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Children's social care

A care system which adapts to the changing needs of a young person

Portrait of a young man wearing glasses, looking directly at the camera. He has his arms crossed.
In April 2020, Catch22 and the National Leaving Care Benchmarking Forum submitted a response to the Department for Education consultation considering ‘Reforms to unregulated provision for children in care and care leavers’. In our response, we called for a more person-centred system with relationships are the core, but only to be considered as one element of a wider ranging review of the children’s care system.As we write this, the independent review of children’s social care is gathering pace, alongside a second consultation on a developed series of proposals for the reform of care for looked after and care leavers (‘Introducing new national standards for independent and semi-independent provision for looked-after children and care leavers aged 16-17’).

So again, we have been asking ourselves, and those who matter the most – young care leavers and the local authority teams working to support them – whether these proposals will make a real difference to improving the lives of children in and leaving care.

It’s still all too apparent that children’s social care has lost its primary focus of building relationships to ensure that young people and their families flourish. We know that vulnerable young people will not be helped by box-ticking, but by people who they trust listening to them, understanding them, having the power to act for them, and remaining there for them in the long term.

My NLCBF colleagues conducted one-to-one interviews with five local authorities, and care experienced young people to gather their views on the proposals set out in this consultation:

  • We must go further to look at how society supports those on the ‘edge of care’. Sometimes it can be about building the capacity of the community and thinking about how we can push the boundaries of regulation to reach out to other potential providers and local people in local communities.
  • Young people who are care experienced should have the same rights as those young people who continue to live with their parents at least up to the age of 25.
  • It is often difficult to find a registered placement for some 16- and 17-year-olds especially if they have wider vulnerabilities such as being a victim of child sexual exploitation, child criminal exploitation, having convictions or offences involving drugs. The question remains: what happens to these young people?
  • The distinctions between ‘care’ and ‘support’ are not mutually exclusive terms and there is ambiguity in the distinctions currently offered: a person might need ‘care’ some of the time and ‘support’ the rest of the time. The language should be revisited, perhaps with a focus on level of independence around practical skills. A good standard of accommodation should provide a degree of both elements and the focus should be on the needs of the young person.
  • A concern for many of the professionals we spoke to was, the potential for young people to move from one provision to the next as their needs come to light. To drive a distinction between care and support may create various categories of accommodation options which will result in instability for young people.
  • What is obvious is that the quality of the relationship between the young person and their key worker is a critical element in the success for the young person. In a care system in which young people have experienced a large number of professionals in their lives, the need to have a stable work force in their accommodation is key. There is a lot that can be done to change training and recruitment to improve the quality of work undertaken in all children’s care settings: It was positive to see that the proposed standards and regulations do reflect these issues.

“It seems we understand that young people with variable backgrounds have different lives and can be affected differently by the same process (care trauma). Therefore, why should there be a one size fits all approach? […] More work, at a higher standard, needs to go into their placement and the thinking around the network immediately around that young person – to support them into healthy life cycles where they can both be independent and access support when things are tough to ‘balance’ out.”

– Care experienced young person

So, as we move to the next stages of the review of Children’s Social Care and the outcome of this consultation, it is vital that we continue to put the voice and experiences of care experienced young people at the heart, as well as those working day-in-day-out to support them. The key elements of good practice will continue to remain the same:

  • human continuity,
  • relational support,
  • delivery embedded in universal provision, and
  • provision moving around the needs of the young person rather than the other way around.

We see the value of young people’s needs changing as they gain greater skills and confidence; this should not mean that they must move home as their needs change. We want a care system which can adapt to the changing needs of a young person and one which gives them the security and stability they need.