Assessing The Needs Of Care Leavers
94. Section 29(5) of the 1995 Act (as inserted by section 73(1) of the Regulation of Care (Scotland) Act 2001) requires a local authority to carry out a needs assessment for every looked after young person over the age of sixteen, with a view to determining what advice, guidance and assistance the authority (and its Community Planning Partners) should provide once the young person ceases to be looked after.
95. In every case, the pathway assessment process for Aftercare services should reflect the principles in Supporting Young People Leaving Care in Scotland: Regulations and Guidance on Services for Young People Ceasing to be Looked After by Local Authorities published in 2004. The detail of the pathway assessment process is set out regulations 7 to 10 of The Support and Assistance of Young People Leaving Care (Scotland) Regulations 2003 (as amended by The Support and Assistance of Young People Leaving Care (Scotland) Amendment Regulations 2015). For those young persons who have been accommodated, the Staying Put Scotland guidance published in 2013 is also relevant.
96. The emphasis of the legislation, regulations and guidance is on ensuring that the young person is supported to develop in all aspects of their lives. This reflects the philosophy of care set out in the Scottish Government policies which stress the importance of positively delaying the age of leaving care. These policies also stress that, until a young person is ready to make the transition towards greater independence, the corporate parents' duty is to encourage, enable and empower young people to remain in safe, supported environments for as long they need to.
Assessment of 'currently looked after young people' and 'compulsorily supported persons'
97. The Support and Assistance for Young People Leaving Care (Scotland) Regulations 2003 (2003 Regulations) state that a local authority must carry out a pathway assessment for all 'currently looked after young people' who are over the age of sixteen and every 'compulsorily supported person' (a care leaver who has not yet reached their nineteenth birthday).
98. The 2003 Regulations clearly set out the process which must be followed by a local authority. These require that the views of the young person are sought (pathway views) and that a plan is drawn up which states how the local authority plans to meet the needs (pathway plan).
99. Materials have been prepared to help local authorities carry out their assessment duty effectively. The Pathway Handbook available on the Scottish Government website is a useful tool when embarking on a pathway assessment; this guidance should be read alongside that. The GIRFEC principles should be at the core the pathway assessment.
100. The SHANARRI wellbeing indicators (as described in section 96 of the 2014 Act) are entirely complementary to the pathway headings and should be considered in the appropriate section of the pathway assessment. The outcome of the assessment will identify which needs, if any, can be met by either universal or other specialist services.
Assessment of 'discretionarily supported persons' (care leavers aged nineteen to twenty-five inclusive)
101. Section 29(5A) of the 1995 Act (inserted by section 66(2) of the 2014 Act) sets out that, after carrying out an assessment in pursuance of an application made by a care leaver who is at least nineteen but not yet twenty-six, the local authority:
a) must, if satisfied that the person has any eligible needs which cannot be met other than by taking action under this subsection, provide the person with such advice, guidance and assistance as it considers necessary for the purposes of meeting those needs; and
b) may otherwise provide such advice, guidance and assistance as it considers appropriate having regard to the person's welfare.
102. Eligible needs are defined in The Aftercare (Eligible Needs) (Scotland) Order 2015 as:
a) financial support to meet essential accommodation and maintenance costs, such as travel and other necessary living expenses;
b) support, in the form of information or advice, to assist the person to access education, training, employment, leisure and skills-related opportunities; and
c) insofar as not covered by sub-paragraph (b), support, in the form of information or advice, relating to the person's wellbeing.
Any assessment of a young persons wellbeing will include the SHANARRI indicators (as described in section 96 of the 2014 Act)
103. Eligible needs can be further described as needs which cannot be met through existing universal services and supports. Once an assessment has been carried out by a local authority and an eligible need identified which cannot be met by universal services - such as Health, Housing, or the Department for Work and Pensions ( DWP) - the whole local authority, as a corporate parent, has a duty to work together to meet the eligible need.
104. An example of an 'eligible need' is housing costs associated with attending a college or university course. If these costs are not covered by the institution (as part of their package of support for care leavers) or relevant UK or Scottish benefits (such as Housing Benefit or the Care Leavers Vacation Grant), the young person's participation on the course is very likely to be put at risk. In this situation, the young person has an eligible need for support from their local authority. The local authority is then under a duty to meet this need, either through the provision of housing or the necessary financial support to meet essential accommodation and maintenance costs.
105. Corporate Parenting partnerships should also be borne in mind in this context, as for example, universities and colleges are increasingly offering practical support and advice with financial and accommodation issues, specifically for care leavers. Local authorities should work in collaboration with Higher and Further Education Institutions to highlight the needs of care leavers and help inform how other corporate parents might in partnership meet their duties under Part 9 (Corporate Parenting) of the 2014 Act.
106. Other assessments may not be as straightforward as there are a range of issues that can and do cause particular difficulty to care leavers, which reflect both their previous experiences and their very likely limited informal support networks.
