Supporting children in need into adulthood




This House of Commons Library Debate Pack briefing was prepared in advance of a debate entitled “Supporting children in need into adulthood”. This was led by Steve McCabe MP and took place in Westminster Hall on Thursday 6 September 2018, starting at 3pm.



This briefing contains background information, parliamentary material, press articles, and further reading suggestions which [Parliamentary] Members may find useful when preparing for this debate.

This debate was allocated by the Backbench Business Committee. In his representations to the Committee on Tuesday 10th July where he outlined his proposal for this debate, Mr McCabe said the following:

"I am asking for a debate to look specifically at the problems of transition into adulthood for children who are currently supported but not in care. Children who are supported by children’s services, we normally refer to as children in need. That is the major distinction.

My own interest in this is fairly straightforward. I should confess that in my very dim and distant past I was once a social worker, so I have some familiarity with this issue. Also, I chair the all-party group for looked after children and care leavers. As I say, there are some similarities between the problems that children leaving care face, and those that children who are not in care but are supported by children’s services face.

The big distinction is that we have now recognised that if children are leaving care we cannot just have a cut-off point at 18. We have things such as extended fostering. We have a requirement to follow up to the age of 25 in some circumstances. We provide a great many additional services. If children are supported by children’s services—children in need—when they hit 18 that is goodbye and case closed. Of course, these are often children with quite a lot of difficulties and things to contend with. Most of us will know as parents that it is hard enough for our own children to make that transition into adulthood. It certainly does not magically happen at 18 or follow a nice linear pattern. That is the object of this.

I have at least 14 Members across parties who are willing to participate in such a debate. I am looking for a 90-minute debate and I would actually prefer Westminster Hall on a Tuesday or Thursday. I would be more than happy to look at October or beyond.

As a bit of background to the argument, we know that as of 31 March last year, there were 389,430 children in England classified as children in need and receiving support from local authorities. Approximately 58,000 of those are youngsters aged 16 or 17. They share many of the features and characteristics of children in the care system, but the significant difference is this 18 cut-off point. Why are these children getting support and why are they in need? It can be a whole range of things: they can be victims of domestic violence; they may have mental health issues either on their own or with their parents; they may have suffered abuse or neglect; they may have been engaged in substance abuse; they may have caring responsibilities or they may have been subject to sexual or other forms of exploitation.

The value of the debate would be that it fits with quite a lot of other things that are happening in the Government agenda. In the autumn, the Government will respond to the child in need review; they are also currently considering the issue of school exclusions and their impact on later life. As you will know, the Government are looking at approaches to domestic violence and whether there needs to be any change to those. Of course, they recently set out some plans for children’s mental health. It seems to me that these are all issues that have an impact on children in later life.

We know some things about these youngsters; we know from the DFE’s own research that many of these children spend the early part of their adulthoods as NEETs. They are also far more likely to be homeless in early adulthood. Only 3% of children who are receiving support from children’s services at the age of 16 or 17 are actually referred on to an adult social care system. There is no requirement or duty on local authorities to plan any kind of transition for supported children. There probably is not a Member in this House who will not have children or former children in need in their constituencies. Very likely, people will have come across them at their advice centres, because of the kind of problems they subsequently encounter.

What we need to do is to explore rationally the kind of transition opportunities. We all know that we are living in a hard-pressed system and that resources are tight, but we have to think realistically about how we plan to assist the transition into adulthood, as an effort to try to make that path as reasonable as possible for those young people who are already at a disadvantage. If they are left hung out to dry, as it were, at the age of 18, they will almost certainly resurface in some part of the system, and may well demand a lot more resource and attention at that stage."


Children in need

The term “child is need” is a statutory term as set out in the Children Act 1989 as amended (the “1989 Act”). Any child can be a “child in need”, even if they are living with their family. (note that this term no longer applies in Wales since the 2014 act.)

There is no need for a court order to be made for a child to be determined as being in need. It is the role of a local authority’s children’s services department (formerly called social services) to assess and provide services in respect of children in need.

Being a child in need is not the same as being a “looked after child” (where a child is in local authority care further to a care order or provided with accommodation by the local authority under section 20 of the 1989 Act).

A child for these purposes is defined as someone who is under 18 years of age



Reference:  Jarrett, T. Roberts, N. Mackley, A. Harker, R. (2018). Supporting children in need into adulthood. CDP/2018/0190. London: HoC Library




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