In 2001, The Leaving Care Act (2000) came into force. It stipulated that local authorities (LAs) have a duty to assess and meet the needs of young people aged 16 and 17 who are in care or care leavers. It also set out that every eligible young person in care should receive a comprehensive pathway plan when they turn 16. The Act stipulates that each young person covered by the act will have a personal adviser.
The Personal Adviser will be involved in:
· Providing advice and support
· Drawing up the pathway plan and ensuring it addresses any changing needs
· Keeping in touch with the young person
· Co-ordinating services, linking in with other agencies
However, despite the fact that ‘the role of family and social relationships’ and ‘emotional and behavioural support’ are both in the pathway plan, the focus remains on offering financial and practical support, with elements such as accommodation, education and training. Whilst these are clearly vital areas in supporting young people to live independently, there remains a gap in the offering of emotional support, which is vital so that young people are prepared not only for independence, but interdependence. Interdependent living occurs when an individual depends upon others in areas in which he/she lacks the capacity to function on his/her own. Robson (2008: 165) found that of the leaving care professionals and personal advisers he interviewed,
The focus both of research and legislation for care leavers tends to be on the practical issues highlighted above.
Within the research that exists on emotional support, there is much to highlight this support as being critical for care leavers, spanning UK, USA and Romania (Massinga & Pecora, 2004; Stein, 2005; Duncalf, 2010; Dima, 2011), yet there tends to be very little research specifically looking to understand the entire support network. When young people leave care, it is vital they have an entire support network in order to develop the interdependence mentioned earlier. This support network might not be limited to just one relationship but might be a mixture of relationships; whether it be friends, family, informal mentors or professionals.
The research that comes closest is conducted by Biehal et al (1995), over 17 years ago and before the introduction of the Leaving Care Act 2000, and the role of the Personal Adviser. Biehal et al (1995) found that very few professionals attempted to work with young people on widening their support network and less than 1/3 worked with them on family issues.
There has also been research into specific relationships, such as Marsh and Peel (1999) looking at the role of the extended family, Wade (2008) focusing on the relationships with birth parents and foster carers, Florris (2002) looking at support groups and Cathcart (2002) at mentoring. However there appears to be a gap in understanding the support network in its entirety as viewed by the care leaver. It is particularly important to understand this from the care leaver’s point of view. This is partly because research has shown that professionals choice of ‘people important to the young person’ are often not the same as those that are chosen by the young person themselves. In addition, it might help professionals to understand better ways of engaging with young people to offer support, if perhaps the current process is not working as well as it could be. This might be in relationship to the young person’s early experience with support or lack of support and their need to form their own coping strategies.