The children’s commissioner for England is surveying care leavers on whether care experience should be treated as a protected characteristic, but some campaigners warn that a consultation is not enough.
Dame Rachel de Souza has launched a consultation to ask care-experienced people whether they believe care experience should be made a protected characteristic, after a nationwide campaign led by care leavers led 46 councils to adopt the policy.
This comes after De Souza met with a group of care-experienced young people about the campaign in June, to discuss recommendations laid out in their protected characteristics report.
De Souza said: "As children's commissioner, it is my job to listen to the views and voices of children and young people. I want to ensure that it is their voices that are reflected in the debate around care experience as a protected characteristic, so we can make sure that any policy changes are based on what they think would make the most difference to improve their lives and outcomes.
"Last year I established my own Care Experienced Advisory Board to make sure that the voices of children in care and care experienced people are central to all of my work. The debates we've had about this topic have been invaluable, and I want to ensure that as many care experienced young people have equal opportunity to have their say."
She added that the survey has seen an "overwhelming response" so far, which "shows how important it is for young people to share their views".
Some campaigners have said that simply consulting on the topic does not go far enough, with care experienced campaigner Terry Galloway – who led the protected characteristic campaign – saying: “This nonsense is hugely frustrating and needs to be called out. If you need to do another survey to know what to do when you are supposed to be holding the government to account, then Houston, we have a problem."
As part of his campaign, Galloway highlights that outcomes for those with care experience can be lower than their peers, with care-experienced people at greater risk of ill health, entering the justice system, homelessness, poor mental health and lower mortality rates.
“I’m thankful the commissioner has done something, but I’m disappointed there is no proper explanation of what protected characteristics can do for care experienced people. We are clearly driving this from the ground upwards, but the biggest tell for me is the lack of serious challenge to this policy from those in power.
"I’m offering Rachel De Souza the opportunity to be on the right side of history with this, which means she and her team should be working directly with me and the growing number of councils that are dissecting the blockages and creating solutions in policy that will stop our care experienced people from dying."
Poet and author Lemn Sissay, who is care experienced, also criticised the move in a blog post, saying: “Don’t be hoodwinked by the commissioner’s surveys. If we as adults do not know what is best for children then we fail them.
“The team representing the children’s commissioner ask: 'Tell me what you think about whether care experience should be given protection in law?' I would ask the same question of the children’s commissioner.”
This consultation comes after Tower Hamlets Council voted in favour of treating care experience as a protected characteristic at a meeting on 26 July, becoming the 46th local authority to do so.
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