About three months ago, on the 4th December, 2013, the government announced that children who were in foster care would be allowed and supported to remain with their foster carers until they were 21 years of age. At the time, many caring people genuinely felt this was a massive breakthrough in the fight for support for young people leaving care that had been going on for many years. As we noted at the time, there was much celebration amongst campaigners when the announcement was made.
Some of us did not celebrate unequivocally. We saw that this breakthrough was only partial; it only offered enhanced support to one single group of care leavers but not to others. Whereas a large majority of children in care are in foster care, about 9% of children in care, about 6,000 children, are in residential children’s homes and other settings. There was to be no enhanced provision or right to stay put in their placements given to these children.
Strange and incongruous as it seemed to us, children in residential care were to be excluded in this change even though arguably the residential sector cares for possibly the most vulnerable and disadvantaged young people who may be unable, or indeed choose not to be fostered. In the celebrations this group were invisible.
We struggled with this so checked carefully, but there was no obvious child care centred reason based on good practice for this. How could this be? How could one vulnerable group of children simply be left out? These children had the same needs and presented the same challenges as children in foster care. Indeed, they were often their siblings. They were at least as vulnerable and faced the same disadvantages as their peers in foster care. The shocking reality dawned on us that the decision was not based on any other factor but where the child was placed when they were due to leave care. This was clearly blatant discrimination. The campaign to gain equal aftercare support for young people in children’s homes to that given to young people in foster care was born, and the “Every Child Leaving Care Matters” petition was opened.
Today, that petition has been signed by over 6000 people – one for every child placed in residential care who would be and as it stands will be excluded from this discriminatory government policy. We know from our contacts with signatories that many are social workers and social work teachers who are unhappy with being asked to discriminate between vulnerable children based on placement rather than need. Some are psychologists who struggle with the idea that support will be based on geography rather than assessment. Some are lawyers who see the injustice in the policy the government are seeking to pursue. Many are care leavers who have struggled leaving care and don’t want any more children to have to struggle. Many are care providers, and we are proud to include foster carers and adoptive parents in our ranks who want equality for all children. The campaign’s aim for equal support for all care leavers until they are at least 21 years old is now openly shared and promoted by major child care charities as well.
We welcome all those who put the needs of children and young people first. We are people from all walks of life bound together only by our determination to see all children and young people leaving care treated equally, treated without discrimination and based on their needs and wishes. It just seems obvious and basic to us.
The government has presented a range of reasons why they say equal care cannot be given at this time. We have responded to them in our blogs in recent weeks. Please have a look at our blog library and hopefully you will agree with us that the excuses don’t hold water and can be addressed fairly easily with good will and cooperation.
We have consistently offered to meet with ministers to discuss how to amend their discriminatory policy and give all care leavers equal opportunities and support until they are 21. They have declined to date. The offer remains open. For the sake of the next generation of children and young people leaving care, I hope they accept it this time.