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

Conclusions and recommendations

Planning and preparation

1.  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. (Paragraph 17)

Having a voice and a choice

2.  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. (Paragraph 23)

3.  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. (Paragraph 24)

The appointment of Personal Advisers

4.  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. (Paragraph 30)

5.  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. (Paragraph 31)

Maintaining positive relationships

6.  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. (Paragraph 37)

7.  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. (Paragraph 38)

'Other arrangements': Suitability, regulation and inspection

8.  'Other arrangements' for looked after 16 and 17 year olds are too often neither safe nor suitable, a situation exacerbated by the lack of a regulatory regime for this kind of accommodation. The diversity of the provision presents difficulties for the implementation of stronger, universal regulation, but the challenges are not so great as to justify the continuation of inadequate and ineffective quality assurances for 'other arrangements'. (Paragraph 51)

9.  While we welcome the emphasis that the single inspection framework places on the experience of individual children, we are concerned that a methodology based on tracking a sample of cases will fail to ensure the suitability of all 'other arrangements'. This would not be an acceptable approach for other settings, such as schools or residential children's homes, and it should not be acceptable for the accommodation in which some of society's most vulnerable young people are housed. (Paragraph 52)

10.  Quality standards will not suffice as a guarantee of safe and suitable accommodation. By focusing on and overcoming the obstacles to more comprehensive regulation, the Minister could demonstrate his commitment and determination to "do whatever it takes [...] to make sure that children themselves get what they deserve". (Paragraph 53)

11.  There are measures to ensure the quality and safety of settings for children and young people right across provisions: childminders, foster carers, residential children's homes, secure training centres, schools, sixth form colleges and further education colleges are all inspected. Yet accommodation that falls within the category of 'other arrangements' is not subject to individual regulatory oversight. What makes this distinction all the more illogical is that the 22% of looked after 16 and 17 year olds who live in such accommodation are among the most vulnerable young people in society. It is unacceptable for these young people, still legally defined as 'children' and in the care of their local authority, to be housed in unregulated settings. (Paragraph 54)

12.  We recommend that the DfE consult on a framework of individual regulatory oversight for all accommodation provision that falls within the category 'other arrangements' to ensure suitability while allowing for continuing diversity of provision. (Paragraph 55)

Banning the use of B&Bs

13.  Statutory guidance is clear that B&Bs are unsuitable for young people in care and should only be used in very particular, emergency situations. Nonetheless, we are deeply troubled by the continued use of B&Bs. Far from being merely unsuitable, B&Bs can present an environment which feels unsafe and threatening to a young person. (Paragraph 65)

14.  We recognise that a hastily introduced ban on B&Bs could lead to the unacceptable situation in which no placement can be offered to a young person who requires emergency accommodation. Nonetheless, an outright ban on B&Bs should be the long-term objective, to be achieved through stronger enforcement of the sufficiency duty, which explicitly requires the provision of surplus placements to meet emergency need. The creation of commissioning consortia should continue to be encouraged to assist with local authorities fulfilling this duty. (Paragraph 66)

15.  We recommend that the DfE consult urgently with local authorities on a reasonable timeframe in which to introduce a total ban on the use of B&Bs, alongside a strengthened requirement for local authorities to commission sufficient alternative emergency facilities. We also recommend that the DfE look further into models of emergency provision, such as that in Wiltshire, and consider contingency carers, as one way to mitigate the possible negative consequences of banning B&Bs. In the meantime, while setting up and running the consultation, the DfE should reiterate the message that B&Bs must only be used in extreme, emergency circumstances and for a very limited period of time, no more than a few days. (Paragraph 67)

16.  The DfE should require local authorities to report on their use of B&B accommodation for looked after young people, to include the length of stay, the age of the young person and the reason for being placed there. (Paragraph 68)

Leaving care at the age of 16 or 17

17.  While we welcome the reduction in the number of 16 and 17 year olds leaving care, we are concerned that there are still too many young people who leave care before they are ready to do so. We are particularly concerned that some 16 and 17 year olds feel pressured to leave care, because they believe themselves to be too old to stay in a children's home or other placement. Even more troubling is that this view may be held by professionals working with young people. Leaving care at 16 or 17 should be an exception rather than expectation and local authorities must continue to have close oversight and scrutiny of such decisions. (Paragraph 72)

