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Spotlight Inquiry

The Spotlight Inquiry heard from 300+ people with experience of the care system, of which 130 were care-experienced young people across England. Our focus was ‘community’.

What makes young people feel part of the communities that matter to them? And how does the care system help and hinder them in feeling part of those communities?

What did we find in England?

108,070 children in care

44,580 care leavers aged 17-21

Place

Young people told us that ‘place’ matters to them. They wanted stability so they could feel safe and build lasting relationships.

7,230 children moved more than three times in 2021

16,720 children placed 20+ miles from home

Stigma

It takes more than just stability to feel part of a community. Strong relationships matter too. During workshops, young people shared concerns around stigma.

“I do think stigma prevents people like me from getting into the world where I’d ever be chosen to lead a review, become an MP, or even a civil servant.”

“Imagine your whole life as a child trying to explain what a problem is, and 9/10 times we are not believed because of our ‘reputation’ as a care kids.”

Leaving care

Once young people leave care, ‘community’ becomes even more important because they often have smaller and more fragile support networks as a result of both going into care and the instability within the care system.

30% of care leavers in foster care when they turned 18 were able to ‘stay put’ until the age of 19 or 20.

2,230: the number of care leavers aged 17-21 living in accommodation that their own local authority thinks is unsuitable for them.

What do we recommend?

In total we make 15 practical recommendations and pose five wider challenges that the upcoming Independent Review of Children’s Social Care, and subsequent reform, must address.

Below are three recommendations that address the issues of a stronger sense of place, reducing stigma and improving support for leaving care covered in this briefing.

  1. To support children to build links with their communities we need serious action to reduce the number of placements being made ‘out of area’. We recommend new primary legislation should be considered back by a national strategy, backed by funding, to make sure there are the right placements in the right places for every child.
     
  2. To tackle stigma, we recommend a national public awareness campaign to improve the public’s understanding of the care system and a new requirement on providers of children’s homes, foster care, and other placement providers to build community links that improve local people’s understanding of the care system and their important role in it,
     
  3. The current ‘leaving care’ system needs to be reimagined to reduce the cliff-edges of support and community disconnection typically experienced by young adults at ages 18 and 25. This should guarantee a core level of support into adulthood regardless of where someone is living.

Download Spotlight Inquiry Assets

What happened during the Spotlight Inquiry?

In January 2021, the government launched the Independent Review of Children’s Social Care, led by Josh MacAlister as Chair. In response, the APPG for Looked After Children and Care Leavers launched the Spotlight Inquiry, gathering valuable evidence and insights around care and community to inform the review and its recommendations.

Many thanks to everyone who contributed to the evidence-gathering phase of the Spotlight Inquiry by submitting evidence through text, artwork or video, attending a regional online evidence session hosted by a local MP, or by joining in a young person’s session on care and community.

We’re incredibly grateful for your insights and expertise.

Regional evidence sessions

Each chaired by a local MP, the online regional evidence sessions welcomed those with different personal and professional experiences of care to share their views on care and community in their area.

View the notes from each regional evidence session below.

Regional evidence sessions

Reaching out

The APPG also reached out directly to hear from groups of care-experienced young people where they are most comfortable to share their views.

This included children in care council and care leaver forums within local authorities, participation groups from fostering or residential care providers, charities, and others.

Call for evidence

Our call for evidence closed in July. This encouraged submissions from anyone with personal or professional experiences of care, as well as organisations with an interest in improving the care system. Individuals and organisations were able to share their views in any format they’d prefer – from written documents to more creative methods and everything in between, including drawings, videos, photos, poems and songs.

Exploring care and community

We want to put the spotlight on how experiences in and after care can be improved in ways which recognise and harness communities. This is particularly significant in early 2021 as the country continues its response to the Covid-19 pandemic. The close community ties which allowed the pandemic to spread so rapidly were also those which gave many strength and resolve in the face of crisis.

However, to truly ‘build back better’ and ‘level up’ our communities, we must recognise those who have been most impacted by the pandemic. Care-experienced young people often report feeling less connected to their communities – dislocated from where they may have been before and stigmatised where they may be now. Navigating messy concepts of identity and belonging is often even more difficult for care-experienced people given the instability, inconsistent relationships, and lack of agency experienced by many before, during and after their time in care.

The care system is too facing a moment where it risks destabilising further young people’s connections to the communities that matter to them. Recent years have seen a sharp increase in the number of children living outside of their local area, complicated by a deepening postcode lottery of support and provision, and continued public misunderstanding about what it means to be in or leaving care.

Any successful review of children’s social care must consider the power of community, we’re excited about how the Spotlight Inquiry can support the review in its difficult task. At the end, we’ll understand more about when and how care-experienced young people have been supported well to have stronger relationships with their communities, and where wider communities have been supported to understand and respect their care-experienced members.

"Identity is often lost when you're in a system of processes and structures."

⎯⎯ APPG attendee in 2019