Improving the offer for care leavers in England: new online resource provides goldmine of information
How one care leaver's research will help thousands of young people...
Published by Professional Social Work Magazine, 30 September 2021
A powerful new resource for the nearly 100,000 care leavers in England launched this week… designed by a man who wants to challenge the postcode lottery currently in place.
The Care Leaver Local Offer website is a searchable database detailing offers at the majority of councils in England.
Its creator, Terry Galloway - himself a former care leaver - undertook the research for the site singlehandedly, submitting multiple FOI requests to local authorities to obtain the detail required.
The result is a goldmine of information he hopes will be used by care leavers, social workers, and personal advisors as they challenge councils on aspects of provision, and campaign to improve services on offer.
There are 99,855 care leavers in England, cared for by 332 councils, from combined authorities to district councils.
The website lists all the services provided to care leavers. Less than a third act as guarantors for housing and only 43 per cent cover mobile broadband costs for care leavers. Most respondents cover passports, birth certificates and driving licence costs, but only two thirds cover driving test fees. Around a third to half of councils provide access to leisure services and the majority offer council tax exemption.
Disparities exist, Terry says, because of confusion around the Children and Social Work Act 2017, which set out a requirement that district councils had to create local offers for care leavers.
Terry asked all 181 district councils in England if they took responsibility for publishing a local offer and found only 11 per cent did.
He says: “The problem is the tier system. Many think the responsibility is only on the councils that have social services departments, but the legislation is clear. It applies to district councils and the nine combined authorities in England – they all have to produce a Local Care Leaver offer in consultation with care leavers. If they don’t have one, they are breaking the law.”
Terry’s website launched this week in partnership with digital agency focusgov.
Vic Langer, interim chair of Become, the national charity for children in care and care leavers, tweeted: “If you’re a care leaver or you know any young people who’ve left or are about to leave care - please use/share this excellent resource.”
And Josh MacAlister, chair of Independent Review of Children's Social Care in England, tweeted: “A great resource that can be used by care-experienced people to find out what they can access and for local authorities to find out how they can improve what they provide. Brilliant work @TerryGalloway”
Terry, who persuaded councils across Nottinghamshire to create a joint offer - the first of its kind in England - says: “A lot more needs to be done, I’m not pointing fingers, but this resource is here now. These districts need to get on board and work with their counties to create joint offers.
Care Leaver Local Offer has already achieved its first major victory in securing a change in how statutory data on older care leavers is collected.
Local authorities are required to submit data returns annually to the DfE covering both children in care and care leavers. But that now extends to those aged 22-25 and the DfE has just issued every director of children’s social care with notice of changes to data returns.
Terry added: “When we were creating the website it was quite apparent there was missing data that was not in the public domain. There needs to be transparency.
“If we are going to create systemic change in the care system, other organisations and government departments need the data so they can plan services that better meet the needs of our care leavers.”
Growing up in care
Terry is spurred on by his own childhood experiences. Growing up he lived in more than 100 homes. He was placed in care, along with his younger brother and older sister and moved up and down the UK.
“We were taken into care because our Mum was epileptic and dependent on drugs and alcohol. Our Dad had left, and my first time in care was at six months old.
“We were moved around all over the country, from Manchester to Devon. I was 14 when I entered my 99th place.”
The children were abused while in a foster placement and the experience left lasting damage. Terry’s sister Hazel was murdered by a violent partner in 2008, and his brother is in and out of jail.
Now 46, Terry became a successful businessman and entrepreneur, entering local politics and settling in Nottingham with his wife.
He said: “I decided there has to be some meaning out of it all, to have been through all that suffering for a purpose.
“I understand what needs to be done in the system, having been through it. In order to fix the care system, we need to help young people move into communities and become interdependent, rather than independent - where often they will become isolated, mix with the wrong people, and get into trouble.
“What’s needed is linking housing services with work opportunities and building relationships that get young people into work and thriving, with the right support.”
Terry is director of a lettings agency and CEO of a housing association, which provides accommodation for care leavers and other vulnerable groups.
“During the pandemic, we registered as a gateway organisation with the DWP for the Kickstart programme for 16–24-year-olds. What’s needed now is Kickstart type program for care leavers.”
His own break came when a sympathetic landlord introduced him to market research, and this ignited latent business skills that saw Terry go on to launch his own businesses.
“There’s a saying in care about the working world - that you’re mingling with the ‘straightheads’, and that’s what I was doing. I had a foot in each camp and the only way I could change things for good was to move away from my family.”
Councils who feature on the Care Leaver Offer website will be able to update their offers, and those who haven’t yet engaged will be given new opportunities to submit information.
Terry adds: “I want to empower care leavers so that if a care leaver living in a London borough needs a parental guarantor, they can use the website and see that Kent offers this to its care leavers.
“They can then go to the resources section and locate all the relevant documents that made the Kent guarantor offer happen. They then take this to their own council to make their case. The site can also help a social worker or PA who has had a great idea that fell on deaf ears; they can research it, find similar services elsewhere, and evidence their case for expanding their own offer.”
Terry says his early experiences of leaving care stayed with him: “When we left care, me and my brother and sister were just dumped with no support and left to fend for ourselves. It took me ten years to find myself and work things out. I ended up okay - I didn’t turn to crime or drugs or end up in prison.
“I would look at my sister and know that I didn’t want to end up like that.”
What happened to Hazel is still hard for him to talk about.
“Hazel, like a lot of people who’ve been through the care system, just wanted love and the family she’d never had. When we were in foster care we were abused, and the local authority didn’t believe us. Our foster parents were quite sinister. They were taking kids in and grooming them. For me it didn’t have much impact - I was the one who raised the alarm - but for Hazel, it went on a lot longer.
“She would sit in her room cutting herself to pieces. No one knew what to do. Every other day we would be at an A&E, with doctors and nurses not understanding what would drive a 14-year-old child to such despair.
“I was close to my sister. We planned on changing the care system together so that children would not have to go through what we had to endure. They would have better lives and fulfil their dreams - that was our promise to each other. But Hazel was broken. She suffered so much. She lost her children, and she eventually lost her life.
"That’s why I’m asking people now to please join me and my late sister in our ambition to change the care system.”
Visit the website at https://www.careleaveroffer.co.uk