17. The quality of support that care leavers receive often comes down to the quality of the individuals that work with them. Statutory guidance sets out clearly that personal advisers must have regular face-to-face contact with every care leaver and provide them with the same support that their peers would receive from a ‘reasonable parent’. We would expect reasonable parents to keep in touch with their children but in 2013–14, on average, local authorities were not in touch with 17% of 19- to 21-year-old care leavers and only eight out of 151 local authorities were in touch with all of their care leavers.
18. Care leavers told us that despite some good experiences of personal adviser support, the quality of support they and other care leavers had experienced was inconsistent and varied between personal advisers. Some had had many personal advisers, including agency staff, in a short time and some personal advisers had struggled to give care leavers the service they needed because they had such high caseloads. The Department also noted from its own discussions with care leavers that support varied within as well as between local authorities.
19. The care leavers thought that it was important to have a personal adviser at the age of 18 as other young people still received practical advice from their parents at that age. We asked the care leavers what they thought would make things work better. They told us that they would like to have had more contact time with their advisers. They also thought that personal advisers needed smaller caseloads and more training especially about the rights and entitlements of care leavers and were surprised to learn that personal advisers do not have to have any formal qualifications.Ofsted’s inspections of care leaver services had also identified issues of a lack of personal support for care leavers; care leavers not aware of what they are entitled to; and local authorities losing touch with a large number of their care leavers.
20. The Department told us that it is learning more from the Ofsted inspections about what good practice in care leaving services looks like, and also told us about Ofsted’s role in improving services. Ofsted run seminars called “Getting to good” aimed at local authorities, who though not judged to have inadequate services, do still need to make improvements. With local authorities, Ofsted had also run two seminars in each region of the country on best practice in care leaver services, and has a best practice website focused on children’s social care.
21. The Department also referred to the Ministry of Justice having set up a national forum to discuss quality and best practice and issued guidance across the prison and probation services on best practice, specifically on care leavers. In the higher education sector there was also a good practice network. The Department told us that 60% of universities provide additional support to care leavers, including housing and financial support in some cases.
22. There are also examples of local sharing of good practice. The Department told us that one of the most innovative and positive initiatives was the National Leaving Care Benchmarking Forum, to which about 80 local authorities belonged. The Forum has demonstrated the benefits of working together to share good practice — 50% of member authorities achieved ‘good’ in their Ofsted inspections compared with 19% of non-member authorities. Also, Trafford Council, since it received its ‘outstanding’ judgement from Ofsted has been helping to share its good practice with other local authorities.
23. New Belongings is another example of developing and sharing good practice which encourages care leavers to become more involved in their communities. An evaluation of the project found that in local authorities taking part it had led to better accommodation choices for care leavers; more opportunities for care leavers through employment and apprenticeship schemes; and more care leavers getting what they were entitled to.
24. The Scottish Government has set up the Centre for Excellence for Looked After Children in Scotland and we asked the Department whether it would consider setting up something similar in England. The Department acknowledged that there is no national single centre of expertise for sharing good practice on children’s social care, like there is, for example, with the Education Endowment Fund in the area of disadvantaged pupils in schools. It also told us that, since Ofsted began reporting on care leaver services it has now a clearer idea of what constitutes good and poor practice, and that when good practice was identified, there was a case for adding this to statutory guidance.
25. When young people are given longer to become independent, it is likely to improve outcomes. In 2014 the Department therefore introduced the ‘Staying Put’ policy, which offers care leavers approaching 18 the security of knowing they can stay with their former foster carers until they are 21, if they and their foster carers agree. The Department committed a total of £44.6 million to Staying Put for the three years from 2014–15 to 2016–17. Local authorities welcome Staying Put as a means of smoothing the transition to post-care living, but have also described barriers to implementing it, including: the costs to local authorities, strains on the market for foster carers, and adverse financial consequences for foster carers. Foster carers can receive around £500 a week to care for a child under the age of 18, but at age 18 or above, under Staying Put arrangements, this payment can be £150 a week — a 70% reduction. It is too early to assess whether Staying Put is improving care leavers’ lives in the long term. The Department told us that it would have some figures available soon, but that it would be several years before it knew whether the policy was working well.
26. One of our care leaver witnesses told us that both he and his foster carer had wanted him to be part of the Staying Put policy. However, his carer had not been aware that her payments would fall after he turned 18, and his carer then found she could no longer afford to look after him. He had therefore had to move out earlier than planned and at short notice. He had only found out later that he might have been eligible for housing benefit while living with his foster carer, and that this could have helped to support her financially.
35 , para 2.16
39 , para 2.21
43 , , para 3.11
45 , , para 3.11
48 ; , paras 2.12–2.13
Prepared 28 October 2015