On #Careday18, we thought we would reflect on the recent evidence sessions from our inquiry into Care Experienced Children and Young People. The Public Accounts Committee wanted to hear directly from young people with experience of care and we were delighted that two groups agreed to talk to us, and share their experiences.
We were particularly keen to hear about:
- the help and support they received in care;
- how many Social Workers and placements they had had, and how much, if any, choice they had in these decisions;
- Whether being in care impacted on their education;
- Whether they were prepared when it was time to leave care; and
- What they might change to make going into care better for others
The young people were really open and frank with us about their experiences and gave us plenty of food for thought. The key messages coming out of the sessions were that children need to be at the heart of the system, and that it is essential that care is not something done to young people, but is undertaken with young people.
The need for a constant in the lives of young people
All those that came to talk to the Committee have had a number of placements, some of them too many to recall. They had also had a number of Social Workers. We heard that often the decision to change social workers or even placements (their actual homes) for the young people were not discussed with them. One young person told us she found out on the Friday that she was to be moved on the Monday, but that the fosterers had known that she was coming for over a month. Another told us how she’d had five changes to her support team in the last month – which meant she’d had to recount her story on a number of occasions, which was upsetting and traumatic for her. The need for a constant in the lives of those who are in care is essential, and the right to consultation and communication about their lives should be considered a basic right.
The Impact of being in Care on Education
We heard about the negative impact changing placements had on one young person’s education resulting in her missing around two and a half years of Secondary school. We were also told of the stigmatisation of pupils in care such as one occasion when one of the young people had been caught misbehaving in school with another pupil, and found that the other pupil was punished, and she wasn’t because she was in care. However, we also heard how one of the young people’s good memories was getting 14 GCSEs A* to C despite suggestions that this would not be possible. The Committee was inspired by what this young person had achieved, but was disheartened that this was beyond what was expected of him. We must ensure as a society that the aspirations we place on young people are the same regardless of who they are. The ambitions of care experienced children are as valid as any other child’s and as such we need to make sure that they are achieved.
Support for those about to leave care
We heard a lot about how there was little in the way of support for those about to leave care – we were told:
“They are quick enough to take us off our parents but not quick enough to help us stand on our own two feet”.
We heard that many young people did not know how to use a washing machine, or budget a food shop when leaving care.
Evidence shows that the transition into adulthood can be more difficult for care leavers than many of their peers of a similar age. In a system where we are expecting this group of young people to go out on their own at 18 (although this is starting to change with the ‘when I am ready’ scheme) such a milestone needs to be a supported process.
Next Steps for the Public Accounts Committee Inquiry
These evidence sessions were a key part of the inquiry to make sure that all the relevant voices were heard. We want to embed the culture of young people being at the heart of making decisions that affect them, and we would not have been able to achieve this without the willingness of these individuals to take time to talk to us, and help our understanding of the issues they face.
The Committee’s inquiry is ongoing and will be spanning the course of the entire fifth assembly, as we are determined to keep this group of children and young people high on the political agenda, until outcomes they deserve are achieved.