Arrangements for remaining in a residential children’s home after reaching adulthood

Children and Social Work Bill [Lords] – in a Public Bill Committee at 3:45 pm on 10 January 2017.

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‘(1) The Children Act 1989 is amended as follows.

(2) In section 23CZA (arrangements for certain former relevant children to live with former foster parents)—

(a) in subsection (2)(b)—

(i) after “person” insert “or residential children’s home”;

(ii) leave out “former foster parent” and insert “former care giver”;

(iii) after second “parent” insert “or residential children’s home”;

(b) in the second sentence of subsection (2) after “together” insert “, or at the residential children’s home”;

(c) for all references to “former foster parent” substitute “former care giver”.

(3) In paragraph 19BA in Part 2 of Schedule 2 (local authority support for looked after children)—

(a) in sub-paragraph (1), after “parent” insert “or in a residential children’s home”;

(b) in sub-paragraph (3)(b), after “parent” insert “or residential children’s home”.’ —

This new clause would extend the “staying put” arrangements that currently exist for young people placed with foster parents to those living in a residential children’s home.

Brought up, and read the First time.

Photo of Steve McCabe Steve McCabe Labour, Birmingham, Selly Oak

I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.

With this it will be convenient to discuss new clause 20—Former relevant children: provision of sufficient suitable accommodation—

‘(1) In the Children Act 1989, after section 23C insert—

“23CA Duty on local authorities to secure sufficient accommodation for former relevant children

(1) It is the general duty of a local authority to take steps that secure, so far as reasonably practicable, the outcome in subsection (2).

(2) The outcome is that the local authority secures sufficient suitable accommodation (whether or not provided by them) within their area to meet the needs of former relevant children, where “former relevant children” has the same meaning as in section 23C(1) of this Act.

(3) In taking steps to secure the outcome in subsection (2), the local authority must—

(a) produce, and make available to all former relevant children, information about the providers of accommodation and the types of accommodation they provide,

(b) be aware of the current and expected future demand for such accommodation and consider how providers might meet that demand, and

(c) have regard to—

(i) the need to ensure the sustainability of the market, and

(ii) the need to encourage providers to innovate and continuously improve the quality of such accommodation and the efficiency and effectiveness with which it is provided.”’

This new clause would establish a clear statutory duty on local authorities to secure sufficient, suitable accommodation for all care leavers up to age 21. Local authorities already have a duty to ensure sufficient accommodation for looked after children in their area.

Photo of Steve McCabe Steve McCabe Labour, Birmingham, Selly Oak

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Wilson. Hopefully this will not take too long and will not be terribly contentious. The Minister and I might not necessarily agree on the nature of my new clause, but I hope that there is not too much between us on this issue. As far as I can see, the new clause follows a very welcome decision that he took in the last Parliament about children in foster care staying put. I believe that was the right thing to do and he deserves credit for it. I should say in passing that the idea flows from a previous Labour pilot; we did not have to exempt a single local authority from a single bit of legislation to implement that pilot, but there you go.

Anyway, the new clause comes from a decision taken by the Minister. I always thought at the time that people would inevitably say, “Well, if you are making this provision for children in care who happen to live in a foster home, what about other children in care who have different arrangements?” In fact, I am slightly surprised that we have not reached a stage where this has been tested out in court. It always occurred to me that someone would inevitably seek to challenge and test the legality of a situation whereby we can have rather different sets of rules for children who are subject to the same care provision but are living in slightly different arrangements.

What I seek to do with the new clause is simple: I am trying to mirror the arrangements that the Minister made for children being able to remain in foster care for other children who might want to remain in the children’s home where they live. There are two aspects to consider. First, there is a moral issue. For children who are subject to care orders, we are their parents. They are our responsibility. That is what we sign up to when we receive such children into care.

I listened to the hon. Member for North Dorset talking about being a father and about his children. I assume that all of us who are parents are not the sort of people who are likely to kick our kids out at 18. Maybe some of us will be quite glad to see them go off to university, so that we get a bit of a break and a breather from time to time, but generally I would not think most of us, and most parents, are like that.

The truth is that parenthood is one of those things that people buy into probably for their entire life. There will always be times when children will come back, and there is no golden rule saying that at 18 or 21, they are capable of standing on their own two feet and can be cut adrift. If that is how we would behave towards our own children, it is not unreasonable to say that we should behave like that towards all children, and certainly children for whom we have become the parents.

