Rethinking our Approach to Older Children in Care

Older children in care are the fastest growing cohort of children and yet too many children who age out of the care system in England every year are doing so without a family to belong to.

On Friday 14 May 2021, Home for Good together with St George’s House held an online consultation titled A Family for Life: Rethinking Our Approach to Older Children in Care. The consultation brought together a wide range of experts, families and individuals with lived experience of adoption and the care system, influencers and innovators, politicians, and academics. The purpose of this roundtable was to consider how we might be able to work together to ensure that no child or young person ageing out of the care system do so without a family by their side or a tribe to belong to.

We know that older children in care are the fastest growing cohort of children (63% are older than ten years) and yet too many of the approximately 10,000 children who age out of the care system in England every year are doing so without a family to belong to. All too often, when a looked after child turns 18 and legally becomes an adult, they are left to fend for themselves without the love and support of a family by their side. Too often, the aim of social services is for the child to achieve independence, rather than permanence. The system has not adapted to the needs of older children and it is therefore imperative that this begins to change. With the independent review of Children’s Social Care in England currently underway, there is a significant opportunity for systemic change to take place.

The roundtable consisted of several presentations, with ample opportunities for debate and discussion in smaller groups. Participants heard from experts in the field of children’s social care as they spoke about the current extent to which the system is enabling permanence for children within the care system, emphasising the lack of options for older children in particular. Attendees also heard about innovative work that is currently happening in the United States to see older children find permanent, loving families, and the child-focused recruitment model that has been developed to facilitate this.

An adult adoptee from the US powerfully shared her experience of being adopted at the age of 21, and how her world changed from one fraught with obstacles to an oasis of opportunities. She spoke of how adoption has been a catalyst in changing the trajectory of her life significantly for the better.

The discussion times were a highlight of the roundtable, with groups full of energy, new ideas, and healthy debate. These were invaluable spaces to discuss and debate ideas with people with varying expertise and experience. Barriers and solutions were explored honestly, including the stigma and fears related to caring for older children.

Amongst participants, there was a wide consensus that more needs to be done and a tangible desire to see real change happen for older children in care. There was an acknowledgement that one size doesn’t fit all and that a plethora of solutions need to be developed to meet the wide-ranging needs of each individual child. It was stated several times that the care system is often better at breaking connections than maintaining them, with sufficiency and finding placements being seen as the end goal.

The consultation ended with an emphasis on solutions and next steps. It was stressed that whatever the solutions on the table, young people in care and those who are care-experienced need to be included at the front and centre of the development of these solutions. Overall, there was a general agreement on the need for more options to be available for older children. Ideas that will be further explored include developing an extension for existing arrangements that currently expire at 18 or 21 and the development of community-wide approaches to providing a place of belonging for young people leaving care. Participants were also excited about the possibility of developing a new legal arrangement for young people in care when they turn 18, which could celebrate, recognise, and confirm the commitment of a family or individual to a young adult leaving care.

Home for Good wholeheartedly believes in the importance of enabling every older child in care to be offered a family for life. Having a place of belonging that goes beyond 18 or 21 is vitally important and plays a significant role in enabling a young person to thrive and reach their full potential. This roundtable is just the beginning, and we are committed to making every effort to see this vision become a reality.

Author:
Home for Good


Date published:
May 2021


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