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Has the Children and Social Work Act 2017 gone far enough in terms of its obligations to care leavers and looked after children?

The Children and Social Work Bill received Royal Assent on 27 April 2017, becoming an Act of Parliament. This new law furthers the duty of local authorities in safeguarding and promoting the welfare of all children.

The new Act requires local authorities to provide details about services for care leavers to assist them in preparing for adulthood and independent living. The legislation also sets out that local authorities now must provide personal advisors to care leavers up until they reach the age of 25, or until they indicate they no longer require an advisor. Finally, the Act enshrines in law the principles of corporate parenting.

Who is a ‘care leaver’?

The term ‘care leaver’ means a person under the age of 25, who has been looked after by a local authority for a minimum of 13 weeks since their 14th birthday.

What is a ‘corporate parent’?

Corporate parenting refers to the collective responsibility of public authorities to provide the best possible care and safeguarding for the children who are looked after by the council.

A corporate parent should carry out many of the roles a normal parent would. The new guidance recognizes that a local authority’s parental responsibilities do not stop after a young person’s 18th or 21st birthday.

What is a ‘personal advisor’?

A personal advisor should ensure a care leaver is provided with the correct level of support as they make their transition into adulthood.

This means ensuring the young person is properly equipped for taking greater responsibility towards their independence, by providing arrangements to support the young person in relation to their health needs, accommodation, further education or employment and finances, for example. If there is a clear failure to follow the regulations regarding support as set out in the Act, it is possible to bring a Judicial Review against the local authority.

Further recommendations which were not included in the Act

It has been argued that the state needs to provide further help for people who have been involved in care proceedings, to decrease the likelihood of their losing infants or children to public care and adoption through court order.

The Government did not accept an amendment put forward by the “Your Family Your Voice Alliance” to the Children and Social Work Bill, which would have required local authorities to provide or commission post-therapeutic support and counselling, not only to care leavers, but to all parents and legal guardians whose children are permanently removed from their care.

Has the Act gone far enough in legislating for adequate support for care leavers and parents involved in the care process?

Research from Lancaster University shows the vulnerability of care-experienced young women in particular, when it comes to probability that their children will be removed in the care process.

A study by Professor Karen Broadhurst and Dr Stuart Bedson (‘Broadhurst and Bedson’) for the Family Justice Research Centre at Lancaster University found that 40% of women who had experienced multiple court proceedings were former care leavers. Their research draws from records across 56 local authorities.

It is hoped that the new legal framework under the Act will go some way to providing care leavers with effective guidance and help, in the form of access to support services after leaving care, as well as the provision of personal advisors to those under 25. It remains to be seen whether the new measures will constitute a positive step towards prevention of care leavers losing their own children in care proceedings.

The boundaries of responsibility of the corporate parent have been extended under the Children and Social Work Act 2017, to provide support to care-experienced youth who may lack an adequate parenting model. However, these boundaries appear not to have reached so far as to provide effective therapeutic support to all parents and legal guardians who lose their children to public care, as demonstrated by the refusal of the Alliance’s proposed amendment.

Arguably, further progress in this direction could be made in terms of breaking the cycle of care, not only to prevent care leavers from losing their children, but also in an effort to decrease repeat removals. This might be attained if the support measures provided by local authorities under the Act were widened beyond care leavers, to all parents and legal guardians whose children are permanently removed from their care.

Goodman Ray has experience of dealing with statutory provision aspects of final placement orders in care proceedings. We can also provide advice to care leavers seeking remedy via judicial review on the basis of local authority failure to support.

Katrin White

Jessica Johnston

Eleanor Parkes

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