Looked after children and young people: we can and must do better

Report of the Ministerial Working Group on educational outcomes for looked after children and young people.

03 / Developing into Successful and Responsible Adults

Our Vision

Scotland's looked after children and young people will be encouraged and supported as they approach adulthood; they will be provided with the same types of opportunities as other children and young people, so that they may grow into valued, effective life long learners, and successful and responsible adults.

Where we are now:

Looked after children can too often become needy, disenfranchised and alienated adults. It is widely accepted that they are more likely to: need mental health services; go to prison; be homeless; and, have their own children removed from them. The cost of wasted potential, of long-term support services including the cost of imprisonment, and of another generation of children in public care is almost beyond comprehension.
( BAAF and TFN 2005:4)

At the same time it is recognised that:

Each step up the educational ladder is associated with improvements in health, both mental and physical, employment, income, housing, family life, absence of addiction problems and lower involvement with the criminal justice system.
(Jackson and Simon 2005)

Success stories can and do happen. Extraordinary Lives highlights an example of a care leaver who had gone on to be successful at university and quoted his frustration at the lack of success stories in the public domain. Extraordinary Lives also highlights a range of factors which help care leavers to feel safe, more secure and valued, thus helping young people become more successful and responsible. A selection of these are:

  • social skills and an adult to turn to
  • good quality surroundings
  • opportunities to experience activity, adventure and cultural, leisure and sports activities
  • transition and/ or Pathways planning and continuing support and practical help from foster carers, residential staff and social workers
  • continuing support if serving a prison sentence and on release
  • professional and support staff awareness of what financial supports are available to care leavers if they decide to aim for further/higher education
  • continuing financial and practical support while at college/university
  • genuinely involving young people in decision making processes

In recognition of this, we have been increasingly focussing on the needs of care leavers. In 2004 we introduced the Supporting Young People Leaving Care Regulations, the general principle being that young people should continue to be looked after until 18 and supported as necessary beyond this point. Central to the legislative changes is the duty for local authorities to carry out an assessment of the needs of the young person. Materials entitled Pathways exist to assist local authorities with this duty; every young person leaving care should have both a Pathways co-ordinator and also a Pathways plan. The guidance also states that local authorities should work closely with Careers Scotland; which they do.

Careers Scotland has produced guidelines to cover care leavers and other young people with additional support needs leaving a residential school. These guidelines aim to ensure that young people leaving residential establishments receive appropriate career planning support on their return to their home area. These arrangements are being monitored and reviewed; the first review was held in September 2006.

We have also provided Columba 1400 with £1.2 million to pilot a Care Leavers Leadership Academy. It aims to assist young people between 16 and 25 who are preparing to make the transition to independent living. The pilot is being fully evaluated and the final evaluation report will be published in due course.

In addition to the various initiatives which specifically target looked after children and young people, there are numerous policies and initiatives, which focus on this crucial transitional stage. These include:

  • Local authorities are required to work with their partners to produce homelessness strategies, under the Housing (Scotland) Act 2001. In preparing and delivering their strategies these local partnerships focus on those at risk of homelessness when moving to independent living.
  • More Choices, More Chances which aims to prevent young people from becoming NEET (Not in Education, Employment or Training) in the first place and to help those who are NEET to progress towards the labour market.
  • The ASL Act requires education authorities to plan well in advance when a child/young person with additional support needs is preparing to leave school. Education authorities should ensure that the arrangements required for transition to post-school are clear so that the child or young person, and all those involved, know exactly what is happening, when it is happening, and who is responsible.
  • Post School Psychological Services ( PSPS) Pathfinders have a key role in improving outcomes for vulnerable young people by supporting their transitions from school. Care leavers are a priority group.
  • Careers Scotland work with schools, local authorities and a number of agencies to support transition to post-school education, training and employment. All care leavers will be allocated to a Careers Scotland adviser or key worker who will ensure progress is reviewed and monitored.
  • Careers Scotland offers additional and measurable support to pupils in designated schools within the seven NEET priority areas (Clackmannanshire, Dundee, Glasgow, East Ayrshire, Inverclyde, North Ayrshire and West Dunbartonshire) through the Enhanced Resource Pilot. Looked after and accommodated young people will be a target group for additional support.
  • Because of their financial circumstances care leavers who go on to a full-time higher education course in Scotland will be eligible for the maximum Young Students Bursary. Additionally they may be eligible for the Vacation Grant for Care Leavers to help meet accommodation costs. There are discretionary bursaries available for further education students which are administered by individual colleges.
  • Within institutions there are support structures in place to advise and support students with learning and pastoral issues. However, to be effective, institutions need to work in partnership with the other agencies, notably social work services, so that they are aware of these needs in individual cases.

