Nearly a thousand children in care have had to attend three or more schools in one academic year, according to shocking new figures seen by ITV News.
The numbers, obtained via a Freedom of Information request by think-tank the Centre for Social Justice (CSJ), point at a wider problem of the instability faced by many vulnerable young people.
Despite making up less than 1% of young people, care leavers make up 24% of the adult prison population, 11% of young homeless people and 70% of sex workers.
And those leaving the care system are twice as likely not to be in education, employment or training at the age of 19 than the rest of the population.
Campaigners warn that disrupted education adds to the challenges faced by children in care, and say further checks need to be done to ensure local agencies are meeting their needs.
Watch Social Affairs Editor Penny Marshall's piece on the young people who, having already faced the emotional insecurity of being brought up in care, faced upheaval during their education.
The need for more 'parent and child together' (PACT) fostering placements (sometimes referred to as 'mother and baby' placements) appears to be rapidly increasing. However, this is a very specialist area of work as there is often a lot of complexity around the legal status and requirements of the placement.
At FCC we realise that the success and stability of our placements relies on us ensuring that our dedicated foster carers are properly equipped to take on specialist work such as this and that we therefore need to provide them with the necessary support, skills, knowledge and understanding to help them in promoting positive outcomes for children.
Two of our highly experienced 'PACT' approved carers, Maureen and Paula along with their Supervising Social Workers recently assisted the Director for Child Care - Wales in facilitating some training for our foster carers who were interested in being approved to take these types of specialist placements in the future.
Very positive feedback was given about this course and we therefore wanted to say a big 'thank you!' to Maureen and Paula. However, we also wanted to thank the carers who attended to undertake this training course as their enthusiasm to learn about this specialist area of work made it an absolute pleasure to run the course.
Just eight out of 151 local authorities know where their care leavers are living. This failure of responsibility to our most vulnerable children must be solved
A shocking report from the National Audit Office has found that just eight of 151 local councils know where all their care leavers are living, despite a duty to stay in touch with them. Overall, local authorities have no information on 17% of their 19- to 21-year-old care leavers.
The Local Government Association blames inadequate funding and high workloads. There is truth in this, but it is far from the whole picture. What we are witnessing is systemic failure and the abandonment of our responsibility to our most vulnerable children.
Staying Put, which enables care leavers to stay with their foster carers after they turn 18, has been introduced and is a good policy. But it has been shoddily introduced by bureaucrats more intent on protecting their precious departmental budgets than protecting children. How else can the bizarre decision to force post-18 children in foster care to claim housing benefit tbe explained?. How many ministers’ and council leaders’ children have to do this? Ironically, George Osborne has just moved to stop 18- to 21-year-olds from being entitled to housing benefit at all.
This could be fixed by a simple write back from the Department of Work and Pensions to the Department for Education, but that would involve them working together sensibly. Maybe a working together document for government departments is needed?
This situation is putting foster carers off staying put, as is the fact that they lose their status as foster carers once their child turns 18. Why? Do parents stop being parents when their child turns 18? How many of you are reading this with your 20-something still at home? Do you feel less of a parent? It would be easy to amend regulations to allow foster carers to stay registered as such until their young person turns 21, and so enjoy the support and training they receive when the young person is under 18.
We also need to make the three years from 18 to 21 count. Foster carers need specialist training to support the young person with the challenges of securing a higher education place, training, an apprenticeship, a job and a place to live. For some young people, help with the transition to adult services may also be needed. In this an independent mentor to act as part career advisor, part coach for the young person could be vital. My organisation, The Adolescent and Children’s Trust are looking at piloting this.
But to make this work the old adage of corporate parenting must mean something. Corporate bodies do not parent children, adults do. The foster carer or care home staff are the actual parent, the body corporate will never be. However, they can prioritise those in Staying Put. Young people transitioning out of care should get priority for apprenticeships, university and further education places, housing association tenancies, adult mental health services and training schemes. In this way, corporate parenting might finally mean something. It is encouraging to see the Scottish government taking positive steps in this direction.
The situation is dire but it is fixable. We must make sure young people have good permanent placements through their time in care and properly resource the crucial transition years. We also need to ensure that everything suggested above is available to all adopted children and children on special guardianship orders.
If we fail to do this, we will have cost ourselves a fortune in expensive adult services. But more importantly, we will all have failed as parents to our most vulnerable children.
