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

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 280-299)


2 JUNE 2008

  Q280 Chairman: Thank you. Martin, you referred to the inequalities of different local authorities and to the framework of legislation. This is our first inquiry into the children's field. Until now, most members of the Committee have focused on education issues. In some ways, the legislation ought to be fixed with the Children (Leaving Care) Act 2000 and so on. However, if we look at the report giving young people's views on leaving care, it is clear that although the Act made a lot of difference, it is ignored in practice in a lot of places. How do they get away with not doing what it says on the tin?

  Martin Hazlehurst: There are many reasons for inconsistencies in services. One is local factors. In accommodation, for example, there are big variations in availability and cost among local authorities. There are differences in the way in which local authorities prioritise their services—leaving care is given a higher priority in some areas than in others. With regard to young people leaving care aged 16 and 17, the differences are almost cultural. In some local authorities that would be unusual as there is a culture—and a clear direction from the top—that young people will not leave until they are 18. In other local authorities, that is the norm and tolerated. The reason why they get away with it is because there are no statutory standards for leaving care. We have the legislation, guidance and regulations surrounding the Children (Leaving Care) Act 2000, but we do not have any standards, so there is no regular inspection of leaving care services to ensure that local authorities are doing what they should. We have our own standards for leaving care, which we developed alongside John and his project and others. The Department for Education and Skills, as it was then, was involved in that from the beginning, but the standards are purely advisory. We use them to gauge how well we think local authorities are doing, but they do not have any regulatory or statutory force. Leaving care has been included in local authorities' joint area reviews, but that is the level of inspection that goes on. It is not a massive inspection. We would like to see more external inspection and audit of leaving care services. We would also like the Department for Children, Schools and Families to take a stronger line on identifying local authorities that are failing and ensuring that they are given the right support. If they do not improve, the Department should ensure that there are sanctions to go along with that, but that does not happen much. That might happen to a certain extent through Government offices, but those offices are looking across a whole range of children's services and leaving care is a small part of that. That is how people get away with it. Hopefully, there are ways in which they could be made to do it better.

  Q281 Chairman: The evidence that I have seen seems to suggest that we have a system whereby services are either poor or very good. We do not seem to have ones in the middle. How can we change that?

  John Hill: Again, in all the work we have done over the last couple of years, which involved a lot of authorities, nobody got this right. It would take a long time to explain all the factors that make up the reasons why we do not get it right, but I will point out one example. We worked with more than 40 local authorities and I did not find any that was not committed to trying to make a difference. They struggled with how to do it, and that is why I made the first two comments. We know that the basis of good care is good parenting. That is the key factor, and everything rolls out or builds upon it. The challenge for local authorities is to interpret that care within their bureaucratic system—this enormous bureaucracy is really quite something. We have done enough on working up a model of what corporate parenting is and what it means. The challenge that is implicit in that is how local authorities that are running services for whole communities can pick out a small group of looked-after children and prioritise them. Is it reasonable for them to do that? That is what looked-after children need; they need all the services out there for young people. Then, in part, authorities will be a parent to those children. Children need to feel that they are being parented by their local authority. The legislative framework in this country is very strong compared with that in others. However, what it does not do—I am not saying that this is the only factor, but our interpretation of the messages from young people is very clear—is allow enough young people to feel sufficiently cared for. It struggles to do that. There are senior managers in local authorities saying, "But how the hell do we do that?" It is really difficult to do such things in the context in which we work. There are answers to these problems, and empowering carers is one. The whole decision-making process in local authorities is very top-down in terms of management. How does that become a model of parenting for children in care? It is difficult to represent a model of parenting when you have three or four levels to make what, in the case of a child of yours or mine, would be a basic parental decision. Those decisions can takes days and days, and that does not replicate good parenting.

  Q282 Chairman: I accept that, but research by the National Leaving Care Advisory Service showed that, in some areas, more than 40% of young people had not had a needs assessment and did not have a pathway plan. That is much simpler than the complicated steps that you are talking about, is it not?

