Two days ago at the House of Commons, Education Committee, Michael Gove, Secretary of State for Education, was asked why there was a different care leaving age for foster children than for children in children’s homes, given that the children in children’s homes are very often the most vulnerable? Mr Gove said: ‘Until we are absolutely certain that we’ve got the situation right with residential homes—residential care and residential care homes—and the policies are properly aligned, we won’t extend the age there…Fostering is different…’
Ed Dixon, Chief Executive Officer, Family Care Associates Ltd, asked:
‘Are we certain that ‘we’ve got the situation right’ with all foster care placements?”Why should the many be penalised by the shortcomings of the few? Children in care, just like other children, only have one life they can’t afford to wait for every care provider to be perfect.’
Rosie Canning, author and campaigner, once a care leaver, said:
'When the committee talk about vulnerable children - those who have been removed from their families for their own protection - these children often 16+ who are being moved out of residential care, may be placed into even more vulnerable positions especially by councils who move children out of the area and into cheaper hostels. This was described by those attending the select committee as ‘exporting children’. The transcript of this recent Select Committee reads like a horror story.'
Those people involved in residential care, care leavers themselves, and other professionals know exactly how to improve dangerous situations for children, after all it isn’t really rocket science, don’t move them from their safe secure residential homes. Yet government representatives, Gove in this instance, whilst admitting ‘there are bail hostels, houses containing individuals who are undergoing drug rehabilitation, and homes being used, we know, by people with criminal connections from eastern Europe and beyond [and] It is absolutely the worst place to put vulnerable young people…’ also said, ‘We need to know what will definitely improve things before we instantly act, so we are in the process of working out exactly what is wrong and what is required...consistent with not being knee-jerk.’
The Every Child Leaving Care Matters, petition was not a knee jerk reaction. The petition includes people who have campaigned for years for improved leaving care arrangements. We acted quickly to inform those who were not aware of this discriminatory practice and let the public know exactly what was being planned by government.
Interestingly, the question above asks about different leaving ages, 18 for those in residential homes and 21 in foster care. Yet we are not campaigning for a raised leaving care age to 21, we are campaigning for equal leaving care arrangements to 21 for all care leavers.
Mr Gove suggests that children in children's homes won't get this support until an unspecified number of children's homes nationally have improved within an unspecified time - at which point he may consider it.
Louise Holt, an Assistant Manager of a residential children’s home, responded to Gove’s comments and questioned:
‘At what point does he make that decision? Is it at the point where every single provision in the UK is rated as 'outstanding' before he allows this to go ahead? I appreciate that there are poor provisions out there, but what about the others that are doing an amazing job and achieving positive outcomes for the young people in their care? Those young people that are happy and content with their placement, that have felt their first bit of stability in their lives.
My reaction to his statement is one of utter astonishment. Why not extend the leaving age? Granted it may not be a simple task and there are obstacles in the way. But why write something off before exhausting all avenues?
This system only creates negativity towards kids in care! The stigma deepens and the young people are further and further discriminated against.
Why wait? Why not start exhausting the avenues today?!'
Ian Dickson, a retired inspector and social worker, as well once a care leaver, added:
‘Mr Gove's comments display open discrimination. His proposal could result in a child settled in a children's home who needs and wants longer term care being refused because other children's homes nationally did not fit a national standard, whereas a child placed with a foster carer/agency will be entitled to support to 21 regardless. By that time possibly 100's of care leavers could have left care to become disadvantage statistics or worse still. However, foster care is viewed as 'different'. Regardless of the quality of the carers or agencies involved, all fostered children will receive on-going support.’
Gove reminded us that it was Edward Timpson’s decision to extend foster care from 18 to 21, ‘to provide them with a nurturing and caring environment to help them through life.’
Where’s the nurturing and caring for those at risk in residential care?
Author of 51 Moves, Consultant to National Organisations, Managing Director of 51 Moves Ltd, Ben Ashcroft’s main concern is how the children in these residential homes will be feeling after Mr Gove’s comments:
'My reaction to Mr Goves comments are that he has clearly discriminated against children and young people in children's homes. This is unacceptable. I feel it will cause even more disturbance and upset for young people. Not to mention creating a two tier system and an under class. Will foster parents have to be outstanding or will they lose the young people they look after? Different placements work better for different young people. I feel very sad for the young people in residential care who will be feeling these comments and certainly don't think they will be celebrating. Young people may become unsettled and want to move to foster care so they get extended support even if they are happy and settled.
It is totally wrong and is not fair as well as being discriminating to those children and young people in residential children’s homes. Here is a novel idea Mr Gove, let's treat ALL young people who are looked after the same!'
Lisa Cherry, Director, The Awareness Revolution, once a care leaver, added:
‘The power of change that we can bring about when we work together and collaborate is phenomenal and gives a collective voice of solidarity to all young people demonstrating our full support. We ask that child care charities, agencies, care leavers and anybody else who wants equality for care leavers, publicly supports the petition and campaign, and declares their support for the Every Child Leaving Care Matters petition via Twitter, on web sites, by writing to the their local MP and any other way to bring this matter into the public eye. Will you do it for care leavers?’
We ask you to support our campaign for equality of care. Many of you have spoken out on behalf of children in residential care, and even more have signed the petition as individuals. Will you join us in demanding equality for all? We believe what we are seeking is ethical practice, and is not negotiable. Government must not be allowed to treat care leavers differently.