My first annual report, published in December, celebrates what is working well and tells a positive story about the difference local authority leaving care teams are making to the lives of care leavers.
During 2018, I visited more than 40 councils to offer advice on implementing the leaving care duties introduced under the Children and Social Work Act 2017. It has been heartening to see how positively the sector is responding to the challenge.
One of the most encouraging things I have seen is how developing the local offer has helped authorities to work more closely with key partner agencies and stakeholders, especially at a leadership and strategic level (see case studies).
However, there is still a long way to go before every care leaver receives the level of support that we would consider to be good enough for our own children.
Here are the four key areas I would like to see develop further.
1. Better corporate parenting
There needs to be a good corporate parenting approach - by that, I mean less corporate and more parenting. Council corporate parenting boards need to adapt to be more active, participative and have a challenging approach. I advocate a "champion model" consisting of:
- Board members taking responsibility for different themes - with one member responsible for celebrating success and another for data
- Elected members becoming champions of a particular area, such as housing
- An operational champion appointed
- Care leavers being supported to tell their story and the role the board plays
- The story is presented to the board with a favoured resolution for care leavers
- The board is expected to resolve cross-department issues and other partner issues
- Participation in board meetings being open to a wide range of statutory, private and voluntary sector organisations.
2. Involve leaving care teams
Leaving care services must come in when young people reach 16 years old and at various points throughout their transition to independence.
The leaving care service particularly needs to be involved with unaccompanied asylum-seeking children and homeless young people.
Transitions to adult mental health services should be built into care planning, and local authorities need to consider one referral pathway to all agencies and ensure buy in from other key partners, both in the council and outside.
3. Refine local offer
The local offer to care leavers aged 16 to 25 should have participation and co-production principles built into it.
Leaving care teams need to be proactive in finding care leavers, get to know them and ensure they stay close.
It is also important to know the detail of the offers from key partner agencies and that the local offer is "signed off" by the council leader and chief executive. It should be based on the litmus test of "is this good enough for my child?".
4. Set these targets for 2019
The ambitions I would like to set for all local authorities, which are shared by the local authorities I have visited, are as follows:
- Aim for 70 to 80 per cent for care leavers to be engaged in education, employment or training.
- Ringfence apprenticeships for care leavers, pay the national living wage and employ a care leaver ambassador in the leaving care team.
- Exempt all care leavers aged 25 and under from council tax.
- Ensure no care leaver is made homeless and that any accommodation offered by the council is of a high standard that would be good enough for your own child.
- Adopt a favoured approach to care leavers especially as they transition into adult social care or health provision with one referral pathway.
- Work across the government to ensure a committed approach to care leavers continues and to explore how to strengthen the role of the state in supporting care leavers
How four councils are championing the local offer for care leavers in their area
Stockport The full local offer is being co-produced and consulted on. Until this is completed, the council has updated its rights and entitlements information that gives care leavers a clear pathway to what they are entitled to, which I think is very generous.
Wandsworth The London borough's offer is split into seven clear sections explaining in detail the offer to care leavers. It is easy to understand and for care leavers makes it explicit what they are getting from the "family business" in Wandsworth.
Bracknell Forest The local offer introduces the team with photos and names. Their offer is very generous and gives care leavers very simple things that make a real difference, such as a TV license, have contents insurance and driving lessons.
North Yorkshire This offer gives a clear menu of options - a pathway for care leavers looking at education, their housing possibilities and an extremely generous financial offer to young people, which is above statutory entitlements.