New support for youngsters leaving care

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Indy Politics

Young people leaving local authority care will have a new support structure to launch their independent lives under a Bill in the Queen's Speech.

Young people leaving local authority care will have a new support structure to launch their independent lives under a Bill in the Queen's Speech.

The Care Leavers Bill will tackle the problems faced by 16 and 17-year-olds at risk of drifting into a life of homelessness and crime once they leave a life of residential care and supervision.

Social services departments in local councils will now have a duty to assess and provide for the needs of eligible youngsters, regardless of whether or not they leave state-provided care at 16 and 17.

Each child will be consulted and provided with a Pathway Plan from their 16th birthday detailing their route to self-sufficiency with provision for education, training, career plans and support from the local authority.

The legislation also provides for the removal of the "perverse" financial incentive for local authorities to force children out their care at 16 by no longer having to foot the bill for their living expenses.

Youngsters will no longer be able to claim non-contributory benefits such as Income Support with the money instead being directed to a new fund to be allocated to social services departments to help meet their needs.

A mentoring scheme will also be set up with a Young Person's Adviser becoming responsible for keeping in touch with the youngster to oversee their route to independence and ensure they receive proper support.

The Bill received a broad welcome from child support and homelessness charities, with rough sleeping charity Shelter saying it would be vital in tackling the large numbers of care leavers forced to take to the streets.

A Shelter spokeswoman said: "We know that people leaving care are heavily represented in the homelessness population - between a quarter and a third of street homeless people have at some time been in local authority care.

"This is clearly an unacceptable situation and we welcome the fact that the Government is addressing this issue. We would like to see these measures put into place as soon as possible."

The NSPCC said the Bill would address a number of areas of concern, in particular providing continuity to many care leavers who will have suffered multiple changes of home during their time under local authority supervision.

Tough new watchdog regulations are to be brought in for old people's and children's homes as well as private hospitals.

The Care Standards Bill will introduce new independent bodies to maintain national standards in a wide range of care services, and stamp out abuse.

Currently responsibilities for regulation are split between local authorities, health authorities and the Department of Health.

The new proposals aim to create a more cohesive system of inspection and standards regulation.

Many of the changes will affect residential and nursing homes for elderly or disabled people, children's homes, domiciliary care, fostering agencies and other services.

Independent watchdog bodies will be set up to cover all these services. Those currently exempt from regulation - such as council-run homes and homes for three children or fewer - will in future have to be registered.

Another part of the Bill establishes new arrangements for regulating private and voluntary hospitals and clinics.

A stronger regulatory framework for private health care is planned, setting general standards for the whole country. This is expected to be done by establishing an independent statutory body funded by the private sector.

The Bill will also establish a General Social Care Council for England and a Care Council for Wales to oversee standards and training in the one million-strong social care workforce.