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Three in five young people in favour of making care experience a protected characteristic

Two in five young people say they have been treated negatively because of their care experience as campaigners call on the government to prioritise consulting widely on the matter.

07/12/22

Three in five young people in favour of making care experience a protected characteristic

Campaigners are urging the government to adopt the Care Review’s recommendation to make care experience a protected characteristic.

The views of care-experienced children were sought for a new report by children’s charities National Youth Advocacy Service (NYAS) and Coram Voice.

The report follows a recent MP debate on the Care Review and the government’s response to it, with its confirmation that the implementation of its plan expected in early 2023.

The report summarises feedback from over 80 children and young people aged 8-25 years from 27 local authorities across England on three key areas of the care review: advocacy, Independent Visitors and making care experience a protected characteristic.

The Care Review recommended making care experience a protected characteristic. Most young people (60%) supported this and were in favour of making care experience a protected characteristic. Some young people thought it would lead to a better awareness of the discrimination faced and an understanding of the impact of trauma. While there is support from young people for a protected characteristic, there are still many who are unsure (29%) and some do not favour this (11%).

Nearly 40% of children and young people who responded to the survey felt that they had been treated negatively as a result of being care-experienced.

“People often assume that you are problematic and have many things wrong with you because you’re in care,” one young person said, adding: “They expect you to be aggressive and loud, when really you just want to be heard.”

The Care Review recommended that advocacy services should be opt out and all children and young people in care should be contacted by an advocate to offer support at key points in their lives. 31% of children and young people surveyed said they did not know how to get an advocate.

It is more likely that children who are in contact with children’s rights organisations such as Coram Voice and NYAS would know about their right to advocacy, meaning that the proportion of all children in care in England who know how to get an advocate is likely to be much lower.

“It can feel like you have to ‘fight’ for an advocate at the moment,” one young person said. “It feels because the process was really difficult and not straightforward that having an advocate was something I weren’t meant to have. Therefore having one instantly helps this feel meaningful and like it matters.”

Of the children and young people surveyed, 64% reported needing an advocate to resolve issues with social workers and personal advisers, 53% needed an advocate to help with family contact issues and 47% needed an advocate due to issues with school or education. Children and young people felt it was important that they had access to advocates during reviews, especially if, as proposed in the Care Review, Independent Reviewing Officers (IROs) are removed. They also wanted advocates to be more proactive in contacting young people directly.

The Care Review also recommended that local authorities redesign Independent Visitor schemes to prioritise long-term relationships and involve wider communities but no tangible goals were set.

The report finds that a third of the young people surveyed have not heard of Independent Visitors and almost half don’t know how to get one. The young people who responded wanted an Independent Visitor who shared the same interests as them and highlighted the importance of long-lasting relationships with a degree of flexibility.

Brigid Robinson, Managing Director of Coram Voice, said it was “essential” that the government takes the views of children and young people into account.

“Only by listening to children in care and care leavers can the government make sure that they design a system that will work for them. Children and young people are experts in their own lives.”

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