The situation with foster care is more clear cut. I know that the Minister has a great deal of personal experience of this. The children are living in a semi-permanent arrangement with a particular parent or set of parents and have often been there for a very long time. It makes perfect sense for someone such as the Minister to say, “Well, it is ridiculous to have an artificial cut-off point—I am going to seek to extend that.”

The issue is much more tricky when it comes to children’s homes, because that provision has developed at different times under different frameworks: some local authority—although there is probably much less of that now—some private or in charity or not-for-profit organisations. The nature of the buildings and the homes is different. Although the new clause is designed to try to mirror the provision for foster care arrangements, I am reluctant to say that I want the Minister to legislate to say that everyone can remain in a children’s home, come what may. I do not personally think that is sensible.

As a consequence, I went back and had a look at a proposal drawn up a couple of years ago by a consortium of organisations, many of which the Minister has a lot of contact with: the National Children’s Bureau, the Who Cares? Trust, Action for Children, Barnardo’s and the Centre for Child and Family Research at Loughborough University. I am sure the Minister is familiar with the work they engaged in, which was a scoping exercise, “Staying put for young people in residential care”. The consortium came up with four options that it suggested we might want to consider.

The first option is for care leavers to continue to live in the same children’s home that they were living in when in care, as this is obviously about what we do with children after they pass the cut-off point of 18. My own hunch is that that may work in some circumstances and not in others.

A second option was that the care leaver lives in a separate building but in the same grounds as the children’s home they were living in when in care. Again, that might work in some situations. There may not be scope for that sort of provision in all situations so it may not work and there may not be funding or finance to deal with it.

The third option is that a care leaver might live in a different house from the one they were living in when in the children’s home, but that they would continue to have support—something akin to supported lodgings. The fourth option, which I think is more commonly referred to as “stay close”, is for the young person to live independently but with regular access to their former home—for example, being invited back for tea on a regular basis.

That strikes me as broadly what happens with our own children. They may continue to live with us beyond the age of 18 or they may come back periodically; they may at times live near us and come back. One would hope that we are always available when they need help and support. That is what I am asking the Minister about in the new clause.

Depending on his response, I am not sure that I will want to press the clause to a vote. I am making the point that we cannot have a situation where we have decided that someone who has the good fortune to be in foster care gets extended provision and we recognise their needs beyond the age of 18, but if someone lives in a different kind of care provision, they do not get the same consideration. I do not hold the Minister responsible, but we hear horror stories of care leavers ending up in bed-and-breakfast accommodation, virtually doss-houses in some cases, where they are required to live alongside people with serious alcohol and drug problems, with prostitution on the premises.

What happens to youngsters when they leave care is pretty important in my book, which is why I tabled the new clause. Its purpose is to explore with the Minister how he intends to mirror the very good staying-put provision that he introduced for those in foster care and extend it to other children in care. I want to remind the Committee that the biggest danger with such provision for young folk is that it becomes part of a very bureaucratic local government exercise, although the Minister was telling us earlier about why he wants to loosen some things up. The one thing that a 19 or 20-year-old in a crisis does not need to be told is to come back when the office is open at 9 or 10 o’clock in the morning. What we need is the same thing we offer our children when we say, “I’m here when you need me, because it is my responsibility to care about you and I love you. I am going to make sure that you get the possible help that I can provide for you.” We would do that for our kids, and we should do it for any child we take into care.

Photo of Emma Lewell-Buck Emma Lewell-Buck Shadow Minister (Education) (Children and Families) 4:00, 10 January 2017

I shall speak in support of new clause 12, tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Selly Oak, and my new clause 20.

As it stands, there is a clear inconsistency in the law, where children in stable foster placements can stay with their foster families until the age of 21 under the terms of staying-put arrangements introduced by the Children and Families Act 2014, but similar provisions do not exist for those in residential care. I am sure that the Minister agrees that that is simply unacceptable. We cannot have a two-tier system under which those in foster care receive more comprehensive support from the state, their corporate parents, than those in residential care.

