Children rescued from often chaotic and abusive homes deserve more than the residential care system is offering
I know, from 10 years first-hand experience spent in the care system that being looked after can be safer and more secure than being at home. Was I lucky to have been rescued from an abusive childhood, managing to build a life free from the painful trauma that I experienced as a child?
This of course is the very question at the heart of social work practice – how will I know when to make the decision is made that a child will be better off living away from their family in a difficult and far from perfect care system?
As a nine-year-old, asking to be removed from the care of my parents, my sense of reality and normality was unrecognisable from that of children growing up in secure and stable homes. I could not eat with a knife and fork, had not used a toothbrush, had not been able to stop wetting the bed, and had not ever been told that I was loved. I needed nurturing, supportive, kind and compassionate "care". I was so desperate for the pain, fear and constant disappointment to end.
My future depended on getting "enough" emotional stability and resilience from the care system - and I got it, mostly. At the very least, this is what all looked after children deserve. They all tell us – that what they need is to be "held in someone's mind". To be the focus of concern for an adult that they trust and know well.
Before you can improve outcomes, you need to give children a sense of belonging. If you're giving a child a sense of belonging that child will flourish. More needs to be done to help looked after children in England thrive.
I've been visiting children's residential homes in Scotland and I've been impressed by their focus on recovery and healing. Staff encourage youngsters to develop a skillset and have aspirations. Many providers want young people who have left care to be able to return there, for example, for dinner, to see it as their home.
Take this example. A man in his 20s was due to get married but the wedding venue went bust. The staff at his former children's home donated money for him to book a new venue. They had never lost contact with him, that was his home.
The same provider has a Halloween party each year where all the people who have left the home come back with their own children. At another residential home in Scotland, I met a young social worker who had lived there for six years as a youngster, and was later given a work placement there.
Compare this with my experience. My residential social worker kept in contact with me, but did so in secret, afraid of getting into trouble.
Or the experience of a social worker, who told me:
"I recently comforted a 16-year-old boy who was visiting his dad's grave for the first time in six years. He was sobbing and kept saying 'I really miss him', so I put my arm around him and just kept saying 'I know you do'. He had his head on my shoulder until he felt a bit better. I'm 52 and have been qualified as social worker for 20 years but have been working with young people for 30. I feel no shame or guilt because it was a human thing to do. Not sure what the process driven robots back in my head office would say but to hell with them!"
It doesn't help that frontline staff are at the end of their tether with heavy workloads. Looked after children are at risk because of this and because the standards in the residential care system are too low. Why rescue these children from often chaotic and abusive homes, only to "caretake" them?
The children deserve so much more – society owes that to them and to itself – those children are tomorrow's adults and right now, too many are being failed.
Jenny Molloy is a looked after child adviser and trainer and has organised a conference in partnership with the Centre for Excellence for Looked After Children in Scotland to discuss how to improve outcomes for children in residential care homes. It takes place on Thursday 14 November in Edinburgh.
The Fostering Network is concerned at revelations in a new report, which heard from over 1,000 children in care, care leavers, and professionals, showing that children and young people are not receiving their legal entitlements.
Jackie Sanders, head of media and campaigns at the Fostering Network, said: “The report reveals worrying statistics that only reinforce the importance of our ongoing campaigns Don’t Move Me
and Tick the Box
The report shows:
• Over 70 per cent of children in care and 80 per cent young care leavers do not think they have all the information they need about the support they should receive from their local authority;
• More than one third of children in care do not know if they have a care plan, a vital document which sets out important decisions about the child’s life such as where they are going to live, whether they are allowed to have contact with their family and what they want to happen in the future;
• More than one in five children in care say their social worker does not visit them alone, meaning they may be unable to raise concerns about their safety or welfare without being overheard;
• One third of care leavers are not aware their local authority must help them with costs of being in education or training, and fewer than half know their local authority has to help them with accommodation during the holidays if they go on to higher education. Care leavers who are unaware of this support are likely to be deterred from continuing in education.
Sanders continued: “There is no doubt that children and young people should be made aware of all the facts to do with their care, so that they can approach independence with a clear pathway into a positive future.”
