Throughcare and Aftercare

If we are to look at outcomes for children and young people who have experience of being looked after, we find that their later life chances are considerably reduced on any measure that you may care to name. The extent of the disadvantage experienced by young people leaving care was comprehensively detailed in the report Still a Bairn (Dixon & Stein 2002) commissioned by the Scottish Executive. Two thirds, for example, left care with no standard grades; half of young people were unemployed, with only 10% in employment; 61% experienced three or more moves since leaving care. In additional research, Meltzer (2004) found the incidence of mental health problems for looked after children running at 45% against a general population level of 6%. This report initiated a series of policy and legislative reforms which include;

  • Throughcare and Aftercare of Looked After Children in Scotland (2002) HMSO (The working party who looked at legislative and practice reforms)
  • Supporting Young People Leaving Care in Scotland: Regulations and Guidance on Services for Young People Ceasing to be Looked After by Local Authorities (2004) Scottish Executive (The resulting legislative framework that came into effect in April 2004)

Local Authorities in Scotland have a duty detailed in the Children (Scotland) Act 1995 and the aforementioned Regulations and Guidance to provide for children and young people in their care and for when they are no longer looked after. They are expected to discharge their duties in the manner of a ‘good enough parent’. This legal duty is referred to by the somewhat clumsy term of ‘the corporate parent’.

Ongoing monitoring and evaluation of the Local Authorities’ effectiveness in undertaking their corporate parenting role towards care leavers has been carried out by the Scottish Throughcare and Aftercare Forum, the Debate Project, the Scottish Institute of Residential Child Care and the office of Scotland’s Commissioner for Children and Young People amongst others.

The key reports and policy documents include:

  • How Good is your Throughcare and Aftercare Service? (Quality indicators for best practice to support young people who are or have been looked after) STAF 2006
  • Sweet 16? (The age of leaving care in Scotland) SCCYP 2008
  • These are our Bairns (A guide for community planning partnerships on being a good corporate parent) Scottish Government 2008
  • Higher Aspirations, Brighter Futures (The national residential child care initiative overview report) NRCCI 2009

The clear messages from the research and the statements of intent are that we must do better and this involves a cultural shift accompanied by a clear understanding and ownership of the corporate parenting duty. Corporate parenting can be a hard concept to nail down.

I have provided two takes on our role from the forward of the These are our Bairns report. First a statement from a young person:

Looked After children and young people need continuity and stability and essentially they need listening to. In my opinion we need to improve the communication between local authority workers, from social, residential and education workers, to foster carers and senior officers, to make sure their roles and responsibilities are having a positive impact. Putting the young people at the centre of all they do will, I believe, improve the future of many.

And a quote from the politicians:

Like most extended families, the corporate family consists of many parts – local authorities as a whole; health services, both universal and specialist; independent sector providers; the police and all those parts of the system which support service delivery agencies. Bringing up a child successfully depends very much on all family members playing their parts. It may be at a particular point in a child’s life, or it may be constant, but together all of those parts are a powerful force for good. (Scottish Government 2008)

Furnished with an understanding of the research evidence and the key policy documents the challenge for all those involved in supporting young people manage the transition out of the care setting is to maintain the focus on the needs of the young person and apply our knowledge of:

  • child development,
  • the impact of early attachment and trauma experiences,
  • health, mental health and ‘hidden’ impairments,
  • poverty, deprivation and social exclusion,
  • poor educational attainment,
  • stigma and discrimination,

in order to promote continued support from the corporate parent in the form of safe, secure and nurturing accommodation, ongoing access to educational, training and employment opportunities, health and wellbeing services ranging from good diet to community based activities, consistent and accessible support from a committed worker who knows and likes the young person (this element is consistently rated as most important by care leavers), psychological support to continue to address the accumulated impact of neglect, abuse, loss and trauma.

There is a statutory framework going by the name of Pathways that requires a comprehensive and ongoing assessment of need in which the views of the young person are pivotal and key to the subsequent Pathways plan. The assessment and planning should commence prior to the young person leaving the care of the corporate parent. It should be led by a Lead Person who holds all supportive adults to task and brings the support team together as and when changes in the young person’s circumstances demand. The supportive adults should have a clear understanding of the corporate parent’s legal duties and demand that the young person should receive a service that is no less than what a ‘good enough parent’ would provide. The ongoing plan should honour the young person’s hopes, dreams and aspirations and work imaginatively to engage the young person is this joint endeavour.

The particular challenges faced by young people with disabilities often demand greater awareness of the need to advocate for their hopes and aspirations and recognize that transition services should be personalised to the individual young person. Clarity is required around their looked after status and subsequent decisions should again reflect the best interests of the young person.

The research into outcomes for formerly looked after young people are clear in terms of the poor outcomes. The statutory duties are equally clear, yet the implementation remains patchy. We have the knowledge and the skills to engage with and support young people manage this transition. What is lacking in many situations is the political will to challenge corporate parents whose idea of care and support falls way short of ‘good enough’. Young people who have negotiated the system rightly ask of those involved in their support, “Would this be good enough for your own children?” If the answer is anything short of yes we should speak up without hesitation.


Dixon, Jo and Stein, Mike A Study of Throughcare and Aftercare Services in Scotland

University of York (accessed 27/05/2010)

The mental health of young people looked after by local authorities in Scotland (2004) (accessed 27/05/2010)

These are our Bairns, a good for community planning partnerships on being a good corporate parent. Edinburgh: Scottish Government (2008)

In addition to the reports and policy documents referred to in the text I would recommend the following additional reading.

Broad, B., (2005) Improving the health and wellbeing of young people leaving care Lyme Regis: Russell House Publishing Ltd.

Can the State be a good parent? Making the Difference for Looked After Children and Care Leavers. What makes the difference? and the National Leaving Care Advisory Service (2006) East Sussex Press

Dixon, J. Stein, M., (2005) Leaving Care; Throughcare and Aftercare in Scotland. London: Jessica Kingsley Publishers

Sergeant, H., (2006) Handle with Care, an investigation into the care system. Surrey: 4 Print

Leave a comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.