You cannot be serious… Yes, I have to own that I had a so-called John McEnroe moment last month, although this was a silent John McEnroe moment as I work in an open plan office and as a leader I have to be aware of the shadow I cast. It would be most unbecoming if I were to have a good old stomp and shout, even though I wanted to and it would have made me feel better. What made me want to stomp and shout was the grant determination letter I had just opened from the Department for Education informing me of the amount of money granted to my authority to meet the new duties to care leavers. The money we will receive is woefully inadequate and adds a significant pressure to our already very challenging financial position. I have no doubt that ADCS colleagues nationally feel the same.
I welcome the new duties for care leavers. I take my responsibilities as a corporate parent very seriously as do leaders (officers and members) across the council, and DCS colleagues up and down the country. Extending the cohort of care experienced young people who can ask for support from a personal advisor (PA) to the age of 25 is the right thing to do, this is a new responsibility and must be funded as such. We know that our young people need our support and guidance well beyond the age of 21. As they experience the ups and downs of life, they will inevitably have needs for support that we as corporate parents have a moral duty to respond to. This is the case for any parent and child relationship and all the more so for the corporate parent-care leaver relationship. Acting as corporate parents for us means acting as pushy parents, acting ‘as if this were my child'.
Given this, who could argue with the new responsibilities (I refuse to call them ‘burdens' - the term often used to describe new legislative responsibilities that come with a price tag), it's absolutely right that responsibilities to our care experienced young people extend to the age of 25, we want to stay in touch with our care leavers and support them as they get older. What led to my John McEnroe moment was the knowledge that the grant will not even go half way to meeting the financial implications of the new responsibilities. What added to my frustration and disappointment was the reality that these new responsibilities come on the back of a 50 per cent reduction in local authority funding since 2010, the growing demand we face and the Local Government Association's estimation that the funding gap for children's services will be at least £2 billion by 2020.
We welcomed Mark Riddell to Barnsley last week. We were eager to secure the support of the National Implementation Advisor to guide our work to deliver the collective ambition that we have in Barnsley to provide outstanding support to care leavers. We are in touch with all our care experienced young people and have put measures in place to remain in contact with them beyond the age of 21. Taking a tip from him, we have added to our arrangements for evidencing the services and costs of the services we are providing to care leavers beyond the age of 21 - you should too.
What makes my frustration and disappointment most acute is the knowledge that my feelings are shared by care experienced young people in the borough. I sat down with ‘Amy' last week; she is a young woman who is care experienced and who regularly and quite rightly tracks progress with me on the difference we are making for children in care and care experienced young people locally. She likes the concept of ‘pushy parents' the challenge we place on ourselves as corporate parents to respond ‘as if a child or young person were ours'. She has really welcomed the extension of responsibilities to care leavers and the right of access to a PA to the age of 25 and she was very involved in the development of our new Care Leaver Offer. She was delighted to share her thoughts with Mark Riddell about the ‘even better if' for care experienced young people in Barnsley and nationally. Her reaction to the new grant: "Is the national commitment to care leavers to the age of 25 really a hollow commitment - do they really mean it?"
Rachel Dickinson, executive director of people, Barnsley Borough Council. This blog first appeared on the ADCS website