Over the summer, we have been working with young people and supporting them to engage directly with the independent review of children’s social care (the Care Review).
Five care-experienced young people with experience of housing and homelessness issues came together in a series of workshops we organised and facilitated by our participation team. After engaging in a first workshop in mid-July, where they heard about what the Care Review was and what impact their voices would have, on 21st July they took part in a focus group with a member of the Care Review team.
The young people spoke powerfully about their experiences and shared their expertise with the Review team, identifying problems and suggesting system-wide and issue-specific practical solutions, which centred young people’s rights and dignity.
Some of the issues that the young people raised were:
Rights and entitlements – the young people taking part highlighted that young people are not aware of their rights and entitlements and what they can do if they have a problem: “At the time I didn’t know my legal rights and what I could do about my situation. Social services should advise young people about what they can do, what their rights are and how to complain if they have a problem”. “There should be something available from social services themselves so we don’t have to seek external help for something that should already be there.”
Dignity and respect – one young person recounted her experience of moving at very short notice and only having bin bags to pack up her belongings. There was no one waiting for her at her new home so she had to sit for hours on top of those bin bags on the pavement in front of the house, “feeling like trash sitting on trash”.
Not being listened to – they raised that often professionals do not listen to the child or young person and do not take their wishes into account. One young person ended up street homeless after refusing to be moved at short notice to a different borough. Despite explaining that she would not be comfortable moving there due to previous traumatic experiences, social services refused to give her other options and have since stopped supporting her in any way. Another young Black person was placed in an overwhelmingly White area and was subjected to racist abuse near daily. He ran away several times but was always brought back.
Local authorities being a hindrance rather than a help – the young people highlighted that Pathway planning is often seen as a tick-box exercise. Because Pathway Plans are binding, they reported that social workers tend not to put anything concrete that they would have to follow through on in the document. They also said that too often the local authority’s interests were prioritised over the young person’s. One young person said that “abuse is not taken seriously by local authorities, once you start to talk about it, they respond to this as a threat to themselves – rather than wanting to support you”. Another young person (who had been in kinship care and was not entitled to any leaving care support) approached housing services after becoming homeless after turning 18 and was eventually told to find her own housing within a budget of £350 per month. She then lost out on several properties because the local authority was too slow in paying the deposit. She became clinically depressed during that period but that had no impact on the support she was entitled to. She said that “if I’m making an effort to help myself, it is very frustrating to keep hitting brick walls”.
Mental health – the young people all agreed that mental health was a key issue where care-experienced young people needed more support. They thought that mental health support should be something that was offered automatically without the young person having to jump through hoops or be in acute distress, and that that was particularly important during the transition period of leaving care and moving out. They also believed that all carers and professionals should be trained in identifying and dealing with mental health issues and trauma, to best support the young person.
In addition to having fed in directly to the Care Review, the expertise shared by the young people will inform our submission to the Care Review’s call for feedback on the case for change.
We will continue to engage children and young people in the Care Review over the coming months. This work is part of an exciting new CRAE project, funded by Trust for London, to support care experienced children and young people to campaign on housing issues affecting young people leaving care.
This update was first published on the CRAE website here.