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30.10.15

Wide variation in costs and outcomes suggests systemic weakness in council care support

Two-thirds of local authorities are failing to provide adequate support to young care leavers and all councils are spending widely different amounts of money in the process, the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) has found.

The committee identified systemic weaknesses in the provision of local support for care leavers, finding that young people leaving council care often struggle to cope with the transition and outcomes tend to vary unacceptably.

In 2013-14, for example, 41% of 19-year-old care leavers were not in education, employment or training, compared to 15% for all young adults of the same age – the highest proportion since 2001.

Meg Hillier MP, chair of the PAC, claimed that the government does not have a grip on why there is no relationship between spending on council care and its outcomes, with local authorities investing largely varied budgets in the care system.

Launching the PAC’s new report today (30 October), she said: “I believe young adults are being let down by the system that’s supposed to support them. Many are being cut adrift when they need help the most.

“Despite much talk of supporting care leavers beyond the age of 18, we heard of failing services, with inspections by Ofsted finding two-thirds of those provided by local authorities to be inadequate or require improvement. Local councils are spending widely different amounts of taxpayers’ money supporting these vulnerable young adults but the outcomes vary widely too.

“It’s time the government reviewed its care leavers’ strategy to make sure these young people get the full support they need.”

Local authorities have the duty to support care leavers until they are 21 (or 25 if in education and training) according to statutory guidance from the Department for Education.

But the quality and cost of support that councils are giving care leavers varies unacceptably across the country, and outcomes for care leavers are “poor and worsening”.

To top off the scale of variability, there is a lack of understanding of what causes this, meaning the issue is systemic rather than relevant to just a handful of councils.

But responding to these findings, Cllr Roy Perry, chair of the LGA’s children and young people’s board, said: “Councils do everything they can to support all care leavers, providing help for youngsters with housing, finding a job and financial assistance as they move towards an independent life.

“However, the growing number of young people coming into the care system, alongside 40% cuts to council budgets since 2010, means that this is becoming an increasing challenge. Councils cannot do this alone and we urgently need to see the whole system properly funded and joined-up to ensure children and young people receive the support they need, when they need it.”

In the committee’s recommendations to Whitehall, it urged the education department to take “formal responsibility” for service improvements and revisit its Care Leaver Strategy to identify areas for improvement. It must also act promptly to rectify the ‘inadequate’ ratings recently given by Ofsted in partnership with the DCLG.

The department should also set out plans to use apprenticeships and traineeships to help care leavers while urgently looking into what else it can do to support councils in providing suitable accommodation.

And to improve its understanding of the care system, the department must also set out a timetable for improving the data it collects, helping ensure Whitehall and local authorities make effective use of current figures to improve outcomes.

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