Obstacles on the pathway

Bob Broad is professor of children and families research
and director of the children and families research unit, faculty of
health and life sciences, De Montfort University, Leicester. With a
long-standing interest in research about care leavers, he was
previously a social work lecturer at the London School of

Young care leavers moved up the agenda three years ago when the
Children (Leaving Care) Act 2000 was implemented. The idea was to
ring-fence funding to help tackle shortcomings in the way housing
and social services departments worked together. At the same time,
the education, employment and training, health and financial
support sectors would work jointly to achieve better outcomes for
young people in care as they entered adult life.

The act specifies that each young person leaving care will receive
an assessment, a “pathway plan”, an adviser and contact and
assistance (including money) from their local authority until they
are at least 21. The plan includes accommodation.

To assess the success of the legislation a national research
questionnaire was sent to 52 leaving care teams, working with 7,000
care leavers entitled to services under the act.

The teams were asked to provide a baseline assessment of services
before the legislation from four areas: accommodation; education
employment and training; health; and financial support. They were
then asked to rate the their services after the act had been
implemented (see panels).

The main upshot from the findings is the question of future
funding. Just as further funding is needed to boost services in
order to sustain the progress that has been made, ring-fenced
funding for leaving care work has ended. This raises the question
of how services for care leavers can improve without continuing and
additional ring-fenced funding. The funds needed to meet transition
needs are high, and the number of looked-after children entering
care is rising each year. According to the Department of Health,
there were 60,800 looked-after children in England at 31 March
2003, 24 per cent more than in 1993-4.

Leaving care services will need continuing and additional funding
to retain staff and maintain progress. The study’s finding that
some local authorities were using ring-fenced leaving care funding
to support other children’s services also raises important
questions resources. Yet can there ever be enough leaving care
funding? For most care leavers their problems start – and need more
effective interventions – well before they come to the attention of
leaving care services.

More creative cross-cutting models of children and family support,
of which kinship care is one important example, are also necessary.
It is vital that families in need are offered a wider choice of
properly funded family support provisions in order to reduce the
need for some children to be removed from their home unnecessarily.
A professional recognition of the foster carers’ contribution would
make a considerable difference.

A significant percentage of respondents, between 20-35 per cent,
reported “a slight improvement” in assessments, services and
outcomes for young people leaving care since the legislation was
introduced. This is an important and positive finding.

But 55-65 per cent of respondents reported that assessments,
services and outcomes for young people leaving care had remained
the same since the legislation.

These findings have enormous implications for improving the life
chances of care leavers, which, after all, is the main purpose of
the act. The introduction of additional leaving care performance
indicators and standards are, without additional funding, unlikely
to ensure that young people leaving care have their extended
transitional needs met.

Education, empolyment and training
The teams which indicated that they already provide either
an excellent or good baseline service were the only ones whose
services either remained the same or improved. Teams with higher
staff to young people ratios enjoyed consistently better outcomes
than those with lower ratios. Predictably, teams that had the time
and resources attained better results.

Financial support 
The availability of financial incentives, through Quality
Protects funding mechanisms and moving cash from the benefits
system to social services, has enabled leaving care teams to link
welfare and financial policies and provide a clearer financial
payment structure and incentives for supporting young people
leaving care. Sixty-eight per cent of leaving care teams provide
financial incentives to young people to stay in or move on to
further education, training or employment.

Health care provision
There has been little or no improvement under the new legislation
despite statutory guidance. This is hardly surprising because
health strategies for young people leaving care were scarce or were
still being discussed. The following are some of the typical
comments made about health services: 

  • “Young people leaving care feel blocked by health services due
    to waiting times.” 
  • “There is a lack of appropriate mental health services.” 
  • “Health provision is not available to those who do not have a
    mental illness diagnosis.” 
  • But on a more positive note, “all young people leaving care
    have a health assessment”.

Most leaving care services which said their accommodation
service was either excellent, good or average before the
introduction of the legislation report that it has either
significantly improved or slightly improved. Of the 10 which
identified their accommodation service as either below average or
inadequate before the act, only six reported an improvement.


This article summarises the findings of a national leaving care
research study recording the impact of the Children (Leaving Care)
Act 2000 on care leavers. It examines the work of 52 leaving care
services working with 7,000 young people leaving care. The study
focuses on the contribution of ring-fenced funding, personal
advisers, needs assessments and pathway plans, and reports on
education, employment and training, accommodation, financial
support and health outcomes. It was commissioned by Action on

Further information   

Contact details 

Contact the author on bbroad@dmu.ac.uk or 0116
2078731. A free copy of the full research report can be ordered on
the CFRU website

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