NYAS, as part of a collective of 42 charities and organisations working with care-experienced children and young people, have today submitted open letters addressed to the UK and Welsh Governments. With signatories from across the sector, the letters call for the protection and support of young people as a priority during the COVID-19 response.
The Coronavirus Act gives local authorities the ability to suspend duties under the Care Act 2014 and the Social Services and Wellbeing (Wales) Act 2014. These laws place a duty on local authorities to support young people’s transition from child to adult social care, including care leavers, and young people with special educational needs and disabilities. With the passage of the Coronavirus Act, the duty has been weakened. Local authorities are asked only to make ‘reasonable endeavours’ to fulfil their duties, but the guidance is clear that there will be no penalty if they fall short. The new Act also relaxes the rules on the detention and release of young people under the Mental Health Act.
Care-experienced children are four times more likely to have a mental health problem, which is in many cases attributed to isolation and loneliness. These young people are some of the most vulnerable in society, and the consequence of changes to the support they receive could have a long-term detrimental impact. NYAS is therefore urging the UK and Welsh governments to maintain standards for care-experienced young people, and to continue to meet their corporate parent responsibilities during the crisis.
The open letters also make the following requests:
- To provide access to technology for those in care, those engaged with child protection, and those who have parent contact arrangements – so that they can still feel supported throughout the crisis.
- For every care-experienced child or young person living in accommodation that is not subject to checks as a result of the COVID-19 crisis, to have access to a remote independent advocate they can turn to.
- For every care-experienced child within a mental health setting to have access to an independent advocate to promote their wishes and feelings.
- For national helplines to be extended, and promoted, as a resource that care-experienced young people can rely on.
- For care-experienced young people to have clear information about their rights and entitlements, driven by the Children’s Commissioners.
- The offer of an independent Return Interview as part of the support offered to any care-experienced child that goes missing, and the avoidance of criminalisation.
- A commitment to ‘do everything possible’ to assess the needs of care-experienced young people transitioning to adult care. Making a ‘reasonable endeavour’ is not enough.
- For the English Department for Education and Welsh Government to set out measures to safeguard children and young people living in unregulated accommodation during the crisis.
Rita Waters, NYAS Chief Executive, said “It is a matter of urgency that the rights of care-experienced children and young people are protected during this crisis. Leaders of charities and organisations working with care-experienced children and young people have come together with a united voice on this issue. The steps that we have outlined will be vital in safeguarding the rights and welfare of society’s most vulnerable young people, and we call on the UK and Welsh Governments to ensure that they are implemented without delay.”
You can read the letter to the UK Government regarding England here, and the letter to the First Minister of Wales here.