Only by listening to the voices of care leavers can we truly begin to understand what needs to change
These young people rarely know where to turn for help and are extremely vulnerable to exploitation, writes Steve McCabe MP. | PA Images
As we prepare for the delayed care review, our focus must be to create a system which works with care leavers and for care leavers.
This week is National Care Leavers Week, an opportunity to reflect on young people for whom the state has assumed a corporate parenting responsibility.
Many experience a #CareCliff when they turn 18, often forced to move immediately into new accommodation with a significant drop in support. This isn’t inevitable, the care system can help young people develop meaningful relationships that support them into early adulthood. Our focus must be to create a system which works with care leavers and for care leavers.
There have been improvements with Staying Put, an arrangement which allows young people to stay with the foster carers until age 21, but its poorly funded and only about a third of eligible young people benefit from it.
More recently there’s been encouragement for staying close initiatives, in recognition of the fact that around half of 20 to 24-year olds currently live with their parents. Many now concede that care leavers need extended support, especially when it comes to safe and secure accommodation.
These young people rarely know where to turn for help and are extremely vulnerable to exploitation. They need help applying to university; finding a job, something that will become much more difficult in the months ahead; help with money management and debt; and a host of other things which confront them as they transition to adulthood.
The pandemic has halted the much-vaunted care review. I understand the delays, but it would be useful in this week of all weeks, to get some indication of preparations for that review.
The whole journey through and out of care is a complex one which this review must fully address
In Scotland, a review which took 3 years to conduct, finally concluded in February with several important recommendations, including an implementation plan. Key findings were to limit the number of placements for looked-after children, to prevent them being passed from pillar to post and better support for care leavers until age 25.
Some argue for a longer timescale in order to achieve a root and branch inquiry. I think three years is a bit long, but I’m with the Education Secretary when he says that he wants a review that is independently led with the aim of better supporting, protecting and improving the outcomes of vulnerable children.
We need to know that preparations for that review are making progress and that independently led means we don’t hand too much influence to the current custodians of the system, but open the way for the widest possible input from those with real experience of the system. It’s only through listening to their voices that we can truly begin to understand what is needed. It is essential that we draw on those with recent care experience and think about what support is needed till age 25.
Any review must be comprehensive in scope, covering all parts of the care system including services from other departments that can so profoundly shape a care journey.
As well as focusing on the number of placements a child experiences and consequent implications for education, stability and mental health, we also need determination to improve the latter stages of the journey. Especially, housing, education, employment, mental health and financial support.
The cost of a system which fails so many is expressed in subsequent years, in extra spending for mental health, homelessness, prison and addiction services as well as lost income tax and national insurance payments.
Previous investigations have lacked the boldness required. The whole journey through and out of care is a complex one which this review must fully address.
Our care system needs to fit the young person, not the other way around.
Steve McCabe is the Labour MP for Birmingham Selly Oak.