As well as offering revealing insights into how young people feel they are prepared for independence, the Entitlements Inquiry report, published today by The Who Cares? Trust
, sets out 10 recommendations, developed with young people, to improve the way that children in care and care leavers can access the support they have a right to.
These include asking local authorities to set realistic and manageable maximum caseloads for social workers and personal advisors, to ensure that they have enough time to spend regular and quality time with the children and young people on their caseload.
You can download a summary of the full report
, or the full report
, on The Who Cares? Trust website.
Children who are moved from area to area while in care risk sexual exploitation as well as miss out on adequate education, health care and support, a charity has warned.
Tros Gynnal Plant said some children get moved to new local authority areas.
But it said councils often did not follow procedures to inform the child's new local authority of the move.
The body which represents social services managers denied children got lost within the system.
More than a quarter of the 5,900 children in care in Wales live outside the county that is responsible for them, sometimes because it is safer but often because of a shortage of foster care placements.
When youngsters are moved out of their county, the council moving them should inform the new local authority and the two should work together to meet the child's needs.
'More at risk'But in 2012-13 there were at least 60 cases where local authorities failed to share the details of children moving into their area.
A BBC Wales investigation found councils often flouted Welsh government guidance on children in care.
Only three kept the information and another 19 authorities did not record the information.
Some councils said it would only know a child was moving to its area if it was told by the placing authority.
Jackie Murphy, executive director of Tros Gynnal Plant, said in reality the numbers ignoring the guidance could be higher.
"There's a lot of evidence to suggest that they're more at risk and very vulnerable," she said.
"A lot of the time they're placed in private residential homes or schools. Again, we know that often these establishments are targeted by paedophiles.
"Young people and peer groups just want to be accepted and be with young people so I think they can be very vulnerable."
A disproportionate number of children in care were targeted by paedophile gangs in cases in Rochdale, Derby and Oxford, according to a UK government report.
One of the five victims of the grooming network in Rochdale had been placed in a residential care home in the town by another local authority.
The Gwent Missing Children Project is addressing the issue in a trial involving police and social and healthcare workers.
Service manager Kerry Wade said: "It's helped hugely with child sexual exploitation and trafficking in Gwent. It's about everyone knowing what they need to know about that child.
"We don't need to know everything about that child and it wouldn't be nice.
"I wouldn't want everyone knowing my history, it's not nice for everyone to know. We need what we need to protect the child effectively."
'Voice in system'A UK government report last year said cross-boundary placements put a huge distance between the child and the social worker responsible for them, meaning they spend less time with the youngster.
Ms Murphy said independent, professional advocacy could help.
"Children and young people tell us time and time again that it helps them make sense of the system, that it's helped have a voice in the systems - that it helps them understand what's happening to them," she said.
"Certainly it makes them feel in more control of their lives and it makes them feel listened to and not invisible."
The Association of Directors for Social Services Cymru said a "minority" of children were placed outside their local authority.
"It is an important decision in a child's life and, because children living away from their home area can be more vulnerable, there are strong safeguards to ensure that any risks are identified and tackled," said a spokesperson.
"Regulations require the placing local authority to notify the receiving or host local authority that the placement is planned or has been made."
But the association admitted there was "inconsistency in practice" adding: "The statutory responsibility for each child or young person still rests with the home (placing) local authority, regardless of where the placement is made.
"These responsibilities include ensuring that all education, health and social care needs are appropriately met in line with the child's care plan and that there are regular visits to the child within the placement and to the carers.
"It is not correct to state that children placed in other local authorities are 'lost' within the system or neglected."
We are very excited to launch the E-Spire Team in our North East region. The E-Spire Team is a specialist team launched with the aim of giving young people leaving care the same start in adult life as other teenagers. The team was officially launched during National Care Leavers week at a TEAM Fostering arts and crafts day where our children and young people produced a piece of art which they felt represented what the team meant to them.
Most young people in foster care are forced to leave their foster home when they turn 18 under current national legislation which cuts state funding to carers and places councils under pressure to free up spaces for younger children.
Recent Government figures show that more than one third of 19-year-olds who recently left care in the UK are not in work or training with disproportionate numbers of teenage youngsters leaving foster homes sucked into criminal activity and unemployment.