  John Hill: What I am saying is that that is the foundation of all this, and the rest builds on it. I said at the beginning that I could give you a whole raft of things that would make a difference, and some of them are very easy wins. Some of this is about local authorities doing what is in the legislation. Our project found that many local authorities still do not provide personal advisers, or that if they do, they will provide two for 70 or 80 care leavers. How does that fit? Most children with disabilities who are care leavers have no personal adviser service and no pathway planning process. How can local authorities get away with that? Some of this has to be about tangible things, such as the regulatory framework around local authorities, as well as about elements such as sharing best practice across local authorities so that they can learn from each other about what works and what does not. There will always be local authorities that really struggle because they do not have the knowledge base, the specialism or, sometimes, the will to make arrangements work, to make them different or to make them stand out. Care Matters was very clear; it cited a number of quotes from Alan Johnson saying that you have to put children first and how local authorities could do that. Those are examples of the very tangible things, such as empowering carers and allowing them to make decisions and hold budgets, right through to ensuring that children's pledges are detailed enough to empower children and allow them to know what care they are supposed to get. Young people say that they do not know what care they are supposed to get and that they cannot work it out.

  Q283 Chairman: Mike, what does your research tell us about this?

  Professor Stein: Although there are differences between local authorities—a lot of research has shown this, and John and Martin have commented on it—we should also recognise that there are differences in most authorities in relation to ordinary or normative parenting, particularly the age at which young people are expected to become independent. That can still be as young as 16 or 17, which contrasts with 23 or 24 in the general population—if people leave home at all. I always say at this point that one reason why I have white hair is that I have a son who is pushing 30 and still at home, so if anybody has any addresses, I will be very pleased to have them. However, there is a big difference on the issue in most local authorities; it is not a difference between authorities. A second point links to that. There is a lot of emphasis on the period of transition, which is important. However, there is far less emphasis on what happens to young people as they move into young adulthood and on continuing support into young adulthood. One thing that comes out of some of our international work—we have been looking at 16 different countries—is the importance of having support beyond 16, 17, 18 and 19. That is a critical time for young people, especially given the deficits that some of them may have. They might take longer to settle and to catch up. Many services can focus on the period of transition, but then they disappear. Many activities can be focused on that period, but then what happens to the young person who needs support at 20, 21, 22 and 23? From studies of all young people—not just looked-after young people—we have learned that that time can be critical. Parents put a massive amount of energy into supporting their young people at that time in their lives. They do it at not just 16 to 18, but over a longer period. Although I take the point about the differences among authorities and the resulting territorial injustices that are the cause of such anger and concern, we should also take into account the needs base. Needs can extend to longer term transitions and focusing on increasing the age at which young people leave care. The two proposals, particularly the staying-put proposals in the Care Matters Time to Deliver agenda for 18-plus foster care, are long overdue. We need to pilot them and see how we can support young people in foster care. I am talking about circumstances in which young people are settled and do not want to move on, or their foster carers do not want them to move on, or they have good relationships with the school and the foster carers. That would help them to leave in a gradual and ordinary way.

  Q284 Chairman: Steve, do you have anything to add?

  Steve Hillman: Yes. In conversation with members last week, the one thing that came across to me very strongly was differences in approach. In one local authority, for example, a leaving care team has its personal adviser work very closely with the housing support worker of the individual care leaver in the Foyer and the care leaver themselves to develop a pathway plan that is integrated with housing support and the personal development process of the Foyer. The young person themselves has a high level of ownership of that plan. They know what is in it because it has been worked out with them and addresses their individual needs. In another local authority, the Foyer had never seen the pathway plan of the individual care leaver that it was housing. It had had no conversation with the leaving care team despite the fact that it had repeatedly tried to make contact. Therefore, there is something there about letting go of some of the ownership of the process and working in partnership with others. Another thing that came from the feedback was that leaving care teams, while highly committed and very skilled, are deeply under-resourced. That leads to situations in which there are two advisers available for 70 care leavers. That problem was cited by every member I spoke to. There was the feeling that the leaving care teams were very stretched and hence were devolving their responsibilities to other people, particularly other DCSF providers. There was one example in which a DCSF provider had a contract with a leaving care team to co-ordinate supported lodgings schemes for young care leavers, but ended up providing welfare and benefit advice and personal development support—even though it was not contracted to do so—because the leaving care team did not have the necessary resources.

Sitting suspended for a Division in the House.

