Core Assets is a fostering and children’s services group based in Bromsgrove. As it reaches the milestone of young people in care now ‘graduating’ from the Social Impact Bond contract it delivers for Birmingham City Council, co-founder Jan Rees OBE reflects on the necessity to continually challenge the system to change vulnerable young people’s lives for the better.
Right from our beginnings 20 years ago, myself and co-founder Jim Cockburn have challenged the convention that meant the initial placement choice for hard to place young people in care was residential care. It was our experience that with the right professional approach, which valued the foster carer as part of a specialist integrated team, those young people could be fostered instead, making a huge difference to their life chances.
Recently commissioned research by the Department for Education shows that young people living in residential care at age 16 score more than six GCSE grades less than those who are in kinship or foster care. But for years local authorities have struggled to take this on board despite the overwhelming case for change.
This became the impetus for us to start an Independent Fostering Agency that would operate in the way we knew would work and would allow children and young people living in residential homes to experience quality care in a family setting. This approach with the foster carer at the centre with the young person evolved into our Team Parenting model.
We have now successfully implemented Team Parenting foster care in nine different countries. In each country we have faced the issue of how the system undervalues and under supports foster carers. This has often meant protracted journeys before our acceptance, and acceptance of fostering those currently in residential care. For example, we have been working and operating in Japan since 2010, with Japan typically having near 90% of children in care placed in institutions versus the UK’s 10%, but only this year have we become the first registered independent foster care provider there. I’m very proud to say that we are now providing foster placements in Japan and contributing in our small way to de-institutionalising care in that country, to the thousands of young people we have fostered since 1994.
However, with all this progress it is ironic that Core Assets’ first Social Impact Bond, supported by the Bridges Ventures SIB Fund, is to deliver what we were originally set up to do – transition young people from residential to foster care. Since we founded Core Assets in 1994, the proportion of UK children placed in residential care has reduced, but it stubbornly remains higher than it needs to be. This is due to a whole series of factors; from increased numbers of children in care, to a shortage of appropriate foster carers, to the increased commoditisation of the procurement of foster placements that devalues the contribution of the foster carer and the team around them.
The way the Social Impact Bond model is set up and operates in Birmingham, and the way the social investment can be used, has allowed us to redress some of these system challenges. It has created the environment for us to work more closely with the local authority – including co-locating some of our staff with them – to jointly problem solve, identify and transition young people to foster care sooner, and provide the right support to the foster carers and young people. This is not to say it is all plain sailing and generating more referrals for the service when Birmingham has around 180 young people in residential care at any one time can be frustrating work. But we are delivering on the outcomes for young people, with the target of at least 70% of them successfully transition to foster care for at least 52 weeks being met, as well as achieving improvements in other outcomes such as school attendance and exclusions.
But the journey and the challenges for young people in care don’t finish when they ‘graduate’ from a SIB contract or when they leave care. I felt it really important to contribute to those care-experienced adults that ‘the system’ does not support and that is why I established a charity for care leavers – The Rees Foundation. Everyone needs to know they have support down the line, not just at the current moment of crisis or episode in care, and that is why I believe the Rees Foundation and social investors who are trying to generate both better here and now outcomes and long term impact can be such valuable resources.
It is wonderful see how social investment has enabling paid care-experienced mentors to be working as part the Birmingham Social Impact Bond contract. The mentors, some of whom were previously fostered by Core Assets, ensure an independent voice and sounding board for the young people in the SIB service and provide that positive role model.