Government must enshrine in law therapeutic purpose of care, say charities

The legislation is there but we need to remember its aim, according to Action for Children

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An alliance of children’s charities is urging government to clarify the therapeutic purpose of the care system, in a statement in law.

This would mark a fundamental shift, according to Action for Children, towards understanding the role of care as helping children and young people to recover from the circumstances that caused them to become looked-after in the first place.

Heal and thrive

Emma Smale, the charity’s head of policy and research, said that while protecting children from immediate harm was key, it was easy to lose sight of the care system’s longer-term goal to help those children heal and ultimately thrive.

“The impact of traumatic experiences like severe neglect and family breakdown is enduring,” she said. “Yet too many young people say that the reasons they came into care are not addressed.”

Purpose for care

The law does not currently state a purpose for care, she said, adding that, athough there is already a complex and robust statutory framework for looked-after children, an overall statement of purpose would provide focus for corporate parents.

“Let’s not add in more legislation for the sake of it, but think about what this legislation is for,” she said. This specification of purpose already exists for children in the youth justice system, but there is currently no equivalent in care, she said.

The alliance for children in care and care leavers brings together 22 national children’s charities, including Action for Children, Barnado’s and The Who Cares? Trust.

Long-term impacts

Barnado’s chief executive Javed Kahn said: “It is not enough to just provide a home, but to help [young people] overcome long-term impacts of their past experiences to ensure they can reach their full potential in the future.”

Smale said the government should review what data is collected and identify the gaps, to ensure there is a clear picture of the day-to-day experiences of children in care. The way we currently assess outcomes often provides a snapshot of the child but doesn’t provide a comprehensive picture of their wellbeing, she added.

“What we measure at the moment doesn’t allow us to understand how well a child in care is doing from the moment they arrive to the moment they leave care.

“Research is starting to show measures like the strengths and difficulties questionnaire (a way of assessing children’s mental health and wellbeing) are not being used strategically.

“Even if the assessment is undertaken, it doesn’t really bear any resemblance to what help they receive or what happens every day to that child in their placement,” she said.

What is care for?

Alison O’Sullivan, president of the Association for Directors of Children’s services, said she agreed that, “to better meet the needs of young people we must ask ourselves, what is care for?”

The alliance also called for the development of mechanisms to assess the quality of care from the child’s perspective and to measure children’s wellbeing and progress throughout their care experience.

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