I know that the Department for Education is in discussion with key organisations on this matter, and that the Minister is aware that children in residential care often have complex needs and require an immense amount of support. I have no doubt that he is also aware that safe and secure housing is key to improving life chances, especially for some of our most vulnerable children, yet more than often that is not the case. Care leavers have disproportionately poorer outcomes compared with other young people; 40% of care leavers are not in education, employment or training compared with 14% of their peers. The Government’s own figures show that nearly one in five care leavers aged 19 to 21 were in accommodation that was considered either unsuitable or that suitability was not even known. I am sure that the Minister would want to use the Bill to take every opportunity to improve life chances and outcomes for those care leavers, and whenever he did so, he would have the support of all us in this room, because safe and stable accommodation is a basic human need and the starting point for providing young people with absolutely the best beginning in life.

The statistics on the number of care leavers who come into contact with the criminal justice system in comparison with those in the general population are heart-breaking. According to recent figures, the offending rates for looked-after children in England are now four times those for of all other children. For those who end up in prison, a recent study by Her Majesty’s inspectorate of prisons found that 27% of young people in the young offender institutions it surveyed had previously been in care. When female young offenders were looked at, that figure was up to 45%. It is clear from those figures alone that the current legislation is failing care leavers. One of the factors that is known to give them a better chance in life is to ensure that they all have suitable and stable accommodation.

Local authorities have a duty to ensure that there is sufficient accommodation for looked-after children in their area. New clause 20 would introduce a similar duty to ensure

“sufficient…accommodation for all care leavers up to age 21.”

The Bill requires local authorities to consult on, and publish details of, their local offer to care leavers, setting out the support available for areas such as education, health, employment and accommodation. However, the local offer, as currently drafted, does not go far enough. It requires only that local authorities state publicly what they already provide, and there is no duty on them to ensure that the provision in their area meets local need. There is also no evidence, as we discussed earlier—that the local offer for SEN introduced in the Children and Families Act 2014 has made it more likely that relevant needs are met.

Many care leavers have had to deal with enormous trauma, instability and disruption in their young lives before they have learned the coping skills to deal with the impact of their experiences. That is why so many children growing up and leaving care have related mental health issues. It is absolutely vital that we support these young adults by offering them the stability of safe and secure accommodation. I want the Minister to explain to the Committee what he is going to do to remedy the inequality between children in foster care and children in residential care, and to ensure that the accommodation needs of every single one of our children leaving care are met, and met appropriately.

Photo of Kate Green Kate Green Labour, Stretford and Urmston

I just want to say briefly that I support both new clauses tabled by my hon. Friends. In introducing the Staying Put legislation for young people in foster families, the Minister took a big step forward. I have seen the benefit of that in my constituency, including the fact that it has put pressure on the whole system to facilitate keeping those young people in the families that have been providing the foster care, including ensuring that the financial arrangements to support housing costs are consistent with the Staying Put legislation. I have had casework where a foster parent has come to me to say that she faced a cut in the household housing benefit, and we were able to push back on that to enable the young person to stay in the foster home post-18.

That is a really important lesson, if I may say so, in relation to young people leaving residential accommodation. We know that there have been very difficult conversations going on over the last year or so relating to financial support for supported accommodation, as referred to by my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Selly Oak. The Government have delayed, on two occasions, changes to housing benefit as they would apply to supported accommodation, but delay is not a long-term answer to what is putting huge uncertainty into the circumstances in which housing providers of that particular kind of accommodation are able to plan for the future. We could send a really good, useful signal in this legislation about the need for proper, strategic underpinning of accommodation for young people whether they leave foster care or residential care. We need to provide continuing housing support for them as young adults. This legislation is an important opportunity to reinforce that as our starting priority, which is the best interests of those young people.

I hope that the Minister will respond favourably to both new clauses. I think that he did a very good thing with the Staying Put legislation and it would be good to see that extended to the benefit of all looked-after, and formerly looked-after, young people so that we can really do everything. As my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Selly Oak said, we should, as corporate parents, do what parents would do for their own children.

Photo of Edward Timpson Edward Timpson Minister of State (Education)

I am grateful to hon. Members for tabling these new clauses. They would place a duty on local authorities to secure sufficient accommodation for care leavers up until the age of 21 and would extend the existing Staying Put duty to those children leaving residential children’s homes. I understand the purpose behind both the new clauses and agree that care leavers should be supported to access the accommodation they need.

As a backdrop, it is worth going to the start of these Committee sittings and remembering some of the other aspects in the Bill in respect of corporate parenting principles, the care leaver offer and the extension of the personal adviser to every care leaver up to the age of 25 when requested. This is not an area where we have been neglectful. On the contrary: we are the first Government I am aware of who have managed to pull together a comprehensive cross-Government strategy on care leavers and get commitment from a whole range of Departments in areas where we know care leavers particularly require help and support.

