Saturday 28 December 2013

This letter has been been sent out to all those who supported Staying Put which achieved enhanced support for young people in foster care. We have sent this letter to them today to ask them to work together again, with us, to achieve the same for the young people in residential care.....because young people in residential care being treated equally alongside their peers in foster care, cannot wait any longer! 

"Dear colleague,

As you know, the government propose to introduce enhanced support for young people leaving foster care up to the age of 21 from April 2014.  Like you, we totally support this opportunity for young people from foster care to receive the care and support they need.  

What we cannot accept is the discriminatory act of offering this improved support to young people in foster care, including being supported to remain living at their placement until they are 21, whilst not giving the same right to young people placed in children’s homes.

We see this deliberate omission as discrimination, a simple issue of human rights. Young people in care who may have the same needs and challenges will receive different levels of support based solely upon where they are placed. In our view, this is unacceptable.

Because we see this as such a fundamental issue, we felt there was only one option open to us – to challenge the decision and seek equal rights to support for ALL young people leaving care up to 21, wherever they are placed.

Accordingly, we raised a petition to enable people to express their view about this discriminatory proposal.  The response was immediately overwhelming.  The campaign has received massive support from care leavers, social workers, social work teachers, leading academics, lawyers, providers of residential care and fostering as well as celebrities and other members of the public. 

The petition was signed by over 3000 people within 10 days, and the number of signatories is still rising. The reason for this overwhelming response was because people know that this is the right thing to do.

We understand the strategy behind your supporting this partial outcome was that it would make extending the support to all young people leaving care easier over time. We also understand that supporting young people leaving residential care in the same way may present a complex range of challenges.

However, whereas we understand your motives, we don’t believe that introducing such changes for one group of care leavers will necessarily lead to all care leavers receiving the same right within the foreseeable future.

How many young people discharged from children’s homes facing deprivation, homelessness, custody, poverty, exploitation and the range of challenges young care leavers face would be an acceptable number during the period of transition until all young care leavers have the same rights to support?

The only possible answer to that question must be none.

We hope that that will be your view too. We recognise that we are all on the same side and we all want the same things for young people.

We find it totally unacceptable that the nature of aftercare support a young person may receive will be dependent upon their placement, even if their needs are the same. How can such a lottery be acceptable?

We are also convinced that this discriminatory move will cause significant difficulties and distress to children who are not fostered.   

The other day in Select Committee, the Secretary of State Mr Gove said that he was ‘open minded’ and prepared to accept an increased age for leaving care of 21 years of age for all, but only when the quality of children’s homes nationally had improved to an unspecified level by some unspecified time in the future.  The situation in foster care was ‘different’ in his view, so young people in foster care could receive enhanced support almost immediately.

This confirms our fears. A young person in a children’s home who is settled, enjoys positive relationships and will benefit from remaining there after the age of 18 will not be able to until all children’s homes nationally have reached this unspecified standard within an unspecified time. That could take years, if it happened at all.

A young person in foster care who needed to be supported to 21 would be eligible to receive such support – irrespective of the standard of the foster carers or the fostering providers.  This is blatantly discriminatory.

We believe that ALL young people leaving care should have equal rights to support up to 21. We know from the names of signatories to the petition that many of you agree with us as individuals.

Over 3600 people have stood alongside us and called for justice. We ask that you too as organisations support our campaign for equality of treatment. We ask that you too stand alongside us and demand equality.  What we are seeking is ethical practice, and is not negotiable.  Government must not be allowed to deal with care leavers differently.

We recognise that you proudly supported the campaign to gain support for young people leaving foster care up to the age of 21 years. We ask that you now publicly support our petition and our campaign, and declare your support for us on your web sites. Will you do that for the benefit of all care leavers?

Kind regards

The “Every Child Leaving Care Matters” petitioners
December 2013"

Monday 23 December 2013

Our Vision For Equal Rights For All Care Leavers Gains Momentum!

Can you believe that we are now in to our third week of campaigning to get equal rights for ALL looked after Children & young people to get support until 21? And together we have nearly 3,500 signatures.

We are all connected in this vision that no matter where young people are placed, they should all be entitled to equal provision.

Among you, the #ResCareTo21 team, we have young people, care leavers, Social Workers, Professors of Social Work & Psychology, leading academics, lawyers, barristers, celebrities and the public who support this and are standing side by side to raise awareness and campaigning.

As we move forward, our support is growing by the hour. Fostering and Residential providers, Charities, Organisations and people who advocate for Children & young people are all passionate about this call out to the Government for equality for ALL young people in care.

We should not be surprised by this as we are all passionate about our desire for young people to have better outcomes and be successful rather than featuring in the statistics that we are all too well aware of.

With the correct support is place we believe that young people, already facing challenges, will have a better chance of moving into adulthood with a better chance of living a fulfilled life, not one plagued by disadvantage and even more challenges.

Young people have clearly been discriminated against through the introduction of this new legislation in April 2014 which is to benefit young people in foster care only.