On resuming—

  Chairman: I invite John Heppell to ask questions.

  Q285 Mr Heppell: I see that more than 60% of looked-after people leave care when they are 18, but a sizeable amount, 25%, leave when they are 16. It seems strange, especially because there are extra pressures on people in care. One would expect them to leave earlier. Does anyone try to persuade people to leave care earlier? Are pressures put on them to get them out of care earlier? If that is the case, what are the options for people who do not think that they are ready for independence before 18, or even at 18? What happens when they get to 18 if they decide, "I just couldn't handle it out in the community"? What are the options for people in those circumstances?

  Professor Stein: There are a number of issues around that. Unfortunately, it has been one of the enduring statistics since I started researching this area—so it goes back 20-odd, nearly 30, years; it has been a long time. There is some evidence of a slight shift in young people leaving care older, but it is not dramatic, and it still contrasts dramatically with the age at which young people generally move on from home. As to why, the care system tends to be structured around leaving at this magical age. Often the aim is to leave at 18, but in reality, as you say and the evidence shows, some leave younger. So with regard to children's homes and foster care, there is often pressure on foster carers—who are a scarce resource, and this raises wider work force issues about the training and recruitment of foster carers in the market—to move people on and take younger children and young people. Children's homes are usually structured around age, so that when young people reach a certain age there are expectations, often from quite young. At 14 or 15, they can be told, "You need to be thinking about your future now—becoming independent." That is kind of built into the system as well. That would suggest not only work force change, but a change in attitudes and culture, and a complete change in the thinking about age: abandoning the notion of leaving care, and thinking about young people's journey to adulthood as gradual and normative rather than built around age structures and care. The Staying Put initiative in Care Matters and the Right2BCared4 pilot programme, to some extent, and the work force proposals about training foster carers are practical proposals to begin such a shift. However, I do have my doubts, given the enduring nature of the problem. I would hope that they will cause a shift, and their implementation will need careful monitoring by the Department, but I have concerns as to whether there will be a dramatic shift.

  John Hill: Can I make one point about young people pre-18? Something about those young people's previous experiences—their life experience, their parenting experience—has an effect on them feeling, "I can't wait to get out of care." There is a culture within care as well, about leaving care and getting out of care early. To add to what Mike has said, it is not seen as a positive experience, which is all very relevant. Within that, there is a whole planning process, and I agree that people do not try to persuade them to stay. The structural limitations and less normative transition process, combined with their own poor previous experiences, lead them to say, "I've got to go; I want to go." Some of my experiences in local authorities have been of sitting trying to persuade young people to stay at least until they are 18, with groups of professionals sat around, pressuring the child and saying "We do not want you to go." But there is something about wanting to go. That is one small factor. I am not saying that there are not big structural reasons. In a way, the reasons given by Mike are more problematic, but I can understand the context for those children.

