Support offered to help care leavers to live independently
The government has announced its strategy for supporting young care leavers. It sets out in one place the steps the government is taking – from housing to health services, from the justice system to educational institutions – to support care leavers to live independently once they have left their placement.
Speaking at the National Care Leaver Week annual conference, Children and Families Minister Edward Timpson said:
"Although most children leave care having had positive experiences, it's simply not acceptable that they end up with significantly worse exam results; are more likely to have poorer mental and physical health; or be unemployed or out of education altogether. That makes quality of support - and consistency of support - absolutely essential. They deserve nothing less. If care leavers get patchy services, they are more likely to slip through the cracks.
"We want care leavers to enter adult life with the same opportunities and life chances as their friends. If someone needs a helping hand to get into work, to find a college place or to access the right employment services, it shouldn't matter which part of government provides it.
"For the first time ever, our care leaver strategy will ensure that all government action across every department - from justice to housing, education to finance - is working with one single, united purpose to improve the lives of these vulnerable young people."
The new strategy includes:
"The transition from adolescence into adulthood is a daunting time for young people, bringing new responsibilities and pressures as they become fully independent. Without the support networks that their peers come to rely on, these vulnerable young people are more likely to face unemployment, leave school with few qualifications and struggle with mental health problems – and so this commitment from the government is hugely important to prevent this group from slipping through the net and into a life on benefits."
Around 10,000 young people aged between 16 to 18 leave care each year. The government believes that care leavers should expect the same level of care and support that their friends and classmates get from their parents. Yet some can find it difficult to navigate services or work out what support they are entitled to, with too many ending up unemployed, out of training or education or living in poor accommodation.
Figures published by the Department for Education this year shows that:
Throughout National Care Leavers’ Week we are putting the spotlight on TACT young people to find out what their plans are for the future, the challenges that care leavers face and how the system could be improved.
In this spotlight, an 18 year old TACT young person advocates making every council in the country familiar with the Staying Put scheme.
What are you doing now? What are your plans for the future?
At the moment I am living with my former foster parents and am at university studying policing and criminal justice. My plans are to continue on this course up to the end, then get a job in the police force. My long-term goal is to become a detective. I want to join the police force because I have always had a high respect for what the police do as a job and think it’s something I’d be good at.
What was your experience of leaving care? Your preparation for leaving care?
My experience of leaving care was very formal. A few days before my birthday the local authority came and gave me all the information I needed to go onto the Staying Put scheme. At that point it was like ‘Here you go, you’re still in care’. Two days later is was like ‘you’re not our business anymore, go off and do your own thing’.
I felt supported enough, because I’ve been living with my foster carers for 10 years. They were behind me all the way, helping me with every little step. But I could have been supported more by the local authority. Nobody seemed to know much about the Staying Put scheme, so couldn’t give me all the information I needed. I don’t think that many people have the knowledge to help me, or anyone else in my position, with the transition to Staying Put.
I didn’t feel pressured to leave care when I turned 18 because my foster carers were with me all the way. But if I had been in different circumstances where I had to move out, that would have affected my college course and stopped me from going to university and going for the job I want to get.
If you were Prime Minister what would you change about the leaving care model in this country?
If I were Prime Minister I would make the Staying Put scheme known to every single council. It seems that not all councils know about Staying Put, or don’t recognise it. I would make it well known across the whole country.
I would also make sure care leavers had more practical support in sorting out the arrangements for Staying Put. I would have liked a social worker there with me when I was filling in all the forms for income support and housing benefit, to help me fill them in the in the right way and help me get the support I should be getting in the first place. It’s quite hard when you a have to go between the benefits centre and the social worker all the time. It would have been easier if my social worker and I had gone to the benefits centre together.
I don’t think there should be a set age for leaving care. A time of year makes more sense if you are in education. It should be around August, after you have finished college. This would be easier and smoother, and give people time to finish their course. That way you wouldn’t have to worry about having to drop out of your course just because you get dropped by your local council when you turn 18.
What should happen to young people in foster care when they turn 18?
It’s a hard question to answer. In some cases it may not be possible for them to stay put because their foster carer might need to take on another child for money. After all foster carers shouldn’t have to lose out financially.
St Christopher’s has opened the first phase of a 23-bed 16+ transition service in West London, offering accommodation and support to care leavers and homeless young people moving towards living independently.
The project, near Latimer Road, Kensington, comprises two neighbouring buildings offering a safe, structured and caring home to young people aged 16 and above. The layout enables young people to move easily between high support and medium support accommodation as their needs change.
