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These Are Our Bairns: A guide for community planning partnerships on being a good corporate parent

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Cartoon Caption10 / HOUSING SERVICES

"Our Throughcare and Aftercare team has developed a specific Care Leavers' Flat Scheme which is a partnership arrangement with supported accommodation providers within Edinburgh. The partner agencies are Rock Trust, Horizons and Barnardo's 16+, all of whom specifically provide within their tenancy provision supported accommodation flats for formerly Looked After young people. Young people can stay in these flats for up to two years, during which time they will be assisted to move to permanent accommodation with or without ongoing housing support, if required.

"A particular example of this in practice was a worker's involvement in supporting a young man make the transition from being Looked After and accommodated within a young people's centre to a care leaver's tenancy. The procedure required the worker to submit a referral on behalf of the young person, outlining their background and accommodation needs using the seven Pathway headings, and supporting the young person complete an application for their views. The scheme was instrumental in supporting the young person make a positive move towards independence and prevent the possibility of having to be accommodated through the council's homeless route."

Helen Heatlie, Throughcare and Aftercare Team Manager, City of Edinburgh Council.

Scotland's Looked After children and young people will live somewhere they feel safe and nurtured; a place they can call home, a place free from abuse and harm, a place where they feel supported and confident in expressing their views to develop into well-rounded, successful and responsible adults.

"You come out of care and they [housing officers/landlords] automatically think, oh we have got a hooligan … we've got someone who is going to smash up the flat. They don't listen …I think they think … what is the point just give her somewhere to stay … anywhere." (Hayley)

Where we live is important to every other aspect of our lives. Housing services in councils, whether directly provided or in partnership with housing associations, are an integral member of the corporate family. Where a child or young person is Looked After at home, the family may be living in a council house, or other social housing. The family's accommodation will form part of the any needs assessment for the child or young person, and the housing provider will have an additional responsibility in relation to them.

The transition into independent living is a key milestone and a life-changing event for any young person. For young people leaving care, it is probably the most significant transition and securing accommodation that meets their needs will impact significantly on how successful it is. Looked After young people experience stigma throughout their lives and one way to reduce such stigmatisation is to ensure that relevant partners effectively plan a young person's transition from care to avoid unnecessary homelessness.

Moving into independence is about more than simply finding a roof. Corporate parents will want to satisfy themselves that young people leaving care have the necessary life skills and confidence to cope with independent living and the supports they need to sustain the move must be in place. Some young people will need more support than others and a range of services may need to be available. A permanent, single person's tenancy may not be the best option for a young care leaver.

Care leavers are particularly vulnerable to homelessness and prevention of homelessness amongst care leavers should be recognised in local strategies and plans.

Addressing anti-social behaviour is a sensitive issue for councils, particularly housing services. Children can be disadvantaged by the anti-social behaviour of their families, and indeed some children become Looked After as a result of anti-social behaviour, or behave anti-socially whilst Looked After. It is important that staff within the authority involved in addressing anti-social behaviour understand their special responsibilities as corporate parents to Looked After children and young people, for example when considering pursuing an anti-social behaviour order.

It is also important to remember that there is a small but significant number of Looked After children and young people and care leavers who present a risk of serious harm to themselves or others. Their care is particularly challenging to manage and can present significant issues for the corporate parent, for example when identifying suitable accommodation. Particularly in these circumstances, multi-agency risk assessment and management is essential.

You will want to:

  • Make sure that children's needs are at the centre of decisions made around housing and any housing support offered to families.
  • Make sure you work closely with housing associations and registered social landlords to raise their awareness of corporate parenting and our responsibilities to Looked After young people and care leavers.
  • Make sure that staff working in housing services understand their additional responsibilities to Looked After children and young people, and care leavers.
  • Make sure that staff working in allocations, arrears recovery and estate management receive appropriate training to better understand the particular needs of care leavers.
  • Make sure that you work closely with colleagues in throughcare and aftercare services to develop realistic and sustainable pathways plans.
  • Make sure that your housing allocation policy is sufficiently flexible to meet the needs of care leavers without resorting to the use of homelessness legislation.
  • Always consider the following basic questions:
    (a) Does the accommodation meet any identified health or disability needs?
    (b) Is the landlord or provider suitable?
    (c) Does the accommodation meet the young person's needs in respect of education, training or employment, for example access to public transport?
  • Think about all possible options, including starter flats, peer support arrangements and other creative options to offer young care leavers.
  • Consider the community within which the young person will be living and the supports it offers, the positive friendships and relationships which need to be maintained.
  • With colleagues across the council, support young people who are in full-time further or higher education, for example if they require vacation accommodation or through the provision of financial support to meet rent costs.
  • Put in place effective joint working arrangements with clear procedures and effective resolution mechanisms.
  • Consider providing supported accommodation, supported lodgings or supported carers schemes, supported flats or communal living opportunities. You may also wish to consider putting in place specialist housing and/or other support services where practical and emotional support is provided by dedicated staff, perhaps in partnership with the independent sector.
  • Work with social work at the earliest opportunity to identify young people who are at risk of becoming homeless and arrange suitable accommodation for them, backed up by multi-agency support to help them to sustain the tenancy or other arrangement.
  • Make sure that your joint protocols recognise that where a young care leaver becomes involved in anti-social behaviour, all services should take into account their care leaver status and the corporate parenting responsibilities that you have for that individual.
  • When addressing a family's anti-social behaviour, be aware of whether there are children or young people living in the family home who are on supervision orders.
  • Make sure that support for independent living includes an awareness amongst young people of their responsibilities to the community within which they live, and the potential consequences of their actions.

HOW WILL I KNOW I'VE MADE A DIFFERENCE?

  • When young people leaving care are able to access suitable accommodation without recourse to homelessness services.
  • When there are a variety of options available to young people moving from care into independent living with appropriate levels of support.
  • When you have been actively involved in Pathways plans for all care leavers.
  • When care leavers' accommodation supports their ability to sustain further education, training or work.
  • When you are able to demonstrate that your care leavers have sustained tenancies and they are making a positive contribution to the communities in which they live.
  • When anti-social behaviour strategies and practice recognise the council's corporate parenting responsibilities, including ensuring that young people recognise the possible consequences of their own behaviour.