes in employment, education, housing and health indicate significant failings in their preparation and readiness for adult life. Indeed, WMTD's peer research showed that 38% of young people with care experience believe they are simply left to "get on with it" without any input or preparation when the time came to live independently.

  8.3  Young care leavers we spoke to expressed their concerns about the transition to independent living:

    "You need to live your childhood rather than become an adult before you should".

    "I wasn't prepared in any way for independent living. I knew there was so much I couldn't do".

    "The biggest issue for me was the loneliness. You're suddenly on your own".

    "It's difficult when you stop getting any support. It took me a while to get sorted, and now I know where I want to be. But I went to my Housing Association and they said they can't help me cos I'm over 21 so I'm not on the priority list".

  8.4  A new transitional status for care leavers would go some way to providing a much needed safety net for these young people and could do wonders in boosting their chances of developing a successful independent life.

  8.5  It is proposed that this new approach has three main elements:

    (i)  A new transitional status for young people leaving care between the age of 16-21 years that becomes relevant whenever they leave care and that provides the same degree of care and protection to them without labelling them as a young person "in care".

    (ii)  An Accommodation and Support Strategy for Care Leavers 16-25 years, including care and transitional accommodation up to age 21 and supported accommodation up to age 25.

    (iii)  A guarantee of employment, education or training placement for all young people in transition of leaving care, up to age 21 years.


  9.1  Good suitable accommodation is still the foundation on which young people's future stability their education success and participation in the job market depends. However young people who have been in care are still overrepresented in those young people who are homeless. In Life After Care (Joseph Rowntree 2005) 36% of young people reported being homeless at some time in the year after leaving care.

  9.2  Though its work with local authorities around the country, the National Leaving Care Advisory Service knows that the availability of both supported accommodation and permanent accommodation varies greatly between local authorities. This can be explained in part by local housing shortages and the local market. However it is also caused by inconsistent planning and provision of accommodation with support and the quality of cooperation between children's services and local housing authorities. Often it is simply a failure to plan for something that it is known that almost all young people will need.

  9.3  In Care Matters the Government made a commitment to introducing a duty on local authorities to provide a sufficient and diverse provision of quality placements within their local area.

  9.4  This duty is not in the Bill as published. We support the proposals of the Fostering Network and British Association of Adoption and Fostering to amend the Bill to include this provision but would wish to see the duty extended so that its remit includes in the definition of placement accommodation for young people moving on from care whilst they are receiving services under the Children (Leaving Care) Act.


10.1  Post-18 foster placements

  In many local authorities there is already the opportunity for young people to remain with foster carers beyond 18 and Care Matters proposes that eventually this will be available to many more young people. The arrangement however, is informal and unregulated. Many young people live in supported lodgings arrangements, but these are unregulated and their status for young people age 16 and 17 unclear.

10.2  Supported accommodation

  Similarly, most supported accommodation for young people is not covered by Ofsted regulation and inspection. We would like to see an amendment to the Bill requiring the issuing of regulations covering all accommodation and placements used by young people as they move from care to independence.


  11.1  The Bill strengthens the role of Independent Reviewing Officers in relation to looked-after children. We believe that IRO's can provide an important safeguard against the neglect of children in care. Their responsibilities only extend to reviewing the treatment of children whilst they are still looked-after.

  11.2  We would like to see an amendment to the Bill that would extend the responsibilities of IROs to participate in pathway plan reviews and monitor the implementation of plans in the same way they would for all children and young people in care.

February 2008

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