The government needs to review the impact of Staying Put and its strategy for care leavers amid fears vulnerable young people are being “cut adrift when they need help the most”.
That was the verdict of the Public Accounts Committee, which today published its report on care leavers’ transition to adulthood, and raised concerns that “there is no correlation between spend and quality of care leaver services”.
Members of Parliament said there had been a “systemic failing” in the provision of support to care leavers. The quality and cost of support for care leavers from local authorities “varies unacceptably across the country”, and outcomes for young people leaving care were “poor and worsening”.
Financial impact of Staying Put
Staying Put should have an early review, the committee recommended, with a particular focus on the financial and social impact of the policy for care leavers, foster parents and local authorities.
The policy, which was put into force last year, places a duty on local authorities to support young people in foster care until the age of 21. Despite its popularity, sector leaders have warned that the funding for it isn’t sufficient, and if too many young people were to take it up the policy would be unaffordable.
“Some foster carers may want young people to stay with them after 18, but be unable to afford to because of the 70% reduction in payments they receive,” the report said. The committee was also concerned about the effect on care leavers of reducing funding to foster carers once they reach 18.
Central accountability and responsibility for improving the care leaver system is not clear, and the Department for Education should recognise it has ministerial lead, the report said, and it added that too many care leavers were in unsuitable accommodation and the support young people received from personal advisers was too patchy.
The committee also recommended that the Department for Education should extend its social work education and training reforms to include the role and responsibilities of personal advisers. The department should also take the lead in developing and sharing good practice, and set out how it can use apprenticeships and traineeships to help care leavers.
The 2013 Care Leavers Strategy was a positive step, the report said, but more needed to be done, and the Department for Education should set out clearly the government’s objectives for care leavers, and how and when it will make improvements to support.
Meg Hillier, chair of the committee, said young adults were being let down by the system that’s supposed to support them.
“Despite much talk of supporting care leavers beyond the age of 18 we heard of failing services, with inspections by Ofsted finding two-thirds of those provided by local authorities to be inadequate or require improvement,” Hillier said.
The chair of the Local Government Association’s children and young people’s board, Roy Perry, said the system needed to be properly funded.
“Councils widely recognise that young adults have a better start in life if they maintain a relationship with their foster carer. Indeed, it has long been common practice for young people to stay with families beyond the age of 18,” he said.
“However, the growing number of young people coming into the care system, alongside 40 per cent cuts to council budgets since 2010, means that this is becoming an increasing challenge.”
Watch: What can we do better for care leavers?