Around the corner


Young people in residential care will soon have the right to 'stay close' to their placement when they leave, helping smooth the transition to adulthood. Joe Lepper investigates how this is likely to work.

The government launched the landmark "Staying Put" reforms in 2014, allowing young people in foster care the right to remain with their carers until turning 21. But its exclusion of children in residential care from sharing the same entitlement has cast a shadow over the reforms ever since. The much higher costs and safeguarding concerns meant those in residential care have missed out.

Two years on, the option of offering young people the chance to stay in their children's homes after their 18th birthday remains off the table. However, an alternative approach, called Staying Close, is gathering support among ministers.

The Department for Education announced plans in July to pilot the approach through the children's social care innovation programme "in order to understand the costings, practicalities and impact".

The Staying Close option involves offering young people leaving residential care the chance to move into nearby supported accommodation, in order to maintain attachments with their former home and its staff through regular visits and ongoing support. A scoping study by National Children's Bureau last year put forward the approach as the least expensive and most viable of a number of alternatives to Staying Put for young people leaving residential care.

The Narey review of residential care urged the government to introduce Staying Close for children reaching adulthood as one its recommendations, stating: "If the NCB estimates of the cost of introducing Staying Close are reasonably accurate, then there is no reason that it could not be made available to all those in children's homes reaching their eighteenth birthday."

NCB projected the cost per young person over three years to be £33,828, considerably less than the estimated £493,296 bill per person of applying Staying Put directly to residential settings over the same period.

Narey also suggests savings could be even greater, highlighting one Staying Close-style arrangement by North Lincolnshire Council, where the cost per child is around half the NCB estimate.

That example, which concerns newly built independent living accommodation for older children in the grounds of the Kingfisher Lodge children's home in Scunthorpe, also gives an indication of how Staying Close may work across England.

Cllr David Rose, North Lincolnshire's cabinet member for children, families and learning, explains that the council made the decision to build the five-bed housing on the same land as the six-bed care home because it "seemed unjust" for children in care homes to miss out on the benefits of Staying Put.

He says: "There was a clear anomaly that those in foster care were getting this and those in care homes were not. So it seemed sensible for us to put in place something that would provide them with the necessary support and encouragement to live independently."

Maintaining links

Built in 2014, the independent accommodation, called Kingfisher House, offers young people the chance to share meal times at Kingfisher Lodge. The two separate buildings also share staff and regular visits to the lodge are encouraged.

According to Cllr Rose, the sense of stability and continuity of care the arrangement offers young people is a major benefit at this difficult time in their lives when they are looking to secure courses and jobs.

He states that none of the young people at Kingfisher House are not in education, employment or training. Indeed, of the current residents, three are in further education and work, and a fourth is at university but stays at Kingfisher House outside of term time.

Young residents of Kingfisher Lodge were also involved in the design of what may become their new home for a further three years, "so there is a sense of pride in it", says Cllr Rose.

In welcoming the planned pilots Cllr Rose hopes the government ensures it looks at the estimated long-term savings of investing in Staying Close.

"Here the children pay rent, are in work or education. The alternative would be to throw them out into the community and all the risks that involves such as unemployment, risk-taking behaviour, drug and alcohol issues and unwanted pregnancies," he says.

London-based provider St Christopher's Fellowship prioritises the sharing of staff and continuity of care for the care leavers that live in its Cornock Taylor campus, a transition service for those aged 16 and over.
 
This offers two stages of independent living for those leaving St Christopher's care homes, which are between 20 and 30 minutes away by public transport. The first house is the likely destination for most upon leaving the children's homes. The second, neighbouring house, entails less support and is already more independent and will in most cases house those that have moved from the other building.

Angela Harris, West London regional manager at St Christopher's, says: "Looking at the Staying Close policy, there is a real opportunity for looking at locations that are much closer together, ideally within walking distance."
 
NCB director of external affairs Enver Solomon hopes the Staying Close pilots can get under way swiftly to ensure those in residential settings benefit as soon as possible.

He says the scheme is likely to work best where there is a strong commitment among home staff to genuinely involve the young person in activities, such as meal times.

Having the same key worker would be vital to ensure this continuity of care, Solomon says, adding that to maintain links, the young person's new accommodation "needs to literally mean staying close" to the home.

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