Children & Social Work Bill [Lords]

Written evidence submitted by Professor Mike Stein, Emeritus Professor, University of York (CSWB 47)

Children and Social Work Bill: power to test different ways of working (new clauses 2-9)

Summary

From the Children Act 1948 onwards the legal and policy framework for young people leaving care has been strengthened by new duties, Guidance and Regulations. This process has involved: independent research; consultations with care leavers, policy makers, service providers, and practitioners in local authorities and the voluntary sector; Inspections; and leadership from Government departments. It has resulted in a comprehensive and universal legal framework providing: first, a consistent minimum level of service wherever young people are living; second, opportunities for innovation in the range of leaving care services, not inhibited but supported by the current legal framework; and third, a very positive response from many young people. Evidence from Ofsted inspections also shows that ‘poor’ services can improve over time, underpinned by the current legal framework.

It is important that young people leaving care continue to receive services wherever they are living and that exemptions to the law are not made - to ensure that they continue to be legally entitled to the full range of service including: advice, assistance and support; an Independent Reviewing Officer to ensure they are prepared and ready to leave care; the right to make a complaint; and, opportunities for ‘staying put’ in foster care placements up to 21 years of age.

1. I have been researching the problems and challenges faced by care leavers, including the development of law, policy and practice, from 1975 onwards*. During this 40 year period, services have greatly improved as a result of the strengthening of the legal and policy framework. The research evidence referred to within this paper is contained within Stein (2010; 2011; 2012; 2015)

2. This period has witnessed the development of ‘leaving care’ legislation from the limited ‘duties’ (originally laid down by the Children Act 1948) and the mainly ‘permissive’ or discretionary powers contained within the Children Act 1989 to the introduction of new ‘duties’ contained within the Children (Leaving Care) Act 2000, the Children and Young Person’s Act 2008, and Planning Transitions to Adulthood for Care Leavers in 2010 (‘Transitions Guidance’), updating the Children Act 1989 Guidance and Regulations (revised in 2015).

3. The strengthening of the law under the Children (Leaving Care) Act 2000 laid down key responsibilities: a duty to assist young people until they are 21, or up to the age of 24 if they are in approved programmes of education and training; a duty to assess and meet the needs of young people in and leaving care; pathway plans; financial support; maintenance in suitable accommodation; and a duty to keep in touch by the ‘responsible authority’.

4. Surveys of the work of leaving care teams carried out before and after the Act showed improvements in financial support, increases in the proportion of young people entering post-16 education and related reductions in those not in education, employment or training (Stein 2012). Research has also shown a strengthening and clarification of roles towards care leavers through needs assessments and pathway planning and a greater involvement in inter-agency work (Stein 2012).

5. The Children and Young Person Act 2008 (implemented from April 2011) led to a further strengthening of the law. The main provisions are: first, to ensure that young people have a statutory review, with an Independent Reviewing Officer, to take into account their views before moving, so they do not leave care before they are prepared and ready; second, extending their entitlement to a personal adviser to care leavers under the age of 25 who wish to resume an education and training programme; and, third, a duty for local authorities to provide a Higher Education Bursary. Planning Transitions to Adulthood for Care Leavers (also Implemented in April 2011) introduced Guidance and Regulations in respect of young people ‘staying put’ in foster care until 21 years of age.

6. The proposal contained within the current Children and Social Work Bill to introduce a new duty to ensure all young people leaving care have a personal advisor up to 25 years of age is very welcome – and highlights the importance of consultation in enhancing the statutory framework.

7. Drawing on research and developments in law and policy during this period suggests the emergence of a strong ‘corporate parenting’ model with two main dimensions. First, case responsibility is held by the designated personal adviser with clearly defined responsibilities under the Children (Leaving Care) Act 2000, the Children and Young Person’s Act 2008 and the Transitions Guidance. These clearly defined responsibilities include: providing advice, including practical advice and support; participating in assessment and preparation of pathway plans using the dimensions of need set out in the Framework for Assessment of Children in Need and their Families; taking into account the views of young people; participating in the review of the pathway plan; liaising with the responsible authority in the implementation of the pathway plan; co-ordinating the provision of services and taking responsible steps so that care leavers make use of services; keeping informed about care leavers’ progress and well-being; and, keeping full, accurate and up-to-date records of contacts with the care leaver and services provided. These defined responsibilities contained within the Transitions Guidance can be seen as an extension of legal and administrative authority in respect of qualifying young people under the 2000 Act, against the background of the failures of earlier permissive legislation.

8. The second feature is the enhancement of the corporate parenting role, as evidenced by the increased involvement of other local authority departments and other agencies, representing a shift from more informal inter-agency links to more formal agreements - as specified in the needs assessment and pathway planning requirements of the 2000 Act (detailed in the Transitions Guidance). This has contributed to the setting up of multi-agency teams in some areas, for example, with housing, employment and health specialists working alongside personal advisers.

9. The development of this comprehensive legal framework for ‘leaving care’ during the last 40 years is result of a process which has included: independent research identifying the problems faced by care leavers (Stein 2010; 2012; 2015); discussions with policy makers, service providers and practitioners in local authorities and the voluntary sector; extensive consultations with young people living in and leaving care (Stein 2011); Inspections of services, and; leadership from the Department of Health and the Department of Education.

10. As detailed above, this has contributed to the current legal and policy framework with clearly defined structures, role and responsibilities, centring on the role of personal advisers. This has replaced a mainly discretionary system that failed to provide a consistent minimum level of service wherever young people are living. It has also contributed to innovation in the range and type of leaving care services, supported and not in any way inhibited by the current legal framework. There is also strong evidence that many leaving care teams and personal advisers are seen by many young people in a very positive light, being singled out in research on Care Leavers perceptions of public services ‘as offering a responsive personalised service’ (Stein 2012). There is no doubt that challenges remain in raising the level of poor services to that achieved by those assessed by Ofsted as ‘good’ or ‘outstanding’. But evidence from Ofsted shows that improvements can be achieved over time within the existing legal framework.

11. In conclusion, in the context of the development of leaving care services, detailed above, there is no evidence to support the need for exemption clauses to the Children and Social Work Bill. It is of great importance that care leavers continue to receive services wherever they are living and that there are not exemptions from: being offered advice, assistance and support; having an Independent Reviewing Officer to ensure they are prepared and ready to leave care; having the right to make a complaint and, and opportunities for ‘staying put’. However there are great risks in fragmenting an established and comprehensive universal service, not least a return to the failures of a discretionary system which resulted in both territorial and service injustices

References

Stein, M and Morris, M (2010) Increasing the Numbers of Care Leavers in’ Settled, Safe’ accommodation: Vulnerable children Knowledge Review 3. London: C4EO

Stein, M (2011) Care Less Lives, the Story of the Rights Movement of Young People in Care, London: Catch-22

Stein, M (2012) Young People Leaving Care, Supporting Pathways to Adulthood, London: Jessica Kingsley

Stein M (2015) Supportive Pathways for Young People Leaving Care, Lessons from four decades of research, in Whittaker, J, Del Valle J and Holmes, L (Eds) Therapeutic Residential Care for Children and Youth, London: Jessica Kingsley

*Mike Stein

Emeritus Professor

University of York

January 2017

 

Prepared 5th January 2017