The Public Accounts Committee has confirmed that outcomes for young people leaving care are “poor and worsening”
“There has been a systemic failing in the provision of support to vulnerable care leavers. The quality and cost of support that local authorities give to care leavers varies unacceptably across the country and outcomes for young people leaving care are poor and worsening. Ofsted’s inspections have found that two-thirds of local authorities’ care leaver services are inadequate or require improvement and there is no clear relationship between the amount spent and the quality of service. The scale of variability in the quality and cost of support, and a lack of understanding of what causes this, show that this is a systemic issue, rather than a problem in just a few local authorities. We welcome the Government’s intent to improve the lives of care leavers, signalled by the launch of the Care Leaver Strategy in 2013, and the fact that more good practice in supporting care leavers is now emerging. But central and local government must both take more responsibility for improving outcomes and the quality of support.” (Public Accounts Committee, 28th October 2015)
Summary of the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) Conclusions and Recommendations
The current system is not serving care leavers well. However, accountability and responsibility for improving the care leaver system is not clear. According to Ofsted, 64% of care leaver services inspected are inadequate or require improvement. National and local government share responsibility for improving the support offered to care leavers. The Department for Education has the ministerial lead on care leavers and needs to demonstrate a stronger leadership role in improving the system.
“Recognising the ministerial lead for care leavers is in the Department for Education, we recommend the Department takes a formal responsibility for improving the quality of support for care leavers.”
The Care Leavers Strategy was a positive step but has not had sufficient impact. Progress has been hindered by the absence of no single person or Department in charge of leading improvement and ensuring that government works in an integrated way. The Department for Education has accepted that there is still more to do. The group of young people leaving care is more diverse and many have complex needs and require additional joined-up action from central government.
“The Department should look again at the Care Leaver Strategy, setting out clearly the Government’s objectives for care leavers, and how and when it will make improvements to the support they receive.”
More support could be given to help care leavers get into work. There are now more care leavers not in education, employment or training (NEET) than has been the case since 2001–02. In 2013–14, 41% of 19-year-olds care leavers were (NEET) 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. Barnardo’s has called on the Government to reserve 20,000 apprenticeships for 16- to 18-year-olds from the care system and more efforts to help care leavers get ‘job ready’.
PAC Recommendation: “The Department should set out how it plans to use apprenticeships and traineeships to help care leavers.”
Too many care leavers are in unsuitable accommodation. New guidance is to be issued to local authorities about how to develop housing choices for care leavers. Accommodation will be a key area that government will be looking at in the future.
PAC Recommendation: “The Department should urgently consider what more it can do to help local authorities provide suitable accommodation, and keep the issue under constant review.”
The Department has recognised the potential role of social impact bonds in providing new approaches to supporting care leavers.
The Department to set out its position on how it might use social impact bonds to incentivise and reward innovation, and so improve outcomes for care leavers — with a particular view to employment and accommodation.
Government data on care leavers’ outcomes and experiences needs to be improved. Improved statistical data should result in the Department having better information to monitor the destinations of children after leaving care, and therefore to understand what is working.
PAC Recommendation: “The Department should set out a timetable for improving the data it collects on care leavers’ circumstances and how it will ensure that central government and local authorities make effective use of the data to improve outcomes.”
There is unacceptable variability in the quality and cost of services. Ofsted has found that 64% of care leaver services are inadequate or require improvement and this indicates systemic rather than occasional, local failure.
PAC Recommendation: “The Department should: act promptly to follow up Ofsted inspections and in particular to require explanation and action plans for all services rated ‘Inadequate’; and with the Department for Communities and Local Government and local authorities, secure reliable, comparable data on costs to support benchmarking.”
The quality of support care leavers receive from personal advisers is too patchy. Ofsted has reported that lack of personal support was a problem for care leavers at many of the local authorities it has inspected. In 2013–14, overall, local authorities were not in touch with 17% of 19 to 21-year-old care leavers, and only eight out of 151 local authorities managed to keep in touch with all of their care leavers.
PAC Recommendation: “The Department should extend the remit of its programme to reform social work education and training to include the role and responsibilities of all personal advisers.”
Good practice on how best to support care leavers is emerging but has yet to be systematically identified and shared nationally. There is no national centre for researching and disseminating good practice on what works best.
PAC Recommendation: “The Department should take the lead in developing and sharing good practice, and be proactive in helping to bring the worst performing local authorities up to the standard of the best. It should also establish a central resource of good practice and embed good practice in statutory guidance.”
The effect on care leavers of reducing funding to foster carers once they reach 18 is of concern. Some foster carers may want young people to stay on with them after 18, but are unable to afford to because of the 70% reduction in the payments they receive. The Department expects that it will be several years before it can assess whether Staying Put is working.
PAC Recommendation: “The Department should conduct an early review of Staying Put, with a particular focus on the financial and social impact of the policy for care leavers, foster parents and local authorities.”