In October 2015 the then Prime Minister, David Cameron, announced to the House of Commons that he and the Secretary of State for Education had commissioned the former Chief Executive of Barnardo’s, Sir Martin Narey to conduct an independent review of children’s residential care. The purpose of the review being to ensure every possible step could be taken to ensure looked-after children get the best start in life.
This week saw the publication of Sir Martin’s review, which you can read in full here. Having digested the report, we have picked out three key points which are particularly important to us in our work with young people leaving care.
The first is around the stability of residential placements. Sir Martin wrote:
It is very difficult to link a period in a children’s home to educational or other outcomes when most children spend only brief periods in them (more than half for less than 3 months and 83% for less than a year). Indeed there is some evidence to suggest that children who spend a longer time in residential provision may have better outcomes than those who have only spent a short time in such provision. This suggests that stability of placement may be a factor in achieving good outcomes for looked-after children.
This recognition of the need for placements, however short they may be, to be stable is something we wholeheartedly agree with. We hear of young people – both in residential and foster care – being moved frequently, sometimes as often as ten or twelve times in a year. Not only do these moves cause significant disruption to their education but impact on their social and personal skills; moving from home to home prevents young people from forming bonds or feeling part of a community with a shared past.
The second point concerns the future provision of support for care leavers.
In my experience, current and recent Ministers at the Department for Education have been keenly aware of the unsatisfactory nature of many children’s experiences when leaving care homes. That is not because, as it was sometimes suggested to me, local authorities routinely turn children out of homes when they reach eighteen and without preparation or support. No one who made that allegation responded to my invitation to provide a single example. But for all sorts of reasons, not least those linked to the immaturity of many eighteen year olds, they will sometimes shun advice and support and soon find themselves isolated and essentially abandoned. I was therefore pleased to see provisions in the Children and Social Work Bill that will govern how local authorities support care leavers (and children in care), place a requirement on local authorities to consult about and publish a local offer to care leavers, and extend the duty on local authorities to provide a personal adviser to all care leavers until they reach age 25.
We are keen to see greater investment in support for care leavers; one of the most vulnerable groups in society. But as we explained in our blog on the announcements made in the Queen’s Speech, one size most definitely doesn’t fit all. Furthermore, what most young care leavers benefit from is a ‘constant’ positive role model they can trust to be there for them. That kind of relationship can be transformative. We see that with the young care leavers we work with when they are paired with one of our employment consultants. And we’re so convinced of the value of this one-to-one support that we’re launching a new mentoring programme this month to extend the impact.
The final point we were particularly encouraged to read was around the Staying Put/Staying Close recommendations.
Recommendation 33: Subject only to verifying my cost estimates through a number of Innovation Programme pilots, I urge the Government to commit to introducing Staying Close. And I recommend that that Ed Nixon and Ian Dickson from ECLCM should be invited to help officials in the Department for Education further to develop this reform, including advising on the selection and management of the pilots.
The Every Child Leaving Care Matters campaign has our full support and we welcome Sir Martin’s recommendation that those with a detailed insight into, and experience of, the care system should be involved in developing this reform. That experience is invaluable in developing programmes which truly meet the needs of care leavers. Additionally, we respectfully suggest that some of the very committed young care leavers who believe in change, and who are prepared to devote time to campaigning for it, are also consulted during the process.