We are hoping to tackle this issue in the North East by launching the E-Spire team to work with children soon to leave care and their foster families.
It will offer practical support and advice to young people about job opportunities, budgeting, cooking for themselves, driving lessons, further education, housing and benefits as well as offering access to Team Fostering grants, set up to help those leaving care with deposits for a flat and furnishings.
Walter Young, Director at Team Fostering, said: “It’s not enough just to find a caring family for young people, we need to think about what we are doing to help them with the rest of their life.
“The E-Spire team is there to help give these young people the best possible start to their adult lives which is good news not just for them, but for the whole of society.”
Foster carers can choose to allow a young person turned 18 to continue living with them, but practical and financial support from local authorities ends in most cases. Carers then have to fund the young person’s care from their own finances, which for many foster parents is not possible as they don't have the money to do so.
The problem is so far-reaching that chief executives of 40 of Britain’s leading children’s charities have called on Parliament to amend the Children and Families Bill to allow all foster children to remain with their families until they are 21.
Children’s charities claim it is an ‘own goal’ for the state not to fund the estimated £2.6m needed annually to ensure a longer stay with foster parents, given the evidence that children are more successful in later life the longer they stay with foster parents and the problems many face if they don’t.
The E-Spire team is a vital new addition to the wide range of support we offer. It will extend the reach of our services beyond traditional boundaries and into the adult lives of children previously in care.
The E-Spire team will operate across Northumberland, Tyne and Wear, County Durham and Teesside. E-Spire stands for Education, Support, Participation, Inspiration, Recognition, Engagement.
“Research which looked at young people in the care system shows that the outcomes for many have been very poor with children leaving foster care over-represented in terms of unemployment, the prison population, homelessness and mental health problems,” said Mr Young.
“Children often enter the care system as a result of the breakdown of their birth family. Some will have experienced physical, sexual, or emotional abuse, or neglect and for this reason, care leavers often lack the emotional and practical support from families that other young people can rely on.
“The E-Spire team will seek to rectify this by working intensively with young people one-to-one, for example to help with their application for college or university.
“Putting Children’s Futures First” is a key commitment of Team Fostering, and the E Spire Team will be making a real difference to supporting young people to be valued contributors to society.”
While many independent fostering agencies are having to cut back on financial support for carers and children, our not-for-profit business model means we can continue to fund their support services to better prepare young people when they leave foster care.
At a time when young people in general are staying at home longer – with the UK average for a young person to leave home now 24-year-old – children in foster care are forced to leave home at 18, or sooner in some cases.
During National Adoption Week (4-10 November), the Nationwide Association of Fostering Providers (NAFP) is asking government and local authorities to remember the 9,990 young people leaving care by giving their foster carers the authority and the tools to prepare them well. Thousands of young people who weren't able to grow up with their own families or find a new 'forever family' did find the compassion and skills of a foster carer. And that foster carer was hugely important in getting them ready for adult life.
Research and the experiences of care leavers consistently highlight how the quality of support these young people receive during their transition to adulthood shapes their future life chances. Yet, too many still leave their foster placements unable to cook, manage their own finances and without being emotionally ready to look after themselves. Some do not have allocated social workers, and even when they do, these individuals may not know the young person in the same way as their foster carer does. Yet foster carers in the independent and voluntary sector, who are not part of the local authority, are too often excluded from discussions or decisions about the future. This can result in conflicting ideas, poor planning, anxiety or even young people leaving care too soon.
NAFP has today published a briefing summarising the findings of their 'Looking After Yourself' project that highlights four changes that they believe will really make a difference:
1. Foster carers need specific training and support for their role in transition to independence
2. Taking a ‘coaching’ approach can be effective – especially with young people who d not have ‘familial relationships’ with their carers, those who have limited time in th placement and those with more complex needs
3. Agencies must think about how they can assist and encourage foster carers to look after their own health and wellbeing, so they can be positive role models
4. Crucially, foster carers from both the local authority and independent/voluntary sectors need to be have their key role as part of the team around a young person recognised in practice
Andrea Warman, Policy Consultant at NAFP, said, 'Foster carers should take the lead in preparing young people for adult life. They should be key in decision-making with the young person about their practical and emotional readiness for independence. While new Fostering Regulations and National Minimum Standards strengthen carers’ responsibilities for safeguarding, maximising opportunities for young people and promoting their emotional well-being, we believe there is much more that can be done.'
