THE BLOG

Connectedness, Belonging and Children's Homes to 21

17/02/2014 16:53 GMT | Updated 16/04/2014 10:59 BST

What matters is providing connectedness and belonging for a group of young people through appropriate, sustainable accommodation options. We need to focus our knowledge and experience.

In a recent article Martin Narey signals he is one of those who will assist. This is unsurprising given that whilst at Barnardos he commissioned Demos to research the report In Local Parentis http://www.demos.co.uk/files/In_Loco_Parentis_-_web.pdf?1277484312 which includes this recommendation '...urges the government to raise the care leaving age to 18 and asks the DfE to support flexible approaches to allow young people to stay on in placements to 21. (page 28)

Clearly the Government is minded to "find ways to make it work". As Edward Timpson said in the recent Parliamentary debate on the issue there are no "insurmountable barriers".

We are already on the way. Legislation already states a home must be 'wholly or mainly' for children. It is possible, safeguarding being undertaken, for 18+ to be in homes now.

Scotland shows that a vital ingredient is leadership from a Children's Minister. Scotland recently decided that from April 2015, teenagers in residential, foster or kinship care who turn 16 will be entitled to remain looked after until the age of 21. This funded support is in addition to the Scottish Government's recent commitment to provide support up to the age of 26-years-old for care leavers to help them move into independent living. Their Children's Minister is on the side of all children saying,' "Care leavers have different experiences and priorities. We are taking this opportunity to make sure that the law is on their side and that every young person in care knows that they will not be left to face the world alone..

Research consistently shows that leaving care before a young person is ready for independence tends to lead to poor outcomes. "Readiness" is the ability of looked after young people and care leavers to care effectively for themselves, and it covers a range of important, developmental areas: secure, positive social & support networks (including biological and extended family, if appropriate); practical skills and knowledge; engagement in education, training or employment. In each of these the young person must demonstrate the ability to make healthy life decisions.

On this basis we need to accept that Looked After Children leave care too young. Most young people in the rest of the population leave home in their twenties. At 16, the age when increasingly young people are moved from their children's home, it is unlikely that any young person will be able to consistently demonstrate their readiness to live independently. Even 18 is not a time to have affectional bonds broken. Rather it is a time for their presence being felt all the more. Resilience requires a young person can experience 3 things; 'I have' - an environment that supports emotionally, intellectually and creatively; 'I am' - a positive identity, self-esteem; 'I can' - making skilful interaction with the world, solving problems through informed decisions, accepting responsibility for one's actions

Some care leavers successfully can manage an abbreviated and abrupt transition from care but this is far from the case for all. Care leavers who have a more accelerated, compressed and abrupt transition do not, unsurprisingly, find it much harder to achieve the same outcomes as their non-looked after peers.

Much of the above draws from Scotland and we can look to Europe too. Phil Frampton speaking to the British Psychological Society reported visiting Kinderhaus and the words of German child protection expert, Professor Reinhart Wolff, "What we find is important is that you do not sever the links of a child to his or her local environment... they still keep their links to their schools and friends....If the child has an assurance that this situation will not be broken up... then of course the child can settle down and muster his or her resources and develop." http://www.bps.org.uk/sites/default/files/images/phil_frampton_speaker_information_1.pdf

A new article by David Dunlop of Who Cares Scotland sums up why people are concerned, and passionate. '...Yes there are organisations and professionals offering help and support; yes there is welfare support they can access; yes they can access education and employment opportunities; yes they can access housing and yes they can dream, and look forward to their future in the same way as other young people. However without someone by their side who they know and trust, guiding them through thick and thin, pointing them in the right direction and helping to get them back on track when they take a wrong turn, then the chances are these young people won't even know where to start in planning for their future. Resilience alone won't help them achieve this and the thought of having to do it alone or with people who are 'new' to them is probably the most daunting of all.' (Children and young people in care until age 26: A must for improved outcomes) http://www.celcis.org/media/resources/publications/2013_vol12_no3_dunlop_children_young.pdf