One of the few interesting questions from a Tory backbencher at PMQs this week was one from Michelle Donelan about children in care, particularly residential care. It may well have been planted, as it allowed the Prime Minister to announce a review of residential care, to coincide with Care Leavers Week. Today, as part of that week, the Public Accounts Committee found systematic weaknesses in the support for care leavers, arguing that central and local government must both take more responsibility for improving outcomes.
One of the PACs recommendations was that children leaving care need better support from personal advisers, as currently many of those young people receive too patchy a service as they adjust to independent living. It means that they dont get the same advice and help as their peers who live with their birth parents and who are able to get a parent round to help with their broken washing machine, or teach them to manage bills and landlords. Most young people take this for granted, but without it, an already rather vulnerable young person has a much harder time adjusting to adult life. Care leavers in England are four or five times more likely to self-harm, for instance.
One particular anomaly is that young care leavers who go into full-time employment only get a personal adviser until they are 21, whereas a young person in education or training is supposed to receive advice until they are 25. It seems a rather unfair divide, given both groups will need help learning to manage their finances, for instance, just as young people outside the care system do. The charity Barnardos wants the government to allocate £33 million in the spending review to improve this situation. It might seem a rather hopeless request anyone asking for extra money in a spending review where ministers are looking down the back of the sofa for spare savings will likely be greeted with a best of luck and sent on their way. But this week childrens minister Edward Timpson also said the government would work with the sector and care leavers to consider how they receive a strong offer through until age 25. After all, £33 million is, in the context of the spending review, a tiny sum that could save rather a lot more money by preventing homelessness and more expensive government services later on. Given the state is the parent to these children – and often not a very good one – it does seem rather unfair to deprive them of the help and advice that most children don’t even have to ask for from their own family.