Care leavers should get support based on their needs, rather than their age or whether they’re still receiving education or training, a Parliamentary committee heard this week.
Witnesses who have experienced the UK care system first hand, as well as representatives from interest groups and MPs, gave evidence to the Public Accounts Committee.
At the moment, care leavers who are still in education or training are entitled to support until they are 25, while other care leavers only get support until they are 21.
Chris Wormald is the permanent secretary of England’s Department for Education. He pointed to National Audit Office figures which say that 67 per cent of care leavers have special educational needs and the ‘Not in Education, Employment or Training’ (NEET) rate for those in that group is three times higher on average than those without those education challenges. Around 40 per cent of 19 year-old care leavers were designated as NEET in 2013-14. This is in contrast to 15 per cent in the overall same-age group.
This has lead to a situation where some of the most vulnerable care leavers have their support cut off at 21 because they are unable to go into any further training.
Mr Wormald also claimed that people are now coming into the care system at a later age. The proportion of children over 16 entering care is now around one-third, whereas ten years ago, it was one-tenth of the total children in care.
Committee chair Meg Hillier said that while it seemed counter-intuitive, it appeared that the longer someone was in care, the better they do. Wormald agreed that was the case.
President of the Association of Directors of Children’s Services Alison Sullivan pointed out that, in the rest of the population, 44 per cent of 22 year olds still live with their parents. Meanwhile, many care leavers lose their support at 21.
“I think there’s a big question about whether we’re just expecting too much too soon.”
Wormald responded that was a driver for the government pushing forward with their ‘Staying Put’ policy which allows young people to stay with foster parents after they reach 18. He says the scheme has been widely welcomed by local authorities. He also commented that local discretion and local flexibility was important and that different areas may face different challenges requiring different levels of spending.
The committee also heard from Emanuel and Dembo who both have personal experience of the care system. Emanuel said he had had good advice on practical matters when preparing to live on his own. However, he also said that he had to move out of foster care earlier than expected because his carer could not afford to look after him as part of the Staying Put programme.
Foster carers receive £500 per week while the child is under 18, but this goes down to £150 per week after they reach 18. He also had a frequent turnover in social workers which was very confusing and time consuming.
Dembo said while he had good experiences in learning English and finding a safe place to live, his personal advisers (PA) did not provide any support or guidance about his education choices and options. He also said that he was not aware that his case had been closed when he was 21 and that PAs should help care leavers understand what their rights and entitlements are.
“What we need are PAs who could not just give us the leaving care grant, but support us emotionally and show us how to settle down in our house—give us practical solutions to our problems and not just tell us, “This is the money. Goodbye. You’re off.”
Read the transcript of the committee hearing here