Viewpoint: A council’s duty to care leavers

Councils now have a duty to produce a ‘local offer for care leavers’. Tom Redfearn from The Children’s Society explains.

Councillor or council officer? You’re a corporate parent

‘Corporate parenting’ is a wonky phrase that doesn’t mean a lot to most people. But if you’re a councillor at a county, district/borough or unitary council or a local government officer at a council, you are a corporate parent and the role brings with it significant responsibility.

Essentially, a ‘corporate parent’ is responsible for all children and young people in the care system, and all young people who have left care, up to the age of 25. Children go into care for a variety of reasons and once they’re there, the council – including all its councillors and staff – takes on parental responsibility for these children. This isn’t just a moral responsibility, but a legal one.

You can find out more about your corporate parenting responsibilities, including the requirement to support young people ‘through the lens of what any reasonable parent would do to support their own children’, from this excellent briefing from the Local Government Association or via the government’s own care leaver strategy, Keep on Caring.

The Children and Social Work Act 2017 re-affirmed council’s corporate parenting responsibilities, as well as extended them to include district and borough councils for the first time. All top tier councils are also now required to produce and publish a ‘local offer for care leavers’. In two-tier areas, district and borough councils are required to contribute to this local offer.

Time to draft a local offer for care leavers

A local offer for care leaver should set out all the services and support available to care leavers in your area. This should include not just the statutory support available, but also any non-statutory support the council(s) or others provide that’s specifically for care leavers. The Children and Social Work Act 2017 sets out seven ‘corporate parenting principles’ that council(s) should have regard to when they are supporting these vulnerable young people.

Councils were expected to start work on their local offers by April 2018, with the offer finalised and ready to go within six to nine months. Councils are then required to review the offer every so often so that it’s kept up to date and relevant. The Department of Education has set out some guidance on what councils should consider when developing their local offer.

Separately, The Children’s Society has produced some detailed guidance for local authorities to use when developing their own local offer. In this guidance, we outline how we think councils should go about developing and communicating the offer; what should be included in the offer; and how councils can embed a true corporate parenting culture across their authority. Some key points to consider when drafting your own local offer:

  • Involve children and young people in care and care leavers from start to finish
  • How would you seek to support your own children? You must do the same for these children.
  • Be positive – have high expectations for these young people and celebrate their achievements.
  • Many of these young people are unable to rely on their family for support in the same way many of us enjoy – you are responsible for providing that support.

It’s worth noting at this point that corporate parenting responsibilities are not just an issue for children and adult services to be mindful of. The Children and Social Work Act 2017 explicitly states that ALL council departments – from adoption services and youth services to housing, waste management and building control – must consider the role they can fulfil to best support children in care and care leavers.

So what now?

Start talking to young people in care and those who have left care. What kind of support do they think they need or wished they had received? Talk to colleagues across portfolios, teams, services, directorates, organisations and political divides to consider what you can do to put in place a straightforward system that provides support and opportunities.

Read, re-read and apply the recommendations and ideas contained within this briefing from The Children’s Society. And finally, get in touch: let me know if you’ve implemented some great ideas in your area; let me know if I can help encourage your colleagues to get involved; and let me know what you’re stuck on and I’ll do my best to help.

Tom Redfearn is the Senior Public Affairs Officer at The Children’s Society.
Email: Thomas.redfearn@childrenssociety.org.uk
Twitter: @TomAtTCS

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