Policy Forum

Shaping the Agenda: 2023 in Review

It has been a jam-packed start to my life at Drive Forward. Having joined the team in the summer of 2023, it has been a massive learning experience. I’ve had only one option – to get stuck straight into the world of policy campaigning and advocacy. In this blog, I’d like to highlight some of the main achievements Drive Forward’s Policy Forum has had this year and reflect on what it means for us going into 2024.

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Dare To Care: Ending unnecessary Criminalisation

Over the last couple of years, the Drive Forward’s Care-Experienced Policy Forum has been working to change this situation. Through the work of the Forum, the need to reduce the unnecessary criminalisation of children and young adults with care-experience has been recognised by decision-makers in the criminal justice system.  This has been reflected in the development and implementation of nationwide protocols, including the London protocol, which was co-produced with members of our Policy Forum.    

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Press Release: New practical guide for lawyers to help reduce the over-criminalisation of care experienced children and young adults

Over the last couple of years, the Drive Forward’s Care Experienced Policy Forum has been working with youth justice experts to create a new guide for lawyers to use when representing care experienced young people. The guide has been completed in collaboration with the Transition to Adulthood Alliance, Child Rights & Youth Justice, Garden Court Chambers and the Youth Justice Legal Centre.

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What barristers can do to help decriminalise care

Half of the children detained in Youth Offending Institutes are, or have been, in the care system. That’s despite the fact that children in care make up less than one percent of the child population. Research conducted by the Howard League for Penal Reform has found that unnecessary police call-outs and mental health difficulties are two of the main factors behind this statistic.

Prevention is better than the cure, and our Policy Forum’s criminalisation subgroup has mainly focused on how we can avoid children in care coming into contact with the criminal justice system in the first place. The group has worked extensively with the Metropolitan Police and the London Mayor’s Office for Policing and Crime on ways to achieve this. Forcing carers, social workers and other agents to ask themselves the question ‘Would this be good enough for my child’, our young people helped to write a protocol, released in March this year, aimed at keeping police call-outs as a last resort.

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We all have a right to good mental health

You undergo many changes when transitioning from foster child to care leaver when you turn 18. Social workers turn into PAs (Personal Advisors). You are expected to rely on the welfare state if not in employment or student loans and grants if you are at university. You also grow up extremely quickly. By the age of 19, I had my own flat and was living alone.

It was shortly after moving in that I had my first mental health breakdown. Due to moving ‘out of borough’, the therapies that I had waited a year to access were stopped at my most vulnerable point. Since I was a new patient in that area, it meant that I had to join the back of the queue for help all over again

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Children’s mental health problems don’t disappear at 18, and nor should support.

Last week, organisations across the UK took part in Children’s Mental Health Week: an initiative that has been running since 2015. Sadly, we know that children in care are particularly at risk of poor mental health. Almost half of children in care have a diagnosable mental health disorder (compared to 10% of the general child population) and two-thirds have

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Good Mental Health – not a luxury, but a right

Unfortunately, poor mental health is very common among the care-experienced population and can make life even more difficult for them. Things such as employment, personal care and wellbeing, or independent living are much harder to maintain when struggling with one’s mental health. There are already specialised services for care leavers such as housing officers and personal advisers, and it’s time we matched this provision with specialised mental health services too.

Currently, we are focusing on gaining more insight into the different experiences of care leavers and collecting their suggestions, ideas, and innovations to create a more comprehensive picture of what a well-functioning mental health service provision for care-experienced people would look like.

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