This week we saw the publication of a report by Her Majestys Inspectorate of Probation about the failings of our care system. Welcome though it is, it does make you wonder just how much more proof is needed before things do begin to change for these very vulnerable children and young people.
Several years ago, under the Labour Government, we saw an overhaul of the system via the ‘Care Matters’ Green Paper. It was recognised then that children in care were significantly under-achieving in so many ways. They faced disruption in education, only 12% achieved 5 A-C grades in GCSE compared to 59% of all children. 45% were assessed as having a mental health disorder compared with 10% of the general population. The list went on.
Since then, the system has at times faced scrutiny. The tragic death of ‘Baby P’ led to a surge in care applications and a heightened and very public awareness of the need for a robust child protection system. Then, we have had the investigations into abuse in the Welsh children’s homes, the sexual exploitation of girls in Rochford (most of whom were from a care background) and the silence of the Saville victims (again, many of whom were vulnerable and/or were in care) unable to speak out about abuse. Now, we have yet another report talking of the failings of our care system.
In spring 2013, we should see the findings of ‘The Care Inquiry,’ an investigation by 8 charities into how to, amongst other things, find stability of placement and permanence for children in care. By using evidence from young people and their carers, their findings will then feed into debate around the children and families bill.
Finding adoptive placements earlier and more quickly, if that is achieved in next years legislation, could make a considerable difference to many children in care. But my guess is that the problems will be the teenagers who, due to a lifetime of complication, may not be ‘adoption material.’ These young people need the most support to prevent them from slipping down the slope into homelessness and the criminal justice system. Often at odds with their social workers, from what I’d seen in my work in representing such young people, services such as the independent advocate role is often crucial in providing a voice and support in a world which could often be changeable and unpredictable. But with spending cuts, these types of services are at risk.
Whilst Inquiries and reports about the difficulties faced by children and young people in care are, of course, very important, the problems and failings of the system have been known about for a long time. It is imperative that children and young people in the system are able to access independent advice and support services so that if things do go wrong, they are not left to suffer in silence.