Local offer for care leavers

Part of Children and Social Work Bill [Lords] – in a Public Bill Committee am 2:00 pm ar 13 Rhagfyr 2016.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

Photo of Tulip Siddiq Tulip Siddiq Shadow Minister (Education) (Early Years) 2:00, 13 Rhagfyr 2016

I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Walthamstow for her passionate speech. Even though she was interrupted mid-flow, she has summed up very well. It will not come as a surprise to the Committee that I wholeheartedly endorse her speech and the amendment on the national minimum standard for care leavers. I want to point out that we cannot just rely on local authorities to make specific decisions, because there are different standards across the country for different local authorities, as I saw as a councillor before entering Parliament.

Various policy concerns can be addressed by introducing a national minimum standard, but I want to focus specifically on people’s mental health, especially that of vulnerable people leaving the care system. One early study of care leavers in England that I found interesting found evidence of a range of mental health problems for care leavers. One in five care leavers reported long-term mental health problems. Everyone here will be aware of the stigma surrounding mental health. One in five is probably not a true reflection of how many mental health problems there really were among care leavers, because some of them would not want to report problems for fear of being stigmatised.

The mental health problems that the care leavers spoke about included eating disorders, bipolar issues, depression and serious phobias that haunted them later in life. In addition, there were shocking statistics: a quarter of care leavers reported heavy drinking on a regular basis and two thirds admitted that they used drugs regularly. It is no surprise that many of the care leavers who spoke about their experiences said that their mental health problems originated in the life that they led before they, in a sense, entered adulthood. They said that a lot of their mental health problems came from the poor housing that they had experienced and the lack of finance and intimate relationships in their life.

The NSPCC rightly pointed out in its 2014 report that leaving care is an extended process rather than a single event, which I wholeheartedly agree with and which speaks to our amendment. Care leavers face the significant challenge of psychologically moving forward towards adulthood, often trying to make sense of their past life experiences. With the withdrawal of care services, support services and care placements, they have to test out the reliability of their network of friends and family. The shadow Minister has made the point over and over again that we should not have a postcode lottery when it comes to care and the future of care leavers. Nor should we have a lottery of personal circumstances, where those who are lucky have a network of family and friends to rely on, but those who are not often fall into either depression or a life they would not have wanted to lead.

The Opposition acknowledge that multiple changes to someone’s living circumstances will affect them, but change cuts across every aspect of the lives of care leavers; we need to be aware of that, because we are dealing with the most vulnerable people in society. Those changes relate to their finances, access to housing and search for jobs, and care leavers confront those challenges while experiencing a withdrawal of care placements and social support services as they turn 18.

I point to a few stats from the Children’s Society that I thought were particularly striking: 63% of care leavers entered the care system because of abuse or neglect, which is a figure that should put us all to shame; 50% of children in care had emotional and behavioural health that was considered normal, while 13% were borderline and 37% gave cause for concern. I am sure that everyone agrees that those statistics are worrying. They should trouble us all, and they should compel us to act in the interests of the nation.

National minimum standards will allow for a fairer system overall, for which the cost will be wholly outweighed by the benefit of ensuring that the most vulnerable people across the country are treated equally. I trust that Members across the House and from different parties will agree with that after hearing some of the shocking statistics that I have outlined.