Children in care: Bob Broad on the green paper for looked after children

The looked-after children green paper talks about the “transition into adulthood” – but what are the practice  implications of what used to be “leaving care”? Bob Broad explains.

Children and young people leaving care are described as making the “transition to adulthood”, a term implying entitlements
to more services for a longer period. Presumably it is hoped that this term will have a more positive impact than the “leaving care” label. If it results in these changes, this will be most welcome.

Staying longer, leaving later
The two most significant pilot proposals are to give young people a veto over any decisions about legally leaving care before
they turn 18, and to allow care leavers to continue living with foster families up to the age of 21.

As well as possible difficulties over who has overriding legal authority to make what decision for a child wanting to leave
or remain in placement, it is likely that a new reviewing procedure will be needed to accommodate this “veto” proposal.

It will also require either that the current review and pathway planning instruments are replaced or adapted to become more
authoritative, consistent, strategic and young person-led.

Social care
Staff working with care leavers will need to organise a wide range of advice and support, requiring a different sets of  skills including pedagogic, counselling and legal skills.

Along with the proposed extended transition period there may need to be a review of the role of social services for young people aged 18 and above. Children’s services should retain overall strategic planning and monitoring responsibility for fostered children, even up to 21. Day-to day responsibility for supporting young people after leaving foster care could be taken up by “young people in transition” teams, building on current 16+ support teams.

Foster care
The biggest practice change may well be for foster carers. Some carers will face a new role in looking after adults up to 21. Others already foster post-18 and do so willingly. The proposed tiered framework for foster care will need to take full account of the different demands of this older group of young people in transition, and the possibility – guidance allowing – that the carer becomes a lead worker. Different tiers of foster care for children and young people with different needs will require foster carers to hold parental responsibility for longer without having parental powers.

Practical life skills
The proposal that young people be taught practical life skills, we’re told, emerged from young people themselves. The proposed introduction of training modules for carers is a structured way of ensuring such training takes place.

Role-modelling should provide a more flexible way of passing on practical life skills.

In identifying and sharing good practice (for example, about supported accommodation) practitioners may need to be more focused and selective about the types of appropriate supported accommodation.

No recognition is given to the accommodation crisis for care leavers and the absence of a legal duty on housing authorities
and funding to provide accommodation. Proposed good practice guidance to tackle homelessness might assist to lever-in better

Financial support
If the annual child trust fund amount proposed (an extra £100) could be significantly increased, it could have a critical impact on care leavers’ lives. At the practice level it raises questions about who decides and at what point in the child’s life to make these monies available? Should the trust fund, as the title suggests, be held until a child reaches a certain age?

There is no reason why the £2,000 “bursary” for young people leaving care who go to university should not be available
for all at 18 as an investment in education, employment and training, and not only for those entering higher education.

● Different, more authoritative, consistent, strategic and young personled pathway planning will be necessary to assess, plan and meet young people’s needs post-18.
● New transition teams or structures will be needed to co-ordinate and provide a service for post 16, 18 and 21-year-olds
who have been in care.
● There will need to be additional assessment stages introduced to take account of the longer period of transition to adulthood.
● Proposals and pilots for young people to remain in a foster care placement post-18 up to 21 will require more specialist foster carers to be recruited, trained, and supported.
● The proposed introduction of training modules for carers to teach or pass on practical life skill confirms the move to foster care becoming an even more professional and accountable service.

Professor Bob Broad: is children’s research and policy consultant and visiting professor at De Montfort University, Leicester.

This article appeared in the 9 November issue under the headline “Green Shoots”


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