Local Offers - Fit for Purpose?
published on 24 September 2021
Local offers – Fit for purpose?
Local offers are a way for Local Authority to set out their entitlements for Care Leavers under their care. However, working directly with care leavers I found that many either still were not clear on their entitlements or they had real struggles with accessing their entitlements. I was shocked when a young person told me of their experience of going without a cooker for almost a year due to the systems in place in their local authority to access their leaving care funds.
It was this experience, and others that led me to decide that I needed to investigate this further to see if it was a systematic issue that could be resolved with policy and practice change in my master’s degree in Childhood, Youth and Social Policy dissertation.
The aim of this research piece was to investigate the accessibility of local offers for young people transitioning from the care system into independence (Care Leavers) in local authorities in England. This informed the research on the accessibility barriers faced by this cohort, asking to what extent the current services met the needs of the care leavers and the impact accessibility to support had on their outcomes.
To do this, this study broke down into three central research questions and used a mixed methods approach, using both quantitative and qualitative data sets including the DfE Care Leaver Outcomes, 14 different local offers and information gained directly from Care Leavers through an online survey and semi-structured interviews.
Question 1: What is the level of accessibility of the local offers?
This research found that different levels of accessibility exists between Local Authorities and that the way in which the national guidance has been interpreted within Local Authorities may be a variable that has impacted the level of disparity. The methodological components used raised a wide spectrum of issues around accessibility that impacted care leavers the most in their transition to independence and adulthood.
The main themes of accessibility focused on finance and accommodation were reflected most heavily within the online survey results and the interviews and provided a way in which is better understand the DfE data from a humanistic approach. One of the most profound findings was the long-term impact that poor accessibility to these areas created, such as long-term debt and lasting mental health issues. This supports existing evidence that care leavers often experience negative outcomes in relation to finance and accommodation when they move into independence. This also provided evidence that there is a systematic issue on what is provided in terms of financial and accommodation support. Even the care leavers who were placed in what was deemed ‘suitable’ accommodation were experiencing poor outcomes; living with no hot water for a year, living in areas where it was the norm for neighbours to defecate on each other’s doorsteps or having their needs dismissed because of funding shortages or their needs just not seen as important enough to support. Accessibility was also impacted by the language used in the local offers, with some local offers lacking any sense of morality or support in the way the offers were set out.
The research found examples of local authorities ‘moving the goalposts’, when setting out how a care leaver can access support. Aaron spoke about his wish to access the entitlement of support to pay for driving lessons within his local authority, and the LA adding conditions not set out in the offer.
“Yeah, 'cause it seems like once I've demonstrated one thing, then they change it to something else. Like even reading the local offer it only says to demonstrate a clear link between work and education. It doesn't say ya know demonstrate anything else, so there shouldn't be any” - Aaron
This example shows the accessibility issues of changing the goalposts with ‘how’ care leavers can access the entitlements set out in the local offer. A local offer should set out support that is equal to all care leaver, however, in reality this is not the case when individual conditions are put in place.
Question 2: What extent local offers meet the needs of care leavers?
This research found that the level of accessibility as a service had a direct link to if a care leaver felt their needs were being met. However, often care leavers found themselves without provision in the areas that they felt they needed more support in, such as emotional support and appropriate financial support. This research found that postcode lottery exists within the local offers on multiple levels, and as such in different places care leavers are having their needs met at different levels, including when assessing accessibility of service. The evidence showed a lack of support when Care Leavers leave the care system, especially if this is under the age of 18.
Shreya shared her experience of transition into independence and the issues around funding not being available to support her path. She left care at 17 and took the route of further education at college while she lived independently.
“I felt like I had the skills to live independently in the practical skills [...] but things that I felt like you should be more supportive with is financial support to actually run a home at 17 years old well in education.” - Shreya
She shared her thoughts about the gap in funding for college and higher education she had experienced.
“I wasn't supported financially with my accommodation [while at college] and stuff like that but now that I'm in Uni have been supported right with my accommodation and like top up and stuff like . Its very unfair because I was a lot younger and I got paid a lot less but I had to pay for me own bills in accommodation and stuff like that but I was also in full time education [...] there’s so much grey area” - Shreya
She shared her experience of carrying out a full time college course while also working over 30 hours a week to ensure she had enough income for her outgoings.
“I used to work so hard, I used to go to College in the morning and then I finished in straight after work and then I finish at like 11:00 PM at night and then I’d work at least four days a week as well on top of going to college [...] so it was very difficult.