England's local authorities are "turning their backs" on young people leaving their care, the chair of the Commons Public Accounts Committee says.
Meg Hillier says just eight out of 151 local councils know where all their care leavers are living, despite a duty to stay in touch with them.
Two-thirds of care leavers' services have been rated inadequate or requiring improvement by Ofsted, she adds.
Town hall bosses say the care system is becoming an increasing challenge.
The Local Government Association says this is due to the growing number of youngsters entering the care system and increasingly stretched budgets.
The National Audit Office report: Care Leavers' Transition to Adulthood, scrutinised by the committee, says the number of young people leaving care has grown significantly, almost doubling from 6,900 in 2003-04 to 10,310 a decade later.
The report says young people in care have often had difficult lives but have to start living independently much earlier than their peers.
Some 62% of children in care are there because of abuse or neglect, which can have a lasting impact on their mental and emotional health.
The report says the government aims to ensure that care leavers receive the same level of care and support as a child does from a reasonable parent.
This would include help in finding a job or setting up home, and general support for them to move successfully into adulthood.
But high staff turnover and heavy workloads mean sometimes care leavers are not getting the support to which they are entitled, it says
Mrs Hillier said: "It seems local authorities are turning their back on young people leaving their care, when two-thirds of local authority services for care leavers have been rated 'inadequate' or 'requiring improvement' since November 2013.
"Care leavers are in dire need of effective care and support, but this report finds care leavers who are not involved in their care-leaving plans and who do not know what support they are entitled to."
The report also finds local authorities have no information on 17% of their 19- to 21-year-old care leavers, even though they are often vulnerable.
Care leavers often face difficulties in accessing their own health records, identification documents and personal history, it adds.
It also highlights that there are no official statistics on some aspects of care leavers' lives, such as whether they have timely access to health services and whether they feel they left care at the right time.
And it does not collect data on where care leavers work or study, or where they live and whether it is suitable, after the age of 21.
Amyas Morse, head of the NAO, said: "The government has made a commitment to improve the support for these young people, but the outcomes for many have been deteriorating over the last seven years."
An LGA spokesman said: "Councils do what they can to support all care leavers.
"We desperately need to see the whole system properly funded and joined-up to ensure children and young people receive the support when they need it.
"It is vitally important that government departments work better together to continue the work to tackle our ineffective and fragmented mental health system."
A DfE official said it was committed to improving the lives of care leavers and helping them make a successful transition to adulthood.
"That's why we have introduced a comprehensive series of reforms to achieve this - including changing the law so young people can live with their foster family after they turn 18 and giving every care leaver a personal adviser.
"We are also investing over £100m through the Innovation Programme to support vulnerable children, and funding programmes to get more care leavers into apprenticeships."
Javed Khan, chief executive of Barnardo's which wants support for care leavers extended until age 25, said: "It is disappointing that the system put in place to support care leavers continues to have such poor outcomes for young people."
SENIOR councillors will be asked to re-examine how plans to cut foster carers' fees will impact those who provide short-term placements.
Last night members of a Bradford Council scrutiny committee voted to ask the authority's Executive committee to reconsider its position over cutting retainer fees for foster carers.
Scrutiny committee members, who met at City Hall, were particularly worried about the financial uncertainty caused to those who provide short-term foster care who could lose hundreds of pounds a month in fees which they receive between placements.
Some foster carers have told the Council that they may be unable to pay household bills if retainer fees are taken away.
The proposed changes would see foster carers with vacant places no longer paid retainer fees indefinitely. Instead, the payments would halve after six weeks and stop after 12.
With cuts to transport and holiday allowances, the authority hopes to save £557,000 a year overall.
In February, the council was paying £12,000 per week to foster carers with vacant placements. Since then the figure has dropped to just over £8,000 a week and is set to fall further.
The controversial cuts have been put on hold after the Council's opposition Conservatives 'called in' an earlier decision by the executive committee.
Last night the authority's Children's Services scrutiny committee looked in detail at the proposals during a three-hour debate.
The meeting heard from a short-term foster carer, Eve, who said the cuts would put short-term carers under "enormous pressure" financially.
She suggested that the council had failed to listen to the concerns of foster carers who were unable to offer longer term placements.
Councillor Dale Smith (Con, Wharfedale), who asked for the decision to be called-in, claimed that foster carers had not been properly consulted.
The panel was told by officers that there was enough work for all of Bradford's foster carers but only if they were willing to retrain and take on all ages of children and not just those from birth to aged four.