Returning to care

18.  Despite often believing themselves to be ready to leave care and wanting to move to independent living, young people need to know that they have a safety net on which they can rely if life takes a turn for the worse. We acknowledge that legislation provides an option for young people to return to leaving care services or the care system when required. Local authorities must retain their sense of corporate parenting responsibility as a young person leaves care and transitions to adulthood, working with them to ensure that they are supported during this potentially turbulent time. (Paragraph 76)

19.  We recommend that the DfE remind local authorities of their duty to accept young people back into their care if a young person's decision to move to semi-independent living, leave care, or decline leaving care services proves to be premature. Local authorities should make young people aware of this option whenever they move to different levels of support and independence. (Paragraph 77)

Maximising support, minimising disruption

20.  We acknowledge the change to guidance, intended to extend leaving care services to the age of 25 for young people who are not in education or training, but it is not enough. We are concerned that the extension is restricted to those who demonstrate an ambition to return to education or training, either immediately or in the future. Care leavers who are neither in education or training, nor have any intention of returning to such activities, may be some of the most vulnerable in society and therefore the most in need of support. (Paragraph 81)

21.  We recommend that the DfE extend leaving care services to the age of 25 for all care leavers, regardless of whether they wish to return to education or training. (Paragraph 82)

Disruption to looked after young people mid-way through an academic year

22.  There is a risk that disruption before important exams could widen the already unacceptable gap in educational attainment between looked after children and all pupils. In addition, some children in care may be taking exams slightly later as they may have repeated a school year. Except in exceptional circumstances, it is unacceptable for a young person to be asked to change placement when they are partway through an academic year leading to public examinations. We are aware of regulations and guidance that minimise such disruption for young people in Key Stage 4. (Paragraph 87)

23.  It can also be highly unsettling for a young person to be made to leave care altogether when they turn 18. We are disappointed that there is no regulation, nor an explicit requirement in the revised guidance, to ensure stability in education or training as a young person approaches their 18th birthday. This is particularly anomalous given the raising of the participation age. Leaving care, or any other change, where it is neither the choice, nor in the best interest of the young person, must be postponed until after the end of the academic year in August. (Paragraph 88)

24.  We recommend that the DfE remind all local authorities of their statutory duty to postpone any unnecessary and disruptive placement change during Key Stage 4. We recommend a similar duty be introduced to ensure that a young person's transition out of care is also postponed until after the end of an academic year following a given birthday, including those decisions that are age-determined, where such a change is not the expressed choice of the young person. (Paragraph 89)

Residential children's homes

25.  We recognise that the extension of Staying Put to residential children's homes presents some practical and legal difficulties but these are not insurmountable. We welcome the DfE's work with the National Children's Bureau and The Who Cares? Trust to understand better the issues around extending Staying Put to the residential sector. (Paragraph 97)

26.  We are not convinced by the DfE's argument that the quality of children's homes must improve before young people are able to 'stay put'. Many young people are settled and thriving in residential children's homes. Forcing them to move at the age of 18 from a home judged 'good' or 'outstanding' by Ofsted to unregulated, sometimes unsuitable, settings is not only illogical in policy terms, but potentially harmful to the individual in question. (Paragraph 98)

27.  We recognise the resource constraints faced by local authority children's services departments. Nonetheless, the young people in question have already experienced troubled and disrupted childhoods and are far too important for their welfare not to be prioritised. Extending support for these vulnerable young people should be considered an investment, which will lead to better outcomes for the individuals in question and for society as a whole. (Paragraph 99)

28.  Young people living in residential children's homes should have the right to remain there beyond the age of 18, just as young people in foster now have the right to Stay Put until the age of 21. We recommend that the DfE extend Staying Put to residential children's homes. (Paragraph 100)

Other arrangements

29.  Legislation currently entitles care leavers to continuing accommodation support up to the age of 21. However, we believe that the provisions are unclear, insufficient and all too often overlooked, resulting in too many young people having much needed support terminated at the age of 18. (Paragraph 105)

30.  We recommend that the DfE issue explicit guidance on young people's right to stay in 'other arrangements' until they are 21. (Paragraph 106)

31.  Staying Close, properly implemented, can be a valuable and, for some young people, preferable alternative to Staying Put. When young people move on from a residential children's home to semi-independent or independent living, greater opportunity should be provided for them to stay close, in terms of physical proximity, continued provision of professional support and consistent personal connections with supportive friends and staff in the home. (Paragraph 107)

32.  We recommend that the DfE examine models such as 'No Wrong Door' in North Yorkshire. If they are shown to lead to improved outcomes for young people, the DfE should issue best practice guidance on a model of Staying Close. (Paragraph 108)

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Prepared 17 July 2014