It will offer emergency, short-term, and long-term support to young people with needs including:
Robin Adlem, St Christopher’s New Business Development Manager, said: “We are delighted to open this new project and are already taking young people through ‘spot purchase’ referrals from local authorities.
“It complements our other spot-purchase 16+ transition service, Knowland House in Lewisham.”
Referrals can be made on 0800 234 6282 or by firstname.lastname@example.org .
On the first day of National Care Leavers’ Week 2013, the Fostering Network is calling on all those involved in fostering to write to a peer in the House of Lords and urge them to support an amendment to the Children and Families Bill which would allow young people to stay with their foster carers to 21.
Only around 7 per cent of care leavers go into higher education compared with 40 per cent of the general population. Care leavers are overrepresented in prison populations, and are more likely to be unemployed, single parents, mental health service users and homeless than those who grew up within their own families.
Yet "Staying Put" – a scheme that gives young people the option to stay until 21 – has been piloted in 11 English local authorities with great success. It showed that young people who stayed with foster carers were twice as likely to be in full time education at 19 compared with those that did not. In addition, studies have shown that allowing young people to remain in care until age 21 is associated with increased post-secondary educational attainment, delayed pregnancy, and higher earnings.
Jackie Sanders, head of media and campaigns at the Fostering Network, said: “Care leavers are currently being let down by a lack of legislation ensuring that they are supported until an age when they are ready to leave their home. Currently most young people are forced to leave their foster homes at the age of 17, whereas the average age for leaving home across England is 24.
“That’s why we are urging foster carers and young people to write to peers and share their voices and experiences with them. This change in the law could be the difference for many care leavers between a bright future as key members of society, or being condemned to a life of overreliance on the state and under contributing to society.”
The Fostering Network, alongside 39 other charities, organisations and academics, recently wrote to the House of Lords calling on them to ensure homes for care leavers.
The amendment will next be considered in the House of Lords at the bill’s report stage in mid-November. Find out which peers you can write to ahead of this stage on our website.
National Care Leavers’ Week, taking place from 24 to 30 October, is run by the Care Leavers Foundation.
Mark Goulding has joined Community Foster Care as a Supervising Social Worker.
Mark, 51, was brought up in Herefordshire and began his career in residential care in 2000. He joined the foster care sector in 2002.
“The challenge of this job is to support our foster carers and to grow the carer group. It involves working closely with the local authorities in Gloucestershire and Wiltshire,” said Mark.
“Community Foster Care’s unique selling point is that we are a charity. Our standards of training and levels of support are also exceptional.”
Rebekah Pearson, Chief Executive of Community Foster Care, based in Staunton, welcomed Mark to the team. “As the number of cared-for children keeps rising, there can be no let-up in our search for foster carers. It can be a hugely rewarding role, and one which I’m sure Mark will help us to promote.”
Fostering News: NAFP says 'Local authority policy of prioritising in-house foster carers causes instability for children in care'
The Nationwide Association of Fostering Providers (NAFP) is today calling upon local authorities to stop using 28 day contracts with independent and voluntary sector fostering providers (IFPs) as holding placements for vulnerable children. The 28 day contract allows a local authority additional time to identify a placement within the local authority’s preferred internal provision ('in-house'). For some children who have started to settle well into their independent placement, the use of this policy can result in an additional unnecessary and potentially harmful placement move.
In May 2013, a Freedom of Information request was sent to all local authorities in England enquiring about the policy used when placing children in external placements. The survey suggests that as many as 33 local authorities are openly placing specific time restrictions on independent sector placements. Responses included:
NAFP believes that this represents just the tip of an iceberg. Its members have described that, on occasion, children are moved back into local authority in-house placements despite professional social work views that the child is starting to settle and would benefit from remaining in their independent placement. Some providers claim that at the end of a 28 day contract, commissioners ask to negotiate a new 28 day term to afford the local authority with further time to source a placement with in-house carers.
Harvey Gallagher, Chief Executive of NAFP, said 'This practice is bad for children. It provides additional uncertainty for the child and means carers cannot engage in meaningful work with the child to build a trusting relationship. Placement matching processes need to be revised to prioritise the needs of the child and not the needs of a service.'
TACT is once again celebrating the news that we are considered a first rate fostering service, having been placed on Tier 1 for Lewisham.
As a Tier 1 agency we have been recognised by local authorities for the quality of service we provide. Being on Tier 1 means we will be will be among the first fostering agencies approached by local authorities seeking to find loving foster families for children in their care.
This news follows on from TACT recently achieving Tier 1 status in Peterborough and Cambridgeshire. These achievements are reflected across the UK with all TACT offices placed on Tier 1 with authorities they work with.
