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Supporting Young Care Leavers
Young people who are leaving care often find it difficult in making the transition to independence. They have particular support needs, since they may have less support from their families, and narrower social networks than other young people. As a result, they can have poorer outcomes, as a group, than their peers in the general population. Previous research showed higher offending, homelessness, and mental health issues among young care leavers.
This has been well recognised in government policy. Part 10 of the Children and Young People (Scotland) Act 2014 ensures that young people leaving care can continue to have the support they need up until their 26th birthday.
A coalition of stakeholder organisations has now produced the 'Scottish Care Leaver's Covenant'. This documents a framework to support and guide organisations, services, and young people themselves, in ensuring they obtain all possible assistance to safely reach independent adulthood.
General principles of the covenant
The Covenant points to six key areas of public life and policy where improvement is needed for young care leavers:
- Health and well-being;
- Housing and accommodation;
- Education and training;
- Youth and criminal justice;
- Rights and participation.
Within each of these areas, the covenant gives a list of key actions and anticipated outcomes or targets to which stakeholders should aim.
Putting it into practice
The 2014 Act is linked specifically to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, and there is a strengthened role for the Scottish Commissioner for Children and Young People in investigating and upholding children and young people’s rights.
The covenant endorses the development of Champions Boards, where young people meet with elected members and senior managers at a local level. It sees this as representing ‘real potential to achieve lasting change in acknowledging and responding to the needs of this vulnerable group.'
Perhaps a weakness of the covenant is that it sometimes does not specify measures for monitoring the anticipated outcomes of the policy. Outcome based approaches are the watchword for general services nowadays, so it would have been good to see more numbers and dates in the anticipated outcomes. To be fair, the Covenant does emphasise the need for campaigning and advocacy services. These have been actively involved in drawing up the covenant: the outcomes of the policy is perhaps best measured by these back-up services,
Signing up to rights and participation
In my previous work with young people, there was often a hidden agenda in care that as the eighteenth birthday approached the young person was expected and supported to move out, to supported accommodation sometimes, but sometimes simply to a tenancy in the community. Best practice was a preparation program to gain independence skills, and a program of tapering support visits after leaving. It was very much a done-to approach, albeit by some very caring and compassionate people. In my view, the clear intention to ensure young people are directly involved and put at the centre of ensuring good support is the best feature of this developing policy.
Current best practice, supported by this covenant and backed up by recent legislation, shows great promise to ensure the hazards of reaching adulthood are navigated by young care leavers. All of us involved with young people should support and anticipate improvements in the quality of life for young people in Scotland.