Into independence, not out of care: 16 plus care options - Education Committee Contents

2  Planning, preparation and having a voice

Planning and preparation

11. The 1989 Act requires local authorities to prepare a pathway plan for all eligible children[23] and to continue it for all relevant[24] and former relevant[25] young people. The Care Leavers (England) Regulations 2010 stipulate the contents of this plan[26] and the 1989 Act specifies that it be kept under "regular review".[27] The DfE noted that young people have a new right to request a review of their pathway plan.[28] The plan should set out the necessary actions to be taken by:

    […] the responsible authority, the young person, their parents, their carers and the full range of agencies, so that each young person is provided with the services they need to enable them to achieve their aspirations and make a successful transition to adulthood.[29]

12. One issue, specified to be dealt with in the pathway plan and review, is "A programme to develop the practical and other skills necessary for the child or young person to live independently".[30] Statutory guidance, Care Planning Placement and Case Review (hereafter 'Care Planning guidance'), asserts that before a young person moves to an unregulated placement or leaves care:

    […] the young person, his/her parents where appropriate, and the professionals responsible for supporting the young person to prepare [...] should be able to confirm that the young person has developed the skills necessary to manage any transition to more independent living arrangements where, as a result, less support will be provided.[31]

13. Despite local authorities' duties being made explicit in legislation and guidance, evidence suggested that planning and preparation for moving to greater independence or leaving care are often insufficient. A report by a coalition of voluntary and community sector organisations, Still Our Children: Case for reforming the leaving care system in England (2013), stated:

    […] preparation is often poor, and planning inadequate. Many young people lack the life skills and support they need. Young people's transitions from care to adulthood are often 'accelerated and compressed' and for many leaving care can be 'instant adulthood'.[32]

This is supported by the finding published in the Children's Rights Director's Report, After Care (2012), that "Nearly half (49%) [of care leavers] thought they had been prepared badly or very badly [for independent life]".[33]

14. Evidence to our inquiry highlighted several areas of particular concern, which centred on the sufficiency of local authorities' undertaking of planning and preparation and the engagement with young people throughout this process. On the former point, witnesses questioned the quality, effectiveness and implementation of pathway planning and the age at which the process begins.[34] The first concern is supported by Ofsted's finding, following inspections conducted under the new framework, that "the quality of support plans remains a significant deficit in too many local authorities".[35] Other witnesses doubted whether young people have their plan regularly reviewed, even when requested,[36] and further concerns focused on the lack of readiness for independent living, including practical skills, such as cooking and financial management, as well as emotional readiness and social capital.[37] Professor Mike Stein argued that young people lack awareness of, and engagement with, pathway planning.[38]

15. Ofsted's single inspection framework, introduced in November 2013,[39] now includes a specific grade judgement on local authorities' services to care leavers. According to Ofsted, the Inspections of services for children in need of help and protection, children looked after and care leavers framework "look[s] closely at early planning and preparation for independence for looked after young people".[40] It focuses on the experiences of individual children and young people, "as explored through a representative sample of tracked and sampled cases".[41] Findings gathered in this way "form the core of the inspection evidence", though other sources of evidence are used to "triangulate evidence and to reach judgements", [42] including:

    [...]case file analysis, direct testimony from young people and others involved in their care and support, relevant performance data and evaluation of the quality of corporate parenting.[43]

Natasha Finlayson, CEO of The Who Cares? Trust, told us that the framework's inclusion of a specific judgement on the experiences and progress of care leavers:

    [...] should make a positive difference [...] because local authorities should be held to account for the preparation they are giving care leavers.[44]

16. When asked what the DfE is doing to improve the planning and preparation for young people moving to greater independence, the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Children and Families, Edward Timpson MP, told us that the Transition guidance on pathway planning was strengthened in 2011 to make:

    […] clear what local authorities have to do to ensure that such planning is done in a way that meets the needs of the individual young person.[45]

The Minister also pointed to the recent change in the law, which requires the decision for any 16 or 17 year old to leave care to be signed off by the Director of Children's Services.[46]

17. Despite strengthened guidance from the DfE and more rigorous scrutiny of young people's readiness to leave care by local authorities, evidence to us suggests that the quality and effectiveness of planning and preparation for a young person's transition to greater independence is too often inadequate. We therefore welcome Ofsted's single inspection framework and believe that it has the potential to bring about improvements, by including an assessment of early planning and preparation. It is essential that the testimony of young people and other sources are used to complement evidence from tracked and sampled cases of looked after young people and care leavers, to ensure that Ofsted has a comprehensive picture of the quality of pathway planning and preparation for all young people.

Having a voice and a choice

18. Young people told The Children's Society that:

    […] the quality of [pathway] planning depended on how much young people were involved in the process and whether there was a choice in what support and accommodation were available locally.[47]

Further evidence to us suggested that young people are often given neither a choice of placement, nor the opportunity to voice a preference or grievance. We were told by several of the young people with whom we met, "I had no choice". One young person said, "Decisions are made about us, without us". The Who Cares? Trust reported that young people aged 16 or 17:

    […] often do not have a choice about where they live and can find it hard to refuse the accommodation […] despite having good reasons for not wanting to live there […].[48]

This lack of empowerment was also noted by The Howard League for Penal Reform:

    […] many young people do not think that they can challenge the adequacy of their accommodation and support.[49]

19. The Coram Group found that:

    The young person's views are frequently not adequately considered and advocacy support is vital to ensure this happens [...].[50]

It recommended that:

    Independent advocacy must be offered to all looked after young people, unless they opt out, at their LAC review prior to a decision being made to place them in 'other arrangements' so that their wishes and feelings are heard and their rights are met.[51]

