Examination of Witnesses (Questions 300-312)|
2 JUNE 2008
Q300 Mr Stuart: The children's
rights directors undertook a survey and found resentment among
children about a loss of contact with the carers or social workers
with whom they had built a relationship. What can we do to stop
Martin Hazlehurst: We can make
the changes that young people need to make the system more flexible.
If a young person has a good relationship with a social worker,
that is to be cherished. The system that is often used, of young
people automatically changing social workers at 16, needs to have
some degree of flexibility built into it. If a young person says,
"No, I want to stay where I am," that should be possible.
Similarly, although it probably happens less now than it used
to, foster carers are sometimes discouraged from keeping contact
with young people once they have left because other younger children
might be coming to live with them. I think that we have learned
that lesson; things are getting better. The other area, which
is not taken enough into account in discussions like this, is
young people's relationships with their birth and extended families.
Most young people in care have a relationship of some kind with
a member of their family. Those families will be around a lot
longer than the social workers, ex-foster carers or personal advisers.
That is another area that we need to exploit better; we need to
find out and be sure whether a young person has a positive relationship
with a member of their family, and to ensure that it is encouraged
Q301 Mr Stuart: May I ask about
care leavers with disabilities and what specific barriers they
might face in the transition to adulthood?
Professor Stein: There is evidence
from the research perspective that services for young disabled
people leaving care and those for other care leavers are sometimes
separate. At its worst, that can mean that disabled young people
cannot access the same kind of opportunities as other care leavers.
That is one of the problems that we picked up in research, as
did others who have carried out research in that area. Again,
practice is variable. Some authorities' disabled teams work closely
with leaving care teams and plan together. That is what should
happen, but sometimes it does not, and that is usually to the
disadvantage of disabled young people. It is usually they who
suffer by not having the opportunities given to other young people.
That should not happen, but it does.
Q302 Mr Stuart: Does the panel
agree that the key issue is the separation of services?
John Hill: The easiest way to
understand it is that the model of care that you provide has somebody
to lead that carea carer or a lead professional. Someone
has to lead that parental element in the care. The danger for
children with disabilities is that they get one of the rawest
deals among the care-leaving population. What happens is that
you remove any opportunity for that element as children with disabilities
go through the transitional plane and move on towards adult services.
That is not to say that we should not work together or co-ordinate
our children's and adult services much better than we do, but
the reality for adult services is that it is a very different
world. They are not setting out to provide a leaving care service.
There are local authorities that will say, "Our adults with
disabilities team does that." I know, from the experience
of working with colleagues in adult services, that those workers
can have 50, 60, 70 or 80 cases. They are assessors and commissioners
of services. That is what they do. They are care managers. That
is not a personal adviser's role. They are not there to be social
workers for someone. That is what the care leavers with a disability
lose. If a local authority is not very good, maybe you have not
lost much, but where the local authorities are good, that is a
significant loss. All the stuff that stimulates developmentsuch
as access to educational support assistancedoes not happen.
What about the contact with the larger care-leaver familythat
corporate family stuff? Where does that fit? They lose out on
all of that.The work that I have done previously, as a smaller
piece of research on a local authority, identified a significant
group that we did not even know aboutmostly, those who
were profoundly disabled, who came into care and needed specialist
personal adviser support, but who were out in private residential
placements, with the expectation that the person involved would
be some sort of personal adviser. Where is the independence? They
may well have a great relationship, they may be great at doing
it, but who is looking at that? Who is assessing whether that
is appropriate? Who is reviewing that process? Most of them were
not getting the personal adviser service. You can tell that I
am quite heated about it, but it is a real gap in the provision
and we have not done enough.
Q303 Lynda Waltho: I would like
to talk about accommodation. You said earlier, Martin, that that
was one of the most important issues and that research suggests
that a third of young people who leave care experience homelessness.
Why do care leavers end up in unsuitable accommodation? What is
the extent of the problem?
Martin Hazlehurst: Again, we have
to see it as that transition. At one point of time, when leaving
care, young people might need a fairly high level of support in
the accommodation that they are living in. Hopefully, as they
get a bit older, they will be able to make a transition and move
into more permanent, unsupported accommodation, or even backwards
and forwards. As I said, there is not enough quality assurance
for supported accommodation, particularly for the younger age
group. We are not absolutely sure that some places that young
people have been put in are safe. Certainly, Rainer did some research
that found that quite a significant number of young people said
that they did not feel safe where they were living. Largely, those
were young people who were put in hostels of various kinds. We
need to be certain about that. At the moment, the standard varies.
