An important strategy has been published in England which directly impacts upon fostering and the care arrangements for young people post 18 years of age. Entitled Keep Caring in England, this is the government’s attempt at setting out the goals that need to be met to support foster care leavers on their journey from care to independence. It has to be said that the fine old proverbial english saying; dating from the seventeenth century, ‘Fine words butter no parsnips’ springs to mind – its sentiment is as relevant today as it was all those years ago – the salient point being, that whatever the strategic goals are, achieving them will be contingent upon adequate funding and not words alone. But it is important that cynicism does not rule reaction: there is much to be appreciated in the strategy which signals a positive move forward in thinking. One important example is an enhanced focus upon corporate parenting: importance is placed on the need for all departments within the local authorities to fully recognise their duty as duty as corporate parents and adopt a joined up approach in addressing key fostering issues. The strategy was introduced by Edward Timpson MP, children’s minister in England –
‘I am determined to ensure that the state and wider society play a much stronger and more active role in improving care leavers’ life chances. For me, it’s the hallmark of a compassionate society….It [care leavers strategy] asks local and central government to up their game as corporate parents, using the level of support that we expect a reasonable parent to provide for their child as the benchmark for how they should approach their role.’
Locating the steps the government is taking in a single place clearly makes sense. Falling within the overall ambit will be housing through to health services, as well as justice and educational systems. This should result in a more co-ordinated approach to support care leavers when they leave their placement.
The intention is clear – the Minister, speaking at the National Care Leaver Week annual conference said:
“For the first time ever, our care leaver strategy will ensure that all government action across every department – from justice to housing, education to finance – is working with one single, united purpose to improve the lives of these vulnerable young people.”
Fine words indeed…but it should be borne in mind that the leading Fostering Charity, The Fostering Network, whilst campaigning for the introduction of Staying Put has repeatedly called for the programme to be adequately funded. At the time of writing, this is still not the case as placements have been curtailed at 18 as foster carers have not been able to afford to maintain the placement.
Action has to be taken as figures published the Department of Education has highlighted that –
just 6% of care leavers aged 19 or over went on to higher education.
over 1,100 care leavers aged 16 or over are now living in independent accommodation without any formalised support.
34% of care leavers aged 19 or over are not in education, employment or training
What is encouraging is that attention is being given by influential organisations that will keep government under the spotlight – the chief executive of the Princes Trust, Martina Milburn has stated:
“The transition from adolescence into adulthood is a daunting time for young people, bringing new responsibilities and pressures as they become fully independent. Without the support networks that their peers come to rely on, these vulnerable young people are more likely to face unemployment, leave school with few qualifications and struggle with mental health problems – and so this commitment from the government is hugely important to prevent this group from slipping through the net and into a life on benefits.” For more information: https://www.princes-trust.org.uk/?gclid=CKqm5-uk680CFUJmGwodnN0IMQ
The final point has to be, that since the costs of supporting foster children are so great, it makes no sense – given the DoE’s figures above – to withdraw support at such a critical phase. The maintenance of scrutiny is what really counts, so perhaps the words of the leading charity – The Fostering Network are most apt:
“Keep on Caring could well be a giant leap forward for care leavers who deserve to have a Government and society which is passionate about their successful futures. The Fostering Network applauds the commitments made, and will work with our partners to ensure that those commitments are kept.” For details of the full strategy visit https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/266484/Care_Leaver_Strategy.pdf
ow…congratulations to Richard and John; two of the members of the Rainbow fostering team who are both looking forward to the joys of parenthood for the second time around.