At the end of February, the Children’s Services Development Group (CSDG) released its latest report, ‘Destination Unknown: improving transitions for care leavers and young people with SEND’.
At the Parliamentary launch of the report, one of the opening comments from a participant focused on a single, shocking statistic it references: that the mortality rate for care leavers aged 18-21 is seven times higher than that of the general population at the same age. What could more clearly illustrate that something is wrong with the support provided to children and young people in care than this horrifying statistic? (For context, £4.5 billion was budgeted by local authorities in England for looked after children in 2019/20, equivalent to 4.7% of total council spending).
It was striking that while the report itself focuses on the legal context and the importance of avoiding a ‘cliff edge’ drop in support at age 18 or 25, discussion at the launch event kept returning to one point in particular – that a consistent relationship with a trusted person is often what makes the difference for young people in care moving towards adulthood. That made me question whether it is right to think simultaneously about transitions for young people with SEND and those leaving care, as the context is often quite different for these groups of young people. Indeed – from the conversations I have had with parents and carers – what we often miss when working with young people with SEND is the benefit of their relationships, and the extent of the support that their family provides.
The one certain similarity is the need for clarity on the purpose of all work with a child or young person. Rather than focus simply on the provision of packages of support (in schools and/or residential homes) which reassure us that children are safe, much more emphasis should be placed on the small elements that help to build skills or develop confidence. A lack of focus on these skills for independence is a wasted opportunity.
Panellists at the CDSG launch event made the point that parents often build their children’s personal development skills without thinking. This becomes a much more intentional and considered exercise both for children and young people with additional needs, and those who are looked after, but it is absolutely vital for equipping more children to grow into happy adults. We must embed the idea of working towards outcomes in adult life in all work with children and young people.