How does care leaver support in the UK compare with the rest of the world?

The University of York's Mike Stein examines how support for British care leavers fares in comparison with those elsewhere in the world

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By Mike Stein

To mark the start of National Care Leavers Week today, University of York professor emeritus Mike Stein examines how care leaver services in the UK stacks up against the rest of the world.

The challenges facing leaving care services in the United Kingdom and most of Western Europe are very different both in scale and type of need compared with most of the world.

In many African, Asian and South American countries and in some post-communist European societies, most young people living apart from their families are living in large institutional care – currently estimated at 2 million children and young people.

This is mainly a result of poverty, disasters, war, famine and disease – of which Ebola is the latest epidemic – on families and communities.

Under the auspices of the United Nations, many of these countries are trying to reduce institutional care and its damaging consequences for care leavers through programmes to support children remaining within their families and kinship groups. They are also moving towards smaller children’s homes and foster care placements.

In the UK and many Western European countries most young people leave care from foster care, small children’s homes, residential centres and kinship care. But there are differences.

In comparison with other Western European countries, young people in the UK are the least likely to leave care from kinship placements, highly likely to leave from foster care and far less likely to leave from residential care.

In Western European countries, including the UK, most of these young people leave care between 16 and 18 years of age – far younger than young people leave home, resulting in them having to cope with major changes in their lives in a far shorter time period.

In the UK and other Western European countries there are new laws and policies being introduced to give young people the opportunity to ‘stay put’ in placements where they are settled.

In England, young people can remain in their foster care placements until they are 21 years of age. In Scotland, from April 2015, young people will be able to remain in any type of placement – not just foster care – until they are 21 years of age. This also applies in Germany, where it is defined as a legal right to assistance for ‘upbringing and education’ until the age of 21.

The UK has been at the forefront of introducing specialist leaving care legislation in Europe that combines ‘duties’ and ‘powers’ as part of a wider ‘corporate parenting’ policy framework.

In Denmark, Norway and Sweden, the main approach has been ‘universalism’ where law and policies are developed that aim to include all young people in mainstream services rather than specialist responses.

However, recognition of the failure to meet the needs of care leavers has led to the introduction of specialist legislation, mainly with permissive powers and still within a ‘universalist’ framework.

Overall, the UK countries have a strong legal framework in comparison with other Western European nations. However, ongoing challenges include providing more stable high-quality placements, addressing educational deficits, extending the use of kinship care, and providing more opportunities for young people to remain in placements until they are ready and prepared to leave.

Making international comparisons is not easy, but reaching beyond a parochial understanding of young people’s transitions from care has the potential to improve the lives of care leavers, wherever they are living in the world.

Mike Stein is professor emeritus in the Social Policy Research Unit at the University of York. He is also the author of Young People Leaving Care: Supporting Pathways to Adulthood.

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2 Responses to How does care leaver support in the UK compare with the rest of the world?

  1. Philip Craig October 23, 2014 at 12:14 pm #

    Is not the aim of semi-independent units to provide a safe environment for young people who are at the point of leaving either Foster or residential care. However in light of the complex needs displayed by a number of young people in the care system require the services to be resourced and funded according to the speciality of the type of service being provided.
    I am not aware of any local authority provision specific for young care leavers but we do have a lot of indipendent provision in the area of care for 16 to 21 year old’s despite it not being formaly regulated which means the services are able to provide a less then appropriate service. Again until we in this country stop using money as the main problems as to why the service for any form of residential care is not being considered anything other than a last resort option.
    For many years we have been trying to get Governments and policy makers to understand and accept that group living is as vital a service as any other type of service to our young people who for no fault of their own land up being looked after.

    We are aware that a mumber of young people who land up as LAC often display very complex behaviours and are in need of specialist support, provision and resources to enable the real work to be done.
    We know that their is always going to be a group of young people who will never be able to remain within a foster care setting for many different reason and not always as a fault of their own.

    Just as with children’s homes we need to address the imbalance between trying to meet the needs of very complex emotional, physical and social needs our young people present along with highly skilled and trained staff who are best placed to work with these types of young people i.e. residential staff, support workers, key workers, mentor’s advocates.
    If the best we can do and expect as a way of satisfying ourselves and believing that an NVQ 3 will give the staff the tools,knowledge and understanding in meeting these needs then we continue to be fooled and fool ourselves.

    Whilst many studies and comparrisons have been made with other Countries one of the consistant themes has always come back to one thing Training.
    During the governments initiative in attempting to introduce a Social Pedagogic undersanding and approach into residential care in this Country it was evident that in order for that to have had any real sucess the starting point must be to consider the staff training and development.

    Whilst we all know and understand but not neccessarily seem to be bothered is that Pedagogy is a professional dicipline and requires a serious level of study that none of our care work force will ever be able to aspire to because we flatly choose to dismiss and or ignore or use money as to why it wont make any difference to our work force in seeking to improve the qaulity and specialism of the care sector services.

    Until this matter if fully addressed we will continue to do what we have been doing over the past 20 years which is to further compound the matter and then blame everyone else accept the people who have the power and authority and also money to address this Fact.

    some questions that need to be asked for example are:
    why is residential child care not a statutory service ?
    Why are we not professionalising resdential child care workers?
    Who decides the training, learning and development needs of residential staff ?
    why is the cost of residential care always considered too exspensive for our most vulnerable young people in society?

    I could go on and ask more but we need to have a serious debate in this country about the way forward otherwise we will continue to keep comming back and writing about the same things that we have been doing over the past how many years.

    All it takes is for a reputable organisations/individual or something to take the bull by the horns and make a real challenge about the whole state of our youth in this country.

    Emagine one of the big newspapers or a top government official or big celebrety taking on this cause and making noices until somthing is taken up.
    It works in other fields so why not for our LAC population.

  2. Tim McArdle October 23, 2014 at 2:18 pm #

    Not sure if this article actually said anything. I was really interested in a comparison of the UK against other western countries but didn’t really get anything from it. I would have shared it with our social media community but I don’t know what point I would be sharing.