Councillors voted to pass three recommendations to the Labour executive committee.
They want the council's Fostering Service to keep carers informed and involved as the service becomes more flexible.
The scrutiny committee wants to see a greater role for the Bradford Association of Foster Carers and Adopters so its members are kept up to date about the service review.
The committee also wants to see a further report in October so they can monitor and scrutinise the changes to carers' fees.
Councillor Michael Pollard (Con, Baildon), deputy chairman of the scrutiny committee, said he believed that some form of "emergency capacity" was needed to ensure there were enough carers to cope with small children and babies at short notice.
Councillors said they wanted to ensure foster carers felt valued and avoid them leaving the service.
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.
National Audit Office report finds little connection between spending and quality of help for care leavers
Support for care leavers remains patchy and ineffective despite positive developments in national policy and the legal framework, according to report from the National Audit Office.
The government spending watchdog found huge variation in local authority care leaver support and little connection between the amount spent and the outcomes achieved.
While the average council spent £6,250 a year on each care leaver aged 16-21, the National Audit Office found the amount ranged from as little as £300 to £20,000.
The report also notes that the number of over 16s leaving care has risen 50% since 2003/04 and that 41% of 19-year-old care leavers are not in education, employment or training – the highest level since 2001/02. In comparison 15% of all 19-year-olds are unemployed.
Although the government’s Care Leaver Strategy is a positive step, the watchdog acknowledged, its implementation remains flawed and poor monitoring of care leaver outcomes is hampering efforts to deliver improvements.
“There was no strong evidence of government working in an integrated way: limited implementation capability; no regular reporting of progress or outcomes; and no evidence of a sustained effort to continuously improve,” the report concluded.
It is too soon to assess whether the Staying Put policy, which allows young people to stay with their foster carers until 21, has had a positive effect, the report found.
Young people unaware of support
The National Audit Office also found many young people still leave foster or residential care unaware of what support they are entitled to and often have problems accessing their health histories or personal documents, such as passports.
High caseloads and staff turnover were identified as key reasons why care leavers sometimes get a lack of personal support.
“Addressing the poor life outcomes of young people leaving care is a longstanding problem. The cost of their not moving into adulthood successfully is high,” said Amyas Morse, head of the National Audit Office. “Stronger central and local leadership is urgently required to get a grip on this problem.”
Central and local government should work together to develop better and more comparable data on the care leaver outcomes and use that to assess whether support services are delivering value for money, the report recommended.
Payment by results
The watchdog also urged the government to examine how incentives like payment by results can be used to improve the medium- and long-term outcomes for young people who leave foster or residential care.
Meg Hillier MP, chair of Parliament’s Committee of Public Accounts, said: “Care leavers are in dire need of effective care and support but this report finds care leavers who are not involved in their care leaving plans and who do not know what support they are entitled to.”
Give foster carers a lead role
Responding to the report, the National Association of Fostering Providers have called for foster carers to take the lead role in preparing young people for adult life, and voluntary sector providers to be given formal responsibility for managing the transition to independence of young people in their placements.
“Foster carers, supported by supervising social workers and properly funded, would take on the social worker/personal adviser roles and decision-making tasks,” argued Harvey Gallagher, chief executive of the organisation.
FtSE Member News: Action for Children - The system for supporting young people leaving foster or residential care in England to live successful independent lives is not working effectively
The system for supporting young people leaving foster or residential care in England to live successful independent lives is not working effectively, according to a report published today by the National Audit Office.
Only half of children in care have emotional health and behaviour that is considered normal and this poses additional challenges when adapting to life after care. In 2013, 50% of young people were still living with their parents at the age of 22. But young people in care have to leave by their 18th birthday and some have to live independently as soon as they leave care.
The cost of not moving into adulthood successfully is likely to be high to both care leavers and the public. The principal outcome measure is the number of care leavers not in education, employment or training (NEET). In 2013-14, 41% of 19-year-old care leavers were NEET compared with only 15% of their age peers.