As Mr Gove pointed out, a minority of residential homes are not up to standard and do need to be brought up to standard quickly. We agree! But this is not a good reason to only offer support up to 21 years of age, where required and appropriate, to only those young people who are fostered.

The question we need to ask is, would extending support to ALL looked after to 21 reduce offending behaviour, homelessness, drugs and suicide? We know the statistics:

up to 40% of 18-21 year olds in custody have been in care
27-35% adult male prisoners have been in care
57% of women in prison have been in care
1 in 5 homeless people have been in care

This campaign is about demanding equality for all young people in care wherever they may be placed: in foster care or residential care.

We look forward to all the Charities & Organisations to follow in the footsteps of others and publicly support our campaign on twitter, Facebook and their websites and Newsletters.

Please join in the discussion on Twitter by using #ResCareTo21.

Finally, let’s all give ourselves a big pat on the back and thank every single one of us who is supporting this campaign and has signed, shared, re-tweeted or liked.

Please keep sharing, tweeting, Face-booking, caring and together we can all be part of creating this change. #Teamwork

Friday 20 December 2013

Response to Mr Gove

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.

Wednesday 18 December 2013

Overwhelming support for children in residential care

We have been overwhelmed at the amount of support from children in care, foster carers, foster children, social workers, residential care home providers and managers, academics, healthcare professionals, childcare professionals, care leavers and many many more.

Here is just a very small selection of some of that support:

A Message from Phil Frampton - 

"All young people in care need the right to the roof over their head. However the sad fact is that these young people are still routinely tossed from pillar to post, from placement to placement at the whim of the care system. Extending stays for those in foster placements until the age of 21 is fine, but the same level of support should be open to those in residential care and all careleavers, not only those whose foster carers are prepared to give them a place in their home. The new system wont stop those young people most failed by the care system being failed once again.

"Furthermore, with a shortage of 10,000 foster care placements in England alone, it will not address the issue of undercapacity. Carers that wish to keep their careleavers may decide that as a result they can no longer cope with taking in other children, in which case a system that has so many young people leaving care in a worse condition than when they were taken in, will deteriorate further. The government is throwing a pittance at the problem instead of investing in a robust plan to meet the care shortage with a major plan of expanding residential care to ensure stability for these young lives, empowering young people in care to  shape their destiny." 

Phil spent his childhood in care before going on to Bristol University. He was a founding member of the Care Leavers Association. To find out more, click here.

Drawing from a child in residential care

Comment from petition by Lynette G. 
As a Registered Manager of a Children's Home I have seen vast amounts of children leave care at 17 that are not ready and need the support that a family unit would give. Its about time legislation changed to allow children to stay in residential homes until they are 21.

Comment from petition by: Ze'ev L. 
Many children come to care homes when they are already 14-15. They require enormous amount of psychological and educational input. Securing this input until 21 years of age can be the difference between failure and success.

A message from a child in residential care

Comment from petition by Judith J. 

I work in a homeless service. Many young people are not ready to live independently at this young age. They need stability to mature and develop as adults and learn better life skills. Then fewer would need our service.

This is just a very small sample of the huge amount of support we have received for children in care to be able to stay in their homes until they are 21. The same support that is being offered to those in foster care.

We welcome the opportunity to engage in discussion with those who are concerned about the needs of young people leaving care at any time. All we would ask is that they also include young people from children’s homes and young care leavers in those discussions. One of the less pleasant consequences of the statement on 4th December was that it reinforced their feelings of not being listened to.

We ask that the government support all children and young people in care to 21 years of age. We ask all those who share our view to support our campaign for equality and sign the petition: Every Child Leaving Care Matters

Sunday 15 December 2013

Reflections on the extension of foster care to 21 and the implications for residential care

We have been delighted at the positive way people who care about children in care have engaged with us to explore the issues surrounding the implications for young people leaving care. We welcome dialogue and debate which can only serve to bring improvements.

A wise comment from Natasha Finlayson when discussing the implications of the extension of foster care to 21, in The Guardian, set the bottom line. She said it was a ‘no brainer’and that young people in residential care should ‘…have the same rights as those in foster care.’ We agree.

We were advised that the proposed changes being introduced do not alter the care leaving age from 18 for young people wherever they are placed. Indeed, all the changes do is adapt the law to fit good practice in foster care. Some authorities have already introduced arrangements under the ‘Staying Put’ initiative which would give a statutory base and some funding.

Also, that the changes will not result in all young people in foster care remaining there until they were 21. Many wouldn’t want to, some foster carers wouldn’t want them to, and indeed, for some it simply would not be appropriate. The changes will only apply to those fostered young people who are settled in their families and have established strong relationships, and who want to stay on with the agreement of their carers. We consider this excellent practice.

However, the extension to foster excludes the 9% of young people in care that are placed in children’s homes. These young people have a wide range of needs and challenges. What most have in common is that they are vulnerable. This vulnerability is further enhanced by a stigma attached to residential care amongst the public and still sadly amongst some in the social work profession. Some see children’s homes as the ‘last resort’, as a place where children who have ‘failed’ family placements may be sent, or as somewhere the more challenging young people may be placed. Many of the public see children’s homes as places where ‘naughty children’ are sent. Historically, this view was compounded by some local authorities who used children’s homes to accommodate their more challenging young people.