Harvey Gallagher, Chief Executive of NAFP, said 'It is time to give independent and voluntary sector fostering providers formal responsibility for managing the transition to independence for young people in their placements. Foster carers, supported by supervising social workers, would take on the social worker/Personal Advisor roles and decision-making tasks. We believe that this would contribute to the development of a more flexible, gradual process where engaged carers, like other parents, are able to take well thought through risks. It would help to create a system which responds to the young person’s timescales and particular needs, a care system where they can feel positive and optimistic about the future.'
Javed Khan, CEO of charity Victim Support, has been appointed the new Chief Executive of Barnardo's. Javed Khan will take up his post in the spring at which time the acting chief executive Peter Brook will be taking his well-earned retirement.Javed Khan has twenty eight years of extensive and varied experience in the UK public and voluntary sectors. He started in front line maths teaching for the first 15 years of his career before moving into local government. In Birmingham he was Assistant Director of Education, and in Harrow he transformed the local education authority’s performance as Director of Education, before changing roles to become Director of Community and Cultural Services.
Moving on to the Government Office for London, he was the Executive Director to the London Serious Youth Violence Board where he worked with key London agencies and government departments to improve how agencies share information and work together to reduce serious youth violence across the city. He took up his current role as Chief Executive of national charity Victim Support in 2010, where he has led 1,500 staff and over 5,600 specially trained volunteers through a period of significant change whilst supporting more than 1.1 million victims and 200,000 witnesses each year.
He is currently a board member of the Sentencing Council for England and Wales, the Criminal Justice Council and a London Clinical Commissioning Group. He is married with four children.
Acting Chair of Barnardo’s Board of Trustees, Judy Clements said:I am delighted that Javed is joining Barnardo’s. He has an impressive track record in leadership and has achieved huge success for organisations in which he has worked. I am convinced that he has the experience, skills and passion for the cause that will enable him to lead Barnardo’s into the next phase of its journey as the UK’s largest children’s charity.
Javed Khan said:It is a great honour to be appointed as the new Chief Executive of Barnardo’s. I am hugely motivated by their ambition to transform the lives of the UK’s most vulnerable children. I look forward to making good use of my knowledge and experience in the education and justice sectors, in particular my richly-rewarding time at Victim Support. I am thrilled to have been chosen to take up this opportunity to lead the charity as it further develops its already outstanding work with families.
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 Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) has introduced a care leaver 'marker' so that employment support for these young people is better tracked and improved; and the Department for Education (DfE) will continue to fund the Care to Work programme, providing care leavers with work experience, apprenticeships and other vital training opportunities
- The Department of Health and DfE will improve guidance on promoting the health and well-being of looked-after children, making it clear how health organisations should work with local authorities to ensure care leavers receive the support they need.
- The DfE will work with the National Care Advisory Service (NCAS) to improve the training of children's home staff so they are better able to support young people as they leave their placement; and Department for Communities and Local Government will consult on new social housing guidance that will prioritise the most vulnerable, including care leavers.
- The DfE will continue to encourage all local authorities to pay at least £2,000 to young people leaving care which can be used to pay for essential things such as the deposit on a flat or train fares to a job interview; while DWP will ensure, as part of Universal Credit, that care leavers who need help managing their money are able to access personalised budgeting support.
Martina Milburn, Chief Executive for The Prince's Trust
"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:
- over 1,100 care leavers aged 16 or over are now living in independent accommodation without any formalised support
- 34% of care leavers aged 19 or over are not in education, employment or training
- just 6% of care leavers aged 19 or over went on to higher education.
The care leaver strategy can be read here
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:
- Emotional & behavioural problems
- Substance misuse
- Mental ill-health
- Chaotic lifestyles
- Offending behaviour
The project will be managed by Kevin McBrien, who previously ran a St Christopher’s support service in Greenwich. He will be supported by a team leader, three support officers, two support workers, two waking night staff and a linked substance misuse worker. Staff will be on-site 24 hours a day.
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