Sixty Second Interview with Jim Goddard, secretary of the Care Leavers Association
The report found that a significant number of children had not been given a say in their own leaving care or pathway plan or contributed to it despite their agreement to it being a requirement set out in law. Is this an issue you have been aware of?
Yes, it is an issue we have come across often. When I have asked some young care leavers about their Pathway Plans, they have said ‘what’s one of them?’. Others regarded their plans as fairly meaningless documents to which they had had little input. Some care leavers had good Pathway Plans and were involved in the process, but practice seems to vary immensely between authorities and between individual workers.
A number of children who had seen their plan said that there was a lack of attention to housing, social services and continuing education. Are there frequently gaps in such plans?
I haven’t seen many Pathway Plans, so I wouldn’t know. However, there are certainly gaps in provision, whatever it says in the plans. Too many young people are still leaving care at 16 and 17 and ending up in inappropriate accommodation where no good parent would send their children. With respect to education, we have come across cases where the local authority is clearly not adequately supporting young care leavers going through university, either with financial help or vacation accommodation. There is a long history of local authorities not taking the education of care leavers seriously enough (young people leaving care during their A Levels is, in itself, a massive disruption).
The report recommends that young people are given greater assurances that they can contact key people such as social workers when necessary. Do you find some young people do not feel they can do this or that the service won’t be available?
This is the biggest complaint I have come across. Many young people complain about being ‘abandoned’ once they leave. They liken their local authority to a parent and the contrast is sometimes a painful one. It seems to depend an awful lot on the individual leaving care workers or Personal Advisers. Some of these are excellent and will go the extra mile for young people. However, in far too many cases young people complain that they can never get hold of workers; not just when they need them, but at any time at all. The worker is either on leave, off sick or simply not available. After a while, some young people just give up on expecting any support from their leaving care workers.
It also calls for easier ways of dealing with housing benefits. Does the complexity of this subject cause problems for young people at the moment?
I’m not aware of particular problems in relation to housing benefits.
Certainly things need to be kept simple. Young people have far too much to cope with when they leave care as it is. Any unnecessary bureaucracy just makes it more difficult for them and increases the likelihood of things going wrong.
A further recommendation is for social workers to properly check out the places they expect young care leavers to live in. Have you had experience of young people being expected to live in unsuitable accommodation?
Absolutely. Some of the places I am aware of and have heard about I wouldn’t live in myself. I certainly wouldn’t dream of putting a young person in them. Some are known drug dens or centres of violence. One place that I am aware of, which is in current use, is above a pub and is notorious for the unsavoury characters that it attracts. Some of these places are clearly wholely inappropriate for vulnerable young people. However, some local authorities don’t seem to be bothered as long as they can get young people ‘off their hands’ quickly. The Children (Leaving Care) Act certainly hasn’t got rid of this issue, just as it hasn’t got rid of some local authority workers sending care leavers on their way with their possessions in a couple of bin liners.
I thought that sort of thing was ending when I left care, 25 years ago.
Sadly, that is not the case.