I remind the Committee that local authorities are already responsible for providing suitable accommodation to all care leavers aged 16 to 17. When care leavers reach age 18, local authority leaving care teams are responsible for helping care leavers access suitable accommodation. Their new home must be suitable for their needs and linked to their wider plans and aspirations—for example, living close to work or college.

The tapered support offer that already exists for care leavers, which clause 3 will strengthen, is designed to help move young people away from dependence. The corporate parenting principles we are introducing in clause 1 will also ensure that local authorities remain focused on providing appropriate support as care leavers move to independence.

When a care leaver is homeless or at risk of homelessness, the homelessness legislation provides strong protection for them. Local housing authorities have a statutory duty to house care leavers under the age of 21 if they become homeless and people over 21 who are vulnerable as a result of being in care. Statutory guidance for councils also makes clear that those leaving care should be treated as a priority group for social housing.

The Government recognise the importance of improving practice and are funding the homeless charity St Basils to work with local authorities to improve joint working between children’s and housing services, to help them develop accommodation pathways for care leavers that provide a range of options, reflecting care leavers’ readiness to live independently. The Government are also supporting the private Member’s Homelessness Reduction Bill, which will place duties on local housing authorities to provide targeted information and advice for care leavers on preventing homelessness.

Another accommodation option for young people leaving foster care—it has already been mentioned—is Staying Put, which we introduced in 2014. That enables young people to stay living with their former foster carers where that is what they both want. The latest data show that, encouragingly, more than half of 18-year-olds who were eligible for Staying Put are now choosing to do so.

New clause 20 would extend Staying Put to young people leaving residential care. I completely agree with the hon. Member for Birmingham, Selly Oak that those young people should have the same opportunity as those in foster care to maintain relationships with their former care givers. That is why earlier this year, after the research that the hon. Gentleman mentioned from the NCB and others, we asked Sir Martin Narey to conduct a review of residential care. Like the hon. Gentleman, Sir Martin believed that simply extending the Staying Put duty to those leaving residential children’s homes was not the right answer and that the Government should test variations of Staying Close—I am afraid we are back into innovation territory—as an alternative to Staying Put for those leaving residential care. In July, we accepted his recommendations and committed to introducing Staying Close for all those leaving care through that route.

We are not biding our time. On 21 December, we invited local authorities to bid to run pilots, through which we will learn what works to deliver Staying Close, as recommended by Sir Martin Narey. We will use that information to make sure that the future roll-out is fully effective and properly targeted.

Photo of Emma Lewell-Buck Emma Lewell-Buck Shadow Minister (Education) (Children and Families)

Will there be an option in Staying Close for children in residential care to remain in their residential placement if they wish to, or not? Mr Wilson, I should probably have declared at the outset that I am a patron of Every Child Leaving Care Matters, which campaigns on this issue.

Photo of Edward Timpson Edward Timpson Minister of State (Education)

The hon. Lady will be pleased to know that we have been working very closely with the Every Child Leaving Care Matters team, so that it is able to positively contribute to the work and look at the different models that we need to test out through the piloting of Staying Close. In that way, the needs of each individual young person can be met by the range of models available. Some of the early innovation that has already taken place through the children’s social care innovation programme has shown, interestingly, that there are different types of arrangements that work for different young people.

For example, in North Yorkshire we have the No Wrong Door project, which is centred around having a consistent keyworker throughout not only the young person’s time in care but also their time leaving care, irrespective of the place that they are then in. That is built around the concept, which has come through the care inquiry and other routes, that helping maintain those important relationships through that transition can be as beneficial as anything else that we do to support them.

The House Project in Stoke has set up a housing co-operative run by care leavers, who are responsible for managing their tenancy. They have formed their own community, have a good social network and continue to be well supported, but they are starting to gain a sense of independence. I think that the answer to the hon. Lady’s good question is that we want to ensure, through the piloting, that we allow the opportunity to try all the different options available for young people leaving residential care. There are already some residential care settings that keep on young people beyond 18. We need to discover through the pilot what level of demand there is for that and where it is right for that to be done.

We must also not look at the issue in isolation but consider it across the piece, including alongside the fostering stocktake that is now ongoing. Specialist fostering placements could also play a role in some of the work that might be needed to transition out of residential care.

