The council voted at full council on 19 July 2023 to recognise young people who have been in care in the same way as other protected groups.
Having protected characteristic status means that the council now recognises the unique challenges that young people who have been in care face when applying for further education, looking for a job, needing health care and finding somewhere to live. The council will do what it can to assist our young people who have been in care.
There are currently more than 400 young people aged 16 to 25 years old in the borough who are in foster care or residential homes (known as care experienced).
The council works closely with them to protect their rights, create opportunities across the borough and in Greater Manchester to ensure they have the same prospects as their peers.
In 2017, Rochdale Borough Council became the first local authority in Greater Manchester to make care leavers exempt from paying council tax. All Greater Manchester councils have since followed Rochdale’s lead, which was praised by the Children’s Society when it was first launched. Now the council has taken a step further by joining other councils in Scotland and England who have already voted in favour of making care experienced young people a protected characteristic.
Councillor Rachel Massey, as the council's cabinet member for children's services and education, proposed the motion. She said:
“We want to ensure that young people who have experienced care are not defined by their past but by their potential for a bright future.
“The council now has the opportunity to bring about real change. We have the power to break the cycle of disadvantage and transform the lives of countless care experienced young people across the borough. Adversity should not dictate destiny.”
Councillor Danny Meredith, corporate parent and cabinet member for regeneration and housing, seconded the motion.
Rochdale Borough Council is number 43 in the total of councils who have passed this motion, which now stands at 61.
2 of the council’s care experienced young people attended the meeting and were brave enough to share their experience. A 14 year old who has experienced care, said:
“I have experienced my own difficulties, just when people hear that I am in care. And I have heard many stories from other cared for young people about how hard it is to be in care, and the difficulties they face in everyday life.
“People treat me differently, just because I am in care. I have talked about how lonely being in care can be, about how it can be hard to make friends.
“This message would mean that people like me would know that we have a chance of being someone in life. It is not our fault that we ended up in care. There is a chance here to mean that all cared for young people have a future that has hope, that our past won’t hold us back, and we won’t be labelled.”
The council is now working with partners and partner organisations to formally encourage others to increase their efforts to eliminate discrimination, stigmatisation and prejudice against care experienced young people and to commit to promoting opportunity, equality and fairness for all residents, irrespective of their background.
Rochdale Borough Council’s Chief Executive, Steve Rumbelow, has written to the government and the council is awaiting the response.