  Martin Hazlehurst: Unfortunately, that figure of 40% of young people leaving before 18 is probably—almost certainly—an underestimate of the numbers of young people who are leaving foster and residential care because some young people who are still officially in care on care orders may be living in more independent settings. I think there was research that showed that young people leaving foster care fell almost into three equal groups: those who had a very positive experience and therefore stayed until they were ready, and moved on; those young people who felt they had no choice but to move on; and another group who left because they had had quarrels, they had fallen out, and the placement had broken down. With the no choice group, it is about the expectations of that local authority. With the breakdown ones, I think it will be very interesting to see whether the Right2BCared4 pilots can tell us more. We do not know enough about what is actually happening at that time, and about what kind of support can be put in for young people to persuade them and carers to say, "Yes, we want to give it another go." Following on from that, another feature of the care system is that, unlike for most young people, the process of moving from care to adulthood is very linear. Most young people will leave home and come back, leave home and come back. My daughter is 25, and I hope that in an hour's time she will be on a plane to Ireland; she will live there for six months after being back with us for six months. That process goes on all the time. It is very unusual for a young person in care to be able to move backwards and forwards, and to move back to a care placement. John was telling me earlier that in the local authority where he used to work, with argument, it could happen; but it is very unusual. If we accept—I think that we have to accept it—that we will not solve this overnight, that we will not get to a point where young people are all staying with their carers or in residential care until 18 or beyond, then we have to look at the alternatives. We have a problem there as well. We have some very good programmes of supported accommodation, and Steve could talk about the work done by the Foyer movement. However, we also have some places where young people say they do not feel safe; we have hostels where they do not feel safe. There is no process by which a placement that a young person goes to at 16 or 17 is like care; the place is likely to be unregulated and un-inspected because it falls between the regular programme of inspection and regulation of accommodation. It is not part of the care system, and nor is it often covered by Supporting People and the funding framework of the full inspection. One of the things that we have been saying through our work on the Children and Young Persons Bill is that there is a desperate need for much better quality assurance of the kind of placements that young people are going into if they have left care, whether they be supported housing, supported lodgings or a floating support system with staff coming in and out, such as Foyers and other places. Some are very good, but we do not know that they are. There is certainly an issue if we accept that we will never persuade every young person to stay in care until they are 18, even if that is open to them. We can support carers better, and the Right2BCared4 pilots ought to show us how that process can be managed better. For example, under the Right2BCared4 pilots the independent reviewing officer has to have a role in the process of young people actually moving on from care. At the moment, in most local authorities the IROs back out at the point when the young person leaves a care placement. The process might be started by the IRO, but there is no follow-up and no checking that planning is happening beyond that. The other important thing to do would be to ensure that IROs are reviewing cases, checking that young people are being listened to and checking that the pathway planning process is happening at least until 18. There are a number of things that can be done, but again it is not going to be easy.

  Steve Hillman: We would draw a distinction between residential and foster care, in so far as there is a strong sense that young people cannot wait to get out of residential care. In many cases, Foyers have fed back to me the fact that the sooner they get their hands on someone who has been in residential care the better, particularly if the young person has been in residential care for a number of years, because they can be highly institutionalised. The sooner you can work to break down that kind of institutionalised mindset the better. There is very much a sense that foster carers in some local authorities are under pressure to let go at 16 because people are coming up through the system who want to get settled. One answer to where those young people go is into Foyers. There are about 130 Foyers in the UK, and care leavers make up about 10% of the Foyer population.

  Q286 Mr Heppell: I hear what you say. What would be the influence, in practical terms, of the Barnardo's idea of extending it to 25? You seem to be saying that people do not just have to go because there is a set age—Mike says that we should forget about the age altogether—but because they want to go. Would that mean that they would have the option to do what normal kids, who are not being looked after, do? My kids went and came back—one of our friends described them as boomerangs, because they were in and out of the house that many times. Is that how you envisage it working—people would be able to go and try it and, if it was not working, they could come back and sometimes get a bit more backing and go out and try again? Also, are we talking about the transition period being from 16, when people leave now, until 25? Or are we talking about it being from 18 to 25? Are we still seeing 18 as the time when people should go?

  Professor Stein: This is the problem with having such an age-related structure. When you are dealing with policy and legislation, it is difficult not to have age-related structures, but I am not sure that they recognise the kind of needs involved in most young people's journeys to adulthood. I am not sure—was Barnardo's talking about transitional stages in terms of extending support? There are some good arguments for extending support into young adulthood and beyond transition. I think that proposals to extend support to 25, providing ongoing support, are mentioned in Care Matters as well. The critical question is what that support should be—what it might look like. There are arguments for recognising that young people often require ongoing support, beyond transition and into adulthood, similar to what you, John, would be able to offer your children and young people, and what other parents are able to offer. At the moment, such provision would be unlikely. But it raises another issue, which is the administrative boundaries between children's and adult services. The Department would be required to work with adult services to come up with a way of crossing those boundaries. Perhaps the third sector is less restricted in that sense, but I think that there is an issue about that as well. It would seem to me a good idea to have extended support beyond the immediate transition period.

  Martin Hazlehurst: I think that that Barnardo's idea of transitional status raises some interesting issues. If you look in the briefing, it then talks about the kind of things that would flow from that. One is the process of never having quite left, and therefore the possibility and opportunity to go backwards and forwards. I am not quite sure how young people feel about it. I do not know if they have been asked if they want to be called this transitional person, or whether at 18 they want to be adults, but supported adults. That is something else. Most of what that transitional status can bring we can do anyway. We can provide that kind of model of a more normal transition within the legislation that we have already. I am not sure that it needs legislation necessarily, although I think that it raises some interesting issues. On support to 25, yes, some young people do need support to 25. We would certainly like to see the Care Matters proposals around an extension of support to 25 for education to be extended to other areas. Some young people have emerging mental health problems at 21, 22 or 23. Some young people become homeless at 21, 22 or 23. Restricting it to education is missing the point a bit. Young people have needs that last longer than 21. Certainly that is an area in which Care Matters and the Bill could be improved.

