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Councils 'turning their back' on care leavers

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Nearly two-thirds of local authority services for care leavers are inadequate or require improvement, a report from the National Audit Office has found.

The report, Care leavers’ transition to adulthood, said Ofsted inspections of the services in 59 authorities found only one was rated outstanding and just over a third were good. It said the government had not intervened in any authorities solely on the basis that its leaving care services were judged inadequate.

Meg Hillier, chair of the Committee of Public Accounts said the figure suggested some local authorities were “turning their back on young people leaving their care”.

The report also highlighted wide variations in the amount spent on care leavers by councils but found little correlation between the sums spent and the quality and quantity of services. It estimated that in 2013-14 councils spent between £300 and £20,000 per care leaver. It said the Department for Education could not explain the variation and was concerned about the quality of the data.

However a spokeswoman for the Local Government Association said extrapolating how much councils spend on individuals from national figures was “extremely misleading and does not provide an accurate picture of what is being done in local areas as all councils record their expenditure differently”.

The report said only eight of 151 local authorities knew where all their care leavers were living and whether they were in employment, education or training.

The level of 19-year-old care leavers not in education, employment or training was at its highest in 13 years in 2013-14 at 41%. By comparison the rate for all 19 year olds was 15%.

The report said the DfE and Departments for Communities & Local Government should work with local authorities to get reliable, comparable cost data and use this with existing performance indicators to assess value for money.

It also said there should be a more joined up approach to care leavers support across the government, including to inspection of services. It said the government should monitor the lives of care leavers to see whether they are improving and collect better data to understand the difficulties they have.

The report highlighted the problems care leavers face. It said 62 per cent of children in care are there as a result of abuse or neglect. A quarter of homeless people had been in care as had nearly half of men under 21 who had been involved with the criminal justice system.

Ms Hillier said: “Together with the impact on individuals, there are significant long term educational and employment costs when young people don’t receive the right support on leaving care. As demand for care increases, it’s critical that the Department for Education and local authorities work to improve services for care leavers.”

An LGA spokeswoman said the rising number of children coming into care alongside cuts to council budgets meant it was becoming an “increasing challenge” to support care leavers. She said: “Councils cannot do this alone and we desperately need to see the whole system properly funded and joined-up to ensure children and young people receive the support when they need it.”

She added that the “ineffective and fragmented” mental health system needed to be improved

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