Support for care leavers welcomed but ‘sharp shift to early services needed’

Further support from the Government to help children leaving care has been welcomed but charities said more help is needed earlier otherwise “thousands more” children will end up in care.

More local authorities have been awarded funding to run an ongoing programme to help young people leaving care with accommodation, resources and practical and emotional support.

The £27 million handed to those councils to run the Staying Close programme will see the scheme expanded to a total of 47 local authorities nationally, worth £53 million overall, the Department for Education said.

But the NSPCC said the current approach is delaying reform and instead testing the strategy at just a handful of local authorities – something the charity said “will cost taxpayers billions over the long run and lead to thousands more children in care”.

The Government’s funding announcement comes a week after a report warned of councils in England being in a “worsening doom-spiral of unsustainable spending” when it comes to children’s social care.

The analysis commissioned by leading charities, including the NSPCC and The Children’s Society, said millions more has been spent on children’s services in recent years but much is going on costly late-stage intervention.

This means vulnerable children are being helped mainly in emergency situations rather than during earlier preventative work, the report by Pro Bono Economics said.

The Children’s Society called for a “sharp shift towards properly funded early help services”.

After the Government’s announcement on Wednesday, NSPCC chief executive Sir Peter Wanless (pictured) said: “The Government’s final plan to reform children’s social care offers a glimpse into a future that provides better outcomes for children.

“We welcome their commitment to improving support for care leavers but until they prioritise early help for families, more children will need to be in care in the first place.

“Our analysis shows that the Government’s current approach to delay reform and test their strategy in a handful of local authorities will cost taxpayers billions over the long run and lead to thousands more children in care.

“We need a clear commitment from Government to invest the resources needed and to deliver the reforms that will make the meaningful changes to children’s social care that children and families desperately require.”

Iryna Pona at The Children’s Society said: “The additional funding for young care leavers is a welcome step forward. We are still concerned that the overarching crisis in children’s social care remains unresolved.

“The onus is now on the Government to wholly embrace the Care Review’s recommendations. Only through a sharp shift towards properly funded early help services can we ensure that fewer young people end up in crisis intervention. This is the way to create a lasting change, beneficial for all children and their families.”

The 27 areas which will get the funding are Croydon, Derby, Leeds, Lincolnshire, Northamptonshire Children’s Trust, Cheshire East, Darlington, Derbyshire, Enfield, Essex, Knowsley, Nottinghamshire, Bedfordshire, Bolton, Devon, Doncaster, Gloucestershire, Hartlepool, Hertfordshire, Hillingdon, Leicester, Redcar and Cleveland, St Helens, Wirral, Wokingham, Wolverhampton and York.

The Government has also launched a consultation for feedback standards to improve advocacy provision for children in care and care leavers and to address gaps and barriers to services “to ensure all voices are heard”, the department said.

Children and families minister David Johnston said: “We are making significant strides in our ambition to transform children’s social care services for some of our most vulnerable children and young people across the country.

“At the heart of today’s developments are the needs of children in care and care leavers. Our work on advocacy standards will make sure they’re listened to and supported, while the fantastic Staying Close programme is helping give them the tools they need to thrive as young adults.”

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