Looked After Children (LAC) and Care Leavers

The quality of Looked After Children’s care experience and the outcomes they and care leavers achieve are a key cross cutting theme within the refreshed Children and Young People’s Plan.

Index of information on this page:

 

Context

 

The quality of Looked after Children’s care experience and the outcomes they and care leavers achieve are a key cross cutting theme within the refreshed Commissioning Strategy.  The Council’s Looked after Children services provides the following:

 

Family support and placement services for children and families including:

Residential child care establishments (open and secure) for children who need to be looked after by the Council

Family Support and Placement services for children in need and those who need to be looked after by the Council – including fostering and adoption, Children’s Support Team, and specialist day care provision

Support services to Looked after Children including the Education Support for Looked After Children service (ESLAC)

Adoption support services for birth families and adoptive families

Leaving Care services

An emergency social care out of hours service across Northumberland

 

The Children (Leaving Care) Act 2000 introduced new requirements on local authorities to plan for looked after children so that they have the support they need to succeed as they make their transition to the responsibilities of adulthood.

 

Successful outcomes (and a “narrowing of the gap”) for children unable to live within their families of origin is key and the engagement and participation of children and young people is of central importance to the development of effectively achieving these outcomes.

 

Key Messages

 

These children and young people have specific needs and the Council and Care Trust provide services dedicated to meeting them – the education support service for LAC, the Leaving Care team, the LAC health team and the Young People’s Service.

There is a need for a wider range of suitable accommodation for care leavers, floating support in particular.     

There is currently no service to help young people if they need emergency housing that same evening, so there is a need for direct access to housing.   

Although numbers in Northumberland are low, there is a need for the LA to look after unaccompanied asylum seeker children and young people.

LAC and care leavers need significant levels of support with their education and employment if they are going to have better chances in life.  (For further information on LAC school attainment, see the “People from disadvantaged backgrounds (their achievement, skills and employment)”

Looked after Children need greater support with their physical, emotional, mental and sexual health than their peers.  In Northumberland, there is a dedicated LAC health nurse and paediatrician and the capacity of the service has increased recently.

Looked after Children are at greater risk of offending than their peers and too high a percentage spend some of their adult life in prison.

Some LAC need to be placed with carers who live considerable distances from their home communities.  Some of these carers are provided by the independent sector which is more costly than the Council’s own fostering service, thereby squeezing the amount of resources available to support all children and young people. The Council needs to recruit and retain more of its own foster carers.

 

What we know - statistical information

 

Data shows that across the country the numbers of LAC are increasing following the Baby P case and greater awareness of the signs of abuse and neglect.  Whilst this has not been seen yet within Northumberland, it is very possible that it may follow later than the national trend and we need to be ready to accommodate this possible future need.

There are currently 43 LAC placed with independent fostering agencies because the Council’s fostering service has been unable to recruit sufficient numbers of carers with the appropriate skills.  Such independent placements are more costly than the Council’s own provision, and there is little evidence that they achieve better outcomes, although currently they are an invaluable resource.  From April a new structure for fee paid NCC foster carers is being implemented so that we can be more competitive with independent fostering agencies. 

If the increase in LAC seen elsewhere occurred here, it would put a further strain on the availability of suitable placements.  Looked after Children need stable, secure placements, and recent trends show that placement stability is good in Northumberland and has improved, above the national average for both long term stability (remaining with the same carer for 2 years or more) and the low proportion needing to move placement 3 or more times in 12 months.  5 years ago this was not the case, and the response to meeting this need has been to:

reduce congestion within the LAC system by avoiding the need for children to be taken into care in the first place through the work of the Children’s Support Team and effective gate keeping within the management of cases in the social work service

plan initial placements better through the Placement Portfolio Group, place permanency workers in the social care teams

build resilience within foster carers and residential social workers

better wrap around care, i.e. support services from CAMHS, ESLAC, Health

monitor intensively the stability of individual placements and identify those at risk of breakdown, so that additional support can be provided where possible. 