We are extremely proud of our fostering teams for the hard work that has led to these great achievements.
Today the Fostering Network’s 2013 annual conference, Putting the Child at the Heart of Foster Care, will see foster carers, fostering service staff and other professionals come together to discuss what a truly child-centred care system would look like.
Delegates will be hearing from the children’s minister and son of foster carers, Edward Timpson MP, children’s rights director for England Dr Roger Morgan, Professor Pat Petrie from the Centre for Understanding Social Pedagogy, University of London and Robert Tapsfield, chief executive of the Fostering Network.
The conference will also look at new insights to improve foster carer recruitment, examine aspirations for children in care and children’s views of foster care, and explore the future of foster care.
Jackie Sanders, who leads on foster carer recruitment at the Fostering Network and is addressing the conference, said: “Today’s conference will be an opportunity to focus minds on the most important people in foster care – the children. Many of us recognise that foster care can feel so driven by targets, processes and procedures that it can be all too easy to lose sight of the child.
“We will be pleased to welcome the children’s minister to the stage today to address our delegates. He is acutely aware, from his family’s work as foster carers, what it takes to be a foster carer and what a positive contribution they can make to children in care, and he knows that for foster carers, the child is at the heart of all that they do.
“There will also be opportunities to explore the wider work of the Fostering Network, in particular, our ground-breaking Head, Heart, Hands programme, and we will be reflecting on the findings of the Care Inquiry and how we can put its recommendations into day-to-day practice.”
Industry News: The Independent - Damning Ofsted report says 20 local authorities cannot keep children safe
One in seven councils in England is failing vulnerable children with “inadequate” child protection services, according to a damning report.
There are 20 local authorities where Ofsted says standards are “unacceptably poor” and the most basic safeguards against abuse or neglect are not in place.
In its first annual report into social care, the watchdog said that child protection services are too often “manifestly and palpably weak”. Just four in 10 local authorities were rated as “good” or “outstanding” and more than half were deemed to be “less than good”. The study was based on more than 4,500 inspections of children’s care services in England’s 152 local authorities.
The picture was better for adoption and fostering services, which the regulator found had “generally improved over recent years”. More than three quarters of local authorities are now rated as “good” or “outstanding” for their adoption and fostering services.
A climate of increasing workloads and sharply decreasing budgets is making it harder than ever for councils to improve the situation, the regulator said. In the wake of high-profile cases such as Baby P, which heighten awareness of child vulnerability, the number of children referred to social services has soared, going from 538,000 in 2008 to 605,100 in 2012.
The growth in the number of looked after children alone represents an estimated additional £173 million pounds a year in added costs to the system. Yet local authority budgets have been slashed by more than a quarter in the five years from 2010.
Ofsted’s Chief Inspector, Sir Michael Wilshaw, said poor leadership and too many changes at the top were contributing to the problem: “Incompetent and ineffective leadership must be addressed quickly. But where those in leadership positions have capacity and potential, this must be recognised and nurtured.
“Too much leadership volatility in social care is counter-productive – that goes without saying. One in three local authorities has had a change in their Director of Children’s Services last year alone. The combination of unstable communities and political and managerial instability in our social care services is a dangerous mix.”
In the initial full cycle of inspections, 17 councils were found to be inadequate. After the weakest were inspected again, with a focus on child protection, this number increased to 20. Sir Michael said the high numbers of underperforming councils showed that safeguarding boards - made up of relevant agencies such as the police, probation and social workers - were failing to do their job.
He said: “Too often, inspectors arrive unannounced in councils only to see child protection that is manifestly and palpably weak. Typically, these are the councils where case files of individual children demonstrate inadequate intervention; where referral thresholds are loosely defined, and where safeguarding boards aren’t worth the name.”
The report suggested that the watchdog would be pushing the Government to introduce tougher standards for councils. It said: “We are not satisfied that the standards [set by Government] are ambitious enough for children.”
Andrew Webb, president of the Association of Directors of Children’s Services, said the language in Ofsted’s report was “unhelpful” and that its inspection methods were not good enough to measure the performance of councils properly. He told BBC Radio 4’s World at One: “We have one of the safest countries in the world to grow up in, relatively low levels of child death. We have a very responsive system.”
FtSE Member News: FTSE joins other leading organisations in supporting a vital amendment to fostering law
FtSE Chair, Alan Fisher, along with representatives from FtSE members, Action for Children, Barnardo's and TACT and a number of other charities, have signed an open letter urging peers to support an amendment to the Children and Families Bill, being considered by the Lords, to enable young people to stay with their foster families until they are at least 21.
Click on the image below to view the full letter as a pdf.
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