Last week Emma was a key note speaker at a Public Policy Exchange event on improving outcomes for Care Leavers.
Public Policy Exchange holds regular interactive seminars which provide an interface for policy discussion and offers local practitioners, civil servants and other stakeholders an insight into current policy thinking, but also the opportunity to feed into future policy development across all areas of public policy.
The event looked at ways to avoid the ‘Cliff Edge’ of care and better ways to prepare Care Leavers for the Challenges of Living Independently.
Outcomes for care leavers are very poor in comparison to those who have not grown up in care. A staggering 40% of care leavers aged 19-21 are not in education, employment or training and are five times more likely to take their own life.
Emma spoke about how the Government were letting down care leavers and what a wasted opportunity the recent Children and Social Work Act was to tackle the root causes that feed in to such poor outcomes for care leavers and that it was a piece of legislation to improve the lives of care leavers without any input whatsoever from care leaves or those working with care leavers.
Only Labour offered new legislation to help care leavers in their Manifesto – one which promised to adopt a holistic approach to social work and children to avoid the cliff edge of care which can leave young people without ongoing support in unsuitable living environments. Labour want to promote the care and educational achievement of our most vulnerable children; to fund apprenticeships, extend Staying Put and to refocus social care onto early intervention, working with families in local communities before children are at risk of care.
Emma also spoke of how the Government’s continued austerity programme is exacerbating the main drivers which make life impossibly difficult for many care leavers such as the chronic underfunding which has led to crisis in housing, health and social care and education.
To empower care leavers to live successful, independent lives we must support them on these issues, not continue to cut the funding and carry on with the shambolic, fragmented delivery of care which a National Audit Office report last year described as “unsatisfactory and inconsistent, suggesting systemic rather than local failure”.
The NAO report criticised the government for what it called “poor progress” on its 2010 promise to overhaul child protection services in the wake of the Baby P controversy, and highlighted its “piecemeal” attempts to improve failing services.
In the 9 months since that report was published, we have a weakened Government, a new Children’s Minister who has no prior experience of working in this field and a new Act of Parliament which was meant to improve the outcomes for children in care and care leavers but will actually achieve very little.
You can read Emma’s speech below:
Good morning and thank you for that generous introduction and asking me to come and be part of your discussion today.
40% not in education, employment or training
Only 6% attending university
22 per cent, three times the national average of teenage mothers
a quarter of those who are homeless
27% in young offender institutions
Five times more likely to attempt suicide
These are the grim outcomes that we know about for our care leavers,
BUT there is so much more we don’t know because once they reach 21 the data collection from Government on care leaver outcomes ceases.
I have made no secret of the fact that I believe Government right now is failing all of us. Rising levels of poverty and homelessness; many young people now locked out of education and denied mental health support – these are all symptoms of a nation at crisis point.
And care leavers are inevitably the hardest hit by these failures.
Just this year there was a great opportunity to embed in legislation better rights for Care Leavers in the passage of the Children and Social Work Act.
It was an opportunity the Government squandered.
In short, it has become yet another Act of Parliament that will achieve little, because it was formulated with negligible input from the very people it purported to support and those professionals working in the social work arena.
The result is that we have a new Act with a whole chapter on care leavers YET what this actually translates into is some corporate parenting principles that local authority’s need to have regard to not a duty to implementing.
An extension of the personal adviser role up to the age of 25, a role which is already not working as it should
and a local offer for care leavers which tells care leavers what they should be entitled to BUT crucially doesn’t put a duty on anyone to actually deliver this for them.
As shadow children’s minister I put up a good fight throughout the passage of this Act putting down amendment after amendment urging the Government to put in place measures to prevent care leavers from falling off the cliff edge of care.
And every single time I stood up to fight the fight, I had in my mind every single care leaver that I have ever had the pleasure of meeting and working with.
I will never forget the constant feeling that despite working seven days a week – no matter how hard I tried , I was still failing these young people because I was working in a resource poor environment where the legislative framework didn’t allow me or my colleges to do what we knew and what these children knew themselves was needed for them.
So in the debates during the formation of the Act, working alongside a range of outside agencies, some of whom are here today. I pressed for the corporate parenting principles to be strengthened so there was a duty not just a regard to care.
