Leaving Care Today
Imagine today is your eighteenth birthday. When you went to bed last night you were still a child, but this morning you woke to find yourself a fully-fledged adult, expected to take care of yourself; to work, to pay bills and to find your way in the world unaided. For most of us, this was not our experience of turning eighteen and if it had been, we would have been completely overwhelmed. For young people leaving care today however, this scenario is all too familiar - with some care leavers likening their eighteenth birthday to reaching a cliff edge. “Many young people have the option of staying with parents when they leave education,” explains Cllr Brigid Jones cabinet member for children, families and schools “but for care leavers the safety net can just disappear”.
There are over 70,000 looked after children in England - 10,000 of whom will transition from Local Authority Care in 2017 and move on to independent, adult life. As one of the most vulnerable groups in our society, young people with experience of care need support and guidance in order to navigate the long and often confusing journey into adulthood. “Looked after children are our children’, says Cllr Izzi Seccombe, Chair of the Community and Wellbeing Board in the opening statement of Healthy Futures, the LGA’s report that sets out the broad and varied parental responsibilities of local authorities toward care leavers. “Local authorities not only have public health responsibilities towards these children and young people but also, of course, our vital corporate parenting responsibilities.”
In his report Keep on Caring, Edward Timpson expresses the Government’s ambitions to fundamentally change the way that we treat care leavers. The purpose of the new care leaver's strategy, the final draft of which is due for publication early in 2017, is to address the quality of support for care leavers and to propose new policies that reflect the importance of continued support, post-eighteen. But providing access to support for care leavers does present something of a challenge, as leaving care not only brings about changes to living arrangements, but also coincides with the transition from children’s to adult’s services. Councils will need to think innovatively in order to develop new systems that ensure care leavers have a clear pathway plan, agreed upon with their personal advisor, and the tools needed to follow it.
In recent years we have seen Local Authorities harnessing the power of digital to provide information, advice and guidance to families and those in need of additional social support. The Children and Families Act 2014 placed a legal duty on Local Authorities to publish accessible information and advice for families with children with SEND online - this heralded a spate of new ‘Local Offer’ websites, coproduced by parent carers and young people with SEND. The new care leaver’s strategy promises to place similar duties on local authorities to publish guidance for care leavers online - information and advice around their entitlements, housing, education and employment will all need to be made available.
There is much work to be done in order to bring the new provision for care leavers in-line with the needs of young people today. Digital tools like the Care Leaver’s App and MOMO (Mind Of My Own) are already helping Councils to develop new channels of communication between care leaver and corporate parent, using the kinds of technologies that young people are already engaged with. But there is a long journey ahead, and this is just one piece of the puzzle; a section of a much bigger picture that must be looked at as a whole if we are to improve outcomes for young people leaving care today.
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