  John Hill: I think that the impact of previous experience means that if you are going to succeed with this group of young people, you are going to have to hang on in there—if anything, in an ideal world, for much longer than you would ordinarily with your own children—with a large proportion of them. I would come back to your boomerang: I think that that should be possible; I cannot see why it should not be possible. I am not saying that there are not inevitable limitations—this is the same point again, in a sense—on a local authority trying to have services where someone can just pop back and take up their old bed in a children's home. It is not going to work like that, but to be able to have systems where you work, you structure your services, you clarify what they are as part of your children's trust arrangement and you are very clear in your pledge what that is about. It could be very reassuring to that young person to know that there are supported housing arrangements. Some of the messages that we were aiming to give in some of the services I have managed before were, "If you get stuck, you will never be homeless—you will never have that," and, "If you decide to go to Scotland, I cannot always get you back in that night, but we will get you back, you will be here, we will find you somewhere, and as soon as that is the case you will not be down the homeless route queuing up with people because you are cared for by us and you are corporately parented by us." I do not think that those messages are that difficult, personally. I think the boomerang idea is great, actually. We should just tell them all that they can do it.

  Q287 Mr Heppell: Can I just ask a couple of minor things, following on from that? If young people leave care at 16, presumably that is an enormous saving for the local authority, so in some respects there is a financial pressure on local authorities to get people out early. The other thing is something you mentioned in passing: what are the real differences between people leaving residential and foster care? Are they stark? Do we see a much better success rate?

  Professor Stein: In terms of success rates, those people usually, in England, do not have the same needs, in the sense that most of the young people leaving residential care have often had a high degree of movement in care and have broken down in foster care—often on one or two occasions—so they tend to have higher levels of emotional needs and behavioural problems. They tend to be a more needy population, and generally speaking their outcomes tend to be poorer than those of young people who leave foster care, but there are, again, as is the case in England, variations. There are some very good examples of small children's homes with positive cultures and a high degree of stability and structure where young people know what they are doing and can leave care successfully and be supported after care, so that is not inevitable. There is also international evidence, which I think you have probably heard about before, from social pedagogy, which tends to bring together the care and educational functions into one, and, again, provides a stable pedagogue, mentor or worker within the home who can offer stability there. That can be very positive, with residential care being viewed positively and not as a last resort. It is saying, "Look, this is something that can help young people; we can help you with your education and training and help you to make progress with your relationships." The situation is tackled in that very positive way, rather than being seen as more of a last resort for young people who have failed in foster care. There are differences, but differences in population.

  John Hill: I have managed both, in a few places, and the culture of children's homes in this country has changed enormously over the years. It is a highly specialist service—I do not say it is always provided well as a highly specialist service—with a small number of very damaged young people. The placement policies of local authorities in general—sometimes through commissioning, if it is outsourced—are, from my experience, that with the cost element attached, although there is a quality element attached as well, you would always do foster care first. You try that to the nth degree. That is the way we work. I think that the outcomes are very different as a result of the level of damage for some of the young people. You also have up to six relatively damaged young people who need an awful lot of support in one very small place. Gone are the days of years back when we had 20, 30, 40 or 50; but of course the young people who were involved in those 20, 30, 40 or 50-place children's homes do not hit care any more. They would not be in care. An awful lot of them would not come anywhere near care any more. We are talking about incredibly damaged kids. They are chalk and cheese, almost. The common factor is that they are all young people but, after that, things are different.

  Q288 Mr Stuart: Are good authorities spending more?

