Memorandum submitted by What Makes the Difference? & National Leaving Care Advisory Service

at Rainer

 

About us

The National Leaving Care Advisory Service (NLCAS) 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.

 

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. 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?

 

In late 2006, we undertook a peer research project, in which 265 young people aged between 15 and 23 from 25 local authorities were asked what made the difference and what could have made a difference while they were in and leaving care. The research was carried out by young people from care, trained and supported by us.

 

From November 2006 to January 2007, we ran four regional consultation events with young people on the Care Matters Green Paper. 339 young people from care and 426 professionals from over 90 local authorities and 15 private and voluntary agencies submitted their views at these events.

 

What Makes The Difference? (WMTD) and the National Leaving Care Advisory Service

(NLCAS) are strongly supportive of the majority of the provisions in the Children and Young Person's Bill. However we believe the provisions in the Bill could be strengthened in a number of ways to improve outcomes for young people in and leaving care.

 

The evidence contained in this submission is based on the key messages from the two year What Makes the Difference Project? and research carried out by Rainer.


 

1. Corporate parenting

 

I. We welcome the Committee's specific request for evidence on the impact Care Matters - Time for Change on corporate parenting. We have done significant work in this area, including research with care experienced young people.

 

II. In the peer research project, young people were asked, 'what made the difference for you?' 45 per cent of respondents identified the quality of the relationships they had with key individuals. Specifically;

 

III. Personalised care: To make the difference in terms of emotional wellbeing and improving outcomes corporate parents have to develop services that fill the individual child's 'parenting gap'. Lead professionals and carers, alongside local authorities, must work hard to personalise the care they provide - as good parents would.

 

IV. Go the extra mile: Behind most young people who succeed is an individual who 'goes the extra mile' and has 'made the difference' - eg the 'pushy carer/worker' who provides care the young person needs, often 'in spite of' the system. Good relationships will provide the attachment that these young people need to succeed.

 

V. Involving everyone: Corporate parenting can't be solely about lead members and Children's Services Directors. As important - more important to young people - are the lead professionals/carers involved in their day to day lives. They are the people who are the front line in providing care and can truly make a difference. At present systems all too often do not empower these people to do their jobs as they should.

 

VI. Take more risks: Good parents have to take risks. Social care has become risk averse. Corporate parents have to manage risk far better than at present and governments have to support them to do so. Excessive bureaucracy/administration - especially for lead professionals and carers - does not personalise services and can undermine success. In social care recording is important, professionalism is essential but as normal a process of parenting as possible is crucial if we are to make the difference.

 

VII. Listen to children and young people and empower them: At local and national levels services would be improved by really listening to what young people are saying and working with them to provide it. No good parent would provide care without full discussion and involvement of their children. This provides the secure basis of their emotional wellbeing.

 

VIII. Take the lead: Too many corporate parents give poor consideration to the employability of young people in and from care. This is despite them often being the most able to provide enormous opportunity for learning within their own and other local organisations. If local authorities are to do the best for care experienced children and young people they must exploit their own opportunities more.

 

 

2. Education

 

I. We strongly welcome the provisions in Time for Change to make payments to care leavers who are pursuing higher education. Young people who took part in our Care Matters consultation events said they would like to see these provisions extended to include those care leavers who wish to pursue further education, apprenticeships and vocational training. While it is of course admirable to promote higher education, it needs to be realised that, when 66 per cent of care leavers do not gain a single GCSE, higher education is beyond the reach of many of these young people. In contrast, further education, apprenticeships and vocational training could make a real difference to improving their life chances.

 

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

66 per cent of children in care did not gain a single GCSE or GNVQ

Only 7 per cent obtained at least 5 GCSEs at grade A* to C.

At age 19, 26 per cent of care leavers are in further education and only 6 per cent are in higher education

29 per cent of care leavers are not in education, training or employment at age 19

 

III. Our peer research indicated that:

46 per cent said they had needed additional education support while at school. Over a third (36 per cent) said they had not received this.

Black and minority ethnic young people were more likely to be in education, training and employment than their white counterparts.

39 per cent felt that their time in care had affected what they had been able to do after care, especially in relation to education.

 

IV. Personalised education support: Evidence from What Makes the Difference? reveals that additional, more personalised support in education and training for children in care and care leavers does make a positive difference to outcomes.

