Caroline Boswell explains what local authorities should be doing
to prepare for the implementation of the Children (Leaving Care)
In February the government published the draft Children
(Leaving Care) Regulations and Guidance.1 The draft
guidance outlines arrangements for care leavers and considers what
local authorities need to be doing between now and October to get
ready for implementation of the Children (Leaving Care) Act
While the extension of local authorities’ corporate parenting
role in relation to care leavers has been welcomed, change in the
provision of financial support for 16- and 17-year-old “relevant”
care leavers has been more controversial. (“Relevant” refers to
those young people legally looked after between the ages of 16 and
18 but have now left care.)
Under the Children (Leaving Care) Act, relevant young people
will no longer be eligible for benefits. Instead, the local
authority will be required to conduct an assessment of their
individual needs and draw up an agreed plan with the young person
setting out how their support, including financial support, will be
National minimum standards were promised in response to concerns
raised during parliamentary debates to ensure that care leavers
were no worse off under the new system. The guidance distinguishes
between support for accommodation and maintenance, and other areas.
It says support to cover the cost of accommodation and maintenance
is “an absolute right” and “not qualified by any requirements on
the young person”.
This should not be less than what would have been provided
through the benefits system “at the rates which would have applied
to him and his circumstances”. The guidance describes these minimum
standards as providing protection against the possibility of
inadequate assistance and not “the norm”.
Determining the actual levels of support will rely on an
individual assessment of needs to take account of the
accommodation, health, education and personal support requirements
of the young person concerned. While recognising that authorities
operate within limited resources, the guidance includes
recommendations about areas that should be considered a priority
for support, and proposes that authorities draw up a written
schedule with “transparent criteria” of what they would normally
expect to provide funding for.
Local authorities preparing for the introduction of the new act
will need to immediately draw up the written schedule of support
with guidance on local priorities. Some care leavers will still be
entitled to benefits, so it is a good idea to involve people with
knowledge of the benefits system.
The guidance recommends setting up a bank account and minimising
the amount of cash payments. Where there are disputes with young
people about payment, the guidance recommends using the complaints
procedure. Authorities should ensure an advocate is available to
help the young person make their complaint.
Agreeing transparent criteria is an important way of reaching
agreement with young people about individual packages of support,
and demonstrates how priorities are set and decisions are made.
Another priority is making sure effective payment systems are up
and running prior to October. Nothing is likely to create more
frustration for young people and their advisers than chasing
delayed or lost payments. Authorities should also review the
availability of independent advocacy and ensure information is
available for young people and staff on access arrangements.
The role of leaving care personal advisers needs clarifying: in
particular, how the relationship between them and Connexions
personal advisers will work. Connexions is the government’s
national strategy to help young people who are not involved in
education, training or work. It is being phased in from April 2001
for all young people aged 13 to 19. The guidance envisages that the
leaving care personal adviser will normally also act as the young
person’s Connexions adviser.
Although the young person will be able to express a preference
in the choice of adviser, the final judgement “must ultimately be a
matter for the local authority”. The guidance recommends that
personal advisers are not budget holders to avoid potential
conflict of interests, and it does not address personal advisers’
caseloads or the arrangements for asylum seekers.
While the guidance does help clarify aspects of the new
arrangements, there are still a number of concerns. To some extent,
local authorities will be required to manage ongoing dilemmas,
including meeting young care leavers’ needs within a ring-fenced
budget. It will be important to monitor the new arrangements to
help evaluate the success of the act and its impact on young people
and service providers.
1 Copies of the draft regulations and
guidance are available on the internet at www.doh.gov.uk/qualityprotects/
Responses should be sent to Tessa Ing at the Department
of Health by 30 April 2001, preferably by e-mail, to firstname.lastname@example.org
A more detailed briefing on the draft regulations and
guidance is available from First Key on 020 7700 8130 or
Caroline Boswell is policy and communications manager at
charity for care leavers First Key