Looked-after Children - Children, Schools and Families Committee Contents

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 277-279)


2 JUNE 2008

  Q277 Chairman: I welcome our witnesses—Steve Hillman, Martin Hazlehurst, John Hill and Mike Stein—[Interruption.] I am sorry: I checked outside with Professor Stein, and he told me it was pronounced "Steen" rather than "Stine", but I still got it wrong. Welcome to our inquiry about looked-after children. I thank the witnesses very much for coming and for giving us evidence. I am taking the seat that is usually filled so admirably by my colleague, Barry Sheerman, who is unable to be with us. I am sorry about the small number of Members here today. It is a reflection of the fact that we are just back from a recess; please do not think that it is a reflection of the fact that we do not take your evidence, which will give us a particular insight, very seriously. If it is all right with the witnesses, I shall call them by their first names rather than saying "Professor Stein", because I shall be less likely to make an error. It would be helpful if we started with each witness—without repeating his biography—giving us the most important message from their experience, research or work regarding children leaving care. What can get the best outcomes? What can help these children to face the adult world successfully? What are we doing right? What are we doing wrong? What should we do more of? What should we do less of? If the witnesses can just give an account of the most important things, it would be a good place to start.

  Professor Stein: We know from a lot of research studies that how young people progress after they leave care is associated with three main areas, the first of which is the quality of care that they have experienced. That includes, in particular, whether they have had stability while they have been looked after and whether attention has been paid to their well-being and education. Quality of care is critical. The second main area that influences how young people progress is the age at which they leave care, as well as how prepared and ready they are for leaving care. A lot of evidence shows that young people who leave care later and who have had gradual transitions during their journey to adulthood cope better than those who leave younger, experience a lot of disruption and are not ready to leave. Thirdly, we know that how young people cope is influenced by the range and quality of services that they receive after they leave care. Evidence suggests that the range and quality are both important. Those dimensions could include very important practical areas of support, such as financial and housing support, as well as addressing young people's needs for emotional and personal support. Studies have also shown that young people who leave care are not a homogenous group and that they progress at different rates. That depends on a number of factors, such as their different needs. For example, there are large differences in the care population among young people with complex needs, such as profound learning difficulties or emotional and behavioural problems. A second point depends on their family background and the extent of abuse, neglect or ill treatment that they might have experienced, or their troubles settling in at school. Linked to that are their starting points on entry to care, which may vary considerably between different groups of young people as they enter the care system.It is a central area of concern that we should measure the progress that young people make, rather than just focusing on normative outcome measures at single points in time. I shall be happy to return to that, if appropriate.

  Q278 Chairman: Thank you, Mike, for giving us a clear summary based on your research. John, you run projects for Rainer. What have they led you to think?

  John Hill: I speak in part from my experience in a local authority, as well as in research and development projects for Rainer on improving outcomes. The two key factors that have come from our work during the past two years are borne out by a lot of our experience. We have identified factors that made a difference, such as what young people felt made a difference for them in terms of success, and whether that was borne out by our work with local authorities on whether such factors were relevant. One factor was the quality of the relationship of a child or young person with a small number of key individuals, such as the carer, personal adviser or social worker. The second factor was that they felt cared for and that the process of care left them feeling cared for. We identified that those factors underpinned success in all areas of their lives. I picked those two things out because the challenge for all of us involved in the work of exploring how to improve outcomes is to get local authorities, which are large bureaucracies that provide support to whole communities, to make individual young people feel cared for, and to provide the key, fully empowered people to form the necessary relationships for care to succeed. I shall stop there, because the rest of my remarks will come in answer to further questions.

  Martin Hazlehurst: I, Mike and others have been in this game—trying to improve services for young people who are leaving care—for a long time, during which we had the Children Act 1989, which imposed duties on local authorities for the first time. After 1997, we had the Children (Leaving Care) Act 2000, the quality protects initiative and homelessness legislation that gave young people priority need, and now we have Care Matters and the Children and Young Persons Bill. Those things have created a pretty strong framework. Although there are ways in which the latter two could be improved—perhaps we will get the chance to say something about that—the legislative and policy framework is not bad. As time has gone on, legislation has been developed well in line with current thinking. However, we are still talking about how to improve outcomes. Outcomes have improved since the Children (Leaving Care) Act 2000. More young people are in education and suitable accommodation—I should like to say more on that later—but we are hoping to improve things further and to get care leavers closer to the kinds of life chances that other young people get. We were told that you were interested in how to get the performance and delivery of services in every local authority up to the same level as local authorities that are doing well. That inconsistency of service is important. Similarly to what John said, we are clear about what young people want: stability when they are in or leaving care; close relationships with one or two people; obviously, planning and preparation work that treats them as individuals rather than as part of a system; support to get the education and jobs that they want; and good accommodation that will support them and give them a platform from which to make their way in adult life. The key question is how we convert what we have and know into high-quality services. We can talk about some of the levers that we might use later, but that is the key question.

  Q279 Chairman: Steve, the Foyer Federation knows lots about young people's life chances.

  Steve Hillman: That is right, and the feedback that I will give is based on evidence given to me by some of our members who have close relationships—contractual or otherwise—with their local leaving care teams. In some respects, the three things that I identify echo the comments made by colleagues. First, stability and consistency has come out as being a very important factor in successful outcomes for young people leaving care. Secondly and similarly, the quality of support from a trusted adult—someone who can model the unconditional regard and consistent support of a parent—has been identified as incredibly important. Thirdly, members of our network have identified the factor of support in developing the independent living skills that are necessary for making a successful transition into adult life. Many of us take for granted such things as cookery, budgeting, knowing what is expected in the workplace, and developing the kind of self-confidence and self-esteem to be able to enter education and training in the first place. The quality and consistency of support to develop such independent living skills are enormously important, according to our feedback.

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