  John Hill: I do not think that the evidence is clear, so any comment on that would be anecdotal and based on experience. We tried to do an exercise to identify costs, but you can imagine the suspicion with which that was met—people were worried about where the information would go and it was hard to get information. This is not a direct answer to the question, but good local authorities better prevent young people from going into care, which is related to how much they spend. Some of the best authorities do not seem to spend as much, but they prevent young people from going into care—they have far better prevention services. However, can you compare the amount spent on prevention with the amount spent on children in care and care leavers?

  Q289 Mr Stuart: Today we are looking at unit cost of a care leaver. To what extent could there be a financial driver between the best and others? Obviously, we must also look at the obstacles that must be overcome to get the poorest to be more like the best. Is money a serious component?

  Martin Hazlehurst: If you look at such things as the size of the case loads of social workers and personal advisers, you will find, as John's project did, that there are big variations. Some authorities spend more on personal advisers than others, for example. One would assume that authorities that provide more personalised care do better. I do not think that the difference in what people spend is necessarily the only factor in whether they do well. We have talked about other factors, such as the culture of the local authority and how much they are prepared to care for, and put time into, young people as individuals. We certainly do not have definitive evidence either way of whether more money provides better care. I suspect that that is one factor among many.

  Steve Hillman: I think there are two things to say about that. The first, as I mentioned, is on the approach taken by teams who work with young people leaving care. Taking a more open, partnership-based approach may have an initial, up-front cost because there must be more staff resources to set things up. However, you would be preventing further work down the line, because if you set things up properly, they take their course without too much involvement. Secondly—it is much more difficult to get your hands on some realistic data on this—what happens if you do not do a good job of managing the transition of young people leaving care, and what impact could that have on costs to the health service, the criminal justice service and so forth?

  Mr Stuart: Those are different budgets.

  Steve Hillman: Indeed so.

  Professor Stein: You must look at the care career costs and not simply zoom in on leaving care. If you look at the whole care career, you might find some indication of how much is spent on prevention and on leaving care services. Following the introduction of the Children (Leaving Care) Act 2000, funding was earmarked for how many years?

  Martin Hazlehurst: Three years.

  Professor Stein: During that time, a lot of authorities spent a lot more on leaving care services than they had before the Act's introduction. That made quite a big difference. Since then, it is not at all clear what has happened to the funding. It has probably become more variable. Earmarked funding was one mechanism that seemed to increase the unique costs. It was ring-fenced funding.

  Q290 Mr Stuart: Earlier, we touched on the preparation of young people leaving care. Could you explore that a little bit more? Comments were made about that at the beginning and we are trying to get a picture of it. We are looking for recommendations to put in our report about what young people need. There are big variations in grants for young people. Some authorities give £400, while others give £2,000. Perhaps you could reflect on that and give us a little more detail.

  Professor Stein: There is evidence of variation. The preparation covers all the four or five core needs of care leavers including finance, personal support, accommodation, help with education, employment and training, and assistance with health and well-being. They are the core areas. There is evidence from studies of a variation in the spending on those different categories. Sometimes that variation is beyond an individual need. One could justify different spending if it related to individual need, but we know from when young people have come together to compare their experiences through organisations such as A National Voice and John's project that some who have gone on to further education have been given a computer and extra facilities, while others have not been given anything at all. So, there is evidence of variation in what young people receive in terms of meeting those core areas that are critical to preparation. There is also evidence of some variation in whether the emphasis is on more practical skills or personal development, but, generally speaking, most of the programmes that we have looked at, including What Makes the Difference?, show that quite a lot of work goes into practical preparation.

  Mr Stuart: Barnardo's is about emotional support.

  Professor Stein: Yes.

  Q291 Mr Stuart: It is easy to see how the other things can be delivered. One can train someone how to cook and perhaps a bit about how to do finances, but it is harder to sit down with a 16, 17 or 18-year-old and say, "I'm going to teach you how to make friends."

  Professor Stein: That, in a way, is about getting the placement right. Some of those things happen, but usually informally and not in a structured way. If a young person settles in a foster care placement along with the foster carer's own children, that happens as part of growing up. It is a natural process that takes place. They see that they have a turn to cook and what have you. It only has to happen in a formal, structured way when it does not happen in a natural or informal way, and then a lot of effort has to go into it. There are issues about whether that is transferable. If you do not get it right when young people settle in a placement and leave care later, with gradual transitions, you are preparing them to cope from 16 to 17—this is the point John was raising earlier—with managing on their own practically. Can they be prepared? A lot of effort is put into it, but can they be prepared when they move into a flat and spend the first week on their own feeling lonely and isolated? All right, they are given a course in preparation, but is it transferable? Are they too young? There are quite a lot of dilemmas around that if we do not get the placements right.

