A new pilot scheme to help looked-after children who leave residential care will be trialled by the government.
Education secretary Nicky Morgan said that ‘Staying Close’, a scheme recommended by Sir Martin Narey’s review into residential care, published today, would be piloted by local authorities with government backing.
The scheme would guarantee support for children leaving residential homes for three years, up to the age of 21. It would mean young people living near their former children’s home would be able to visit it regularly and retain links with people who have cared for them, which would include retaining the support of a key worker from the home.
The policy is a residential care alternative to the ‘Staying Put’ policy rolled out by the government in 2014, which guarantees support for children in foster care until 21 if they choose to remain in their foster home.
Morgan said the move would mean “care leavers will no longer face life’s milestones alone – be it applying for university, getting a job or finding their first home”.
A ‘Staying Close’ option for children leaving residential care was mentioned in a scoping report about the cost of extending leaving care provision published last year. Using this research, Narey estimated the cost could be almost £13 million over three years.
‘Staying Close’ was the “most affordable” option for care leavers put forward by the scoping report, Narey said. He recommended that, subject to testing the cost of the project through pilots, “I urge the government commit to introducing ‘Staying Close”.
A specific funding stream for innovative residential care will also be introduced as a result of Narey’s review, the government has said.
In a written statement to parliament, the minister for children and families, Edward Timpson, said part of the next £200 million round of innovation funding would be dedicated to using residential care “in a more dynamic and creative way to support those children who can benefit”.
Narey’s report concluded that children’s homes are seen by many social work professionals “as places of last resort” and that their role is “misunderstood”.
“I think there may be scope for moving some children, who have previously not succeeded in fostering, from residential care and into a different sort of foster care. But there is a very real and unmet demand for the greater use of children’s homes as part of an initial assessment for older children when first coming into care, and for those on the edge of care,” Narey said.
As well as funding streams for innovative residential care and ‘Staying Close’, Narey recommended that a Residential Care Leadership Board should be established, and that “as many social work students as possible” have placement experience in children’s homes. This might mean more social workers pursue working in residential care, Narey said.