20. Other witnesses agreed that independent advocacy could be a valuable service for looked after young people, enabling them to have their views heard during important decision-making processes. The Children's Society said:

    We believe that it is of crucial importance that all vulnerable children aged 16+ have access to an independent advocate to help them navigate the system, ensure they are heard in decisions made about them and help them challenge service providers not fulfilling their obligations.[52]

21. Section 26A of the 1989 Act imposes duties on local authorities in respect of the provision of advocacy services. Transition guidance states that:

    All looked after children must be made aware of their entitlement to independent advocacy support and how they can access it. This entitlement is not just for when a looked after child or care leaver wishes to complain, it includes situations where young people need to make representations about the quality of the care and support provided by their responsible authority.[53]

    Access to advocacy will be particularly important where the local authority's decision-making processes concern the child's readiness to move from their care placement.[54]

Despite this statutory duty and widespread recognition of the important role that advocacy services play, The Children's Society found that:

    [...] advocacy support is not always offered to young people [...] Many children are not told about their right to advocacy support and not all local authorities commission such services.[55]

This message was reinforced during our discussions with care leavers and looked after young people, many of whom, although agreeing on the value of having an independent advocate, were neither aware of their right to access this service, nor knew of the relevant organisations to approach. We asked young people what would help them when making decisions and one young person responded, "Knowing about advocates and people who can fight for your rights". Another young person told us, "Google becomes your best friend". This further highlighted a lack of awareness on where to go and who to speak to in order to find out about rights and entitlements.

22. The Minister acknowledged young people's lack of awareness of their right to request a review of their pathway plan. He also noted the important relationship between young people being aware of their rights and having access to appropriate support services:

    […] too many children and young people either are not aware of the change [giving them a right to request a review of their pathway plan] or, when they do seek a request, find it very difficult to get the support that they need to see it through to a proper review and conclusion.[56]

He cited the DfE's collaboration with the National Youth Advocacy Service (NYAS) and Voice, to "ensure […] better independent advocacy, which is still nowhere near where it needs to be [...]".[57]

23. The improved availability of independent advocacy services is central to ensuring that young people have a voice in the process of pathway planning and a real choice in where they live. We welcome the DfE's work with the National Youth Advocacy Service and Voice to ensure better advocacy services. Greater availability of independent advocacy must be accompanied by efforts to increase awareness among young people of their right to access such services and to improve their knowledge of how and where to do so. There are also issues around young people's general lack of awareness of all their rights and entitlements.

24. The DfE must ensure that looked after young people approaching independence are fully and effectively informed of their rights and entitlements and given a genuine choice of accommodation; and the DfE must do more to ensure and monitor the take-up of best practice amongst local authorities.

23   The Children Act 1989, Schedule 2 Part II Section 19B Back

24   The Children Act 1989, Section 23B Back

25   The Children Act 1989, Section 23C  Back

26   The Care Leavers (England) Regulations 2010 (SI 2010/2571), Schedule 1; see also The Care Planning, Placement and Case Review (England) Regulations 2010 (SI 2010/959), Schedule 8 Back

27   The Children Act 1989, Section 23B(7) Back

28   Department for Education (16P 29) para 14 Back

29   Department for Education, The Children Act 1989 Guidance and Regulations Volume 3: Planning Transition to Adulthood for Care Leavers, October 2010, para 3.5 Back

30   The Care Leavers (England) Regulations 2010 (SI 2010/2571), Schedule 1; see also The Care Planning, Placement and Case Review (England) Regulations 2010(SI 2010/959), Schedule 8 Back

31   Department for Education, The Children Act 1989 Guidance and Regulations Volume 2: Care Planning, Placement and Case Review, March 2010, para 5.25 Back

32   Barnardo's, Still our children: the case for reforming the leaving care system in England: briefing for the House of Commons report stage of the Children and Families Bill, May 2013, para 12 Back

33   Ofsted, After Care: Young people's views on leaving care Reported by the Children's Rights Director for England, March 2012, p 24 Back

34   Q6; see also Q41 and Catch22 (16P 26) para 4.3 Back

35   Ofsted (16P 35) para 10 Back

36   Q6 Back

37   The Who Cares? Trust (16P 12) para 5.2; see also Barnardo's (16P 16) para 3.8, St Basils and Homeless Link (16P 19) para 20, and The Care Leavers Association (16 P27) para 5 Back

38   Q6 Back

39   Ofsted, Ofsted's single inspection takes effect, 7 November 2013 Back

40   Ofsted (16P 35) para 8 Back

41   Ofsted (16P 37) para 3 Back

42   Ofsted (16P 37) para 3 Back

43   Ofsted (16P 37) para 4 Back

44   Q14 Back

45   Q159 Back

46   Q159 Back

47   The Children's Society (16P 30) para 4.1 Back

48   The Who Cares? Trust (16P 12) para 2.1; see also Just for Kids Law (16P 13) para 1.4, and The Howard League for Penal Reform (16P 25) para 36 Back

49   The Howard League for Penal Reform (16P 25) para 36 Back

50   The Coram Group (16P 24) para 14  Back

51   The Coram Group (16P 24) para 28 Back

52   The Children's Society (16P 30) para 2.6 Back

53   Department for Education, The Children Act 1989 Guidance and Regulations Volume 3: Planning Transition to Adulthood for Care Leavers, October 2010, para 2.14 Back

54   Department for Education, The Children Act 1989 Guidance and Regulations Volume 3: Planning Transition to Adulthood for Care Leavers, October 2010, para 2.15 Back

55   The Children's Society (16P 30) para 4.6 - 4.7 Back

56   Q162 Back

57   Q162 Back

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Prepared 17 July 2014