Who cares about children in care?
The children and young people in care who we work with want to succeed. Last year I spoke to a group children and young people in care who work with our programmes in Rochdale, Salford and Greenwich about their ideas for a standard about children’s experiences of living in and leaving care, and how the system can be improved.
One young person summed up what young people need. She said: 'Give us a focus and a goal and give us as much support as is needed for young people to succeed.'
This meeting was especially relevant because today the social care quality standard on health and well-being of looked after children we were discussing has been released by the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE).
We endorse this standard, which helps practitioners, and local and national decision-makers to improve outcomes for children in care and help them achieve to the best of their potential.
What do children in care need to succeed?
The legal framework for children in care and care leavers to succeed is in place. But despite this legislation – which includes the Children Act 1989, the Care Standards Act 2000, the Children Act 2004, the Children and Young Persons Act 2008 – children’s experiences of the system are still too often negative and vary considerably from one local area to another.
Children and young people believe that two things affect how they experience life in care: relationships with the professionals who support them and decisions made at the local level.
Many children have positive and trusting relationships with professionals. Things go wrong when, as one child said, ‘professionals are making blanket policies’ without listening to children and young people and putting their needs at the centre of decisions making.
Children in care also need stability in the professionals who support them. They need to be able to talk to someone, and to know that there is a reliable plan in place for their support.
Young people said:
- ‘My worker went on one month leave. I was behind on my rent and did not know who to call.’
- ‘Social workers not responding when young people call – need to be better resourced.’
- ‘Consistency in social workers is important.’
- ‘My care plan is a waste of paper, waste of a tree. They may as well let the tree live longer.’
- ‘I don’t know what to do but they still did not help because they thought I am good because I stayed on top.’
Do local decisions affect young people’s experiences?
When young people compare their day to day experiences of being in care they often discover considerable differences depending on where they live. There are differences in allowances, travel arrangements, access to health services, how they are prepared for adulthood and how much involvement they have in decisions made about their lives.
Leaving care is often the issue that most concerns young people. Turning 18 is seen as a milestone that younger children in care fear and care leavers have very negative associations with.
- ‘You are given a world in care and then it gets taken away from you.’
- ‘They give you a certain amount of money but no support of how to manage your money. At the moment I have no gas so I have to knock at my next door neighbour for shower.’
- ‘Why was I made to move out of foster placement because of my age rather than when I was ready?’
- ‘At 16 a young person from a normal family thinks about getting a car and having driving lessons but all you can think about is being homeless.’
Will the new NICE standard make a difference?
To improve outcomes for children in care, the system must focus on young people’s needs, wishes and feelings. This cannot be achieved by only changing regulations. We need a real change in attitudes and working cultures to make a difference.
The new standard that NICE released today is not mandatory, but if all professionals and decision makers working with looked after children adhered to its principles and had high aspirations for children in care and care leavers, young people would not experience the care system as ‘an isolated place’, as one young person described it.
To make a real difference, children and young people want professionals and decision makers to keep a simple question in mind when making decisions about children in care: ‘Would this decision have a good impact on my child?’