The case for young people staying in care for longer than most currently stay is common sense and I won't repeat the arguments that have made been so well made by others - we should just do it. And the argument has largely been won with government, I believe - think of Staying Put (though small in its implementation) as well as the current plans for young people in foster care. And the NCAS Leaving Care Benchmarking forum is doing what it can to improve local authority planning and provision in this area. So, what's the problem, then? Here's my list:
* Current government thinking seems to be based on the importance of the 'nuclear family' kind of lifestyle for young people, where the state has a very small role (look at the huge emphasis on adoption). And this is coming from politicians with a limited personal experience of a very small upper strata of society, so I'm not even sure it's what I would think of as 'family'. The 'nuclear family' has got some good things going for it, but it's not what all young people would choose, neither can the needs of all young people be met in this kind of setting. This government view also tends to mean that young people in placements of less than a year (which is most young people in care) or those who have the most difficulties (and stay in care) tend to end up on the margins of government priorities.
* Politics responds to an agenda set by the media - this makes no sense at all for most young people. Media is driven by the need to have an audience, not by what young people need, and it boils issues right down until they're hugely over simplified. So, too much of the hammering that children's homes are currently getting is based on a small number of shocking examples (and I have no wish to play those down as they impact on some young people), and not enough on what young people say (those for whom residential care is right and those for whom it is not) or on evidence-informed policy making. What must young people living in children's homes think when they see the deluge of bad news about their homes?
* There's a principle at stake, for sure, that all young people leaving care should have the same rights, entitlements and support, but as a sector we can't let these issues divide us - united we stand, remember? It's not the services that are important, it's the young people who are. I see too many managers working in children's services who focus on what the services can and can't do and not what young people need them to do. This is reflected in local government commissioning of placements for children in care and the established pecking order (largely not based on what children choose or need) - adoption, in-house foster care, independent foster care, residential care (seen as the last resort - imagine how that feels to young people living in children's homes?). Local authorities are unwilling to make long term placements with independent providers because of a poorly informed view of how they compare with in-house services.
* Making it happen on the ground given huge local authority budget cuts is likely to be very, very slow - government are good at setting national policy but will not get involved in local decision-making (for fear of being blamed for the cuts, perhaps?). So, let's welcome the positive changes, campaign for lots more, but be realistic about what is actually being promised.
* Preparation for leaving care has been largely forgotten. NAFP published a paper about the hugely important role of foster carers in this a few months ago. As much as some young people need to be able to stay in care for longer, they need to be supported and advised by the people who they trust and who know them best. For many young people, that person is their foster care. But delegated authority, as we have come to know it, is struggling to make headway when risk adverse services have to cover their backs for fear of recrimination when things go wrong.
Let's not play games, or play politics. It's not politicians, or local government, or services, or adult priorities and sensibilities that matter, it's young people that matter - get behind Every Child Leaving Care Matters, you know it makes sense.
Nationwide Association of Fostering Providers