138. Where a young person seeks assistance the local authority should carry out an assessment of need based on the eligible need definitions, incorporating the wellbeing indicators.
139. In some circumstances it may be that the local authority does not identify an eligible need i.e. one which cannot be met by universally available services. However, it is vital to ensure that no young person is left in a situation in which their basic needs of warmth and food cannot be timeously met and s/he is therefore left at immediate risk. These most basic of needs should be met either via an eligible need or via section 29 of the 1995 Act other than in the most exceptional of circumstances. It is difficult to imagine a situation where a local authority would not wish to meet these most basic of needs by identifying an eligible need.
140. A local authority still has a duty to advise, guide and assist care leavers until their nineteenth birthday and a power to do so until their twenty-sixth birthday, irrespective of identifying an eligible need. These duties and powers should be properly exercised to mitigate a number of different situations including the example outlined above.
141. Not all eligible needs will require direct finances, indeed many will not. An illustration of this might be where a young person is beginning further or higher education or training and previous knowledge or current assessment indicates that they may feel socially isolated and struggle to attend. To meet the eligible need identified here an appropriate solution may be for a worker to accompany the young person for an agreed initial period of time until the young person is confident enough to continue unaccompanied.
142. As a good corporate parent the education/training facility itself will be expected to identify these situations and provide direct support to the young person, perhaps through student services.
143. Many of a young person's needs will be able to be met through contact with other corporate parents such as health, housing and education services. It is important that eligible needs are not only seen in the context of material or practical support, important though these are.
144. It is also important to recognise that any young person leaving care or having left care will have a legitimate need for on-going relationship based support, irrespective of whether an eligible need is found. Local authorities need to ensure that support does not become crisis led and instead encourage care leavers to engage with all levels of help they can access through a suitable assessment process.
145. The crucial importance of relationship continuity should not be forgotten in the context of identifying eligible needs as they are likely to be key to successful transitions and in enabling care leavers to establishing themselves in the community.
146. The report 'Supporting positive relationships for children and young people who have experienced care'  , published in March 2015 by the Institute for Research and Innovation in Social Services ( IRISS) also emphasised the importance of consistent relationships. Some key findings noted that:
a) Before they come into care, children and young people's relationships are often fractured, chaotic, frightening, violent and abusive;
b) Being in care provides opportunities for children and young people to experience loving, secure, stable and safe relationships;
c) While in care, children value opportunities to build positive and meaningful relationships but experience difficulties in building and maintaining them;
d) Transitioning out of care is a challenging time and access to supportive relationships is critical for young people in helping them manage the demands of this experience;
e) Throughout the different stages of their care journey, access to positive and meaningful relationships is likely to lead to better long-term outcomes for children and young people;
f) Enabling and supporting high quality relationships between professionals and children and young people can be achieved but sometimes requires changes in services, teams and processes, as well as at the level of the individual professional.
147. Section 96 of 2014 Act places the definition of 'wellbeing' onto a statutory footing and compels certain public agencies to use this as the basis of their assessments of children and young people.
148. All assessments should embrace or identify key elements of the SHANARRI wellbeing indicators.
149. As such, all assessments of care leavers should make reference to the eight wellbeing indicators. These are Safe, Healthy, Achieving, Nurtured, Active, Respected, Responsible and Included ( SHANARRI).
Involvement of the young person in the assessment
150. The legislation governing Aftercare puts the involvement of the young person as one of its central principles. Local authorities must seek and take account of the views and wishes of the young person in assessing their needs, and in preparing the plan that comes out of the assessment.
151. If there are meetings, the authority should take steps to make sure that the young person can attend and take part, for example, paying travel and subsistence costs or providing an interpreter or advocate. The role of advocates can be a crucial one in helping young people attend and participate in meetings. The authority should also be aware that the timing of meetings could impact on a young person's availability or ability to attend. If the young person has any particular wellbeing needs because of additional support needs, the authority should make sure the assessment and other materials are in a format accessible to them.
152. However, it may be the case that a young person does not want to engage with the process at this current time, or has lost touch. In such cases it is important to remember that a young person may not wish to engage with the process in its entirety, but they may be interested in some aspects, or they may wish to engage fully at a later date.
153. Aftercare support should not be an 'all or nothing' service. Nor should initial disinterest, disinclination or disengagement on the part of the young person exclude them from support in the future. Local authorities should recognise that such behaviours are often a routine, and necessary, part of human development and be prepared to be flexible and responsive to the wishes of the young person as they develop.
154. Disputes which arise between a young person and the local authority need to be addressed appropriately. Dispute resolution strategies such as mediation may provide a solution. The young person, in all of the above processes, whether it be in the request for assistance, the assessment process itself or in challenging the outcomes of the assessment, should be provided with access to support in terms of advocacy. This could be through a Children's Rights Officer, advocacy service, mentor or other trusted appropriate adult identified by the young person.