‘Being Care Experienced’ to become a protected characteristic in Dorset

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Young people in Dorset leaving care will face less of a disadvantage, following approval by Dorset Council to make being care experienced a protected characteristic.

A report at Dorset Council’s Cabinet meeting heard that the council, its elected members and employees are all corporate parents to Dorset’s children in care and care leavers.

Councillor Byron Quayle, portfolio holder for children, education, skills and early help, said: ‘As corporate parents, it’s our responsibility to make sure that children and young people who have been, or are, in our care receive the same opportunities that we would want for our own children. However, we know that people who have been in care are more likely to face disadvantage and discrimination in life.

‘To combat this, and in line with our ambitions to do the best for our care experienced young people, we have agreed that the council adopts a position of treating care experience as a protected characteristic.’

The recent Independent Review of Children’s Social Care (MacAlister 2022) highlighted the significant levels of discrimination and disadvantage faced by care experienced people, stating: “Many care experienced people face discrimination, stigma and prejudice in their day to day lives. Public perceptions of care experience centre on the idea that children are irredeemably damaged and that can lead to discrimination and assumptions being made”.

The report added: “Hearing testimony from care experienced people sharing the discrimination they have experienced, even from a very young age, it is clear that such discrimination can be similar in nature to other groups that have a legally protected characteristic under the Equality Act (2010)”.

A young person who had been in care in Dorset commented: ‘For me as a care leaver, I think it necessary that care experience is a protected characteristic. There is such a bad stigma around being care experienced and it affects me massively in my day to day life.

‘This law change is needed to stop prejudice against a group that already suffers disadvantages. A protected characteristic will create systemic change and will give voice to those who are most in need.

‘Personally I feel there are too many care experienced people battling this broken system and are crying out for help but they are silenced. Making care experience a protected characteristic can be a change that can start making a difference to the system.’

MacAlister made the recommendation in his report that ‘Government should make care experience a protected characteristic’ and concluded that this would ‘provide greater authority to employers, businesses, public services and policy makers to put in place policies and programmes which promote better outcomes for care experienced people.’

The Government is yet to commit to making care experience a protected characteristic, but there are over 50 local authorities which have passed motions adopting care experience as a protected characteristic.

There are around 530 Dorset Council care leavers aged 18-25 but there are many more people living in Dorset over this age who would currently benefit from the recognition of care experience as a protected characteristic.

If approved, this would mean that being care experienced in the Dorset Council area would be treated as if it were a Protected Characteristic under the Equalities Act 2010 so that decisions on future services and policies made and adopted by the council would be assessed and consider the impact on people with care experience.

The list of characteristics currently protected under legislation are: age, disability, gender reassignment, marriage and civil partnership, pregnancy and maternity, race, religion or belief, sex, and sexual orientation.

Councillor Quayle added: ‘We have heard directly from our young people who have told us that there is such a stigma around being care experienced and that they feel like they are just surviving with their whole life being impacted around being care experienced in areas such as housing, education, relationships, and employment.

‘We want all our young people to have the help they need when they need it and by making care experience a protected characteristic for Dorset Council we can level the playing field a little bit for this group of people.’

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