The views of care-experienced children and young people on recommendations set out in the independent review of children’s social care are uncovered in a new report published today by the children’s charities Coram Voice and the NYAS (National Youth Advocacy Service)
The report follows a recent MP debate on the care review (24 November) and the government’s response to the review and implementation plan are expected in early 2023.
Today’s report summarises feedback from over 80 children and young people aged 8-25 years from 27 local authorities across England on three key areas of the care review: making care experience a protected characteristic, advocacy and Independent Visitors.
The care review recommended making care experience a protected characteristic. Most young people (60%) supported this and were in favour of making care experience a protected characteristic. Some young people thought it would lead to a better awareness of the discrimination faced and an understanding of the impact of trauma. While there is support from young people for a protected characteristic, there are still many who are unsure (29%) and some do not favour this (11%).
Nearly 40% of children and young people who responded to the survey felt that they had been treated negatively as a result of being care experienced. One young person said: “People often assume that you are problematic and have many things wrong with you because you’re in care. They expect you to be aggressive and loud, when really you just want to be heard.”
The care review recommended that advocacy services should be opt out and all children and young people in care should be contacted by an advocate to offer support at key points in their lives. 31% of children and young people surveyed said they did not know how to get an advocate. It is more likely that children who are in contact with children’s rights organisations such as Coram Voice and NYAS would know about their right to advocacy, meaning that the proportion of all children in care in England who know how to get an advocate is likely to be much lower. One young person said: “It can feel like you have to ‘fight’ for an advocate at the moment. It feels because the process was really difficult and not straightforward that having an advocate was something I weren’t meant to have. Therefore having one instantly helps this feel meaningful and like it matters.”
Of the children and young people surveyed, 64% reported needing an advocate to resolve issues with social workers and personal advisers, 53% needed an advocate to help with family contact issues and 47% needed an advocate due to issues with school or education. Children and young people felt it was important that they had access to advocates during reviews, especially if, as proposed in the care review, Independent Reviewing Officers (IROs) are removed. They also wanted advocates to be more proactive in contacting young people directly.
An Independent Visitor is a volunteer who spends time with a child or young person in care. For many children and young people, an Independent Visitor is the only adult in their lives who is not paid to spend time with them. The care review recommended that local authorities redesign Independent Visitor schemes to prioritise long-term relationships and involve wider communities but no tangible goals were set.
The report finds that a third of the young people surveyed have not heard of Independent Visitors and almost half don’t know how to get one. The young people who responded wanted an Independent Visitor who shared the same interests as them and highlighted the importance of long-lasting relationships with a degree of flexibility. One young person said: “Being able to contact them anytime, and meet for occasional coffees etc. if needed. My IV would only meet me on the set date, relationships don’t have specific dates, they happen at any time.”
The report makes the following recommendations:
- Advocacy: The government should implement the care review’s recommendation for an opt-out model of independent advocacy support, where children are automatically connected with an advocate when entering care and that this must be properly funded.
- Independent Visitors: Services should be reimagined and redeveloped together with children and young people. This should include more flexible services that allow contact when young people want and need it and continue post 18. The government should set a legal duty for local authorities to actively offer children in care and care leavers an Independent Visitor or befriending service up to the age 25.
- Protected characteristics: Government should prioritise consulting widely on care experience as a protected characteristic. As part of this, resources should be produced to explain in more detail to young people what a protected characteristic is and the implications of such a proposal.
Brigid Robinson, Managing Director of Coram Voice, said: “As the Government responds to the recommendations of the Independent Care Review it is essential that they take the views of children and young people into account. Only by listening to children in care and care leavers can the Government make sure that they design a system that will work for them. Children and young people are experts in their own lives. A big thank you to all who shared their expertise with us.”
Rita Waters, NYAS Group Chief Executive, said: “The Care Review might have concluded, but our work continues to empower children and young people in decisions that affect them. The views of care-experienced children and young people must be at the heart of the Government’s response and implementation plan. We want to thank all the children and young people who shared their time, opinions and experiences with us to create this report and tell the Government how they feel.”