On average LAC leave “home” or placement 6 years before the average person, so there needs to be extra support in finding and sustaining tenancies.  One possibility is for a house with a concierge service, especially in the Wansbeck area.  Care leavers need help to plan for the future, and in response, the proportion who have pathway plans that are effectively monitored and developed, has increased in the last 4 years.

There have been some differences in housing policy between the areas that have the largest numbers of LAC, Wansbeck and Blyth Valley, which meant that care leavers in Wansbeck were given an immediate housing priority whereas in Blyth Valley they were not, although this is now well on the way to being resolved.

The education attainment of LAC is significantly below that of their peers in Northumberland, and is consistently below the national average at GSCE level, whereas their peers in Northumberland achieve above the national average.  In response, the ESLAC service has implemented an award scheme to improve attendance at school, contributing to an improvement from 18% to 8% for the proportion missing 25 days or more of school each year. 

Young people are now able to access qualification courses when not in full time main stream education via Award Scheme Development and Accreditation Network (ASDAN) and Princes Trust XL schemes.  However, there is still some need for better alternative education provision for those children and young people who do not engage with traditional schooling.  LAC have said the learning mentor role needed to be expanded into school holidays, which has been done.  In response to demand, there are 3 posts that have incorporated Learning Mentor roles who will help divide LAC population into virtual classes so each class will have an Education Support Assistant who will liaise with the school, oversee the Personal Education Plans, increase our monitoring capacity and ensure the LA is operating as a good parent and providing the support that would be expected for all children and young people.

Data on LAC education performance is held within the Council and are used to target additional support towards individuals but because of the low numbers involved, they are not included in public documents such as these. 

 

Whilst more LAC are cautioned or convicted of an offence than their peers, the gap in Northumberland has generally been better than the national average.

LAC in Northumberland have their health needs assessed at least once a year. 

The proportion of care leavers in employment, education or training varies, and is significantly below that of their peers in Northumberland.

 

Studies suggest nearly 50% of children in Local Authority care have a clinically diagnosable mental health disorder, compared with 10% in the general population (Meltzer, Gatward, Corbin et al 2003). This increases to nearly 70% among those living in residential care.

 

Children and Young People in Northumberland in Looked After Care Provision

Prevalence of Mental Disorders in Children looked after by Local Authority

 

5 – 10 year olds

11- 15 year olds

 

Children Looked After

Children in Private Households

Children Looked After

Children in Private Households

Emotional Disorders

11%

3%

12%

6%

Conduct Disorders

36%

5%

40%

6%

Hyperkinetic Disorders

11%

2%

7%

1%

Any Childhood Mental Disorder

42%

8%

49%

11%

Source: Meltzer, H.; Gatward, R.; Goodman, R.; Ford, T.: The Mental Health of Young People Looked after by Local Authorities, 2003

Northumberland Young People’s Service has been developed to support the mental health needs of these children and young people, with easy access even for those whose difficulties are not perceived as very severe for all looked after children and young people, providing a range of early to specialist intervention.

 

Unfortunately information about LAC children entering and leaving Northumberland from other authorities is erratic and out with the knowledge of the Health Team. Being a large rural county, Northumberland attracts many independent care providers and its border with Newcastle and North Tyneside mean that many of these agency carers live within our borders. In comparison, Northumberland has relatively fewer children living with carers out of county.

 

What people have told us – consultation, feedback and policy

 

We now have an established Children in Care Council (Voices Making Choices) which was launched in October 09. The group is in its early stages and is in the process of exploring how they want to communicate with Corporate Parents and influence service at a strategic level.

Looked after children and young people are members of YPIN (Young People in Northumberland) which is a group established to ensure that children and young people have a voice at a central, strategic level.

