Local Offer for Care-Leavers discussed in Parliament

On 13th December 2016, the Children and Social Work Bill was discussed in Parliament. Ministers sought to introduce amendments 26 and 27, with numerous clauses, to the Bill to ensure a national minimal standard is set for care leavers and young asylum seekers are made part of the legislation to ensure they are given equal rights. It was revealed by the Children’s Society that: 63% of care leavers entered the care system because of abuse or neglect; 50% of children in care had emotional and behavioral health that was considered normal, while 13% were borderline and 37% gave cause for concern. It is clear this is a valuable group that deserves support in their transition to adulthood. As Stella Creasy, Labour MP for Walthamstow, noted-the amendments proposed sought to also “deal with the specific issue of financial management problems that many care leavers face.”  As Creasy argued- “turning 18 does not stop someone being vulnerable overnight”.

Tulip Siddiq, Labour MP, agreed with Creasy, saying that a national minimum standard must be sent for care leavers given one does not exist. She wanted to focus on people’s mental health, especially vulnerable care leavers. She reported that a study concluded “one in five care leavers reported long-term mental health problems”, which she stated was likely not a true reflection of the issue due to the stigma connected to mental health issues. The mental health problems that care leavers spoke about included eating disorders, bipolar issues, depression and serious phobias that haunted them later in life. Additionally, “shocking statistics revealed a quarter of care leavers reported heavy drinking on a regular basis and two thirds admitted that they used drugs regularly.” Siddiq noted that care leavers said “their mental health issues originated from the poor housing that they had experienced and the lack of finance and intimate relationships in their life.”  She also noted that in a “2014 NSPCC report it was pointed out that leaving care is an extended process rather than a single event.” She noted that it was a “significant challenge” for care leavers to move towards adulthood when care services, support services ad care placements were being withdrawn thereby causing them to test out the reliability of their network of family and friends. It was stated that those who lacked a support network often fell into depression, and leading a life they would not have wanted. Siddiq argued that changes had to be made “to their finances, access to housing and search for jobs as care leavers confront those challenges while experiencing a withdrawal of care placements and social support services as they turn 18.” More importantly she noted that “we should not have a postcode lottery when it comes to care and the future of care leavers.”

Steve McCabe, Labour MP for Birmingham, Selly Oak, also supported amendments being made to the Bill. He argued that children who enter the care system do so “expecting us, as their corporate parents, to do a better job for them.” Therefore, when care leavers are sent forth into the world and “their educational opportunities have not improved significantly, their mental health situation certainly has not improved and may in fact have deteriorated, it seems to me (McCabe) that we are failing these young people.” Kate Green, Labour MP for Stretford and Urmston, took these amendments a step further and suggested that that care leavers should have their own accommodation or property as “considerable emotional and interpersonal difficulties” may arise from sharing accommodation with strangers-which has been the case thus far. The Minister of Schools, Edward Timpson, noted that he had “real sympathy” with her argument and sought to reassure her that the government has asked the Children’s Society to provide examples of how the current rules impact on care leavers so that progress could be made. Additionally, Green argued that the importance of education and employment in generating an “adequate” source of income must be recognised. Green believes that a social security system that is “sufficiently generous” should be founded to ensure care leavers are not put in a position in which “financial unsustainability undermines the achievement of the social outcomes the Bill envisages promoting for young people.”

However, Edward Timpson argued that while he agreed that care leavers needed help and support, “he did not consider the amendments to be the best way to provide that additional support.” He responded to each amendment. In relation to Amendment 26, he argued that young asylum seekers care leavers already qualify, like any other care leaver, for assistance with their transition into adulthood under the Children Act 2004 care leaver provisions because most care leavers who were formerly unaccompanied asylum-seeking children have refugee status, humanitarian protection or another form of leave to remain or an outstanding human rights application or appeal. Furthermore, he argued if they have been deemed unable to lawfully remain in the UK the Government would support them in returning to their home country. Timpson also noted that the Government, earlier this year, published a new-cross Government care leaver strategy called ‘’Keep on Caring” and one of the five outcomes set was to improve care leavers ““access to education, training and employment”. The Shadow Minister for Education, Emma Lewell-Buck agreed that this document shows the Government is moving in the right direction in seeking “to get some action on these long-standing issues.” The Minister’s speech prompted McCabe to enquire if Timpson would introduce restrictions on local authorities disrupting the education of children in care by moving them frequently? The Minister noted that disruptions in children’s education were inexcusable given they already have priority school admissions. Timpson also noted that the Government was conducting a review on how fostering is working, as well as its stability.

To read the full debate, please click here.