1. On the basis of a report by the Comptroller and Auditor General, we took evidence from the Department for Education (the Department) and the Association of Directors of Children’s Services about care leavers’ transition to adulthood. We also took evidence from two young people who had experienced the care system.
2. Every year around 10,000 16- to 18-year-olds leave local authority care. Local authorities must support care leavers until they are 21 years old (or 25 if they are in education or training). The government wants care leavers to get the same care and support that their peers would expect from a reasonable parent, such as help finding a job or setting up home.
3. National and local government share responsibility for supporting care leavers. The Department for Education sets the overall framework for the delivery of support. It gives statutory guidance to local authorities, collects information on care leavers and makes data and research on good practice publicly available. Other departments support housing, training, welfare and other needs. Local authorities are required to support care leavers by, for example, finding them somewhere suitable to live and helping them into employment, education or training. Local authorities reported that they had spent £265 million on care leaver services in 2013–14.
4. In 2013, Ofsted began to inspect and report on local authorities’ services for care leavers, against a framework underpinned by the regulations and standards set by the Department for Education. The Department told us that having specific Ofsted judgments on care leavers’ services for the first time provided a national picture of the quality of services. Ofsted had found that 64% of local authorities’ services were inadequate or required improvement. The Department added that although there were some excellent examples of practice in individual parts of local government, the variability in quality of services was too high.
5. The Department acknowledged that much improvement was still required and that “the state as a whole has not done as well as it should have across this issue”. However, when we asked where the fault lay for the variability in quality of services, the Department could not point to a particular set of people. Although it only had information on variable quality for the last two years, it suspected that the problem had been there for decades.The Department also relies on local accountability arrangements, such as local authorities’ overview and scrutiny arrangements to assure the quality of care leaver services. But the Association of Directors of Children’s Services told us there was scope to also make more use of existing data and mechanisms to oversee the performance of local authorities.
6. In 2013 eight government departments joined together to publish the Care Leaver Strategy. This set out how they planned to work together to improve support for care leavers and address some of the unintended consequences of policies that were not joined up, including in housing, health, employment and education. While recognising the challenge of getting joined-up thinking across government on this issue, and commending the Department for trying to take it forward, we questioned the Department on how well the strategy had worked.
7. The Department told us that the first ever cross-government strategy on care leavers had been an important step and that, one year after the strategy had been launched, the Government had implemented the majority of commitments in the strategy. Along with the Department for Work & Pensions and the Ministry of Justice, it had improved the collection of data on and monitoring of care leavers. Both the Department and the Department for Communities and Local Government had also issued guidance to local authorities about care leavers entitlements, and the Ministry for Justice had appointed a Care Leavers’ Champion. But the Department recognised there was still more to do. It told us that the Government wanted to continue the approach of cross-government working and, for example, said that accommodation for care leavers would be a key area that government would be looking at in the future.
8. The Department for Education confirmed that it had had the ministerial lead on the care leavers strategy. However the Department acknowledged that there was no individual responsible for fixing the system and the National Audit Office’s analysis showed that although the eight departments working on the strategy had had a shared vision there were no clear government objectives or leadership of the strategy. The Association of Directors of Children’s Services told us that the strategy had established a baseline against which future improvements in care leaver services could be judged, but, like the Department, agreed that there was still more to do. Even since the strategy was launched in 2013, a different set of young people are now leaving care, and central government will need to help meet these young people’s additional and complex needs. For example, any 16 or 17-year-old who is on remand is automatically placed into care, and anyone who presents as homeless is automatically placed into care.
1 , Session 2015–16, HC 269, 17 July 2015
2 , para 1
3 , para 2
4 , paras 4, 2.5
5 ; , Figure 10,
8 , paras 4 and 2.6
10 ; , para 2.7
12 ; , Figure 6
Prepared 28 October 2015