  Q292 Mr Stuart: So how should it be? There is practical training and the emotional support that Barnardo's talks about. How can that be delivered? You say that a lot of children are particularly ill prepared, but then again, not many 17 or 18-year-olds are well prepared, either practically or emotionally, to cope with life. One imagines that care leavers are also needy, only more so. What practical steps could we put in place?

  Martin Hazlehurst: There are things that could be done. The practical skills, for a start, are the easy bit. Knowing as we do that these young people are going to be living on their own earlier than other young people, the very basic skills that parents pass on to their children and that foster parents can pass on to young people who are going to leave care, such as cooking and looking after themselves, become even more important. The emotional skills, such as how to make friends, can never be passed on, but you could make sure that it is clear in the brief and training given to foster carers that they should be aware of those things. Extra effort could be made to help young people to develop interests outside the home and perhaps to meet people. Other than that, young people could be convinced that, actually, there is someone there for them. That is probably as good a preparation as you are going to get. However, more could be done on providing training and guidance for foster carers. Foster carers often ask us, "What is this preparation thing?" Although there is not a body of skills or a curriculum—John might say something about work that his organisation has done on that—foster carers could be better trained and given better guidance.

  John Hill: If young people get to 16 or 17 and you are just starting to do this, you have failed in some ways—that is the reality. Most young people do not come into care at 16 or 17, so the process should at least be able to start at 13, 14 or, at a push, 15.

  Q293  Mr Stuart: What support could be put in place afterwards when people are leaving and going on their own?

  John Hill: They should come from the care that we have given them with some understanding of things such as making relationships. We should not give up on the stuff about making relationships because we are doing all the practical things like teaching people to cook. The relationship is what will keep you in good stead. You can go out and buy a takeaway meal so that you can eat, but if you cannot make a relationship, you really are in quite a mess.We have developed a whole training pack for carers on this stuff, and one of the issues that came out was the lack of awareness among carers. Again, there are structural issues about the way we set up foster carers to care for young people. The lack of continuation post 16, 17 and 18 is a factor because these kids will take longer to become independent. At the same time, their skills and our expectations about the number of sure placements militate against their learning how to parent well, as well as against our preparing them for independence well and our understanding of child development. We do not train our foster carers that well, and we do not value them that well either.

  Q294 Chairman: Steve, I think that you want to say something about the Foyer Federation.

  Steve Hillman: That is right. With the Learning and Skills Council, we have developed an accredited City and Guilds qualification called the certificate in self-development through learning. It takes what we call the functional life skills—cookery, budgeting and that sort of thing—and the more nebulous personal development skills, for want of a better term, and uses the same unit-based or modular approach to teach both sets of skills. The advantage of doing it that way is that the tutor, who might be doing fairly functional things with individuals, such as teaching them how to cook, how to clean and look after a home, or what their pay slip means, is playing another role as a trusted adult, through which they can explore things such as developing a wider social network or what it means to talk about feelings in a way that does not relate to violence. The individuals can discuss those issues with a trusted adult who is funded to be there to teach functional life skills. We have units on the certificate in self-development through learning called "Coping with changes in me" and "Who is special to me?" They give young people a vehicle for exploring those personal development issues.

  Q295 Mr Stuart: Can I ask about money? How adequate are current payments to care leavers? Should allowance and grants be standardised across the country?

  John Hill: No and no.

  Q296 Mr Stuart: They should not be standardised and they are not adequate?

  John Hill: They definitely are not standardised. There is a massive range in terms of what is paid.

  Q297 Mr Stuart: Should they be?

  John Hill: No, I do not think that they should. Certain circumstances in local authorities mean that some young people need more than others. This is very difficult, and different places demand different things. For me, this is what the pledge and Care Matters is all about: working things out locally on the ground. The cost of travel in London will be very different from what it is in some smaller town or unitary authority, but it will be very similar to what it is in a large rural area. You have to play out those circumstances.

