Industry News: NAFP's Response to National Audit Office report, Care Leaver's Transition to Adulthood
The latest report by the National Audit Office (NAO), Care Leaver's Transition to Adulthood, highlights the huge difficulties that continue to beset young people leaving care. These are challenges that we have known about for some time but there is clearly much more still to
be done to address this, despite there being pockets of good practice in some areas. The NAO believe that it is too early to identify the impact of government's Care Leaver Strategy and Staying Put (in foster care), and we remain very concerned about the under-funded implementation of the latter. Yet, too much of the focus is still on what happens after young people leave care, whilst it is preparation for leaving care that we need to get right first. This is an area ripe for innovation, something the NAO would like to see more of, and we
are asking government and Ofsted give preparation for leaving care a renewed focus.
NAFP believes that a key source of support to help young people to prepare for leaving care remains hugely untapped - foster carers. We believe that foster carers should take the lead in preparing young people for adult life. They should also be key in decision-making with the young person about their practical and emotional ‘readiness’ for independence. However, evidence from NAFP’s project "Moving On, Staying Put' (2013) suggested that independent sector carers are not routinely involved in the creation of Pathway Plans and are not always clear about the part they are expected to play in their implementation.
Carers may need specific input and training for their role in transition to independence. They should have access to tools and materials which will assist them in teaching practical skills like cooking and budgeting, but which also recognise the social and emotional aspects of supporting independence. There are experienced carers who have developed creative everyday strategies for doing this, and we could learn from them.
The best Pathway Planning clearly takes place when the young person is at the centre and the team of professionals communicate, plan and work well together. Currently, this does not happen enough, and foster carers in the independent sector, who are not part of the local authority, are too often excluded from discussions or decisions about the future. Some of the young people they look after do not have allocated social workers or personal advisers (PA), and even when they do, these individuals may not know the young person in the same way as the carer does. This can result in conflicting ideas, poor planning, anxiety - or even situations where young people leave too soon.
NAFP believes that it is time to give independent and voluntary sector providers formal responsibility for managing the transition to independence for young people in their placements. Foster carers, supported by supervising social workers and properly funded, would take on the social worker/PA roles and decision-making tasks. Everyone, including the young people would need to be clear about where responsibilities lie and it would require a renewed commitment to working together that is often lacking at the moment. This would contribute to the development of a more flexible, gradual process where these engaged carers (like other parents) are able to take risks. Even perhaps with recognition that the young person might need to return to their care if things don’t work out. And, most importantly, it would help to create a system which responds to the young person’s timescales, their particular needs and where they can feel positive and optimistic about the future.
The Nationwide Association of Fostering Providers is the only organisation that campaigns solely for independent and voluntary sector fostering providers, and the children they care for. It has 84 members, representing over 80% of children placed in the sector.
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