The concept of councillors as corporate parents dates back to September 1998 when then Secretary of State for Health, Frank Dobson MP, wrote a letter to Local Authorities as part of the launch of the Quality Protects initiative. Within this letter, he posed a key question to all councillors: ‘Would this be good enough for my children?’ The term wasn’t written into law for another nineteen years until the Children and Social Work Act 2017. This made the Local Authority that took a child into Care that child’s corporate parent until the age of 25. As well as including social services, the responsibility extends to all councillors, officers within a council, and other relevant agencies and includes ensuring that Care Experienced People have the same opportunities as their peers.

The Truth About Care

According to Home For Good, there are approximately 103,000 children in Care in the UK. In England, this is around 67 per 10,000 children. Care-experienced people tend to have poorer life outcomes than the general population. To put this into perspective, 25 per cent of the homeless population are care experienced and just under 25 per cent of the adult prison population are care leavers. Furthermore, 41 per cent of care leavers aged 19-21 are out of education, training and employment and only 13 per cent attend higher education by their nineteenth birthday — compared to 45 per cent of their peers. According to the House of Parliament, 22 per cent of care leavers aged 27 are employed. Employed care leavers experience a pay gap of an average of £6,000. According to the Nuffield Foundation, care-experienced people are 360 per cent more likely to die prematurely, as well as more likely to die by unnatural causes such as violent deaths, suicide and accidents. According to Barnardos, 45 per cent of looked-after children have a mental illness, including 72 per cent of those in residential care. Those in care and care leavers are four to five times more likely to attempt suicide into adulthood. If you’re a councillor, would this be good enough for your children?

I am a care-experienced person who was abused while in care. I never received the support or care I needed as a looked-after child or care leaver. I wasn’t even treated like a human being, let alone a vulnerable child. Predictably, I fit a lot of the grim statistics. I’ve been homeless, more than once. I’ve attempted suicide on more than one occasion. I’ve experienced the criminal justice system. I struggle with several chronic mental and physical illnesses. I’ve had a friend pass away by suicide. I’ve faced significant loneliness and been through years without a single friend. I’ve lived most of my life without being loved. I’ve been extensively bullied. I’ve struggled to maintain a job due to health and housing issues. I dropped out of university at 22, though managed to return at 24. If either the Local Authority where I was taken into care or the Local Authority I ran away to as a care leaver had taken their jobs as my corporate parents seriously, much of the trauma and abuse that I experienced could have been significantly reduced or avoided entirely. Both those Local Authorities are absent from the list that have passed the motion to make being care experienced a protected characteristic, which is further telling of their apathy towards their corporate children.

A Duty to Care for Care Leavers

In the 2022 Independent Review of Children’s Social Care in England, Josh MacAlister recommended making being care experienced a protected characteristic under the Equality Act 2010, which would make England the first country to do so. The current nine protected characteristics are age, disability, gender reassignment, marriage and civil partnership, pregnancy and maternity, race, religion or belief, sex, and sexual orientation. Adding being care experienced would strengthen the authority of policymakers, public services, companies and employers to apply policies that ensure better outcomes for care-experienced people. It would also reduce some of the stigma and show that those who already are corporate parents take their role seriously. Furthermore, it would extend the legal acknowledgement of care-experienced people beyond the age of 25 — when care leavers under the Children and Social Work Act 2017 stop being recognised. This would acknowledge that being care experienced and the resulting disadvantages do not magically disappear at 25 but rather follow you throughout life.

The four main types of discrimination suffered by care leavers are direct discrimination, indirect discrimination, harassment and victimisation. Things such as requiring a guarantor to rent a home are discriminative to care-experienced people, falling under indirect discrimination. Aspects of the local connection test — used to determine whether councils have a duty of care to someone who is homeless or at risk of homelessness — also fall under indirect discrimination because of such things as needing a family to live in the area in order to have a local connection.

Unfortunately, the government has rejected the recommendation to establish being care experienced as a protected characteristic. The tabled Early Days Motion in the House of Parliament has currently been signed by ten members. Since then, Local Authorities across the country and across political parties, have voted to pass a motion to act as though being care experienced is a protected characteristic. As of September 27, 55 councils have passed this motion. The stories of councils passing the motion unanimously and of cross-party comradery — where one councillor from one party proposed the motion and another councillor from another party seconded it — are heartwarming.

When all is said and done, councillors need to look at the life outcomes for care-experienced people and ask themselves honestly: Would this be good enough for my children?

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