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

3  The importance of stable relationships

The appointment of Personal Advisers

25. In addition to, and distinct from, providing independent advocacy, local authorities have a statutory duty to appoint a Personal Adviser (PA) for all eligible, relevant and former relevant young people.[58] Statutory guidance and regulations outline the core functions of a PA to advise, assist and support a looked after young person in their preparation for, and transition to, independence.[59] It is possible for a young person's PA to be a carer, or other professional, with whom they have an established relationship. Transition guidance states:

    Where a young person has developed a trusting relationship with a carer then it should be possible for the local authority to delegate aspects of the PA function to them, as it will clearly be in young people's interests to build on the positive relationships they have already established. However, in these circumstances the responsible authority must be clear as to the support that the carer will be providing and how any potential conflicts of interests might be managed.[60]

The guidance also highlights the value of continuity in the appointment of a PA:

    It will be good practice, where possible, for the young person to maintain the same PA from the age of 18 that was allocated to their support when they were an eligible or a relevant child.[61]

26. Marie Tucker, an independent social care consultant, told us that local authorities often interpret the legislation to mean that they have to provide the PA, with the result that they "will then introduce a new person into that young person's life".[62] She argued that this led to the social services sector "wasting significant resources" and created further disruption for young people.[63] She explained:

    Many children are supported by excellent foster carers and residential workers who have skills, experience and knowledge in how to effectively support young people into adulthood. Under legislation these individuals can carry out the personal advisor role. However, the majority of local authorities do not recognise this and will still appoint a local authority personal advisor (who often does not know the young person and who has to spend considerable time building up a relationship). This can sometimes be surplus to requirement, especially where the child's key carer is competent and willing to carry out the personal advisor functions. LA's should not automatically appoint a Local Authority personal advisor, but should first explore whether or not the child's key carer can carry out the role. This would benefit many young people and create efficiencies.[64]

Both Jonathan Stanley, CEO of the Independent Children's Homes Association (ICHA), and Sally Morris, Director of Young People and Families at Catch22, agreed with Marie Tucker on this issue. Jonathan Stanley argued that:

    [...] having another parenting function coming into [the young person's] life is not necessarily helpful.[65]

Sally Morris said:

    If a young person makes a connection, they should be able to nominate that person as the person that they want to support them [...] the PA role, it is a function rather than a role.[66]

27. Despite this, Sally Morris recognised that there would be some "practical difficulties" in implementing this sort of model, "particularly in very large local authorities, where you have to have some organisation principles". Nevertheless, she did not see these difficulties as insurmountable, but rather as presenting the need for "innovation and for different ways of providing [...] those less high-risk parts of children's services".[67]

28. The Minister agreed that:

    It is right to make it clear that 'personal adviser' is a function rather than a specific person who is appointed [...] There is nothing in the regulations or the statutory guidance to stop [local authorities] from using valuable resources, like foster carers [or someone who works in a children's home], as a de facto personal adviser [...].[68]

When questioned on the clarity of guidance, given local authorities' apparent recurring misinterpretation, the Minister undertook to:

    […] go back and look to see whether I am satisfied that it is clear enough. If it is not, I will want to encourage a wider pool of people to be able to fulfil that responsibility […].[69]

Supplementary written evidence from the DfE following the evidence session argued that:

    We […] are of the view that the section on the role of the personal adviser (PA) is sufficiently clear. The guidance says that where a young person has developed a trusting relationship with a foster or other carer then the local authority can delegate all or some aspects of the PA function to them.[70]

The DfE reiterated the need to consider how "any potential conflicts of interests might be managed" and stressed the importance of any appointed PA having the "required skills and the necessary time to undertake the role".[71]

29. Evidence from St Basils and Homeless Link stressed the importance of stable relationships:

    What young people say makes [sic] the difference is a trusting relationship with one or two key adults who are a consistent source of support for them, for example, their carers, their Personal Adviser, the key worker in supported accommodation. This support should start before they leave care and transition with them […].[72]

This message was echoed by young people we met, one of whom told us that what would have helped when making decisions was "A network of strong relationships that run with you throughout your whole journey". Yet others felt that there was no continuity of relationships when transitioning out of care. One young person said, "When you leave care you lose your social worker. You get a PA but there's no continuity […]".

30. The automatic appointment of a Personal Adviser as a separate and new role can in some cases be a source of disruption for young people and an inefficient use of stretched resources.

31. We recommend that the DfE clarify and strengthen guidance to the effect that local authorities must consider, as a first option, appointing an existing carer or other professional with whom a young person has an established relationship as a Personal Adviser, and involve the young person in this decision. Wherever possible, the same Personal Adviser should offer consistent support throughout a young person's preparation for and transition to independence.

Maintaining positive relationships

32. It is a statutory requirement that a pathway plan considers "The support to be provided to enable the child or young person to develop and sustain appropriate family and social relationships".[73] Transition guidance specifies that this dimension of the pathway plan must address:

    [An] Assessment of the young person's relationship with their parents and wider family.