 

V. In one local authority where individual tuition was provided for a year to year 11 pupils: Out of 17 young people who sat formal examinations, 11 of them (65 per cent) exceeded predicted grades, some of them far exceeding them. Other positive outcomes included increased school attendance, reduced school exclusions and greater confidence/self esteem.

 

 

3. Transition to adulthood

 

I. In our peer research project;

66 per cent left care before they were age 18

49 per cent had received no written information from their local authority before leaving care

88 per cent felt care leavers should have the option to return to supported accommodation if a move to independent living did not work out

II. For all young people learning about adult life must be experimental. It must be well planned, as safe as possible and at a pace that young people can cope with - and most importantly it must have a 'safety net' attached.

 

III. We strongly support proposals made by Barnardo's which recommend a transitional stage for young people leaving care. 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, our peer research showed that 38 per cent 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.

 

IV. 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.

 

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

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'

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

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

 

 

4. The role of the practitioner (including training and workforce development).

 

I. In order to become better corporate parents, we believe that care professionals need to have a better understanding of older children plus skills and knowledge in child development and parenting, particularly of teenagers. The training of care professionals therefore needs to have a clearer focus on these issues. There are no proposals in Time for Change to cover this although we welcome the interest shown in pedagogic approaches.

 

 

5. Additional messages: Accommodation

 

I. The issue of accommodation for care leavers is notable in its absence from Time for Change and subsequent legislation. Cross-government co-operation is essential if this vital area is to be improved.

 

II. 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 per cent of young people reported being homeless at some time in the year after leaving care. Through our work with local authorities across the country, we know that the availability of both supported and permanent accommodation varies greatly. While local housing shortages may contribute to this, 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.

 

III. Rainer's Home Alone report found that almost one in six (16 per cent) of care leavers were in unsuitable accommodation with a number of interviewees in unsafe or completely inappropriate accommodation.

 

IV. Thirty per cent of care leavers interviewed by A National Voice for their publication, No Place like Home, did not fell safe where they were living.

 

V. There are a number of practical, systemic changes that would have an enormous impact on the quality of accommodation for care leavers:

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 and relies heavily on the goodwill of foster carers.

Supported accommodation. Similarly, the vast majority of supported accommodation for young people is not covered by OFSTED regulation and inspection. We would like to see regulations covering all accommodation and placements used by young people as they move from care to independence.

A specific section on housing for care leavers within Local Authority homelessness strategies, signed off jointly by the Director of Housing and Director of Children's Services.

A presumption against declaring any care leaver intentionally homeless. Such a declaration should only be made in cases of serious anti social behaviour or other extreme circumstances.

 

 

6. Additional messages: The 'Pledge' to improve corporate parenting

 

I. The Pledge will be 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 about how it should be developed.

 

II. We strongly believe that the process behind developing the pledge is as critical as the content. There should be 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 young people and take into account the things that matter to them. In addition to ensuring that the pledge meets their needs, involving young people in its development could have significant additional benefits. Children in and leaving care have better outcomes when they are empowered to act positively and effect change in their own lives. It will also offer the children and young people the opportunity to develop new skills and establish strong self-esteem.

 

7. Additional messages: Young People from a care background in custody

 

I. The original Care Matters Green Paper committed to increased support from all young people in custody from a care background (whether through a care order or voluntarily accommodated). The subsequent White Paper and Bill have watered down these commitments somewhat, though we are hopeful that regulations will ensure that all looked after young people who enter custody have access to a proper resettlement package supported by the children's services team.

 

II. Research from the Rainer-lead RESET programme found that there are potential net cost savings of 80 million per year to be made by properly supporting young people's resettlement back into the community from custody. This means providing effective support around education, employment, accommodation and links to family and carers.

 

III. In 2004-5, 54 per cent of those leaving young offender institutions had no recorded

IV. education, training or employment place. 13 per cent left with no recorded accommodation (Hansard quoted by Prison Reform Trust). In 2005/6 around a quarter of boys in custody were held over 50 miles away from their home. Almost half of girls were (YJB).

 

V. For young people from a care background this absolutely requires the involvement of the children's services or leaving care team. The pilot programme placing social workers within the secure estate has proven how important maintaining these links can be, particularly when just over one quarter (27 per cent) of the population in custody have been taken into care (Social Exclusion Unit). Leaving Care Teams/Children's Services must maintain the relationship with all young people taken into custody and play an active part in their resettlement.