People in Cornwall who have experience of being in the children’s social care system are now better protected against any discrimination they may face.
At a meeting last week, members of Cornwall Council’s cabinet voted in favour of treating care experience as a ‘protected characteristic’.
Under the Equality Act 2010, it is against the law to discriminate against someone because of a protected characteristic.
The decision effectively adds a tenth characteristic to the nine currently protected under the act: age; disability; gender reassignment; marriage and civil partnership; pregnancy and maternity; race; religion or belief; sex; and sexual orientation.
Treating care experience as a protected characteristic will help create opportunities across Cornwall's diverse communities and support the council’s mission to ensure everyone can start well, live well and age well.
It is hoped it will permeate across the council and beyond, putting care experience at the heart of decision-making and improving equality of access to services for all care experienced people.
The move further cements the council’s reputation for delivering some of the best services for care leavers in the country. Its children’s social services are already rated as ‘outstanding’.
At the full council meeting on September 19, Cornwall Council Leader Cllr Linda Taylor praised the cross-party working that produced the policy decision.
Cllr Barbara Ellenbroek, cabinet member for children and families, said:
“Every child and young person deserves to have the best opportunities in life and this means being treated fairly and equally at all times.
“Research and statistics show that people with experience of care may face additional challenges and encounter poorer outcomes in a number of areas compared to those without experience of care.
“We are determined that this won’t ever be the case in Cornwall and making care experience a protected characteristic helps ensure this won’t happen.”
She added: “It is one of the council’s priorities to make Cornwall a brilliant place to be a child and grow up and we are leading the way in helping young people in care, both during the time they are in our care and after they leave.”
The number of children in care nationally is rising. On average, over the last five years, Cornwall Council has provided care leaving support to 288 people aged 17 to 21 years old each year.
Over these five years, performance in key indicators for care leavers in Cornwall has been amongst the very best in the country:
- In 2022-23, Cornwall Council was ‘in touch’ with 286 of 289 care leavers.
- The provision of suitable accommodation for care leavers has remained at 97%, despite the significant pressures on housing in Cornwall.
- The number of care leavers in education, employment and training for 2022-23 was 78.3%, markedly better than the England average at 55% and the South West average of 56%.
- There has also been an increase in the number of care leavers in higher education (17 young people in 2022-23).
The council has introduced specific measures as part of its work to further reduce barriers for care leavers.
For example, it has recently become one of the first rural local authorities to introduce free bus passes for care leavers aged 18-21-years old to give them more freedom and opportunities and help combat loneliness and isolation. This could soon be extended to 25.
It also provides council tax exemptions up to the age of 25 years old for care leavers who were under the care of Cornwall Council up to the age of 18.
The council is working with charity Carefree Cornwall to ensure that housing protocols recognise the additional needs of care leavers.
Mari Eggins, chief executive officer at Carefree Cornwall, said:
“Young people in and leaving care continue to be amongst the most disadvantaged in our society.
"Most children entering care do so specifically due to neglect and/or other abuse and will miss out on the family base that prepares children to succeed in wider society.
“This is why it is important to ensure they are treated fairly and face no discrimination, and I wholeheartedly support Cornwall Council’s decision to treat care experience as if it were a protected characteristic.”