    Contact with family-carried across from care plan.

    [The] Young person's relationship with peers, friendship network and significant adults [as well as a] Strategy to improve any negative features of these relationships.

    How all these relationships will contribute to the young person making a successful transition to adulthood and how they will assist with integration into the community that they identify with.[74]

33. Despite the stipulation that a social network be identified as part of pathway planning, our evidence suggested that this is not always achieved. During our informal discussions with young people and care leavers, we heard that many find the move to semi-independent, or independent, living to be a daunting prospect and challenging experience, not least because they often feel isolated, lonely and unsupported. In one case, a young person told us, "I had a phone but I didn't know who to call when I needed help". The Children's Society cited consultations it had held with care leavers, who "often report feeling [...] isolated and not having a social network to support them when they leave care".[75] Marie Tucker told us:

    For some young people, what becomes most important to them is their friends and their siblings […].[76]

34. The Children's Society believed that issues around social networks for young people who move to greater independence or leave care can be addressed by emphasising the role of pathway planning in identifying and developing important relationships:

    It is very important that pathway planning focuses on relationships and how to support young people to develop networks to the same extent as on issues around accommodation, education etc. For example, relations with siblings, family or friends should be explored and addressed in review meetings and pathway planning.[77]

Professor Mike Stein suggested an alternative way to improve the identification and promotion of sustainable relationships, recommending that:

    […] local authorities use family group conferences for older young people and teenagers, as they do in the child protection process, to identify positive family and friendship networks, which can be valuable for young people on their journey to adulthood.[78]

35. Relationships with siblings were raised with us as a particular issue. Unlike regulations for a care plan, there is no explicit requirement for a pathway plan to consider the importance of maintaining and promoting positive relationships with siblings.[79] We were struck, during our informal discussions, by the accounts we heard of young people not being encouraged or supported to maintain relationships with siblings, despite their strong desire to do so.

36. We asked the Minister what guidance there was to encourage young people's relationships with siblings when they moved to greater independence. He noted that guidance existed, but undertook to "look at the detail of what we have within the guidance that is to do with that particular area and see whether it fulfils its purpose".[80] His follow-up response pointed to the guidance on pathway planning, outlined above. He also noted:

    There is a specific requirement for the care plan to set out arrangements for the child or young person to maintain contact with brothers and sisters […].

    We have recently strengthened the sections on siblings in the care planning guidance which recognises that maintaining contact with siblings is reported by children to be one of their highest priorities.[81]

37. We acknowledge that existing regulations on pathway planning require the identification of, and support for, young people to develop and sustain "appropriate family and social relationships". In meeting this duty local authorities must look beyond relationships with carers and professionals and recognise that looked after young people may have established positive relationships with a range of people, including siblings and friends. We believe that in order to fulfil their purpose of promoting, developing and sustaining such important relationships, the pathway planning regulations should specifically refer to siblings.

38. The pathway planning guidance must be altered so as specifically to include relationships with siblings. We recommend that the DfE review how well pathway planning guidance fulfils its purpose to encourage, develop and sustain positive and stable family and social relationships.

58   The Children Act 1989, Section 23D Back

59   The Care Leavers (England) Regulations 2010 (SI 2010/2571), Regulation 8; see also Department for Education, The Children Act 1989 Guidance and Regulations Volume 3: Planning Transition to Adulthood for Care Leavers, October 2010, para 3.27 - 3.43 Back

60   Department for Education, The Children Act 1989 Guidance and Regulations Volume 3: Planning Transition to Adulthood for Care Leavers, October 2010, para 3.25 Back

61   Department for Education, The Children Act 1989 Guidance and Regulations Volume 3: Planning Transition to Adulthood for Care Leavers, October 2010, para 3.19 Back

62   Q7 Back

63   Marie Tucker (16P 6) para 3 Back

64   Marie Tucker (16P 6) para 3 Back

65   Q137 Back

66   Q141 Back

67   Q141 Back

68   Q163 Back

69   Q164 Back

70   Department for Education (16P 38) p 1 Back

71   Department for Education (16P 38) p 1 Back

72   St Basils and Homeless Link (16P 19) para 12 Back

73   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

74   Department for Education, The Children Act 1989 Guidance and Regulations Volume 3: Planning Transition to Adulthood for Care Leavers, October 2010, Figure 1 p 24-26 Back

75   The Children's Society (16P 30) para 4.2 Back

76   Q71 Back

77   The Children's Society (16P 30) para 4.2 Back

78   Q56 Back

79   The Care Planning, Placement and Case Review (England) Regulations 2010 (SI 2010/959) Regulation 5; see also Schedule 1(3) Back

80   Q167 Back

81   Department for Education (16P 38) p 2 Back

previous page contents next page

© Parliamentary copyright 2014
Prepared 17 July 2014