  Professor Stein: There is quite a bit of work to be done. I agree with both those points, but as I mentioned earlier, young people with similar learning needs get vastly different financial support in different authorities. Work needs to be done on comparable, as well as discretionary, needs. It sounds like a bureaucratic nightmare, but when young people get together and talk about their different experiences of financial support, it can generate a sense of injustice, especially if it is obvious that they are in similar circumstances, such as coping with a college course or with the work done by the small percentage of such young people who go on to higher education. There is evidence from the Thomas Coram research of large variations in financial and personal support in higher education. It is wrong and territorially unjust. The issue is how to get the measures needed by a comparable individual and still build in the discretionary elements that take into account the differences that young people have, which may require a process of topping up.

  John Hill: The legislative framework allows for—and indeed expects—a local authority to set out what assistance it gives in terms of money. This is more Martin's world than mine, but there have been endless numbers of inquiries on the advisory service side and part of the answer has been that that information should be published. This is all the stuff behind the pledge. The authorities do not show what they give and the inconsistency does not come out. To my thinking, this is an easy win. If they were inspected to see what that information was, they could show us. I happen to be from the local authority that is always quoted regarding the £2,000—that is where it came from. Actually, it says "up to £2,000", because leaving care requires different amounts for different young people. When we worked with our young people on the figure, we could not say £400. That is a standard amount for everybody, but if they have a disability or a child, additional amounts need to be spent.

  Martin Hazlehurst: On the point about publishing entitlement, our service had inquiries from two young people from the same local authority shortly after each other. They were receiving incredibly different support at university because they came from different parts of the county. Those problems do not exist only between authorities. The situation could depend on who your social worker is.

  Q298 Mr Stuart: Are there dangers in standardisation? If we are trying to mimic a genuine relationship with parents, they look at all sorts of measures. They look at perverse incentives—they do not want to incentivise young people to do the wrong thing so they deliberately do not give them the money, even though their need might be greater than that of the other sibling. They make a managerial decision; they do not publish a list of entitlements for kids to come along and point the finger at.

  Martin Hazlehurst: I agree with John about not standardising, but that does not mean that we cannot publish something that says, "These are the criteria that we will use in order to decide what financial support you need."

  Professor Stein: I think that young people do have a sense within their own families of comparative justice. "Everybody has those trainers at school, why haven't I? Why aren't I getting a laptop when I go to university?" They have a sense of comparative justice in relation to that need. How the parents respond is another matter.

  Q299 Mr Stuart: It is emotional blackmail mostly, until you phone up their friends' parents and find out that they have taken the same attitude as you. Can you comment on how care leavers, who need continuity and stability in their relationship with carers, can best be reconciled with the transition to adulthood? Obviously, you have specialist leaving care services.

  Professor Stein: That is an absolutely critical question. It is important to build on young people's continuity and stability. In an ideal world they should be settled within their foster care placement, for example, and maintain that stability which would provide continuity into adulthood. It would replicate a young person's normative journey to adulthood. You would not notice it; it would be seamless. It becomes more complicated when young people leave at a younger age and you have to build in a series of specialist services. That happens to people, and I am sure that people around this table and in the audience are aware that young people do break down at 15 or 16. Their relationship with their prime carer breaks down, whether that is their foster carer or someone in a children's home, and they cannot just be abandoned. What comes in is a series of specialist services that tries to pick up the pieces, and to replicate things and offer them positive ongoing support for the remaining period into adulthood. Some of those services are excellent. They have accrued people who are very gifted at working with others; they have peer mentors who do creative work, and they put a lot in, but even they would say that that is not a substitute for what should have happened to that young person in an ideal care situation. You can end up with that dilemma, when there is breaking-down in relationships, with young 15 or 16-year-olds often needing a series of specialist leaving care services. What is wrong is if a young person is settled but expectations are built up within the local authority or within the system for them to move on to specialist services. Even if they are settled and have stability and continuity, there is evidence of that having happened in the past. I am not sure about the current situation, but evidence from our research shows that it happens—that we build in extra movement to leaving care services, saying at 15 or 16, "You will move on to specialist leaving care services," even if they have good relationships within their foster care, children's service work and what have you. That is totally inappropriate; in my view, it is totally wrong.

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