Turning 18 and slowly beginning to understand the complexities of adulthood is something most of us will be able to relate to. Thinking back, some of us will remember how important the support of parents, siblings or long-term friends has been during this crucial period in our lives. Children going into out-of-home care, however, typically don’t have that kind of support. Their social networks tend to be more fragile and dispersed and they rely on the support provided by the state, their ‘corporate parent’.
So, what does the support ‘looked-after children’ receive when they transition into adulthood and leave the care system look like?
When a child is in care, their local authority becomes their ‘corporate parent’. This means that the local authority has a duty to ensure that the child has everything they need and are being supported at least as adequately as they would be in the family home. Like any other parent, therefore, the corporate parent also has an important duty to ensure that a young person has a smooth transition into adulthood.
In 2018, the Government announced plans to extend support to all care leavers up to the age of 25. Before this, support was stopped at the age of 21 unless the young person was in fulltime education or training.
This support tends to come from a ‘Personal Adviser’ or ‘PA’, not a social worker. PAs are supposed to provide support around the usual obstacles that most people face for the first time as they transition into adulthood such as housing, bills, work and benefits.
But the needs of young people can often be far more complex than this. Leaving care can be stressful, even traumatic, and often PAs feel that they don’t have enough capacity to properly deal with some more serious issues. In the words of one of our young people: ‘being older doesn’t mean you need less support – often you need even more’.
Drive Forward works closely with many London boroughs and a range of PAs who do all they can to proactively support their young people. But their capacity can vary. One of the professionals we spoke to about this and expressed their concerns over different boroughs’ capacities to support care leavers:
‘Poorer boroughs will often have less money but more young people in care. Those social workers/PAs [in those boroughs] may be on the lower end in terms of salaries but on the higher end in terms of caseloads. Poorer boroughs have to be more creative.’
It is also worth considering that the number of looked after children has steadily risen over recent years and the needs of young people leaving care are also increasingly complex. Gang crime, exploitation and mental health concerns are just some of the issues that leaving care teams must juggle alongside standard support around housing, employment and social security.
Most boroughs aim to cap PA caseloads at no more than 25. Whilst 25 low priority cases may be just about manageable, the reality can often be far more complex. If a large chunk of PA’s caseload consists of serious gang issues or housing emergencies, it is easy to imagine that other, less immediate concerns may fall by the wayside. No matter how hard PAs work, it can be a real challenge for boroughs to act as the best possible corporate parent for young people going through such a crucial time in their lives.
At Drive Forward Foundation, we believe that statutory support must reflect these growing, complex needs and must be consistent across London and the UK more generally. Furthermore, leaving care teams must have the capacity to be trained in a trauma-informed manner so that workers are best equipped to support young people through such a crucial moment in their lives.
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