As with everything we have said this afternoon, some local authorities
do really well. They commission accommodation of a kind that they
want for young people, they put a lot of effort into providing
supported lodging schemes, or they put a lot of effort into developing
other models of support. However, with many other local authorities,
it seems to be done on a wing and a prayer. It is a case of what
is available for the young person at the time that they need it.
One of the things that we worked with peers on, when the Children
and Young Persons Bill was in the Lordsand that we talked
to the Bill team about, ready for their work in the Commonsis
far greater planning of the kinds of accommodation that young
people need. The Bill contains a clause to ensure that the local
authority has a range of diverse placements available for young
people in care. We would like to see that extended at least to
supported accommodation for young people who are leaving care.
The issues for young people who need permanent accommodation are
often the same kinds of issues that cover anyone wanting to find
somewhere to live. In some areas, yes, of course, people can have
a council flat, but in many areas that is an impossibility, because
there are not the council flats. But children's services and housing
departments can work together. They can plan to see what will
happen for young people as they leave care. We know who those
young people are. It is different for homeless young people who
just turn up at housing departments, but we have very often known
young people who are leaving care for years, so we should be able
to plan for them. It is about housing departments and children's
services working together. If social housing is simply not available,
we should have creative options. In some areas, the private rented
sector provides the only accommodation available. Leaving care
services have good arrangements with private landlordsthey
trust them and know that they will always provide decent-quality
housing. However, in some areas, that does not exist. For us,
the key issues are quality assurance in supported accommodation
and planning for permanent accommodation. Nor should we assume
that a young person wants a council flat. That gets my goat. That
someone has been in care does not mean that they want to live
in a council flatnot everyone does. That is also about
planning and preparationwe must ask what we need and think
far enough ahead.
Professor Stein: The ones who
have the worst outcomes tend to be young people trying to manage
on their own at 16. Often, their lives have not been easy and
they have had a wide range of difficult experiences. The degree
of support that they need would mean that you would have to move
in with them. Imagine a 16-year-old care leaver whose whole life
has been troubled trying to manage and cope on their own. They
do not fail because of the bricks and mortar, but because the
policy of getting them to manage on their own at 16 and cope with
their own accommodation is wrongthey need a degree of support.
Young people going on to higher education get support, including
family supportthey can take their washing home, for exampleand
a range of campus services, but we expect 16-year-olds care leavers
who are troubled by past family relationships to cope. It is understandable
if they break down. The policy needs to be questioned, which is
linked to the issue of getting the placement right so that people
can remain and leave care more gradually in supported accommodation,
which was raised by Steve, Martin and John.
John Hill: A lot of these answers
tie in together.
Professor Stein: Coherence.
John Hill: There would not be
quite the same issue with the numbers in unsuitable accommodation
if we could have some easy wins on foster-caring policies. Some
local authorities push kids out at ages 16 to 17 into accommodation
that they might survive in, but which is not appropriate. That
might have a knock-on positive effect on the amount of suitable
accommodation for young people, but would a good parent put their
child in such a situation? Nothey would have to have people
around them. Placements can fail or break down, and some local
authorities fund staff around the clock to be with kids who live
out because they may, for example, have destroyed their foster
care home. They have to leavethere is no alternative and
no one else will take themso local authorities will pay
staff to stay with them 24 hours a day, even if they are over
18 years old. It is not perfect, but it is a better model than
leaving people in unsuitable accommodation. I echo Martin's point
about the lack of regulationthere is little regulation,
monitoring and knowledge. I have had great relationships with
supported accommodation providers, but it is hard to staff them.
The staff they have are not incredibly well trained or paid, but
we expect them to provide care. That is difficult. Asking people
to provide a roof over somebody's head is one thing. The accommodation
should have a reasonable standard of health and safety, be decorated
and the sockets in the walls would need to be in good conditionbut
we cannot expect people to care. That is our job. Often, however,
we expect them to do the care as well when they are not skilled
to do that.
