PAC warns on ‘failing’ support for care leavers

30 Oct 15

The current system of support for young people leaving care is failing some of the country’s most vulnerable people, the Public Accounts Committee has concluded today.

In an examination of the support offered to care leavers by local authorities, MPs concluded that young people were being “cut adrift when they need help the most”. More than two-thirds of councils were judged by Ofsted to be “inadequate” or “requiring improvement” in this area, the PAC noted.

Children must leave local authority care by their 18th birthday and over 10,000 young people aged 16 or over leave local authority care each year.
However, local authorities must support care leavers until they are 21 or 25 if in education and training. In 2013/14 they spent £265m on care leaver services.

The government wants care leavers to receive the same care and support that their peers would expect from a reasonable parent, and ministers have published a Care Leaver Strategy in order to better integrate provision across housing, health, employment and education.

However PAC chair Meg Hillier said the committee’s review found many care leavers were struggling to cope with the transition to adulthood, with 41% of 19‑year‑olds not in education, employment or training in 2013/14, compared with 15% for all 19-year-olds. Only 6% of care leavers were in higher education compared with one third of all 19-year-olds.

“I believe young adults are being let down by the system that’s supposed to support them. Many are being cut adrift when they need help the most,” Hillier said.

“Local councils are spending widely different amounts of taxpayers’ money supporting these vulnerable young adults but the outcomes vary widely too – and the government has not got a grip on why there is no relationship between spending and outcomes. It’s time the government reviewed its care leavers’ strategy to make sure these young people get the full support they need.”

The report called on both central and local government to take more responsibility for improving outcomes.

MPs highlighted the lack of a clear relationship between the amount spent and the quality of services, demonstrating a systematic problem in provision. There was also no clear accountability and responsibility for improving the care leaver system within Whitehall, and the committee called on the Department for Education to take formal responsibility for improving the quality of support.

In order to address the “unacceptable” variability in the quality and cost of services, the department should require action plans from all councils whose services are rated “inadequate”. It should also take the lead in developing and sharing good practice, including revising the Care Leaver Strategy. Although this has started to lead to some improvements, it should be reviewed to set out clearly the government’s objectives, with definitive targets for improvement of support.

The DfE should also set out how the government’s flagship apprenticeship programme will help care leavers.

Responding to the report, a DfE spokesman confirmed that the government would update the Care Leavers Strategy.

“As this report recognises, our reforms are helping to improve the lives of care leavers and support them in a successful transition to adulthood,” he said.

“These include changing the law so care leavers can stay with their foster family after they turn 18, and giving them a personal adviser. We’re also investing over £100m through the Innovation Programme to support vulnerable children, encouraging a much stronger focus on care leaver services in Ofsted inspections, and funding programmes to get more care leavers into apprenticeships.”

The Local Government Association said councils do everything they can to support all care leavers. However Roy Perry, the chair of the LGA’s children and young people’s board, said that the growing number of young people coming into the care system, alongside 40% per cent cuts to council budgets since 2010, meant this was becoming an increasing challenge. “Councils cannot do this alone and we urgently need to see the whole system properly funded and joined-up to ensure children and young people receive the support they need, when they need it,” he said.

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