Friday, 10 January 2014

Thoughts From Harvey Gallagher...

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.

Harvey Gallagher
Chief Executive
Nationwide Association of Fostering Providers

1 comment:

  1. Oh my goodness me, someone who is of the same frame of mind as myself and speaks up, This has been such a pleasure to read and I cant state how much I agree whole hearted with every single letter written.
    I am a foster carer of 11yrs, I have also worked in childrens homes, sheltered, supported and secure. I am currently aiming to raise funds in my local area for a center for our care leavers, This is something I am very passionate about and throughout my career have worked mostly with challenging teenagers (as society labels them) I call them kids., The "staying put" programme quite simply stinks, its merely governments way of making themselves look good as if they are offering these young people a stable family life for longer. TWODDLE, we are no longer foster carers but landlords, theyre no longer our kids but our tenants, they have to be in EET, under certain circumstances NEET, but only extreme circumstances. These kids have suffered enough, at the very least a child in care has suffered loss and separation, the worst is horrific abuse that most of the government couldn't even begin to comprehend, yet lets turn care into an anagram and re name it RACE, race them thru the care system, get them out of the system at 17/18 and move onto the next. This is disgraceful behaviour, these kids need us, they need that family setting. The average age has risen by 25% since 1992, the average age for leaving home being around 25yrs old. And these are stable young adults whom have had the benefits of family holidays, driving lessons. unconditional love and support which in turn mirrors their future. Our young people leaving the care system have had the unstability of several homes ( as its a minority of kids that have only ever had one foster home) they don't all have the unconditional love, the holidays the opportunities that birth children have, YET as a society we deem it acceptable to thrust independent living upon them. Now I must sign off as my kids are wondering why they cant smell any food as its nearly tea time. I would like to arrange a meeting with yourself and talk further, plus would you take a look at my funding page, many thanks KTP
    my email is