Many grandparent carers and family and friends carers will be caring for “looked after” children who are approaching 16 – or who may have already reached it. This briefing sets out the key responsibilities of local authorities for these children who will soon be leaving care.
What are the duties of Local Authorities?
Local authorities have a duty to support “looked after” children and provide services to enable them to live in a safe, loving environment. Children can be “looked after” until they reach the age of 16 and it is often a misconception that once a child turns 16, local authority involvement automatically ceases.
But in fact the local authorities duties extend further than this. There is support available for children who are leaving care at the age of 16 up to the age of 21, or 25 if they are in further education.
The Care Leavers Charter
In October 2012, the Department of Education launched the ‘Care Leavers Charter’, a contract between local authorities and young people leaving care setting out what support care leavers can expect.
A year later in October 2013 and over 120 local authorities have signed up to the charter, pledging to prioritise the needs of young people leaving care.
Around 10,000 young people aged 16-18 in England leave care each year. This is a vulnerable time as they transition into adulthood. Research shows that the quality of support offered to care leavers is often lacking and the transition to adulthood can often be an anxious time for young people. Many young people feel isolated and often struggle to find work which can lead to long term unemployment and involvement in crime.
The Care Leavers Charter aims to provide support and guidance to care leavers and for them to ‘expect the same level of care and support that other young people get from their parent’. The main areas which have been looked at are education, employment, financial support, health, housing, justice system and on-going support, for example;
The Department of Education found that 34% of all care leavers aged 19 were not in education, employment or training compared to 15.5% of the general population of 18 year olds. In addition, only 6% of care leavers went on to higher education compared to 23% of their peers. 80% of non-looked after children obtained 5 A*-C GCSE’s compared with only 37% of looked after children.
The Department of Education has placed a duty on local authorities to provide a personal adviser to all care leavers up to the age of 25 who wish to continue with education/training. Local authorities are to encourage care leavers to remain in education, take up training opportunities and undertake activities aimed at improving employability.
The Department of Education has teamed up with the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) to provide 18-24 year olds access to additional advice, support, work experience and apprenticeships. Job Centre Plus advisers are also to provide this support to care leavers who face greater difficulties in finding work.
3. Financial Support
16-19 year olds attending a furthere education course are entitled to a bursary of £1,200. Care leavers attending university are entitled to a higher education bursary of £2,000.
DWP has ensured that dedicated Job Centre Plus advisers can support care leavers in making a claim for benefits in advance of leaving care to prevent hardship when they first leave.
97 Local Authorities to date have signed up to pay at least £2,000 to care leavers by way of a setting up home allowance (leaving care grant). In the future it is hoped that statutory guidance will be issued to encourage all local authorities to pay this allowance.
The mental health strategy ‘No Health Without Mental Health’ published in February 2011 highlights the fact that looked after children and care leavers mental health needs are often greater than the general population. The Department of Health is investing £54 million in 2011-2015 to improve access to psychological therapies and CAMHS.
Around one quarter of those living on the streets have a background in care and it is often difficult for care leavers to find suitable accommodation.
The Department of Education has revised leaving care guidance to encourage local authorities to consider introducing the ‘staying put’ provision. Some local authorities are using ‘staying put’ arrangements to ensure that care leavers can continue to live with and get support from former foster carers.
6. Justice System
Care leavers are a group at risk of being drawn into crime and are equally particularly vulnerable to becoming a victim of crime.
In October 2013, new guidance was published where a range of providers not just prison and probation staff will have responsibility for supporting young adults to make the right choices and reduce the rates of re-offending.
The Youth Justice Board funds dedicated social worker’s in all under 18 young offender institutions to meet the needs of looked after children and care leavers.
7. On-going Support
The Department of Education has issued guidance ‘Transitions to Adulthood’ which places a duty on local authorities to stay in touch and support care leavers until 21, and beyond if in education.
The Department of Education has pledged to open a savings account for all care leavers who have been in care for a year or more with an initial £200 which they can access when they turn 18.
Data collection is to continue and a further report will be issued in October 2014 to measure progress and set out what more can be done to support care leavers and helping them to improve their lives.
Helen Jarvis is a member the Grandparents Legal Centre legal team. If you have any questions about the Care Leavers Charter, “looked after” children, grandparent carers or family and friends carers, please contact Helen by telephoning 01484 538421 or by e-mail.