‘This can’t be another project that gets people talking about care leavers, then disappears’

Judy Cooper reports on a new project to improve services for care leavers, currently being trialled by nine English local authorities

Nine local authorities across England are taking part in a new project to improve services for care leavers. The New Belongings project is run by the Care Leavers Foundation (CLF) and has government funding of £100,000 for a year.

Janet Rich, a trustee of the CLF, says each local authority has a team of former care leavers, provided by the foundation, to advise them on how to improve services, with the two main themes around employability and mentoring.

“The question that drives it is, ‘are the services making a difference?’. We’re all very clear that this cannot be another project that gets people talking about care leavers but then disappears into thin air.

“This is asking local authorities to do something, to make changes, to evaluate those changes and move beyond the sludge of legislation and the “it can’t be done” attitude to “what can be done”,” Rich says.

A council’s experience

Portsmouth, already a Munro pathfinder council, applied to become part of the New Belongings project as part of its restructure of all frontline services. Stephen Kitchman, head of children’s social care, says the authority has already done a lot of work with their social work teams to reduce caseloads, improve administrative support and improve practice skills.

“Now that we’ve got better structures and systems in place we very much see the New Belongings project as part of our next steps to improve outcomes. It felt like a good opportunity to really focus on our care leaving services,” he says.

He knows it’s early days, but says ultimately they want to increase the take up of education and employment and involve both the council and the wider business community in that.

“We also want to improve our links with past care leavers to help our learning. And we want to be more flexible so that if a care leaver is just over 21 or just over 25, but they still need support, it will be provided. It will be based on need so we are inclusive rather than exclusive.”

A care leaver’s perspective

Regan Metcalfe (pictured), 33, is a former care leaver who trained as a social worker and is now a trainer and consultant on services for looked-after children. “I was taken into care when I was nine and by the time I left I’d been moved 56 times. Most of those were in residential care and secure children’s homes where I was placed for my own welfare to do with absconding, self-harming and risky behaviour,” she says.

“When I left it took me a long time to find my place and who I was. Part of that was because I’d had no secondary education throughout my teens. Until I was 26 I didn’t even know I was capable of doing a social work degree. I also had a lot of problems settling because I’d been moved around so much- that was on top of the degree of attachment disorder that all children leave care with.

“Care leavers are on the back foot when they enter adulthood and some of that is not just about corporate parenting but about society and the stigma attached to being in care. You never feel you can admit to it.”

As part of the New Belongings project, Metcalfe is advising a consortium of councils in the North East and is impressed with their proactive approach so far. “I’ve been involved in a lot of policy stuff involving care leavers and it’s all been very tokenistic. This is the first time I’ve felt my opinions are really valid and respected and will actually make a difference.”

National Care Leavers Week 2013 runs from 24-30 October

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