Photo of Emma Lewell-Buck Emma Lewell-Buck Shadow Minister (Education) (Children and Families) 4:15, 10 January 2017

Just to clarify the option to remain in some of the models that the Minister has said are being explored, will there be an option for children who want to remain in residential care to do so, or will there not? I am not clear from his response so far.

Photo of Edward Timpson Edward Timpson Minister of State (Education)

We have accepted the recommendations of Sir Martin Narey that there should not be a duty to provide that for every young person leaving residential care. Through the piloting of Staying Close, we want to consider the different opportunities to find not just the right accommodation solution but the right relationships and pathway into independence for each of those young people.

I think that that is the right approach, and a sensible and proportionate way to respond to the consistent view of the hon. Member for Birmingham, Selly Oak on staying in residential care. Having now understood the basis for his new clause, I hope that I have given him a sense that we are travelling in a direction that accords with where he hopes to go. However, there is still some work to do, and we have committed in our response to Sir Martin Narey’s report to rolling the measure out across the country, so that every young person leaving residential care will have the opportunity to continue with the support received by those in foster care.

Photo of Steve McCabe Steve McCabe Labour, Birmingham, Selly Oak

That was a helpful response from the Minister, and I would like the chance to reflect on what he has said. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the motion.

Clause, by leave, withdrawn.

Ordered, That further consideration be now adjourned. —(Mr Syms.)

Adjourned till Thursday 12 January at half-past Eleven o’clock.

Written evidence to be reported to the House

CSWB 15 Jay Williams

CSWB 16 Article 39

CSWB 17 John Dawson, Senior Social Work Practitioner

CSWB 18 Alice Barker Trust

CSWB 19 Sonia Mainstone-Cotton

CSWB 20 Dr Judith King

CSWB 21 Kirsty Walker

CSWB 22 CLIC Sargent

CSWB 23 British Association of Social Workers England

CSWB 24 Jon Blend

CSWB 25 Yorkshire & Humberside Independent Panel Chairs forum

CSWB 26 Michael Shaw

CSWB 27 Dr Steve Rogowski

CSWB 28 Dr Peter Whitaker


CSWB 30 Children England

CSWB 31 Alan Kennelly

CSWB 32 Louise O’Sullivan IRO

CSWB 33 John Kemmis

CSWB 34 Lisa Bailey

CSWB 35 Helen Macfarlane

CSWB 36 John Plummer

CSWB 37 Patrick Wilkings

CSWB 38 Ms Roisin Sweeny

CSWB 39 Rachel Olaoye

CSWB 40 Lana Gayle

CSWB 41 Alderman Mark Fittock

CSWB 42 Unicef UK and the Children’s Rights Alliance for England

CSWB 43 Bolanle Kayode

CSWB 44 Association of Independent LSCB Chairs

CSWB 45 Nagalro

CSWB 46 Action for Children

CSWB 47 Professor Mike Stein

CSWB 48 Anne Jackson

CSWB 49 London and South East regional Foster Panel Chairs forum

CSWB 50 PSHE Association and NAHT

CSWB 51 Royal College of Nursing

CSWB 52 Pete Bentley

CSWB 52A Pete Bentley (supplementary)

CSWB 53 Local Government Association

CSWB 54 David Hersh, Chairman of Governors, Tiferes High School

CSWB 55 Young Futures

CSWB 56 Mrs Judith Nemeth, Executive Director of NAJOS, the National Association of Jewish Orthodox Schools

CSWB 57 Association of Professors of Social Work

CSWB 58 Article 39 - further submission

CSWB 59 Dr Ray Jones, Emeritus Professor of Social Work, Kingston University and St George’s, University of London

CSWB 60 Coram Children’s Legal Centre

CSWB 62 Oliver Mills

CSWB 63 Ateres High School, Gateshead

CSWB 64 Dr Anna Gupta

CSWB 65 National Association of Reviewing Officers (NAIRO)

CSWB 66 Emeritus Professor June Thoburn

CSWB 67 Maria Stanley

CSWB 68 Menorah Grammar School (London)

CSWB 69 Jewish Community Council of Gateshead

CSWB 70 Keser Girls' School, Gateshead

CSWB 71 Nagalro - further submission

CSWB 72 Dr F H Mikdadi

CSWB 73 Liberty

CSWB 74 The Adolescent and Children’s Trust (TACT)

CSWB 75 Mrs Alex Bemrose