For children who remain in their family home, independence skills are naturally passed from adult to child as part of every day life from an early age meaning that when a child reaches an age where they leave home they possess a refined set of skills. For looked after children the rules around what can and cannot be done often interfere with this natural progression and therefore it is important to recognise the long term impact of this on looked after children.

Independence skills are not just about whether a young person can cook, clean, wash their clothes and budget. These are important life skills, however being independent is about much more. Essentially it is about being able to make choices and decisions which are informed and having some advance knowledge of what the risks associated with making a certain decision may be.

When should work towards independence start?

It is important not to think of preparing a child for independence as 'training'. Independence is part of learning about relationships, attachment, and starts as the child begins to separate from their primary carer, e.g. being allowed to go to the local park on their own, running an errand to the shop across the road. Such activities and learning should be a key part of the day to day experience of a child who is in care.

How do I record preparation for independence?

This is often a quandary for social workers as the need to present a coherent and comprehensive plan can often be a barrier to the little actions that as parents we would do without thinking.

Such preparation can however be recorded, for example - 'John will be involved in decision making in the placement'. Whilst a short phrase this has a significant impact on John's growing knowledge of consequences and significance of different types of decision that have to be made.

For younger children, completion of life story work can help to develop independence by firming up their sense of identity and belonging.

The challenge is also for looked after children to not necessarily be taken on every activity possible - this would not happen if they were in their birth family, and often children as they get older would be expected to source activities for themselves.

A further example could be 'John will catch the bus at weekends to meet his friends'.

At age 18, the young person will transfer to the Leaving Care Team. They should therefore be invited to the last LAC Review for the young person, prior to transfer when 18.

Ofsted have identified a good practice example which builds on some of the suggestions identified in the section above. A copy of this can be found below.

The Pathway Assessment/Plan should be started when young person is 15yrs and 9 months of age and this will give a framework to begin to consider preparation for independence. This assessment/plan replaces the care plan, review reports are still needed.

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