Financial impact of Staying Put should be reviewed, MPs say

The Public Accounts Committee has called outcomes for young people leaving care "poor and worsening"

Photo: Jan Tepass/ imageBROKER/REX Shutterstock (posed by model)

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.

Accountability

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.

Failing services

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?

2 Responses to Financial impact of Staying Put should be reviewed, MPs say

  1. Andy West October 30, 2015 at 12:25 pm #

    Firstly while the care system does not yet provide the possibility of the same level of support to a young adult care leaver as that provided by birth families it should be remembered that there have been enormous improvements made in the level of support since I came into social care in a residential unit in the late seventies. In those days when a young adult left care there was a scheme whereby they could have council housing allocated to which they were moved. There the support ended unless they left the residential unit with a good enough relationship to be able to return for the occasional meal or they had a social worker who, outside of their case load, was prepared to keep in contact with them on a voluntary basis.

    Secondly it has to be appreciated that the “staying put” scheme means that foster carers experience a drop in income if the young person stays with them;this is because the allowance is lower and the young adult is expected to start paying their way by making a contribution to their upkeep (which is right).

    Thirdly there is therefore an implication for the availability of a foster carer for new placements as the young care leaver continues to occupy a bed that could be used for a younger child coming into care. This has implications for the need to recruit more foster carers.

    After 37 years in social care, predominantly working with children and young people, this has again been another improvement in practice and service that is implemented without sufficient consideration being given to the financial and resource implications for the improvements.

  2. Kenny McGhee November 5, 2015 at 9:30 am #

    I agree that across the board there have significant legislative and policy improvements leading to improved practice, but the implementation of these on a consistent basis for all care leavers has been slow and sporadic – We must also take account of the changing demographic and economic/housing/employment context where young people generally are staying longer in the family home, as making the transition to independent living becomes more extended (average age of leaving home is around 26) – however care leavers still tend to move on between 16-18 years and continue to struggle with poor outcomes – the implementation and outcomes gap has closed at snails pace.

    If we are really serious about implementing staying put schemes (in Scotland now legislated for under Part 11(Continuing Care) of the CYP(S) Act 2014), then we should not expect foster carers to accept such a significant drop in income/allowances that it destabilises placements. We now effectively have ‘professional’ foster carers who are expected to give up other employment in order to care fulltime for their young people – to expect them to continue to do so with a significant drop in income is unrealistic – it also does not take into account the significant skills required to support the continued growth and development of young adults many of whom continue to struggle with significant complex issues well into adulthood. The cut-off age of 18 based on arbitrary chronological thresholds takes no account of these complexities and the extended time many care experienced young people need to find their feet in the adult world. Foster carers need the time and space (and financial stability) to be able to provide this ongoing support – and looked after young people need to know they can depend on this being in place.

    The implication that older young people and care leavers occupy beds that younger children need is a misplaced concern and compounds the view that young care leavers are somehow less vulnerable – this perceived hierarchy of need, based simply on age is not acceptable when we know that they can be extremely vulnerable and needy particularly as they negotiate and navigate their way from care to adulthood. Research would indicate that they actually need more support rather than less. If we need to recruit more foster carers to meet the needs of our most vulnerable young people then that is what we should do, rather than ration care in the way we currently do – the policy and legislative shifts and the energised debate around staying put and extended support for care leavers should give us real hope for change – but only if we get serious about closing the implementation gap between policy and practice. That requires political will and leadership at both national and local level. It also requires us as a society to put our money where our mouth is.