What the Group said:

The group was concerned that the transition from care into independent living and all that this entails can often be very difficult. There was further concern, that this issue of "moving on" largely arises in a young person's life at a critical stage in their schooling, when they are likely to be preparing to sit examinations and potentially considering a move onto further or higher education. They asked the question: what depth of impact can this uncertainty have on young people's educational and longer-term prospects?

The group discussed the fact that young care leavers may well experience a range of feelings as they approach/enter this critical transition into adulthood, including: excitement, anticipation, fear, anger, stress, and loneliness. The group also felt that it is little surprise that young people can be confused about supports that are available to them as they make this transition.

In particular, the group was concerned that if and when a looked after young person is considering a move onto training or further/higher education, frank clear and consistent advice regarding potential financial and practical supports is generally not available. Similarly, they were concerned that when a young person moves onto independent living or into employment while additional support is often required it is not always routinely identified or provided. The group were highly concerned that many young people who wished to or were considering leaving care were not fully aware of the financial and practical implications of making this decision.

Finally, the group agreed that we need to have the same high expectations of our looked after children and young people as we do of our own children: and more crucially, we need to provide for and support them as we would our own children as they make this critical transition from adolescence to adulthood.

What Scotland's looked after children and young people have said:

In the transitions section in Having Your Say, the young people referred to experiencing "more stress" than their peers. Generally the young people agreed they required more support in taking their next steps and in knowing what supports were available to allow them to do so most effectively.

The Debate Project highlighted future careers. While less than a third of those questioned had gained or were studying towards formal qualifications and most did not know what qualifications they needed to follow their desired career path, half desired to go onto further or higher education and most expressed an interest in a care related career.

Finally, the young people also highlighted the issue of personal responsibility: "Young people need to be ready to help themselves, so it's not just social workers".

Common themes:

  • The transition from school to further/higher education or employment and/or care into independent living can be an extremely difficult and stressful time for young people.
  • Young people need timely financial and practical advice and support when making decisions on employment, further and higher education and independent living.
  • A variety of supports are required to assist young people in this transition and consistency of support as the transition is undertaken is critical.

The way ahead - our pledge to Scotland's looked after children and young people:

Looked after children and care leavers must be entitled to receive adequate financial support from their corporate parent, in the same manner that any non-looked after child or young person is entitled to financial support from their parents.

Action 12:
We will encourage local authorities to use existing powers under Section 30 of the Children (Scotland) Act 1995 to provide appropriate financial support for care leavers who are in full-time education, training or a modern apprenticeship.

Next steps required:

a) We will write to local authorities reminding them of the existing powers under Section 30 of the Children (Scotland) Act 1995. We will also highlight examples of, and circumstances when, it may be proper and appropriate to provide financial support.

b) We will ask local authorities for examples of best practice. We will collate and share these amongst all local authorities.

Around and during the time of a young person's transition into adulthood it is essential that they have access to relevant information about education, employment, training, finances and health, etc.

Action 13:
We will work with colleges and universities to raise awareness and responsiveness to the issues faced by care leavers who enter further or higher education.

Next steps required:

a) We will be supportive of initiatives such as the Frank Buttle Trust's Quality Mark for universities which demonstrate support to care leavers.

b) We will be supportive of moves to enable care leavers to be identified possibly through the UCAS application system.

c) We will work with the Scottish Further and Higher Education Funding Council and the Regional Widening Access Forums to raise the profile of care leavers as a discrete group and the particular issues they face during the transition to further and higher education.

d) We will monitor the effectiveness of local initiatives already in place such as the Enhanced Vocational Initiative Programme in Glasgow, the work that individual colleges do with the Big Step and disseminate good practice across Scotland.

Action 14:
We will commission the development of a resource pack for looked after young people and care leavers which will provide them with information relevant to their transition into adulthood.

Next steps required:

a) We will consult with the Scottish Throughcare and Aftercare Forum, the Big Step, Who Cares? Scotland, local authorities, Student Awards Agency for Scotland and other relevant stakeholders in relation to the information which should be contained in the resource pack.

b) We will commission, develop and publish the resource pack, including information on how to manage your money, where young people can get advice on money matters, and the financial support available to those who enter further and higher education.

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