Care leavers' transition to adulthood Contents

2 The quality and cost of services

9. In 2013–14, 41% of 19 year-old care leavers were not in education, employment or training (NEET) compared with 15% of all 19-year-olds. The proportion of care leavers who were NEET was at its highest since 2001–02.14 The Department agreed that this rate was too high and rising at a time when the NEET rate overall was falling.15 In 2013–14 only 6% of care leavers were in higher education compared with one-third of all 19-year-olds.16 The Department told us that prior educational attainment is the biggest predictor of whether young people are likely to become NEET and that the NEET rate for care leavers with five good GCSEs, including English and maths, is 15% — the same as the rest of the population.17

10. The Department also told us that the increase in the proportion of care leavers who were NEET was in part because more care leavers were not coming into care until their mid-teens, and the care system therefore had less time to have an effect on improving their prospects.18 To help get care leavers into work, we heard that the government is talking to Barnardo’s about the charity’s idea for the Government to reserve 20,000 apprenticeships for 16- to 18-year-olds from the care system. The Department considers that as some care leavers may not yet be job ready, it may be better for care leavers to join traineeships first, to prepare them for a subsequent apprenticeship.19

11. In March 2014, for those care leavers aged 19 to 21 with whom the local authority was in touch, only 93% were judged by their local authorities to be living in ‘suitable’ accommodation’.20 Care leavers told us about accommodation they were placed in which did not meet their needs, was not safe, and where they were left lonely and without support.21 But we heard that local authorities face challenges in providing the full range of housing options required by care leavers, from emergency placements, through to lodgings and semi-independent and independent housing. In response, the Department for Communities and Local Government is about to issue new guidance to local authorities about how to develop housing choices for care leavers. It draws in part on good practice examples such as Brighton, where the children services department, the housing department and providers have come together with clear protocols to develop clear and usually care leaver-specific pathways.22

12. The Department recognised the potential role of social impact bonds in providing new approaches to improving outcomes for care leavers and was working with the Centre for Social Impact Bonds to identify opportunities in this area. The Department told us about the Fair Chance Fund, jointly run by the Department for Communities and Local Government and the Cabinet Office, which aimed to get young people who were not in education, employment or training into work and into good housing. Another scheme was the Centre for Social Impact Bonds Youth Engagement Fund which aimed to support 8,000 disadvantaged young people into work and education, including care leavers. The Department said that such schemes were difficult to get started, but told us that the new Government had made a commitment to scale up the use of social impact bonds.23

13. The Department told us that it has a basket of indicators for measuring the performance of the system as a whole, including on how many care leavers are NEET and living in suitable accommodation; and the age at which young people leave care.24 But there are no official statistics for care leavers on unemployment; experience of homelessness; or criminal activity.25 Although many care leavers have high mental and physical health needs, the data on health outcomes are also poor. The Department for Education told us that the Department of Health is committed to improving data around access, waiting times and outcomes. Care leavers in particular struggle to make the transition from child and adolescent mental health services into adult services, although the Department told us that the latest NHS England guidance is much more focused on smoothing this transition.26

14. The Department for Education accepted that government data on care leavers’ outcomes could be improved. It told us that in the future it plans to match its national pupil data (which flags children in care) with other information, including that of the Department for Work & Pensions and Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs so that it will have better information with which to monitor the destinations of children after leaving care. By matching data across government services, the Department will be able to work out, for example, the impact of length of time in care or age entering care on the success of their transition to adulthood. The Department also agreed that better data on outcomes will also be needed to test the success of alternative ways to provide services to care leavers.27

15. The Department, through Ofsted’s inspections, focuses on the quality rather than the cost of care leaver services.28 The Department told us that the inspections had shone a spotlight on good and poor practice among the local authorities so far inspected.29 However, overall Ofsted had found that 64% of care leaver services were inadequate or required improvements and only one local authority — Trafford — had outstanding services for care leavers.30 We were concerned that, with such a high proportion of local authorities providing services that had not reached Ofsted’s ‘good’ rating, there was systemic rather than occasional, local failure. The Department told us that it only formally intervenes when Ofsted judged children’s services as a whole at a local authority were inadequate. The Department was currently intervening in 24 local authorities on the basis of inadequate ratings for children’s services as a whole. In the most serious two cases of failure it had removed, or was in the process of removing, children’s services from local authority control.31 The Department has not intervened in any local authority solely because care leaver services were inadequate.32

16. The National Audit Office reported there is no correlation between spend and the quality of care leaver services.33 However, there are also concerns about the accuracy, completeness and comparability of reported spending on care leavers. The data that were available show that the cost of supporting a care leaver appears to vary hugely, even between neighbouring local authorities. The Department told us that this may partly be due to the poor quality of the data, but added that it also raised questions about how the sector can get better at benchmarking cost and quality. From its own experience, however, the Department was clear that where a local authority’s services were inadequate, it was rarely the case that this was mainly a financial issue. Good services depended more on the quality of the workforce and the leadership of the workforce.34

16 C&AG’s Report, para 1.20

20 C&AG’s Report, para 1.15

25 C&AG’s Report, para 15

30 Q 29; C&AG’s Report, Figure 10

32 C&AG’s Report, para 2.20

33 C&AG’s Report, Figure 12

© Parliamentary copyright 2015

Prepared 28 October 2015