Martin Hazlehurst: As for what
John said about the savings in respect of young people leaving
care early, if local authorities think that moving a young person
from foster care to supported accommodation will save them money,
I worry about the quality of that supported accommodation. I do
not know whether Steve can tell us how much it costs to keep someone
in a Foyer for a week.
Steve Hillman: It is not cheap.
Martin Hazlehurst: The idea that
money is being saved by letting young people leave early is worrying.
Steve Hillman: A person at Foyer
told me about a young care leaver whom he had worked with recently
as a way in which to exemplify something that they see frequently.
When a 16-year-old care leaver moved into the Foyer, that person
did not want to be there because they did not want the conditional,
contractual relationship on which the Foyer is based. The person
would rather have gone to a B and B because they just wanted the
freedom to do what they wanted, so they got themselves evicted
from the Foyer by trashing the place, not paying the rent and
so forth. The person went to a B and B and a few months later
went back to the Foyer and said to the manager, "I am so
pleased you have let me back in. I really want to be here now.
Now I have found out what it is like out there, I want to come
back." Some individuals almost need to go out into the big,
wide world, find out how awful it is, and then come back. They
are, in some ways, more motivated to engage with the Foyer process.
Q304 Lynda Waltho: What about
the Homelessness Act 2002? Is that a help or a hindrance? I am
thinking particularly about making oneself intentionally homeless.
From what I can see from research, that again varies throughout
the country. In some cases, one refusal of a particular property
counts as making oneself intentionally homeless. What is your
knowledge of that?
Martin Hazlehurst: The very idea
of someone who is leaving care having to go down a homelessness
route to get housed is something that should not happen in the
first place. We still hear of places where the recognised route
into housing is, "Go and pretend that you are homeless".
That is changing slowly, but it should not be like that. Agreements
and protocols can be negotiated between children's services and
housing services. When they are negotiated, that can make a difference,
but it often depends on the relationships between the particular
officers who are implementing them. Being intentionally homeless
is a real problem. People tell us that if a young person gets
a flat or is housed at 18, but is not ready, makes a mess and
is intentionally homeless because they have not paid their rent,
it is a big problem. Doing what Steve said happens. The fact that
going back to supported accommodation and getting themselves together
prevents them from having another go is another real problem,
but I do not think that it should be a problem.
Q305 Lynda Waltho: Do you think
that they should almost be exempt from that category?
Martin Hazlehurst: Yes.
Professor Stein: The guidance
makes young people in care one of the priority areas. Some revision
to the guidance might be needed. When authorities work round their
protocols and so on, the guidance is used to offer young people
appropriate housing. It seems a shame that, in the case of a breakdown,
it could not be looked at in relation to sustaining accommodation.
Some clever lawyer would have a word for this, but perhaps the
guidance can be adjusted.
John Hill: My experience of working
with young people in such a situation is that together you have
worked on the protocol, so you have it right to start with. You
do not have young people homeless anyway because you are part
of the council and access resources before you even count anyone
as homeless. If you are working closely together, you can stop
the intentional stuff. You can actually say, "I am leaving
my tenancy." You can officially do it another way round.
We can say, "We are going to give the tenancy back now. It
is not working for the young person. We are going to put them
back in supported accommodation, and then we shall come back at
a later time." You can have that as part of the protocol.
There are reasonably easy ways round it, but my experience was
that you had to spend quite a lot of time educating housing people
about their responsibilitieswhich is part of the job, because
we are supposed to be the lead in terms of corporate parenting
anywayand trying to show them that, actually, this group
of young people is different and should be their priority because
of the proper parenting role. There are some good examples of
good housing protocols that include all those elements, such as
the new choice-based letting schemes and those sorts of things,
where there is only one optionone offer of a flatbut
where people make sure that they are ready beforehand, see what
sort of flats are out there, and then get a deal for their housing.
Under such schemes, people have a look at the flat first and if
they think that it will not work, they should not even bid because
if they say no when it is given to them, they do not get anything
else. However, interventions can be made. It is almost as if you
are parenting the child as a member within the council and you
can get something slightly different because it is your own child.
It does not work everywhere, by any means, but it works well in
several places and other local authorities could learn a lot from
those places. But it takes a lot of effort to set it up.
Lynda Waltho: Thanks very much.
