NAO says care leavers approach is failing

Report by the spending watchdog says stronger central and local leadership "urgently required" to improve support for vulnerable young people

By Colin.Marrs

17 Jul 2015

The government needs to develop a cross-departmental strategy to improve its failing approach to providing support for care leavers, according to the National Audit Office.

In a report published this morning, the NAO said that two central government initiatives – the Care Leaver Strategy and Staying Put – had suffered implementation challenges, are not data-led, and lack clear objectives.

It also recommended the government should examine how payment-by-results schemes could help improve outcomes for those leaving care.

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Amyas Morse, head of the NAO, said today: “Addressing the poor life outcomes of young people leaving care is a longstanding problem. The cost of their not moving into adulthood successfully is high.

“The government has made a commitment to improve the support for these young people but the outcomes for many have been deteriorating over the last seven years. The government knows the scale of the challenge. Stronger central and local leadership is urgently required to get a grip on this problem.”

The report slammed implementation of the government’s 2013 Care Leaver Strategy as ineffective.

It said: “There was no strong evidence of government working in an integrated way, limited implementation capability, no regular reporting of progress or outcomes and no evidence of a sustained effort to continuously improve.”

It also said that the Staying Put initiative, allowing children to stay in care longer, had suffered from financial barriers to local authorities, strains on the market for foster carers and costs for foster carers engaged in the programme.

The NAO also found huge variations between the amount local authorities are spending on each care leaver – between £300 and £20,000.

“But without accurate, complete and comparable data from local authorities on spending on care leavers, the Department for Education cannot provide information to support benchmarking or value for money assessments,” the report said.

Public Accounts Committee chair Meg Hillier MP said it was "surprising" that the DfE was "unable to explain why the average amount local authorities said they spent on each care leaver varied so wildly."

She added: “As demand for care increases, it’s critical that the Department for Education and local authorities work to improve services for care leavers.”

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