The Independent Care Review is a once in a generation opportunity to reimagine a care system that ensures society’s most vulnerable children and young people can access the rights they are entitled to and have the bright future they deserve. Sadly, we see the current care system failing the young people we work with every day, reform is urgently needed.
The final report does not shy away from the challenge and contains many important long-term ambitions that we all need to work together to achieve and crucially the long-term investment for early intervention that the care system has been lacking for too long. Over the past year, we are pleased to have supported young people to share their views with the review team and submitted evidence and ideas to the review on the following areas.
In particular, we wholeheartedly support one of the five ambitious missions in the report to “reduce care experience homelessness now, before ending it entirely” after this was largely absent from the ‘Case for Change’. Homelessness is the most common issue experienced by the care experienced young people we work with and was an issue of concern raised by the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child when it last examined the UK back in 2016.
We welcome two important recommendations that we have been calling for. The removal of the intentionality test for homeless care leavers which we agree is “ethically and practically right” and the introduction of statutory guidance for local authorities to set out priority for care experienced adults in accessing local services such as social housing, including removing the local area connection test for care leavers living out of area. We work with hundreds of care-experienced young people at risk of homelessness. If implemented, these improvements will be life-changing.
However, we’re disappointed that there is no recommendation to extend priority need legislation for homeless care leavers up to 25. Homeless care leavers in crisis shouldn’t have to jump through unnecessary hoops to prove their vulnerability and have a safe place to sleep.
As providers of independent advocacy, we agree that “advocacy is an afterthought in the current system but when done well, can empower young people to understand and realise their rights at pivotal moments in their lives, such as when a local authority suggests they move home, or they need support with their immigration status”. Independent advocacy is pivotal if children are to have their participation rights realised.
We are delighted to see the recommendation that advocacy must be comprehensive and opt-out rather than an opt-in service for all children in care, however, we are concerned that this comes at the expense of removing the role of Independent Reviewing Officers and Regulation 44 visitors and question the rationale for this proposal. We are also not convinced that the Children’s Commissioner for England is the right body to oversee these advocacy services. It is also crucial Homeless 16- and 17-year-olds should also always have access to an independent advocate to support them to make decisions about the type of support they receive from the local authority.
As part of the Ending Child Imprisonment campaign, we are also pleased to see the recommendation in support of the Government’s ambition to phase out Young Offender Institutions and Secure Training Centres. These prison-like institutions have been proven time and again to be completely unsuitable for vulnerable children and put them at risk. The recommendation to move youth justice policy to the Department for Education is also great to see as is the clear statement of principle that children in contact with the criminal justice system “… are entitled to the same safeguards and protection as any other child and due regard should be given to their safety and welfare at all times.”
Working with and representing victims of child criminal exploitation, we also welcome the recognition that the National Referral Mechanism (NRM) is not working effectively enough for children.
Finally, we are delighted that a Children’s Rights Statement or Children’s Rights Impact Assessment (CRIA) was published alongside the report; the first of its kind on an independent review. CRAE called for the review to uphold the principles and provisions of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) through its working methods, analytical framework and proposals for change and a CRIA is an assurance mechanism for this. The statement is a great first start to assess how well the review recommendations meet the Government’s obligations under the UNCRC.
However, the report could have gone further to ensure children’s rights standards (as expressed in domestic and international law) formed the framework of the review’s recommendations. We look forward to working with the Government to produce a robust CRIA as it takes forward its response to the Care Review to ensure that children’s rights and voices are at the heart of the newly reimagined care system.