Staying put Scotland: providing care leavers with connectedness and belonging

Guidance on making care planning decisions that prioritise relationship-based practice, as well as extended and graduated transitions.

Section 2: Key Principles

32. The idea of delaying the exit of young people from care settings until they are sufficiently skilled, and - more crucially - emotionally and psychologically equipped, is not new. But the Staying Put approach takes this idea further, demanding genuine needs-led assessment and the promotion of consistent positive relationships (which transcend both settings and roles). The key principles listed below are therefore both critical and explicit in all successful 'Staying Put' schemes, and must be understood across all relevant organisations, from front-line practitioners through to senior management.

  • Young people are encouraged, enabled and empowered to remain in positive care settings until they are ready to move on. Local authorities and their partners - as corporate parents - will want to ensure that looked after young people are not only aware of their right to remain in their placement, but that they have opportunity to exercise that right. They must be provided with information about the options available to them (in a timely manner), and given the support to evaluate those options properly; this may involve direct work with a young person to highlight the long term benefits of certain choices, in light of their personal circumstances.
  • No looked after young person leaves care without the skills and support necessary for success. As if they were their own children, staff across local authorities - and all agencies with corporate parenting responsibilities - will want to ensure that a looked after young person leaves their care placement with the practical skills and networks of supportive relationships that underpin successful adult life. This relies on proper needs-led, child-centered assessment, a commitment to providing training and / or practical support, and access to a range of accommodation options. As part of the assessment corporate parents will want to satisfy themselves that care leavers demonstrate an appropriate level of 'emotional readiness'.
  • Local Authorities and their corporate parenting partners will have made explicit their commitment to the 'Staying Put Scotland' approach. Local Children's Services Plans and other relevant planning documents should be clear about the localities commitment to care leavers, and support for the 'Staying Put' approach. These plans will not only detail the policies and procedures which will make this practice real for looked after young people, but they will also identify the measures of success ( i.e. outcomes for care leavers). Clear and explicit statements in strategic plans also encourage organisations to own the Staying Put agenda at a corporate level.

An Explicit Philosophy of Care

33. The approach advocated for in this guidance - Staying Put Scotland - represents an explicit philosophy of care. While many elements of this philosophy are already reflected in the positive and successful practice evident across Scotland, the importance of having a strong, explicit philosophy of care cannot be over-stated. The central elements are the Staying Put Scotland philosophy as outlined below.

The Importance of Relationship-Based Practice

34. In the pursuit of positive outcomes for young people leaving care, research consistently points to the importance of maintaining relationships and attachments. This applies not only to carers, but professionals also. Often forged in a period of significant stress and anxiety (as they come into a placement or prepare for a transition out of one), it is these relationships which can hold things together as the young person moves into a new and challenging period of their lives.

35. In the final report of Making Not Breaking: Findings from the Care Inquiry, both practitioners and young people emphasised how the option to remain in care placements (beyond the age at which they are entitled to leave) and opportunities to return for support when necessary, helped establish a feeling of belonging which - in the long term - actually enabled them to be independent and move on with their lives. [14]

"It was evident that those who stayed put had a wider network of support than those who did not […] and often had stronger relationships with their carers." [15]

36. In line with the final recommendations of the Making not Breaking report, the Staying Put Scotland approach stresses that relationships formed between the young person and their carers (be that foster carers or residential workers) should wherever possible and desirable, be continued and maintained. There should - at the very least - be arrangements whereby a young person can return to their previous placement for an evening meal or period of respite. Professionals and carers who have formed a good relationship with a child should be encouraged and supported to maintain contact when they (the adults) change job, or the child enters or leaves care or moves to a new placement.

"The weight of evidence, from all quarters, convinces us that the relationships with people who care for and about children are the golden thread in children's lives…" and that "unless in exceptional circumstances….planning should focus on ensuring continuity of key valued relationships for the child". [16]

37. The notion of independence is perhaps better expressed as 'interdependence', more accurately reflecting the day-to-day reality of an extended range of healthy inter-personal relationships, social supports and networks. Local authorities and other corporate parents will want to ensure that their systems, procedures, processes and practice supports this primary focus on relationships for the child or young person, both within their care experience and beyond.

Extended & Graduated Transitions

38. Accelerated or abrupt transitions from care settings should be avoided wherever possible. Corporate parents will want to ensure that the encouragement, enablement and empowerment of young people to make gradual and phased steps towards more independent living settings, over extended periods, becomes standard practice. Moreover, care leavers must be able to return to care placements or a more supportive care setting - if and when they meet with any difficulty. This will provide young care leavers with a vital 'safety net', at a time when their long-term health and well-being is at significant risk.

39. In the general population most young adults will phase their departure from the family home over months or years, depending on their own circumstances and needs. Within this, many young people will return to the family home for a period, perhaps between college and employment or over holiday periods, or to get additional support at times of difficulty. Accepting that there are practical difficulties involved, the Staying Put Scotland approach depends on corporate parents attempting to address those difficulties, putting systems in place that enable care leavers to return to a care setting. This should be accepted and embedded as a principle of good practice and responsible corporate parenting.

"[…] having the scope to allow young people to return to care if they left and struggled to cope was therefore seen to be a positive development." [17]

Post Care Accommodation Options

40. Joint Planning and multi-agency and partnership working is at the heart of all good child care practice, and central to the principles of GIRFEC. The extension of this principle for care leavers should be carried on beyond their direct care experience, the "one child - one plan - one care journey" principle being continued into adulthood. Pathways or transitions and support plans should reflect the key roles and responsibilities of agencies and partners in meeting the young person's needs through a phased transition into adulthood. This should reflect the dynamic and changing nature of young people's needs and circumstances as they progress on their journey to adulthood and interdependence.

41. For specific detailed guidance on post-care accommodation options, please refer to: Housing Options Protocol for Care Leavers: Guidance for Corporate Parents (2013, Scottish Government).


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