All we know about Looked After Children tells us that stability of living arrangements is a key factor to achieve. With it comes the opportunity to experience those sharing pieces of life that make all the difference but which in our busy lives we speak of far too little, a feeling of belonging, development of trust, the acceptance that builds self-esteem and feeling understood.
Imagine having these relationships severed and being powerless to stop it, or for your carers to stop it happening either.
Young people living in children's homes, for many their preference and a place where they have first felt understood by anyone, are finding their homes denied to them at 16. They must leave for another placement; sometimes fostering that has not gone well for them before, or to supported lodgings, a sector over which there is emerging concern at the varying quality.
Like any other child they want to stay put in their home. That's one ambition we need to be saying we can achieve for young people in our children's homes.
We have recently had welcome announcements that through new provisions proposed for the Children and Young People Bill young people in fostering will be able to stay put till they are 21.
Young people in children's homes need this security too.
Sadly, Education Secretary Michael Gove doesn't, yet, share the ambition. He was recently asked at the Commons Education Committee to explain different care leaving ages for foster children and those in children's homes. He replied that fostering is different to residential options and that children's homes won't get support until an unspecified number of children's homes nationally have improved within an unspecified time - at which point he may consider it.
Propelled by Gove's comments I'm undertaking research to compare the quality of our English homes with those in other countries.
From April 2015 in Scotland, teenagers in residential, foster or kinship care who turn 16 will be entitled to remain looked after until the age of 21
Meanwhile in England people are steadily signing a petition that seeks to secure an equal opportunity for all Looked After Children to stay put until 21, fostering or children's home. https://you.38degrees.org.uk/petitions/equality-of-leaving-age-for-all-children-in-care
It's supported by those with direct experience.
Louise Holt, an Assistant Manager of a children's home, questioned Gove's comments: "At what point does he make that decision? Is it at the point where every single provision in the UK is rated as 'outstanding' before he allows this to go ahead? I appreciate that there are poor provisions out there, but what about the others that are doing an amazing job and achieving positive outcomes for the young people in their care? Those young people that are happy and content with their placement, that have felt their first bit of stability in their lives."
Ian Dickson, a retired inspector, social worker and care leaver, added: "Mr Gove's comments display open discrimination. His proposal could result in a child settled in a children's home who needs and wants longer term care being refused because other children's homes nationally did not fit a national standard, whereas a child placed with a foster carer/agency will be entitled to support to 21 regardless. By that time possibly 100's of care leavers could have left care to become disadvantaged statistics or worse still. However, foster care is viewed as 'different'. Regardless of the quality of the carers or agencies involved, all fostered children will receive on-going support."
He is supported by Ed Nixon, Chief Executive Officer of Family Care Associates Ltd, asking: "Are we certain that 'we've got the situation right' with all foster care placements? Why should the many be penalised by the shortcomings of the few?"
Ben Ashcroft is the author of 51 Moves and now consultant to national organisations. His main concern is how children will feel after Gove's comments: "... he has clearly discriminated against children and young people in children's homes. This is unacceptable. I feel it will cause even more disturbance and upset for young people. Not to mention creating a two tier system and an underclass. Will foster parents have to be outstanding or will they lose the young people they look after? Different placements work better for different young people. I feel very sad for the young people in residential care who will be feeling these comments and certainly don't think they will be celebrating. Young people may become unsettled and want to move to foster care so they get extended support even if they are happy and settled."
He is supported by Lisa Cherry who spent time in children's homes during her time in care in the 80's and went on to spend her working life in Social Work, Education and Social Inclusion and also the author, campaigner, and care leaver Rosie Canning who said: "Among the support of over 4,700 people who have signed the 'Every Child Leaving Care Matters' petition there are a number of worrying comments from supporters who are care leavers struggling coping alone, some in extreme situations. Children as young as 16 are being forced to leave their homes. This is an urgent situation that needs urgent safety measures implemented as soon as possible. "
Those workers and young people in residential care, care leavers, and other professionals know exactly how to reduce vulnerability: don't move young people from safe secure children's homes.
What is needed is the green light from Government that they see this as a valid direction for local authorities. Michael Gove reminded us that Children Minister, Edward Timpson's explained that the decision to extend foster care from 18 to 21 was "to provide them with a nurturing and caring environment to help them through life."
In the absence of the fairness and ambition being extended to all Looked After Children, no matter where they are living, in fostering or a children's home, it is right that the petition is supported and we continue to campaign for the Government to demonstrate nurturing and caring for all, including those who need residential care.