" This report is a damning indictment on the care system. It is incredible that 1 in 3 teenagers leave care before they are 18. This means young people who have often had traumatic experiences are living independently at an age when most of their peers are still living with their parents. Action for Children is clear that it is time to renew our efforts for children in care and care leavers. We need a stronger shared understanding of what care is for to improve the lives of care leavers. Providing practical support is not enough. We know that care can provide the stability that children need, but without much greater focus on promoting emotional wellbeing and resilience to recover from traumatic experiences and navigate the challenges of living independently, young people will continue to struggle. "
Emma Smale, Head of Policy and Research and Chair of the Alliance for Children in Care
What works in promoting good emotional wellbeing and mental health for children in care
Children in care are 4 times more likely to have a mental health problem than children living with their birth families. These mental health needs are often unmet, which increases children’s risk of a variety of poor outcomes including placement instability and poor educational attainment.
This report provides recommendations and evidence for how the care system can be changed to prioritise and achieve good emotional wellbeing for all looked after children and care leavers. It is part of our Impact and evidence series.
Authors: Louise Bazalgette, Tom Rahilly and Grace Trevelyan
We worked with 4 local authorities in the UK to investigate how to redesign the care system to improve support for the emotional wellbeing of looked after children.
Our project involved asking children in care, care leavers, carers and professionals from health, social care and education services about their experience of the care system and what changes they would like to see.
Download the full report at:
No, say Local Authorities... Yes, say FtSE foster carers.
95% of Local Authority staff believe they protect children's rights well - yet over half of FtSE foster carers believe decisions made by social services are not in the best interests of the child... Independent surveys carried out by FtSE highlight a gap in awareness and understanding of human rights obligations for looked after children, and asks what needs to be done?
FtSE (the member organisation for not-for-profit independent fostering providers) commissioned two surveys - one for Local Authority staff, and a second for foster carers - to gauge levels of awareness and compliance around children’s human rights obligations for children in the care system.
While some 93% of social services respondents agree that children’s human rights are a priority, 54% of FtSE foster carers believe that rights are not at the forefront of, and do not form part of, decision-making. Some 57% had personally experienced one or more situations where they believed their Local Authority had made a decision that was not in the best interests of the child in their care.
What the survey highlights is an enormous gap in perceived compliance around human rights obligations; and significant concerns amongst fostering families that essential entitlements are not in place. Only a minority (23%) of Local Authority staff said they were aware of particular circumstances where they felt the organisation was not working in compliance with children's rights.
One of the issues brought to light by the survey is that children in care are not being listened to, and thus their wishes not taken in to account when decisions are made about them. This is demonstrated by the case provided by a FtSE member, of a young person approaching 18 who was told they would be moved into supported lodgings on their 18th birthday. They were not consulted with, and consequently absconded to move in with an unsuitable family relative.
Walter Young, FtSE Chair, said: "It's very worrying that more than half of FtSE foster carers who responded have experienced decision-making that does not put the child's rights centre stage. And further, that Local Authorities are very confident of their understanding and application of rights obligations in the service they deliver. This self-perception of compliance is far from a match with carers' actual experiences.
"In truth, everybody working with vulnerable children could do more to ensure compliance with these fundamental obligations. For example, more advanced training, including human rights in the care planning process, linking policy and practice more effectively, and a deeper knowledge of children's rights instruments and likely applicability."
FtSE is calling for the whole sector to effect change, in line with other campaigning organisations including The Alliance for Children in Care and Care Leavers and Nationwide Association of Fostering Providers.
Walter concludes: "The survey results do not automatically indicate a lack of commitment to children's rights; the majority of those working in the sector are totally dedicated to the care and wellbeing of looked after children.
"It does however tell us that much more needs to be done: That children's rights should be at the very heart of care planning and decision-making for every child or young person in care, and that our collective version of rights compliance meets the same standards across every organisation."
Notes to editors
Fostering through Social Enterprise (FtSE) is a consortium of 14 voluntary and not for profit agencies across the UK whose members look after over 2000 children.
Polling undertaken by ComRes involved anonymous surveys completed by Local Authority staff working directly with looked after children. 107 responses were received.
An anonymous survey of foster carers from FtSE members was undertaken using Survey Gizmo. 227 responses were received. For the sake of simplicity, respondents were not asked detailed questions relating to specific rights.
However, for the purposes of rights compliance, the principal obligations placed on those caring for children are contained in the United Nations Convention on the rights of the Child (UNCRC) and the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) incorporated into domestic law through the Human Rights Act 1998.
Further information, including a briefing on the survey findings, recommendations and copies of the survey outcomes are available from FtSE.
The Foster Care Co-operative
07814 258 136
The Adolescent and Children’s Trust (TACT)
07793 580 389
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