Major Yorkshire report calls for radical shake-up of care system to stop thousands of care leavers from being forgotten

A Yorkshire university has called for a radical shake-up of the care system to stop thousands of young people, who are moving out of the care system in the region and across England, from being forgotten, Ruth Dacey reports.

A lack of investment in all stages of the care journey is stifling children’s ambitions and life prospects as an underfunded social care system, with a sudden cut-off from the age of 18, continues to hold back young people’s dreams, senior northern higher education leaders warn the Prime Minister today.

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Care leavers across Yorkshire speak out about the challenges facing young people

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A major new report from the University of Sheffield, seen by The Yorkshire Post, has urged the Government to substantially invest in all stages of the care journey to deliver stability and support to children when they most need it.

Ahead of the long-awaited publication of an independent care review in England - after the pledge from Government in December last year, to review the care system, it has also said services must be empowered to act without restrictions to promote better outcomes for children in care and young people who are moving out of the care system, who all too often “fall through the cracks” due to a lack of support.

New analysis by The Yorkshire Post can reveal across Yorkshire and the Humber there are 8,568 children in care following on from official figures released earlier this year, which showed levels had reached a 10-year-high, with 78,150 children in care in England at the end of March 2019.

Over the last five years the number of children in care has increased the most in North East Lincolnshire, across the region, with a rise of 69 per cent, while Rotherham saw an increase of 57.7 per cent, and figures in North Lincolnshire increased by 41.8 per cent.

North Yorkshire was the only area in the region to see a decrease in figures with 428 - a decrease of four per cent compared to 2015.

Lead author Dr Katie Ellis, from the University of Sheffield, said deprivation spurred on by a decade of austerity has entrenched inequalities for care leavers.

Dr Ellis told The Yorkshire Post: “Surely all children matter - let’s do the best for all children and young people. If you invest in people when they need the help then they are more likely to go on to have happier and fulfilling lives.

“It seems absurd to throw money into interventions and preventions later on, when actually, you could have really stepped in earlier and made things much better and created more opportunities to help them succeed.”

Analysis from the Children’s Commission for England for The Yorkshire Post showed 42 per cent of 19 to 21-year-old care leavers in Yorkshire and the Humber are no longer in the education system and are not working or being trained for work - three per cent higher than the national average.

Anne Longfield, the Children’s Commissioner for England, said: “Children in care are in the care of the state, and what the state needs to be is a good parent for that child.

“The care review is the ideal opportunity to look again at what support care leavers need and there needs to be a real change towards supporting care leavers to succeed and having high ambitions for care leavers and having the support but also the springboards in place that helps them to go on and achieve.”

Poet and care leaver Lemn Sissay MBE, who is the Chancellor of the University of Manchester, said: “It seems like the care system a lot of the time is putting out fires.

“We know what being a bad parent is, a bad parent is when you neglect your child, when you don’t serve your child’s needs, when your child finds themselves lost - that is what bad parenting is.

“And if the Government is the legal parent of the child when they are in care - then they are basically being a bad parent if that child is in need - we need our government to use all the examples of good parenthood.”

Professor Shirley Congdon, the chair for Yorkshire Universities, said: “If you think about Yorkshire we have got so many young people, and people are our greatest asset.

“In order to deliver the levelling up agenda we do need to have some serious social policy reform that really recognises the importance of the work in the early years of young children’s lives and identifying those young people who need more support earlier so we can be more proactive in supporting them.”

Ahead of the delayed independent care review Children’s Minister Vicky Ford said: “It is extraordinarily difficult for children in care and care leavers.

“I am keeping pressure on all of my colleagues to make sure that the care leavers are at the front of the queue - that is absolutely key.

“The Government must lead from the front to show that actually the opportunities are there and we need to make those opportunities for young people because we have responsibilities for these children.”

A special Yorkshire Post report reveals:

- A new major report, by the University of Sheffield, entitled: Journeying Through Care: Pathways to University which aims to shape government policy and challenge the stigma associated with young people who are care experienced and to promote support.

- The Leverhulme Trust-funded report, which will be published on November 27, consulted a total of 234 care experienced students, from 29 universities in England and Wales, who shared their perspectives on barriers facing young people.

The report will be put to government later this month, and ahead of the delayed independent care review in England, Boris Johnson’s government are being urged to substantially invest in all stages of the care journey to deliver stability and support to children when they most need it.

The report, due to be published by University of Sheffield academics Dr Ellis and Claire Johnston, will also issue a charter of 21 evidence-based recommendations for the Government - with the emphasis on promoting stability within the care journey.

This includes the recommendation that support should be based on need instead of age and that young people should never be forced to ‘age out’ of care.

It adds care leavers should expect to receive support into adulthood and beyond. Extensions to support should be meaningful and not present a new arbitrary ‘cut off’.

Lead author Dr Katie Ellis said: “There needs to be an overhaul with the care system.

“There isn’t enough funding... I think it is very easy to blame local authorities but the point is they have had their money cut over and over again.

“There keeps being reports about children services overspending by x amount and I think instead we should consider that local authorities were underfunded by x amount.”

The special report also includes exclusive interviews with:

- Anne Longfield, the Children's Commissioner for England, who has called for government to be good parent, to care leavers.

- Lemn Sissay MBE, the Chancellor of the University of Manchester, about why we must "elevate" the voices of care-experienced children.

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