The new Children and Social Work Bill contains clauses which allow individual councils to be excused from their statutory duties to children and care leavers. Even though the house of Lords voted to remove exemption clauses it is now proposed to re-instate them and exempt councils from their legal obligations.
- In allowing Local Authorities to opt out of their statutory responsibilities to support young people when leaving Care a greater financial burden will be placed on other agencies. Any dilution of current services will come at a greater social cost with consequences that will be very challenging to address if not resolved while clients are in adolescence.
- The evidence submitted is from a personal viewpoint of a councillor who served over a decade on Kent County Council Social Services and Health Overview Committees plus work experience as a Civil Servant being UK Operations Manager for DHSS Resettlement Agency with responsibility for the single homeless.
- There is no hard, statistical evidence to support this submission. The committee will have revisited the original evidence, from home and abroad, that was gathered to justify the introduction of the existing legislation. What has changed since then is the much greater pressures on public and voluntary services providing social care, health, affordable supportive housing, police and prison services.
- A large number of single homeless have been through the care system. It is now well documented that young people are staying with their parents for much longer than previous generations because of the cost of independent living. For adolescence leaving care, the difficulty of finding, and keeping, a roof over their heads is even more challenging. Even if primed with supportive housing the realities of zero hours contracts, restrictions on the benefits system, minimum wage levels below living wage, all make survival very challenging for adolescence without any steady support. Hence the rise in the numbers of young single homeless on the streets.
- Young people in care are more likely to have mental health issues than the norm. This may in part be because of inherited factors or social pressures while going through the care system. What’s more in Kent we found that these issues were not addressed as quickly or as fully for children in care who lacked the parental support needed to fight for a good service. The situation is further enhanced during adolescence were the usual teenage behavioural mood swings can have disastrous consequences for life chances. The onset of schizophrenia during adolescence can be properly diagnosed. Once the treatment pathways is adopted by patients then a pattern of service can be in place that avoids the confrontation with authority and is essential for the benefit of both patient and society as a whole.
- Following on mental health issues it is a fact that suicide is now the most common cause of death amongst young men. Providing a solid measure of support during adolescence would be one effective way of reducing this trend.
- Police are struggling to cope with numbers of mentally ill patients that end up, inappropriately, in police custody. Further a high percentage of convicted offenders end up in the criminal system, courts and prisons. Without family or alternative peer support teenagers are attracted to gang culture and crime and drugs. Preventative action through support of young people leaving care would reduce risk to sinking into a life of crime.
- Young unaccompanied minors’ refugees are at high risk of radicalisation on leaving care as are other care leavers who lack clear guidance through adolescence and might be attracted to extremism.
- Local Authorities having been facing difficult choices over cuts in budgets, rising demands and rising expectations. They must review any provision that does not have a statutory requirement. There is ample evidence to insist that children leaving care need a strong measure of support to enable them to reach adulthood and become valued members of society. To allow authorities to abandon care leavers would be to place a greater burden on all the other agencies. It is strongly recommended that the statutory provision remains in place.
By Alderman Mark Fittock
Alderman Mark Fittock has submitted personal evidence to the Parliamentary Committee based on the above. Readers may submitt their own comments by following this link: Have Your Say on the Children & Social Work Bill. Any other comments must be submitted to the House of Commons before 4 January 2017
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