This week on the news round-up: Vulnerability of care leavers on benefits highlighted; Oxfordshire MPs lobby over school delays for children in care; 140,000 children falling off social care support radar; family court “protocol” ditched; East Midlands counts cost of refugee care
Benefits system leaves care leavers more vulnerable report finds
A report from the Children’s Society highlights the financial challenges faced by care leavers who need to claim benefits – and how the current system is increasing their vulnerability to debt and sanctions from the Department for Work and Pensions. The report Claiming after Care highlights a number of shortcomings that affect care leavers in particular, including that a young person cannot start a claim for the recently phased-in Universal Credit benefit until they turn 18 – leaving them vulnerable for several weeks until the claim is processed. “Benefits provide a vital lifeline for many of the estimated 53,000 care leavers aged 19-25 across the country, including those who are in work or education,” writes the society’s policy director Sam Royston in the Huffington Post. “Yet our latest report highlights how the system is leaving many starting their life after care in debt and even at risk of being made homeless.”
Claiming after Care builds on earlier work undertaken by the society which has seen it lobby local councils to exempt care leavers from council tax and to increase the time care leavers receive support from personal advisers – a provision that is now enshrined in the 2017 Children and Social Work Act. The report uses a series of case studies to illustrate the stark implications of choices made by care leavers over work and accommodation and how little this leaves them to live on. In one example, a care-leaver would be significantly financially better off in the short-term by opting for low paid work rather than seeking to increase their skills through an apprenticeship – despite being able to claim for Universal Credit.
School delays for children in care “unacceptable” say MPs
Oxfordshire’s six MPs are lobbying government to end “unacceptable” delays for children in care who have to change schools, the Bicester Advertiser writes. The problem is biggest for children being placed outside Oxfordshire in academy schools that control their own admissions. The MPs claim that the council cannot force an academy to accept a looked after child who is being moved to a new school – unlike in council-funded or maintained schools where looked after children should have first priority of a place within a school’s admissions policy.
140,000 children not getting social care support they need
Some 140,000 children are failing to get the support they need because they are not eligible for social care support even though their needs are too great for schools, health or other universal services to meet on their own, according to Action for Children. “Our research suggests many are living in challenging family situations, affected by issues like domestic violence or substance misuse,” the organisation says in its report, Revolving Doors. “Without the right help, there’s potential for these situations to escalate to crisis point, placing children at risk of harm.” It makes a series of recommendations including strengthening the statutory framework for early help provision making it clear that adult services are ‘relevant agencies’ for safeguarding children.
Family Court protocol ditched over collusion concerns
An agreement on more collaborative working in public law cases in the family courts has been ditched over concerns that it undermined the independence of children’s guardians, encouraged collusion among social care professionals and potentially shut out parents or their representatives from due process within proceedings, CYP Now reports. Drawn up between the Association of Directors of Children’s Services and Cafcass, the organisation supporting children in the family courts, the protocol was intended to improve communication and cut delays and included some blunt advice to guardians representing children in such court cases (TWiF 16 February).
East Midlands counts the cost of caring for refugee children
Only through in-house local authority foster care will councils be able to support refugee children within the cost limits set by the Home Office, a report for councils in the East Midlands claims. It costs the local authorities £55,194 a year to look after each unaccompanied asylum seeking young person, compared with the Home Office reimbursement of £30,231, leaving a shortfall of £25,000 a year, according to a report issued on behalf of the region’s local authorities. The report draws on and sets out data from all of the region’s upper tier local authorities including payments to senior staff, accommodation, education and health. Most of the cost is for foster care or other accommodation totalling £40,850 per young person on average – with half of young people placed with independent fostering agencies and only one in ten staying with local authority foster carers. The report authors claim that in-house foster care costs around £21,000 to 23,000 and is the only placement type that enables councils to keep costs within the Home Office reimbursement limit.
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