We have signed a joint letter with 44 other charities calling on the Education Secretary to urgently amend his department’s guidance for local authorities so that existing legal protections for children in care and young care leavers are preserved.
The guidance for children’s social care services was first published on 3 April and suggests that local authorities can deviate from their statutory duties relating to children in care and care leavers.
No changes to legislation have been made to allow for this beyond the very limited changes included within the Coronavirus Act 2020. As such, urgent clarification is needed to ensure that care-experienced young people do not find vital support being withdrawn during a time of crisis.
Without clarification, existing regional variations in how local authorities choose to exercise their statutory functions will widen further and the risks to children in care and care-leavers will increase. Care-experienced young people already face a postcode lottery in the quality and extent of the support they receive, and the guidance in its current form will only exacerbate this problem.
We are, in particular, gravely concerned that the guidance relaxes local authorities’ duties to care-leavers. We know from our Care Advice Line and wider support work that care-experienced young people are struggling and in need of urgent help. The guidance threatens to weaken their rights and reduce the support on offer to them at a time when they are facing hardship due to increased isolation, financial difficulty, and deteriorating mental health.
We understand the tremendous pressures that local authorities face at such an unprecedented time. While local authorities have been promised £3.2bn of additional COVID-19 funding, it is unclear how much of this is supporting care-experienced young people. The government must ensure that local authorities have the funding to meet their existing legal obligations to care and support children in care and young care leavers.
At this time, care-experienced people deserve more support, not less.
You can read the letter here.
Katharine Sacks-Jones, Chief Executive for Become, says: “At a time when children in care and young care leavers are even more isolated and vulnerable, the government’s vague guidance risks placing them at increased risk and harming their long-term futures. We are concerned this guidance will exacerbate the existing postcode lottery of support and make it harder for young people to get the help they are entitled to and need more than ever during this current crisis. We urge the government to immediately clarify this guidance to make it clear that local authorities should continue to meet their statutory obligations and provide them with the financial support to do so.”