Agenda item


Purpose of the report:


To provide an overview of the service provided to care leavers with particular regard to support around transitions, educational attainment including post 16 destinations, the impact of out of area placements and accommodation quality and stability.




Clare Curran, Cabinet Member for Children and Families

Rachael Wardell, Executive Director – Children, Families and Lifelong Learning

Siobhan Walsh, Assistant Director – South West Surrey


Key points raised in the discussion:

  1. The Cabinet Member introduced the item, noting that the Care Leavers Service was subject to close review and scrutiny by the Corporate Parenting Board, in which they focussed on specific areas in greater detail. The Cabinet Member informed the Members that the council was keen to sign up to the Care Leavers Charter and emphasised the importance of the Celebration Fund.


  1. The Assistant Director introduced the report, noting that the Service was in a strong position and had received positive feedback from both the Ofsted monitoring visit and the full Ofsted inspection. There was stability in the workforce, with a high number of staff permanently recruited, as well as good skillset of Personal Advisors (PAs). An area of improvement was to ensure that they were consistently responsive to care leavers and to work with PAs to ensure that they understand the complexities of the Service.


  1. A Member asked about the changing levels of demand for services over the next few years and how this would be managed, with note to the medium-term financial strategy (MTFS). The Member also asked about the differing needs and funding of unaccompanied asylum-seeking children (UASC) who often became care leavers. The Assistant Director explained that the Service was well placed in terms of capacity, but there was some work to been done with the 16-year-old cohort. The biggest threat was the impact of international circumstances, as Surrey received high numbers of UASC. There was a dedicated team for this cohort, with a capacity of 100 children. There were currently around 15-16 new arrivals each month, thus, if the predicted arrival rate continued, then this would place a large demand on the Service. The over-18 cohort had increased to 318 asylum experienced care leavers. There were two county-wide care leaver teams for this cohort, who understood the specific needs of these young people. There were also specialist mental health services in place to support those young people who presented a different type of trauma.


  1. The Executive Director added that children who grew up in Surrey were likely to leave the Service prior to becoming a care leaver, however, as UASC arrived without family and usually at an older age, they were likely to be eligible for services until 25 years old. It was expected that the demand would continue to rise. Practices within the Safeguarding Service intended to drive down the number of children who became care leavers, however, this was more difficult during the pandemic. The Executive Director commented that care leavers should be funded by the Home Office, although they were not adequately funded currently. As demand could change quickly, this was closely monitored and factored into financial planning.


  1. A Member queried whether the accommodation for asylum experienced care leavers was different to the accommodation of the wider cohort. The Assistant Director explained that the accommodation was, provided based on need and not significantly different to that of the wider cohort. The Service had an extensive offer of supported accommodation available and had recently increased the number of beds available by around 100. The Assistant Director acknowledged that there was a legacy issue of some young people being placed outside of Surrey where there was not sufficient provision in county, however, this position was changing. The Member asked whether the Assistant Director could provide the numbers regarding differences in accommodation following the meeting.


  1. Regarding the rising cost of living, the Member asked about the support provided for care leavers. The Assistant Director responded that the Service had access to the Household Support Fund and they had increased payments to care leavers during the pandemic. There was still work to be done to ensure that care leavers received all that they are entitled to. Independence skill training was even more important now to ensure they understand how to budget. The Member also asked how issues highlighted by the Ofsted monitoring visit regarding delayed support payments had been addressed. The Assistant Director explained that she had investigated the issue with colleagues in finance and it had been addressed. The Member enquired about the energy efficiency of the accommodation of care leavers, as well as support for those in accommodation that was more expensive to run. The Assistant Director noted that some providers had started to allocate smart meters to young people but acknowledged that this did not address it entirely. If a young people encountered specific hardships, there was flexibility with the policy which would be raised with their PA. The Executive Director added that the teams were not resourced nor prioritised to understand the energy ratings of accommodation. They were conscious of the council’s Greener Futures plan and it would fit into this in the future.


  1. A Member asked when the Service would be in the position to implement the care leavers housing protocol. The Assistant Director explained that they were close to finalising it and it would likely be implemented in the next fortnight.


  1. In response to a question on targets for increasing the number of care leavers in county, the Assistant Director explained that ideally, they would want all young people to be in Surrey. The exact targets could be provided following the meeting. They would not want to move a young person who was settled, thus, the focus was now on preventing young people moving outside of Surrey. It was often the case that UASC wanted to be placed in London, partially due to cultural understandings, and work to manage those expectations needed to be done. There were some challenges for PAs as they would not have as thorough understanding of the offers available outside of Surrey. It could make negotiations harder, but outcomes were not necessarily worse.


  1. A Member queried whether the council maintained the financial responsibility for a UASC care leaver if they moved out of the county. The Assistant Director clarified that any UASC that had arrived in Surrey and remained in the Service’s care for at least 24 hours, became the responsibility of Surrey County Council until they are 21 or 25.


  1. A Member asked about the impact of moving young people back into Surrey once they become a care leaver. The Executive Director explained that when any young person becomes a care leaver, the work completed with their PA was individualised. Care leavers had the opportunity to ‘stay put’ with their foster carers. The Executive Director noted that the transition to adulthood was difficult and there were no pre-determined outcomes. 


