A continuum of care: how can we help young people on the edge?

Posted by Kate Maher / Monday 14 December 2015 / Care leavers Children in care

Entering care as a teenager is a difficult part of an already uncertain journey into adulthood.

Our new report, jointly commissioned with the NSPCC, Supporting Adolescents on the Edge of Care, explores how teenagers in or on the edge of care and their families can be properly supported. It specifically looks at the role short term stays in residential care can play. New evidence shows that short stays, involving direct work with the young people combined with support for their families, could reduce the probability of the young person entering care permanently. Short stays can also support planned entry into care for those who cannot stay with their families.

Short stays offer a ‘breathing space’. The young person, their family, and the services involved can step back and think about the situation over time. This period of reflection offers a chance to fully understand the needs of the individual young person, making it more likely that the best possible way forward is chosen. Family relationships can be strengthened and the way the young person is cared for is improved.

Our Step Change programme also supports young people in care. It launched in 2014 using funding from the Department for Education’s Children’s Social Care Innovation Programme. Step Change brings together three evidence-based programmes and helps young people in care or on the edge of care to return to or to remain with their families.

It is important that we look at these new ways of supporting teenagers. 2015 has seen a continued increase in the number of looked after adolescents. Over a third of children and young people in care are now between the ages of 10 and 15.

Edge of Care highlights research which shows that young people who enter care aged 14 or above fare worse than those who enter care at a younger age. Their success at school is badly affected and they find it harder to live independently when they leave care. Very often, they will have endured difficulties for a long period of time before they left their families. This early and sustained trauma leaves its mark.

Our 2014 report, Too much, too young, revealed that teenagers were more likely to experience instability with their care placements, in part because they still have contact with their families. And when they leave care, many will choose to return to the homes of parents or other relatives. Returning home can be risky, and happens too often without the necessary help.

Care, although often the best option, needs to work far better in the service of these young people.

The Children’s Residential Care Review is open until New Year’s Eve. Sir Martin Narey, who is leading on it, wants evidence on the types of residential care currently provided and whether there might be better alternatives for children. It’s important that the Review acknowledges the evidence in Edge of Care. The potential benefits of short term stays for young people who are teetering on the brink of care must be taken into account.

The Review must also recognise the positive impact of residential care. It is not wise to continue viewing residential care as a feared last-ditch resort. We must see care as a broad continuum of support.

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