A Formby Labour councillor is calling for the government to fund extra support for teenagers leaving care.
Harington ward councillor Nina Killen, in a motion to last week’s Sefton Council meeting at Southport Town Hall, called on the Prime Minister David Cameron to “put his words into actions” and support young people to stay in residential care until the age of 21.
The option for teens to “stay put” after the age of 18 is already available to children in foster care, and Cllr Killen criticised the government for its discrimination against young people who were in children’s homes.
Cllr Killen said: “In his speech to the Conservative Party Conference this year, David Cameron decried the fact that children in care are almost guaranteed to live in poverty. He said 84 per cent leave school without five good GCSEs and 70 per cent of prostitutes were once in care. He used the words ‘this shames our country and we will put it right’.
“He is right: it does shame our country, and it is time for him to do really do something about it, to stop the rhetoric and start funding support for care leavers properly.
“Most young people live with their parents after the age of 18 and if they don’t they certainly rely on their parents’ support, emotionally and financially."
Young people who have been in care are statistically more likely to have mental health issues, to leave school with no qualifications, are more likely to have suffered neglect and abuse, more likely to be sexually exploited and more than twice as likely to be not in education, employment or training (NEET).
They are more likely to have problems with drugs and alcohol and are five times more likely to end up in the criminal justice system.
Cllr Killen said: “Around a quarter of care leavers become parents within a year of leaving care and these babies are themselves 50 times more likely to be taken into care. All this has an enormous cost in financial terms but also the lost potential of these young people and children.
“Investment in children leaving care is an investment in a person’s future and may save as much money as it costs. And even if it doesn’t it is morally the right thing to do.
“The ‘staying put’ arrangement for foster children was brought in because it is recognised that these vulnerable young people do better when they receive the support they need. This needs to be an option for children in residential care as well.”
The campaign for staying put in residential care is gaining traction. Cllr Killen’s motion was passed unanimously and a similar motion was passed by Warrington council recently.
The nationwide campaign is called Every Child Leaving Care Matters and uses the Twitter hastag #ECLCM. It is led by a former Sefton social worker Ed Nixon and is supported by care leavers.
More than 9,000 people including MPs and Social Care Academics have signed a peititon supporting staying put in residential care until the age of 21 and the Education Select Committee published a report in July 2014 recommending that all care leavers should have the option to remain in their placement until 21.
The Children’s Commissioner for England recently recommended that support for all care leavers be extended up to 25 years of age – and said this was “still much younger than the age many young people leave home”. A number of councillors at last week’s Sefton Council meeting called for support to be extended up to the age of 25.
In Scotland and Wales the option to ‘stay put’ is open to all care leavers and at the last election both Labour and the Lib Dems supported it in their manifestos.
Cllr Killen said: “Local Authorities are already struggling to fund staying put for fostered children. This must be government funded. Local Authorities don’t have the money to fund this. But the statistics show that not supporting children leaving care has an enormous cost. These are some of the most vulnerable young people in the country. Surely it’s better to spend the money on support rather than the consequences of not giving that support.”
Motion Submitted by Councillor Killen
To consider the following Motion submitted by Councillor Killen:
Children in Residential Care
“The Children and Families Act 2014 amended the Children Act 1989 to place a statutory duty on local authorities to allow children in care to continue to live with their foster parents when they reach 18 in what is called a ‘staying put arrangement’. The local authority must provide advice, assistance and support to the former looked after child with a view to maintaining the staying put arrangement and provide financial support to the former foster parent until the child reaches the age of 21. The same statutory duty does not apply to children who are in residential care when they reach 18. These vulnerable children and young people in residential care can have complex needs and compared to those fortunate enough to have been placed in foster care, are being discriminated against by the government. As corporate parents for all children in our care we have a moral obligation to ensure that all such children have the best services and support that we can provide. The Council calls upon the Government to implement similar legislation in relation to children in residential care and for the same to be fully funded by Government.”