This stigma and misuse of residential care often masks some excellent work taking place. It is a credit to residential care that so many of those children placed in children’s homes under such pressure do grow up to lead fulfilling lives.

This last week we have heard from many young people in residential care who are bewildered, hurt, and angry by this impending amendment to the children and families bill. As well as young people in children’s homes, we have also been amazed at the amount of support from leading academics, social workers, mental health practitioners, foster parents, charities, celebrities, fostering providers and famous authors.

We believe that a young person settled in a children’s home who enjoys strong bonds with staff and is working with them toward agreed objectives should be allowed and supported, to stay in placement until they are 21, as fostered young people will be. Dr Gordon Milson, a clinical psychologist who works with young people, said via Twitter: ‘It has to enter the narrative of care. This can be your home until 21. Must become norm not exception.’ This is not to say all those in children’s homes will want to stay, or providers will want them to stay. It is not to say that it would be in the interests of all young people to stay in children’s homes until they are 21. However, for those for whom it is appropriate, they should have that right as their peers in foster care will have that right. The overall numbers are small compared to foster care, and we do not consider this would be too difficult to implement.

We believe that young people who grow up in families enjoy the company of siblings and peers of a range of ages. Families do not consist of all 16 – 18 year olds. We do not see age as a reason of itself to move a young person from a settled placement.

Many support our aims, but feel the need for new schemes to be tested and new pilots to be carried out to perfect the arrangements. We understand this caution, but don’t believe that young people in placement now who are settled and who will benefit from remaining in placement to 21 should leave and move elsewhere simply pending further research. They have needs now and some will face failure, destitution, homelessness, exploitation and all the other risks young people face on their own now. They should not be placed at risk pending further research.

One concern is that allowing young people to remain in children’s homes after their 18th birthday may cause problems for younger children placed, potentially including safeguarding issues. We struggle to see how a young person who is settled in a children’s home and enjoys positive relationships with staff and peers should suddenly become a safeguarding risk at 18 when they never were before.

It is argued that it is too soon to include changes to the leaving care arrangements for children placed in children’s homes by April 2014. We don’t agree. Those who are settled in placement enjoy positive relationships and who want to stay with the agreement of their placement, should simply be allowed and supported to do so. A commitment to support ALL young people leaving care to the age of 21 could also be given by government in April 2014 whilst the work to establish how this may best be done is ongoing.

We welcome the opportunity to engage in discussion with those who are concerned about the needs of young people leaving care at any time. All we would ask is that they also include young people from children’s homes and young care leavers in those discussions. One of the less pleasant consequences of the statement on 4th December was that it reinforced their feelings of not being listened to.

We ask that the government support all children and young people in care to 21 years of age. We ask all those who share our view to support our campaign for equality and sign the petition: Every Child Leaving Care Matters

Saturday 14 December 2013

Every Child Leaving Care Matters

We ask that the government support all children and young people in care to 21 years of age. We ask all those who share our view to support our campaign for equality.

Why is this important?

Last week, 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. There was much celebration amongst campaigners when the announcement was made. However, those celebrations did not extend to children and young people in children’s homes. Children in residential care are not included 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. One young 15 year old in residential care said: Just because foster children are settled in a family environment does not mean that young people in residential are not. I would love to live here until I am 21.' Children in children’s homes will still face being discharged from care at 18 (or even younger) and facing the savage disadvantages that life can bring. We know from the feedback we received that these young people were not celebrating last week. It is our view that increasing the care leaving age for fostered children and not those in other residential settings will have unintended consequences. It will: 

• create a ‘two tier’ care system, in which children in foster care receive longer aftercare support than those residential settings; • create an ‘underclass’ of children in care who have to leave care at 18; 
• reduce real choice for children as they will be compelled to accept family care in order to gain better aftercare; 
• create serious issues for social workers when family placements are breaking down. Instead of considering a residential care option, they may repeat family placements in an effort to protect aftercare; 
• have an impact on the self-image and confidence of children in residential settings other than foster care, who may feel undervalued and discriminated against by a change which excludes them through no fault of their own. 

We welcome the change in leaving age for fostered children to 21 years of age. We congratulate the campaigners who achieved this and acknowledge work that took place over several years. However, we feel that to accept this change whilst excluding other children in care is discriminatory and not sufficient. 

We ask that the government support all children and young people in care to 21 years of age. We ask all those who share our view to support our campaign for equality. It is the least we can do for our children. 

BEN ASHCROFT @AshcroftBen 
IAN DICKSON @IDickson258 
ROSIE CANNING @RosieCanning1 
ED NIXON @EdNixon2 
LISA CHERRY @_LisaCherry 
PAOLO HEWITT @PaoloHewitt1 
ALEX WHEATLE MBE @brixtonbard 
DR JOSIE PEARSE @angelstrand
DR GORDON MILSON @gordonmilson