From rhetoric to reality: improving outcomes for care leavers

It’s been almost a year since the Scottish Care Leavers Covenant was launched. Debbie Nolan considers the next steps, and how we can ensure the Covenant is meaningfully implemented in order to improve outcomes for Scotland’s care leavers.

On joining CYCJ, one of the projects I was allocated to work on was the Scottish Care Leavers Covenant. From my own practice experience I was well aware of the range of negative outcomes care leavers frequently experience in terms of poor mental health and wellbeing, educational outcomes, homelessness and housing instability, difficulties in accessing employment, and involvement with the criminal justice system. I also knew how difficult the journey into adulthood was for most young people, remembering my own reliance on family members for food parcels, money, support to manage a tenancy, and the (multiple) tearful and distressed phone calls home because I had no money, had lost my keys/purse/mates on a night out, missed my family, and felt that I wasn’t ready for adult responsibilities. I knew my challenges often paled into insignificance compared to those faced by our often extremely vulnerable, insufficiently supported care leavers on their journey to “independence”. So to be involved in a project that “supports Scotland’s corporate parents, carers, practitioners, managers and decision makers in fulfilling their duties to improve the life chances of all of Scotland’s care leavers” (p.2) was an opportunity to embrace and relish.

In the development of the Covenant, CYCJ led a group of stakeholders to identify a range of key actions that could improve outcomes for care leavers in the youth and criminal justice system and crucially suggested how these could be achieved in the Agenda for Change. Similar work took place in the areas of health and wellbeing; housing and accommodation; education and training; employment; and rights and participation. After significant efforts, the Covenant was launched during National Care Leavers Week 2015. Since then, various activities have taken place to promote and publicise the Covenant, with over 440 individuals and organisations signing up and endorsing this. Feedback from the sector has been overwhelmingly positive and the Agenda for Change has been incorporated into and referenced in a number of corporate parenting plans.

Now almost a year post-launch, the focus of the Alliance Group who led on the development of the Covenant has moved to ensuring this is meaningfully and consistently implemented. The key questions we are now asking: what can we do to support individuals and organisations to implement the Covenant; how do we move improving outcomes for care leavers from rhetoric to reality; and what are the national barriers to this and how can we effect meaningful change on them to create enabling contexts? So developing the Covenant was the easy part then….

In terms of the youth and criminal justice section of the Covenant, one of the key actions highlighted in the Agenda for Change was the identification of care leavers at the outset of their involvement with each youth and criminal justice agency, and on receipt of this information, to act to ensure appropriate person-centred support is provided. This might seem straightforward but we quickly found this wasn’t the case. The first stumbling block seemed to be that practitioners and agencies did not always see the relevance of asking young people and young adults about their childhood care experiences or that this was their responsibility. Moreover, where there was a desire to ascertain this information, barriers included uncertainty about who are care leavers; lack of confidence about how to ask about care experience in a manner that would encourage self-identification; and even if care leavers did, what should practitioners do next and what are aftercare entitlements. However, it is necessary to identify care leavers for various reasons including:

  • Corporate parents have a range of duties to care leavers but without knowing who these duties apply to will be impossible to fulfil;
  • To enable young people to be more appropriately supported and responded to and be informed of and access the entitlements they have;
  • Corporate parents will be proactive in ensuring that all formal and informal sources of support are explored and engaged where possible to ensure that young people are supported throughout;
  • Through repeated experiences, young people will begin to see value in positive self-disclosure;
  • Such identification and recording should support the development of a more accurate national picture of the number of looked after young people and care leavers in the youth and criminal justice system with the aim of reducing this overrepresentation.

To help and support agencies and practitioners to identify care leavers in the youth and criminal justice system we have developed a brief information document. This provides information on who are care leavers; why is identification important; and what is aftercare and what are entitlements at different ages. It also provides a standardised question for ascertaining care leaver status, which has been developed in conjunction with care experienced young people and organisations working with these young people, and some suggestions for what practitioners should do next on receipt of this information. These ‘what next’ steps are critical if care leavers are to get the support they are entitled to and need. These will vary by agency and area and need to be agreed locally and internally.

Discussions have already started with the Scottish Prison Service and Police Scotland about utilising this document and incorporating the questions asked into current processes, as well as with individual court teams. However, if we are really to improve outcomes for our care leavers in the youth and criminal justice system we need to go further and ensure that every practitioner who comes into contact with  young people and adults in these systems asks about their care experiences and acts on this information.  The role of local authorities will be crucial in terms of the next steps and the provision of aftercare services, with further consideration necessary of how we can ensure such identification of care leavers, notification of their contact with justice agencies and signposting translates into proactive support. To this end CYCJ and CELCIS intend to hold a practitioners scoping workshop focusing on how this can be achieved in November. If yopu would be interested in attending, you would like to attend please get in touch.

You can find out more and sign up to the Covenant here.

About our blogger

Debbie Nolan is a Practice Development Associate with CYCJ. She’s passionate about children and young people achieving their best possible outcomes. Read more.

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