  1. In response to a question on accommodation stability and supported accommodation, the Assistant Director explained that a care leaver was likely to experience at least two changes in accommodation, but the precise data could be provided after the meeting. Around 95-97% of care leavers were placed in suitable accommodation. There needed to be more work on the offer of supported lodging. There had been interest for bids for staying close, as a step-down option from residential accommodation.


  1. A Member asked about houses in multiple occupation (HMO). The Assistant Director responded that they had been developing an HMO offer in areas where care leavers lived close to colleges. The Service commissioned floating support to help with tenancy management and had worked with Money Works, a charity that helped with financial literacy and management.


  1. A Member noted a number of points which came out of the session with care leavers earlier in the week, such as: a lack of PAs, pathway plans feeling like a tick box exercise, and a lack of training for the transition into adulthood. The Member acknowledged that some care leavers did emphasise the positive relationship they had with their PA. The Assistant Director explained that caseloads were in line with national guidelines and were reasonable. Some PAs could have more young people; however, some would be 16 years old and thus, the level of contact would be much lower. Ofsted had a similar view on caseloads. There was an inconsistency around pathway plans, with some being creative and collaborative, and others not so. The Assistant Director noted that workforce stability was fairly good, the greatest turnover of staff was in the east of the county; however, most PAs were permanent. The Service had resources for preparing for independence, especially for those in residential homes. The Service needed to get the message out to young people about the importance of this work and to start it at a younger age. The UVP team had been working on this, for example, by encouraging care leavers to write letters to their younger self. The Assistant Director added that they were hoping to develop some trainer flats to help with the transition. The Executive Director clarified that the primary worker for a 16-year-old looked after child was still their social worker, rather than their PA. The Cabinet Member added that a lot of positive comments had come out at the pre-meets with looked after children and care leavers for the Corporate Parenting Board meetings, especially on transitions.


  1. A Member asked whether a care leaver was able to remain in their foster care home. The Assistant Director explained that the conversation would take place in their review and if both parties wanted it to happen, arrangements could be facilitated. The Member also asked about support for a mainstream young person at risk of becoming homeless. The Executive Director explained that the term ‘young person’ covered both children and adults. If they were under 18 and presented as homeless, they could become a looked after child or receive help for housing from their District or Borough Council. If they were a young adult, the County Council would not be involved in finding them support, this would come from the District or Borough Council.


  1. A Member raised concern regarding a small number of care leavers who lacked suitable accommodation which had been noted in the Ofsted monitoring report. The Executive Director explained that there had been an ongoing dialogue between the Service and District and Borough Councils to address this. Members, especially those who were twin hatters, could help to support this collaboration. Care leavers could now make a housing application for more than one District or Borough. The Assistant Director noted the importance of understanding each other’s roles and responsibilities with regards to social care and housing. They were meeting next week with District and Boroughs about the findings from the Ofsted visit. The Assistant Director emphasised that bed and breakfast accommodation should only be exceptionally used and for a short period of time.


  1. A Member requested that future reports highlighted both positive areas and those that required improvement to ensure that the Select Committee received a balanced picture. This was noted by the Executive Director.


  1. A Member asked what proportion of 16-year-olds had a PA allocated to them and how this compared for those out of county. The Member additionally asked about how issues identified in pathway plans were addressed and the timeliness of reviewing the plans every six months. The Assistant Director explained that the target for pathway plans was that there were in be in place by 16 years and 3 months and were undertaken predominantly by their social worker months before. It covered all areas of their life including where they were now and preparing for independence. The Service was currently 20% below their target for pathway plans in place by 16 years and 3 months. There were performance clinics to monitor this and supervision with team managers and social workers. Timeliness of reviews were 7% below target. There were pathway surgeries in place to ensure that social workers understood the quality that was expected. There were different expectations of a PA regarding their involvement with a 16-year-old. There was no difference for those placed out of county. Work was needed to ensure that plans were updated when significant changes in a young person’s life took place and to ensure when a plan was handed over to a PA from a social worker, that any issues were addressed. The Member asked about recruiting suitable PAs for UASC or those with language barriers. The Assistant Director explained that they had a number of PAs who were fluent in other languages, but they were still largely reliant on interpreting services and tried to enrol UASC care leavers into English language lessons early on.


  1. The Cabinet Member encouraged Members to think about any opportunities that they could facilitate for looked after children or care leavers.




i.              The Assistant Director – South West to provide the provide the data on the differences in accommodation between asylum experienced care leavers and the wider cohort.


ii.            The Assistant Director – South West to provide the targets for the number of care leavers in county and associated timescales.


iii.           The Assistant Director – South West to provide data on the number of changes of accommodation experienced by care leavers.





  1. The Select Committee recommends that the Corporate Parenting Service work with the Council’s Greener Futures Team to understand the energy efficiency of current care leavers accommodation and opportunities for its improvement, and seek to place care leavers in energy efficient accommodation wherever possible going forward.


  1. The Select Committee agrees to write to


a)    all district and borough councils in Surrey encouraging them to support the housing needs of care leavers; and


b)      all County Councillors requesting those who are also members of district or borough councils to encourage those councils to act to support the independent accommodation needs of care leavers.

Supporting documents: