Staying Put and Continuing Care won’t implement themselves
Friday 10 June 2016
Research evidence (lots!) – √ Policy and practice guidance – √ Positive evaluation of existing practice – √ The practice experience and voices of workers – √ and, the lived experience and voices of young people – √
All saying the same thing, that encouraging, enabling and empowering looked after young people to ‘stay put’ in positive and stable care placements is fundamental to improving their lives into adulthood – and we’ve known this for years. And, with duties to provide Continuing Care for young people up to 21 now enshrined in law under Part 11 of the Children and Young People (Scotland) Act 2014 you might think, pretty much, ‘great, it’ll happen, job done’. Why wouldn’t you?
Well, I’m not so sure it’s a done deal, and this is why
I’ve just completed a piece of research for an MSc dissertation exploring some of the barriers and enablers to implementing Staying Put and continuing care in residential child care. I interviewed staff working in five children’s homes across three local authority areas and talked to some great people doing some fantastic work - people that saw themselves as champions for Staying Put. But, these dedicated and inspiring workers are doing this in spite of the system, rather than because of it.
I was able to capture a picture of a complex and often contradictory practice environment where workers were often unclear on what they felt they could, and couldn’t do, or say, to promote Staying Put practice. One of the main reasons was that none of the staff teams had any formal or structured briefing or training on the Staying Put national guidance - despite the fact that it was published in 2013, a full two years before; or on the detail and implications of Continuing Care. Ad hoc, informal chats at best, but nothing coherently delivered to the staff team, with limited or no opportunity for workers to sit down together, and importantly with their area team social work colleagues for example, and figure how best to embrace this collectively and make sure all young people get the chance to benefit from staying longer. This left workers lacking knowledge and clarity, feeling conflicted, and with a consequent impact on their confidence.
Acutely aware of the pressures on placements and resources some workers were concerned about getting a 'bit of heat from management' if they were too proactive in promoting the Staying Put and continuing care agenda. And workers expressed disquiet about just how much actual encouragement young people could receive, and how this could, or should, be formalised through reviews and planning meetings.
Of course, there are very real challenges for local authorities and other Corporate Parents, in terms of cuts and austerity measures - implementing policy in ideal circumstances can be challenging enough. But, some of the reasons suggested were not just concerns over finances and resources. Leadership, learning and development, culture and practice, and the importance of relationship-based practice all came through as key themes, both as blocks and potential enablers. All these themes are linked and important, but leadership, and learning and development go very much hand in hand. Workers want their leaders to be courageous and embrace the opportunity presented by the Staying Put and Continuing Care agenda, to radically change the landscape - and importantly the lives- of our care experienced young people. And that has to include encouraging, enabling and empowering those who care directly for children and young people. As one worker told me,
‘Imagine how good we’d be if we’d had all the knowledge’.
Closing the gap
All of those interviewed championed the principles and practice of Staying Put and gave positive examples of young people being supported to stay longer. But can we expect full and meaningful implementation to happen without a coherent and coordinated implementation strategy at both local and national level? As Joseph Durlak highlights, when policies are poorly implemented, there’s a tendency to query the validity of the programme or intervention itself, rather than examining whether the flaw lies in its implementation. From the perspective of workers, closing the implementation gap appears linked more to political will, and the commitment of managers and decisions-makers to implement the changes needed. The demonstration of commitment, and the message of optimism and hope by the workers interviewed in my study must be matched by the actions of others if we are to turn the rhetoric into reality.
I think the majority of managers are in agreement with the principles of Continuing Care and Staying Put. In many circumstances creative solutions are in place to enable young people to access placements and supports for longer periods than would have been the case in the past. However, it has to be recognised that enormous changes are taking place in Childcare in Scotland, and that Continuing Care is only one amongst many. It takes time to consider the practical implications of a new policy such as Continuing Care and to draw up appropriate guidance which reflects the needs of a specific locality. Consideration has to be given to how the concept will be offered in different establishments or forms of accommodation. One major stumbling block, for example, is the issue of how young people can be funded and receive an income to develop budgeting skills whilst in Continuing Care, in order to prepare them as they transition towards adulthood. Until such practicalities can be ironed out and appropriate policies, guidance and resources produced, training, then the actual policy of Continuing Care can not be fully implemented. In the Local Authority where I work great commitment is being shown to producing these materials and the training programme which will need to be rolled out. However, these things take time and take practitioners away from face-to-face working.
Jan 25th, 2018
I come across a number of LAs and their approach to Continuing Care. I don't agree that the "majority of managers are in agreement with the principles". I have come across motivated and creative LAs and I have come across LAs who are dealing with Continuing Care by not dealing with it. Some LAs seem to believe that they have met their obligations to Continuing Care if they ask foster carers to become supported lodgings carers with them. If the foster carer says they don't wish to do this, the LA states they have met their legal obligation. My view is that if the Scottish Government wanted LAs to persuade foster carers to convert to supported lodgings carers, it would not have needed to invest in writing a Continuing Care policy.
There is a lot of talk about Continuing Care but what is lacking is what exactly are the legal duties placed on LAs (irrespective of how well individual LAs are getting to grips with it) . I have contacted a number of places and no one seems able to answer this. It seems to come down to different legal interpretations of section 26a (4) of the Children Act (Scotland) 1995. What is your interpretation?
Jan 30th, 2018
Hi Geoff thanks for your comments. The 2014 National TCAC Study (see link below) highlighted very positive and widespread support for the principles of Staying Put; and the various consultation workshops and seminars conducted at the time of the 2014 Bill phase again showed very positive support for Continuing Care.
However, as per your point I think it is fair to say that practice and implementation remains inconsistent and variable. There is, as you suggest differing local interpretations both within and across local authority areas. Lack of consistent widespread learning and development opportunities for staff and carers is leading to misinformation, misunderstanding and variations in practice.
I tend to think that (despite the Part 11 Guidance) the legal (and ethical) duties are clear enough and taken with the 2013 Staying Put Guidance give a very clear expectation of what is required. My recent paper gives an indication of some of the challenges relating (but not confined) to residential care (see link below).
However there are other factors that need to be addressed to make staying put and continuing care a reality for all looked after young people and care leavers. For example addressing some of the structural and systemic barriers including ensuring that agency and carers registration and approval is aligned with the 2014 act; addressing some of the very thorny commissioning issues which impact on young people in commissioned/external placements; early care planning into adulthood and support for carers and their families; and a genuine embracing of corporate parenting responsibilities at local level.
Not least there are significant challenges in terms of resources, finance and sector capacity, alongside stubborn cultural undercurrents which still see age-related triggers and transitions driving local policy and practice, rather than the developmental needs of the young person. There are also rights and entitlements issues for young people in relation to Continuing Care and the more they are empowered to exercise these and the more their voice is heard then the more we will see local authorities fully implementing their duties under the Act.
The challenges faced in making sure all our looked after young people benefit from Staying Put and Continuing Care are complex and I wouldn't suggest that we are anywhere near full implementation as yet, but we do hear of carers, workers and managers making it work despite these challenges.