I pressed for a national offer for care leavers that would see proactive support and tangible changes for children leaving care, so instead of knowing what they should be entitled to they actually got it too. This offer would have exempted care leavers from Council tax up to the age of 25, ensured that the maximum sanction for care leavers under the age of 25 would be four weeks. It would have allowed working care leavers under the age of 25 to claim working tax credit and It would have extended the higher rate of the local housing allowance single room rate to care leavers up to the age of 25, delaying the transition to the lower shared accommodation rate that applies at 22 years. These measures would have mitigated the difficulties that over 50% of young people leaving care have regarding budgeting and debt.
I proposed the Government carried out an annual review on access to apprenticeships, further and higher education to take into account some of the barriers that care leavers face around fees, grants and accommodation. So we would have a fuller picture of the educational outcomes of our care leavers, because from that point we would then be able to formulate policy.
I argued for a duty to be placed on local authorities to ensure there is accommodation available for all care leavers and for an extension of the “staying put” arrangements to children in
residential care putting some equity back into the system where currently only children in foster care have the option of remaining in placement until they are 21. It is not right that we have a two tier system which favours children in foster care’s rights over those in residential care and that one in five care leavers are living in unsuitable accommodation.
I also pressed for a range of duties in relation to the mental health of children upon entering care that would endure if needed throughout their care journey. 45% of children entering care have a diagnosable mental health condition, which increases to 70% of children in residential care this measure would have seen a mental health assessment by a qualified mental health professional completed for all looked-after children, so that healthcare professionals and local authorities have a solid and consistent foundation on which to plan the best care pathway for care leavers to address their future needs. This proposal, was also a recommendation of the Conservative led Education Select Committee.
And I also fought for protections for those care leavers who become teenage mothers and risk their own children being taken into care. The aim was that children who are care leavers and whose children are in voluntary placement and are to be placed in a foster for adoption placement, or are subject to a placement order application, get free independent legal advice and if their child is removed from their care they are provided with appropriate counselling or therapy.
Everything I proposed would’ve seen a relatively small financial investment in our care leavers but would have yielded dramatic results for them and actually saved the state money in the long run. If care leavers aren’t in prison, homeless or having their own children taken into care then we all benefit.
Sadly, the Government simply could not see this because all along the soul aim of this Act had been to deregulate children’s social work making it a more attractive proposition for privatisaiton – a part of the Act I am pleased to say they eventually deleted.
Their whole approach to Children’s Social care is misguided, it is not a cohesive or holistic approach but one of tinkering around the edges, putting investment into projects in a piecemeal fashion, creating a postcode lottery of provision under the guise of innovation, all the while the workforce dwindles and the harmful effects of unnecessary austerity chip away at our most vulnerable children and families.
There are a litany of reports over the last 12 months alone, highlighting the Government’s failures towards children. A National Audit Office report last year revealed systemic failure in children’s care services, rather than local failure. It deemed child protection services to be ‘unsatisfactory and inconsistent’, and indicated Government initiatives, reforms and spend have resulted in no good outcomes for children in need.
There is a different way
The Labour Party proved that when we were last in power and we put care leavers at the forefront in the Children Leaving Care Act 2000.
And just recently when our Manifesto unlike others included care leavers
Because we know that as we are seeing the highest number of children in care since 1985 that they will be the care leavers of the future so we need to act and act now.
I was proud that the commitment of all those I have had the pleasure of working with was threaded into our Manifesto – one which promised to adopt a holistic approach to social work and children to promote the care and educational achievement of our most vulnerable children; to extend Staying Put and to refocus social care to work with families, in local communities before children are at risk of care.
I am just deeply saddened that we haven’t been given the opportunity to deliver on these commitments. But what does give me hope are the amazing people who work day in day out in the sector and the many care leavers who I have met – many of whom have achieved amazing things against all odds, who have successfully traversed that precarious transition from care to leaving care, who use their experiences to help others.
But I don’t want these outstanding young people leaving care to be the exception. I want them to be the norm.
That is why I won’t rest until the Government listens and I am not the shadow Children’s Minister but the Children’s Minister.