Obstacles on the pathway

    Bob Broad is professor of children and families research
    and director of the children and families research unit, faculty of
    health and life sciences, De Montfort University, Leicester. With a
    long-standing interest in research about care leavers, he was
    previously a social work lecturer at the London School of
    Economics.

    Young care leavers moved up the agenda three years ago when the
    Children (Leaving Care) Act 2000 was implemented. The idea was to
    ring-fence funding to help tackle shortcomings in the way housing
    and social services departments worked together. At the same time,
    the education, employment and training, health and financial
    support sectors would work jointly to achieve better outcomes for
    young people in care as they entered adult life.

    The act specifies that each young person leaving care will receive
    an assessment, a “pathway plan”, an adviser and contact and
    assistance (including money) from their local authority until they
    are at least 21. The plan includes accommodation.

    To assess the success of the legislation a national research
    questionnaire was sent to 52 leaving care teams, working with 7,000
    care leavers entitled to services under the act.

    The teams were asked to provide a baseline assessment of services
    before the legislation from four areas: accommodation; education
    employment and training; health; and financial support. They were
    then asked to rate the their services after the act had been
    implemented (see panels).

    The main upshot from the findings is the question of future
    funding. Just as further funding is needed to boost services in
    order to sustain the progress that has been made, ring-fenced
    funding for leaving care work has ended. This raises the question
    of how services for care leavers can improve without continuing and
    additional ring-fenced funding. The funds needed to meet transition
    needs are high, and the number of looked-after children entering
    care is rising each year. According to the Department of Health,
    there were 60,800 looked-after children in England at 31 March
    2003, 24 per cent more than in 1993-4.

    Leaving care services will need continuing and additional funding
    to retain staff and maintain progress. The study’s finding that
    some local authorities were using ring-fenced leaving care funding
    to support other children’s services also raises important
    questions resources. Yet can there ever be enough leaving care
    funding? For most care leavers their problems start – and need more
    effective interventions – well before they come to the attention of
    leaving care services.

    More creative cross-cutting models of children and family support,
    of which kinship care is one important example, are also necessary.
    It is vital that families in need are offered a wider choice of
    properly funded family support provisions in order to reduce the
    need for some children to be removed from their home unnecessarily.
    A professional recognition of the foster carers’ contribution would
    make a considerable difference.

    A significant percentage of respondents, between 20-35 per cent,
    reported “a slight improvement” in assessments, services and
    outcomes for young people leaving care since the legislation was
    introduced. This is an important and positive finding.

    But 55-65 per cent of respondents reported that assessments,
    services and outcomes for young people leaving care had remained
    the same since the legislation.

    These findings have enormous implications for improving the life
    chances of care leavers, which, after all, is the main purpose of
    the act. The introduction of additional leaving care performance
    indicators and standards are, without additional funding, unlikely
    to ensure that young people leaving care have their extended
    transitional needs met.

    Education, empolyment and training
    The teams which indicated that they already provide either
    an excellent or good baseline service were the only ones whose
    services either remained the same or improved. Teams with higher
    staff to young people ratios enjoyed consistently better outcomes
    than those with lower ratios. Predictably, teams that had the time
    and resources attained better results.

    Financial support 
    The availability of financial incentives, through Quality
    Protects funding mechanisms and moving cash from the benefits
    system to social services, has enabled leaving care teams to link
    welfare and financial policies and provide a clearer financial
    payment structure and incentives for supporting young people
    leaving care. Sixty-eight per cent of leaving care teams provide
    financial incentives to young people to stay in or move on to
    further education, training or employment.

    Health care provision
    There has been little or no improvement under the new legislation
    despite statutory guidance. This is hardly surprising because
    health strategies for young people leaving care were scarce or were
    still being discussed. The following are some of the typical
    comments made about health services: 

    • “Young people leaving care feel blocked by health services due
      to waiting times.” 
    • “There is a lack of appropriate mental health services.” 
    • “Health provision is not available to those who do not have a
      mental illness diagnosis.” 
    • But on a more positive note, “all young people leaving care
      have a health assessment”.

    Accommodation
    Most leaving care services which said their accommodation
    service was either excellent, good or average before the
    introduction of the legislation report that it has either
    significantly improved or slightly improved. Of the 10 which
    identified their accommodation service as either below average or
    inadequate before the act, only six reported an improvement.

    Abstract

    This article summarises the findings of a national leaving care
    research study recording the impact of the Children (Leaving Care)
    Act 2000 on care leavers. It examines the work of 52 leaving care
    services working with 7,000 young people leaving care. The study
    focuses on the contribution of ring-fenced funding, personal
    advisers, needs assessments and pathway plans, and reports on
    education, employment and training, accommodation, financial
    support and health outcomes. It was commissioned by Action on
    Aftercare.

    Further information   

    Contact details 

    Contact the author on bbroad@dmu.ac.uk or 0116
    2078731. A free copy of the full research report can be ordered on
    the CFRU website
    www.dmu.ac.uk/faculties/hls/research/cfru/publications.jsp
       

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