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County Council offers greater protection for care leavers, and calls for a change in the law

16 May 2023

People who have spent time in care are to be granted ‘protected characteristic’ status by Cambridgeshire County Council, which today (May 16th ) also called for both a change in the law, and, until this happens, for other public authorities to follow its lead.

Today’s unanimous agreement by Full Council will give people of any age who are ‘care experienced’ special status to have their needs considered as part of any changes to Cambridgeshire services or spending decisions. This is already required by law for other groups who face potential discrimination because of their age, ethnicity, disability or gender.

Cambridgeshire’s agreement was welcomed at the meeting by Cambridgeshire Care leaver Elle, who received a standing ovation after she spoke to Councillors saying: “Policy such as this, is the only way for this to even begin to change. Recognising that this group is disadvantaged is one thing. But recognising that this group is also discriminated against, is another. Whilst we cannot undo the disadvantage, and take away this trauma, ensuring these children are considered and prevented from further discrimination when it comes to policy and decision-making, is a positive starting point for change. It is a wonder that this action has not been taken already.”

Elle, who joined the meeting remotely from her university explained “I’m one of the lucky ones actually. I get to sit here and tell my story; but I have a job, next week I will be graduating from a fantastic University, and I have the unconditional love and support of both of my foster parents. I’m often told I “Made it out”. But every day, I struggle with the label of being in care. I face decisions none of my peers face.”

Fellow care leaver Nikolajs Murray, commented: “It sounds quite a good idea to make sure people who have left care get help. It might help people like me to get a job for instance.”

Cllr Bryony Goodliffe, chair of the Children’s and Young People’s Committee, who moved the motion which is part of Cambridgeshire’s ambition for the county to be a place where children and young people thrive, explained “Care experienced people face significant barriers that impact them throughout their lives, and despite the resilience of many care experienced people, society too often does not take their needs into account.

“They often face discrimination and stigma across housing, health, education, relationships, employment and in the criminal justice system, and as corporate parents, councillors have a collective responsibility for providing the best possible care and safeguarding for the children who are looked after by us as an authority.

“Care experienced young people are often hidden and this we need to make sure they are seen,” she told the meeting.

Cllr Simon Bywater, speaking in support of the motion, also encouraged Members to use their influence to help and support young people in Cambridgeshire, and invited them to join him in a council scheme mentoring young people who had spent time in care.

As well as passing the motion itself – which sees Cambridgeshire become the 3rd County Council and 30th local authority to recognise care experience as a protected characteristic as part of a UK wide campaign developed by Terry Galloway in memory of his sister Hazel, the council called upon the city, town, district and parish authorities, as well as the Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Combined Authority and Greater Cambridge Partnership to also pass a similar motion to enable local services to work together to protect and support care experienced people.

Members also agreed to continue to proactively seek out and listen to the voices of care experienced people when developing new policies.