Legal Update: Care leavers and the 'local offer'

Stewart MacLachlan
Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Stewart MacLachlan, legal & policy officer at Coram Children's Legal Centre, looks at recent changes in leaving care support, including the introduction of the "local offer" and support for young migrants.

Councils are now required to set out the support they offer to care leavers and extend help to the age of 25. Picture: bnenin/Adobe Stock
Councils are now required to set out the support they offer to care leavers and extend help to the age of 25. Picture: bnenin/Adobe Stock

Mark Riddell was appointed as national implementation adviser for care leavers last month, his role being to work closely with local authorities as they work toward meeting the duties introduced under the Children & Social Work Act 2017. As then children's minister Edward Timpson outlined during its passage through parliament, the 2017 act represents "an important step forward for vulnerable children. It defines what good corporate parenting looks like, and secures the involvement of the whole council in looking out for children in care or leaving care. It requires every local area to set out exactly what support they are offering to care leavers, making it easier for young people to access support. It extends the help of a personal adviser to all care leavers up to the age of 25".

In his new role, Riddell will be able to help councils develop stronger local offers of support for care leavers, personal adviser services and ensuring the corporate parent principles in the new act are upheld. These corporate parenting principles include: the need to act in the best interests of the child, to encourage the expression of the child's view and to seek best outcomes for those children.

The ‘local offer' and ongoing support

Section 2 of the 2017 act requires local authorities to publish information about services offered to care leavers and other services that may assist care leavers to transition to adulthood and independent living. This will include financial support, housing, health, education and training. The local offer should ensure that all care leavers have a clear idea of what services are available to them, as well as helping to highlight any gaps in provision or support that the young person may need.

A significant part of a local authority's support to any child over the age of 16 who is, or has been, a looked-after child, is assessing their needs in order to determine what advice, assistance and support they require. A detailed plan, called a "pathway plan" should be prepared as soon as possible after the assessment. Personal advisers act as a focal point to ensure a care leaver is provided with the correct level of support. They can participate in reviews of the pathway plan; liaise with the responsible authority in the implementation of the pathway plan; co-ordinate the provision of services; and take steps to make sure the child or young person is using those services. Section 3 of the 2017 act requires local authorities to provide personal advisers to care leavers up until the age of 25, removing the distinction between care leavers in education and training and those who are not. It also means that all care leavers will be able to return for help from their local authority at any time up until they reach 25.

Impact of immigration status

While local authorities consider changes brought about by the Children and Social Work Act 2017, it is also important to remember what has not changed. Parts of the Immigration Act 2016 sought to reduce entitlements for leaving care support for migrant young people but to date these have not been brought into force. There has been no indication these provisions will be in force anytime in the near future and local authorities need to be acting in accordance with the law as it currently stands.

All children who are in local authority care for a period of 13 weeks at the age of 16 or 17 (eligible children) or those who have now left care but have been in care for that time (relevant children) are entitled to ongoing support once they turn 18 and become former relevant children. This includes unaccompanied asylum-seeking children and migrant children taken into care due to child protection concerns or parental abandonment. Effective planning for this group is essential and it is crucial that those children and young people have their immigration issues dealt with through legal advice and representation, as well as planning for future immigration issues as care leavers.

A young person with no permission to remain in the UK and no application pending should still receive leaving care support - this support can only be removed subject to a human rights assessment. This assessment involves examining whether removing support would breach the young person's human rights; whether there are any barriers to return; and whether there would be a breach of human rights if the young person was to return.

POINTS FOR PRACTICE

  • All local authorities should ensure that they publish information about services offered to care leavers.
  • The local authority and personal advisers should be aware of the specific needs of asylum-seeking and separated children and ensure that this is reflected in the local offer and support provided.
  • A local authority's corporate parenting role should include ensuring access to appropriate immigration advice and representation - this may need to be ongoing depending on the immigration status of the child.

 

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Legal Update is produced in association with experts at Coram Children's Legal Centre www.childrenslegalcentre.com

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