Q306 Paul Holmes: Just picking
up on that last point, you were saying that you are part of the
council, so you access the council resources and get young people
sorted with accommodation before they leave care. But is there
a noticeable difference between unitary authorities and two-tier
authorities, where social services is not part of the council
dealing with the housing?
John Hill: Yes. It is a really
Q307 Paul Holmes: Are there good
examples where two-tier authorities get round that easily, or
are you saying that we should have unitaries everywhere?
John Hill: No. There are pros
and cons there, too, are there not? I live in the area of an authority
that is trying to go for unitary status at the moment, and I am
not so sure that that is the right way. I know the problematic
side, although Martin might be able to mention more positive examples.
The stuff that I have managed is in inner London authorities,
where it is much easier. However, there is an issue there, too,
because you have to make relationships with other councils' housing
departments, as young people cross boundaries quickly in London
and, although they might be only half a mile across the road,
they could be in Newham or Waltham Forest, for example, or somewhere
Martin Hazlehurst: If you speak
to anyone who is responsible for managing leaving care services
or for the development of housing options for young people, they
will tell you that it is a constant juggling act if you have seven
or eightin Lancashire, 10unitary or district housing
authorities with which to negotiate. Inevitably, at any one time,
your relationship with one, two or three of them is better than
that with the others. Some district councils just will not contemplate
the very idea that there are any young people in care in their
districts, so, yes, it is an issue. I was doing some work recently
in Wiltshire, which has four district councils and a county council
at the moment, but is going to be a single unitary authority.
Because the county council and four district councils had together
adopted a public service agreement target on homeless young people,
those bodies had to work together and they were doing so well.
That work combined with the movement towards the unitary authority.
So, it can be done, if there is the will across a county for all
the authorities to come together.
Q308 Paul Holmes: We now have
a presumption in law that looked-after children will be given
priority for moving into schools. Are we are moving towards a
similar presumption on housing? Will that make a big difference?
Are we there yet with that?
Martin Hazlehurst: We are not
there. Most housing protocols will, while not going as far as
saying that young people leaving care have the first call on housing,
try to ensure that they at least receive something. Where council
housing or housing association accommodation is available, most
local authorities are moving towards having it available for young
people. However, there are areas with protocols where that is
just not available. I am thinking more of the rural areas, where
that is unheard of in respect of one-bedroom or studio council
flats. Yes, things have improved, but most people doing the job
will still talk about their relationship with the housing department
as much as anything elseit is an issue for everyone. Whether
things are good, bad or indifferent, it just takes a lot of work,
as John says.
John Hill: Each local authority
has its pyramids for priority housing need. Of course, it is the
homeless who get the first call on housing in local authorities,
because of the quotas and all that stuff. I am not saying that
that is wrong, just that I have generally been able to get people
into the second box. So, these people do become a priority, and
that is not inappropriateit is a pretty fair cop.
Q309 Paul Holmes: Are we too pessimistic
overall when we look at this? When the Care Matters Green
Paper came out, Mike, you went into the national press saying,
"It's all too negative. The measures that have been used
are too crude."
Professor Stein: Did I say that?
Paul Holmes: Yes.
Professor Stein: Right, okay.
Yes, in The Guardian. I am glad you asked about that because
I feel quite strongly that the way we measure performance does
not do justice to the progress made by many young people who are
looked after or who have been in care. We tend to use educational,
normative measures at a particular point in time as the only measure.
I am not against them being used, but we use them as the only
measure of progress. Some young people make an enormous journey
just by re-engaging with education when they are 14 or 15. They
might have been out of education, or they might have had a difficult
family that has affected their learning and they might have had
troubles at school. They then get in touch with one of these wonderful
leaving care services, such as What Makes The Difference?, and
they get engaged again. I recently heard about a lovely scheme
in Norfolk that was getting people back into learning, but it
will not have any ticks under the performance framework that is
currently used. My argument is that we should have progress measures
that take account of young people's starting points on entry into
carewhere they are at. That is the first thing. The second
thing is that we should look at not only their education record,
but issues relating to their well-being. Thirdly, we should look
at how far they have travelled on their journey by the time that
they leave care and, ideally, at later points. If we are talking
about extending the transition stage to 25, it would be good to
look at what happens later. Evidence from research studiesparticularly
European studiesshows that quite a lot of young people
catch up later, which is understandable, given their troubles
and their family and care experiences. However, we never capture
that. This will presumably link with the lifelong learning agendahaving
an education and so on. There is a strong argument for looking
at progress over a longer period. So, we need to look at starting
points on entry to care, to link education and well-being, and
to look at a longer period. That would do these things justice.