We have run 2 Mystery Shopper projects, one focussing on District Offices and one on libraries. In both cases, feedback from young people has influenced service provision.  For example, the young people visited Connexions offices in Blyth, Alnwick and Ashington, and Children’s Services offices in Blyth and Ashington.  The young people presented their findings to managers from Northumberland Children’s Services and Connexions.  They highlighted some good points such as wheelchair access and friendly staff, while also pointing out aspects that could be improved such as, limited opening hours, shabby reception areas and broken signs.  A number of changes were made at the Blyth Office following feedback from the young people which involved placing additional posters and leaflets in the reception area and also bright boarders and a welcoming sign were put up with books and toys being made available.  These were also introduced these at the Ashington Office and the changes have been implemented at the other district offices across the county.

 

Viewpoint is a national agency which provides online questionnaires to gain the views of children and young people. Northumberland County Council currently use the Looked after Children Looked after Children Review questionnaire with all looked after children aged 8-12. Children are supported to complete the questionnaire by a Participation and Advocacy Officer who visits them in their home.

 

Changes since previous analysis

 

Many of the responses from the children are similar to those analysed in the previous 6 month period. However there are some key differences:

 

8-9 year olds

 

Increase in numbers who are not able to see family as much as they’d like (from 36% to 48%)

Increase in number who report some difficulty in sleeping (from 36% to 54%)

Reduction in those who can speak to their social worker sometimes or always (from 88% to 72%)

Reduction in those who said their social worker talked to them about what they would like to happen to some extent (from 96% to 76%)

Reduction in number who want to attend review meetings (from 68% to 38%)

Increase in those who find it easy to talk to their carer (72% to 88%)

Reduction in those who are being bullied, hurt or upset at school (from 64% to 48%)

Increase in those who have as much life story work as they want (from 36% to 68%)

Increase in those who can see friends as much as they like (from 24% to 52%)

 

10-12 year olds

Increase in those who have as much life story work as they want (from 51% to 70%)

Reduction in those who report some difficulty in sleeping (from 41% to 23%)

Fewer children are asking for support in numeracy (from 29% to 20%) and literacy (from 32% to 23%)

Increase in those who said their opinions are listened to (from 85% to 97%) reduction in those who are unable to access a telephone in private (from 24% to 10%)

 

Consultation with looked after children and care leavers is formalised at strategic level and well embedded in practice, ensuring that their voice is heard.  For example this has included:

 

The Care Matters Green Paper, published in October 2006, set out the scale of the challenge and the case for change, outlining a range of proposals to improve outcomes for children in care.

The Children (Leaving Care) Act 2000

There is new guidance under consultation called Planning Transitions to Adulthood for Looked After Children which should help reinforce the need for services, specifically for supported accommodation.

 

Our priorities for the future

 

Like many local authorities, Northumberland needs to review how it delivers its priorities in the face of reductions in public spending.  This review is underway and a clearer picture will be available by the winter.  Actions identified are:

 

There is new guidance under consultation called Planning Transitions to Adulthood for Looked After Children which should help reinforce the need for services, specifically for supported accommodation.

 

Foster carer recruitment and retention so that LAC can live nearer to their home communities, where appropriate, and in suitable placements.  Implementation of a new structure to pay foster carers to make the Council’s fostering service more competitive with independent agencies in recruiting foster carers to meet children and young people’s placement needs.

Redesigning services to narrow the education and employment gap as far as possible between LAC, care leavers and their peers.

Implementation of the Virtual Head Teacher role

Continued training for designated teachers

Need for better alternative education provision for those children and young people who do not engage with traditional schooling

Working with housing agencies and providers to support care leavers’ accommodation needs.

Seeking corporate agreement across the Council to LAC’s apprenticeship programme.

Delivery of the Council’s pledge for looked after children and strengthening of the  Children in Care Council role.

Dedicated Sports Co-ordinators through Northumberland Sport to increase capacity for LAC participation in positive activities.