In this week’s blog, Catch22’s Policy and Communications Manager, Aggie Collet, summarises the work that Catch22 has been doing over the past few months to advance outcomes for care experienced young people and reflects on the role of campaigners and the Third Sector in championing policy and practice in the face of an ever-changing political context.
Since the launch of Catch22’s Manifesto in September, in which we outlined three bold national policies that the Government should implement to transform offers for young people with care experience across the country to end the postcode lottery, we have seen significant progress, both as an organisation and as a sector.
A buzzy new programme
It is well-researched that care experienced young people face greater challenges than their peers in their transition to adulthood, often with added responsibilities, such as caring for a family member, and fewer friends or family members to rely on for financial, practical and emotional support.
“Researchers from the Universities of York, Oxford and Exeter showed that almost one third of care leavers were not working or studying compared to just 2.4 per cent of comparable young people who had never had experience of the children’s social care system.”
The cost-of-living crisis has made it even harder, disproportionately impacting care experienced young people. In response to that Catch22 has been focusing on developing new programmes to remove additional barriers to work. In September we launched Career Hive with the John Lewis Partnership to support care experienced young people in Manchester to move into long-term, sustainable employment. Crucially, each programme participant can access a bursary of up to £300 for travel, food, interview or work clothes, laptops and other equipment, to help overcome some of the very practical and real obstacles to gaining employment.
The campaign for equal opportunities
Catch22 was busy with activity across National Leaving Care Week this year (25 October – 1 November). We published a new episode in our policy podcast series Catch22Minutes. The episode focused on the campaign to make care experience a protected characteristic under the Equalities Act 2010 – an ask in our own Manifesto. Our Head of Policy, Stella Tsantekidou, sat down with Terry Galloway, a Trustee of NYAS and Become, co-founder of Care Leaver Offer, and – crucially – the individual spearheading the campaign for equal opportunities, and our own Hannah McCowen, Manager of the National Leaving Care Benchmarking Forum. To date, 61 councils have passed the motion to recognise care experience as a protected characteristic locally thanks to this hard-fought campaign.
We were delighted when the chair of the John Lewis Partnership, Dame Sharon White, called on the Government to make being in care a protected characteristic, alongside applying pressure on policymakers to introduce long-term support for care leavers.
Whilst not an immediately popular campaign, Terry manages to eloquently outline what impact the 10th protected characteristic would have on the lives of care leavers. In summary: making care experience a protected characteristic will make it enforceable by law that all new policies must consider the discriminatory effect they may have on people who have experienced care. In theory, every governmental organisation wants to avoid policies that have a negative impact on people leaving care, or which don’t adequately address their specific disadvantages. In practice, unless a system is in place which forces organisations to consider the interests of care experienced people, there cannot be meaningful progress. Making it a protected characteristic will also mean it is recorded and the data we accumulate will further illuminate where care experienced people struggle the most. This knowledge will help us advocate for and implement policies that have long-term cost benefits. For example, the knowledge that a higher percentage of care experienced people end up in the criminal justice system, which is very costly for the taxpayer, builds a strong argument for earlier, preventative investment in these individuals. By pointing to care experience as a risk factor for long-term societal disadvantages we can approach solving these issues more holistically.
Terry hopes that promoting the cost-benefits to policymakers will be the clincher that moves the campaign on a national scale.
Celebrating 20 years of NLCBF
This year marks the 20th anniversary of the National Leaving Care Benchmarking Forum (NLCBF). That’s twenty years of their campaign to see local offers grow across the country to give care experienced young people the best support possible for them to thrive. The forum has grown in influence and membership since its inception so that today the forum has 132 members – equating to over 85% of English Local Authorities.
To mark this momentous achievement, we were delighted to welcome Her Royal Highness Princess Anne to the annual Care Leaver Celebration Event in Birmingham last week. In her speech, HRH shone a light on the sector, and the innovative approach of NCLBF – putting care experienced young people at the heart of decisions, events and influence via the Young People’s Benchmarking Forum – to shape practice and policy.
To round off the celebrations, NLCBF has invited Local Authorities to plant ‘Positivitrees’ to symbolise their commitment to seeing care experienced young people grow and thrive, and their commitment to grow their local offer. Thanks to Durham, Oldham, Leicestershire, Thurrock and Gateshead for planting the first 5 trees….127 to go!
Remaining steady in turbulent times
In addition to improvements to local care offers, such as the recent success of the introduction of half-price bus and tram travel for care leavers aged 18-25 across London, we have reason to hold out hope for further progress on a national policy level too. With the recent appointment of Johnny Mercer, MP for Plymouth Moor View, as the Cross-Government Lead for Care Leavers, there is promise that he will deliver on his commitment to acting on the recommendations of the ‘Independent Review of Children’s Social Care’ and drive meaningful change.
There is much uncertainty ahead, and with the Government heading for a General Election next year, we hope that the momentum that is gathering across industry and politics continues. Throughout times of change, it is even more crucial that organisations like Catch22, forums like NCLBF and campaigners such as Terry Galloway, remain steadfast in communicating what good policy and practice looks like for care experienced young people, so that they are delivered by whatever power that may be!