The Department for Education needs to take the “formal lead” in looking after young adults leaving care as too many are still falling through the cracks, the Public Accounts Committee has warned.
In a stinging report on the state of support for care leavers, MPs said Whitehall had failed to make the “central accountability and responsibility for improving the care leaver system” clear despite developing a strategy designed to join up departments.
Ofsted found 64% of care leaver services were inadequate or required improvement when inspected, which was having an adverse effect on some of society’s most vulnerable people. Some 41% of young adults leaving care in 2013-14 were not in education, employment or training (NEET), a figure which the committee said was disproportionately high for their age group. Overall, only 15% of 19-year-olds in England and Wales are classed as NEETs.
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“Given the national standards and inspection framework and local delivery of services, national and local government share responsibility for improving the support offered to care leavers,” the committee said.
“The Department for Education has the ministerial lead on care leavers but we were surprised it did not take a stronger leadership role in improving the system against the background of such disappointing service provision.”
There was some praise for the Care Leavers Strategy – a 2013 initiative involving eight government departments including DfE, the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, and the Department for Work and Pensions – which PAC deemed “a positive step” that had “achieved some success".
Data collection and monitoring of care leavers by the DWP, MoJ and the DfE, had worked well, MPs said.
However, they warned that the scheme suffered from a lack of leadership and needed more work, with "no single person or department in charge of leading improvement and ensuring that government works in an integrated way".
According to the report, problems with care leavers were exacerbated by the increasingly "diverse group" of young adults local authorities had seen leave care over the last few years, while many had complex needs which required additional joined-up action from different central government departments.
A Department for Education spokesperson said the report showed that its reforms to the care system were working, but said the department was determined to do more.
“As this report recognises, our reforms are helping to improve the lives of care leavers and support them in a successful transition to adulthood," the spokesperson said.
“These include changing the law so care leavers can stay with their foster family after they turn 18, and giving them a personal adviser. We’re also investing over £100 million through the Innovation Programme to support vulnerable children, encouraging a much stronger focus on care leaver services in Ofsted inspections, and funding programmes to get more care leavers into apprenticeships.
“But we want to go further, which is why we’ve committed to update the cross-government Care Leavers Strategy, so we continue to improve support for these young people.”