My real worry when I wrote in The Guardian about the current
way we measure performance is that it does not capture a lot of
the experiences that people have because it focuses on just the
educational normative measure. I would not abandon the normative
measure; it is important to have it. However, as a single measure,
it is extremely limited, and I feel very strongly about that.
Q310 Paul Holmes: Anybody else
Steve Hillman: I would echo everything
that Mike said, but I would extend it by saying that this goes
way beyond care leavers. The situation that he has just described
is the situation for many tens of thousands of disconnected young
people in this country. They are some distance from the PSA regime
under which they sit, which makes it difficult for organisations
working with them to resource the work that they do. However,
that does not mean to say that that work is not valuable.
John Hill: Let me make a quick
point about incentives through things such as targets. One thing
that we found was that those were not incredibly strong. If you
take your group of those who are not in education, employment
or trainingthose who are not in anythingand the
group of care leavers, there will be very positive measures to
ensure that if young people want to come back and ask for educational
support, they can. However, the work that has to go into getting
them to come back to ask is excluded from the measurements. We
know from our work with NEET young people what will happen if
we do not do that work. It is such work that it is so important
to measure. If you are going to get people to re-engage, it will
take them much longer to catch up and then succeed. On the targets
that are setthis is one of the things we have harped on
about a lotthere are some easy wins because local authorities
gather information much later than the Government want to collect
it. They could easily collect information at 21 on education,
contact and suitable accommodation because they are supposed to
provide personal advisers until then for most kids. However, we
do not ask then; we ask at 19. There are some quite easy wins
whereby you could start to gather more information and push the
boundaries of what local authorities are going to do for those
who are less interested in doing a course.
Q311 Paul Holmes: Mike, you mentioned
looking at comparable European research. In general, how do we
compare? We have heard from other witnesses that it is hard to
make comparisons, particularly because European countries tend
to take a lot more kids into care than we dowe see it as
a last resort.
Professor Stein: As you have said,
there are differences in relation to the legal frameworks and
cultures. There are no easily transferable solutions, but it is
quite interesting that there are some common messages. Let me
focus specifically on your straight question: how do we compare?
In a way, we are better than some and not as good as others. Generally
speaking, most European countries, and other countries internationally,
face similar challenges with this highly vulnerable group of young
people. There are high levels of social exclusion. Also, from
the research, we have just published a book, I have given a flyer
to a member of your staff, based on the experiences.
Q312 Chairman: Unfortunately,
Hansard cannot read that piece of paper, so you might like
to tell us the title of the book.
Professor Stein: Young People's
Transitions from Care to Adulthood. We have identified a kind
of diamond of outcome groups. There is a group that moves on quite
successfullyI will not rehearse all the messages again
because I have mentioned stability, continuity, family links and
all those thingsand a middle group, who are young people
who kind of get by. What makes a difference to the lives of that
group is the quality of services that they get. They could go
either way; they could go on successfully, but take a bit longer,
or maybe go down a bit. The group at the bottom of the diamond,
who are struggling quite a bit, often have very complex needs
and have usually had the most difficult pre-care experiences.
They have often moved around a lot in care and often their mental
health and emotional needs have not been met, which raises issues
about the relationship between the Department and, for example,
child and adolescent mental health services. That whole other
area is critical. From reading the transcripts, I think you have
looked at that area. Generally speaking, there is that kind of
diamond. It is not fixed; people can move within it, and that
probably captures something about quantities as well[Interruption.]
Chairman: I am slightly disconcerted
by the Division in the House because it would take us away for
20 minutes. I want to wrap this up before we vote.
Professor Stein: The final point
about that is just that most of the different countries have some
balance between universal services for all young people and specialist
services. It is important that that balance is right. If we veer
too much towards specialist services, we tend to forget universal
services and how young people from care can integrate and age
out of care in an ordinary way. The link between universal and
specialist services is quite an important message.
Chairman: Thank you very much. That is
a good note on which to finish. I thank our witnesses for an excellent
session of evidence.