The findings of the 2019 Stability Index released today by the Children’s Commissioner must serve as an urgent call to action for our new Children’s Minister, Kemi Badenoch MP.
The report identifies a system which has failed to adapt to the changing profile and needs of the young people in its care. At the same time as more older children and teenagers have been taken into care, we have seen an explosion in the number of out-of-area placements and a rapid expansion in unregulated provision. These are not unrelated issues, but harmful responses.
We at Become hear from many children in care and young care leavers about the impact which instability has on their lives. Stability is essential for young people to develop a sense of belonging and to feel safe and secure. The insights shared by contributors to the Children’s Voices report, which accompanies the Stability Index, echo many of the thoughts and concerns we hear through our Care Advice Service. Having to change where you live, where you learn or who supports you can be stressful, unsettling and destabilising to children healing from the trauma which led to them being taken into care.
We are particularly worried to see clear evidence that children in care who attend schools judged ‘inadequate’ by Ofsted are more likely to move schools during the academic year than those in ‘good’ or ‘outstanding’ schools. Become’s own research highlights the impact which a positive learning environment and supportive teachers can have in young people’s lives, and statutory guidance clearly states that looked-after children should never be placed in an ‘inadequate’ school and prioritised for ‘good’ or ‘outstanding’ schools. We welcome the report’s recommendation to hold school leaders to account for the extent to which they give children in care priority access for school places.
It’s essential that we examine the reasons for the large increase in the number of older children and teenagers entering the care system. At a time when local authorities are facing intense funding constraints, important work which might prevent older children from being taken into care continues to be eroded as only critical statutory services survive. A failure to see the bigger picture – involvement in gangs, criminal exploitation and county lines for example – and establish effective and urgent responses to these challenges, will only serve to fail future generations of young people. These issues are changing the care system but cannot be solved by it.
As we’ve argued before, we must be careful not to label children in care as a cost to reduce. Each teenager with complex needs is deserving of the support they need to lead a happy and healthy life, no matter the cost. Children’s services must receive the funding which allows them to deliver the services and support which young people in care deserve. We urge Kemi Badenoch, as Children’s Minister, to take a lead by ensuring the funding gap for children’s social care is addressed in the upcoming Spending Review.