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FAQs about care

Frequently asked questions

These are some of the questions we get asked most often about care by journalists, researchers and students. If you want more information, you can always get in touch and we'll try to help.

Children and young people are taken into the care of the local authority when they cannot remain at home. This is either because it is unsafe for them to be there, or because their parents are unable to look after them. The most common reasons for a child or young person being taken into care include abuse, neglect, family breakdown or a parent or child’s illness or disability. For some children and young people, being taken away from the home where they have been unsafe will be a relief. For others, being separated from their parents and/or siblings will be extremely distressing. Whatever a child or young person has dealt with beforehand, being taken into care is itself traumatic – as well as being the most extreme intervention the state can make into a child’s life.

Most children in care - around 3 in every 4 - live in foster care. This means they live in private family homes with people who are foster carers

Some foster carers may welcome children into their family, alongside children of their own, or they may foster a number of children at once. Other foster carers may be single. The important thing is that a foster home should provide stability, emotional support and a loving family environment, as well as the practical day-to-day care needed by children and young people.

Foster placements can last for days, weeks, months or even years. Positive, stable placements can be life-changing for a child and enable them to have the childhood that they had been denied before. Many foster children feel like part of the family they live with and form relationships that last years beyond the end of their formal placement. Under Staying Put arrangements, young people can remain with their foster carers up to the age of 21, beyond the official leaving care age of 18.

Other forms of care include residential care, kinship care and secure care.

While we know that very few care leavers go to university at the same age as their peers, we don’t know how many care leavers eventually go on to get higher education qualifications. Data about what young people do after leaving care is only collected by local authorities for those aged 19-21. We do know that many care leavers often go on to university later in life. This may be because it takes care leavers longer to get the qualifications they need to go on to higher education. It may also be because they think that university is not for them, or because they are afraid of taking on high levels of debt.

As well as making decisions about what university to go to and what they want to study, care leavers also have to think about where they’re going to live and how they are going to support themselves. Although the local authority has a duty to support care leavers while they are at university, care leavers often struggle financially and have to have part time, or even full time jobs alongside studying. Care leavers may have to make decisions about where to go based on accommodation – they may feel that they have to attend a local university if they already have their own tenancy, because they may be worried if they give it up, they won’t have somewhere to live when they leave university.

When care leavers get to university, they can face additional challenges. They may lack the emotional support required to help them through stressful periods, or even someone to help them move at the beginning and end of term. Financial and emotional challenges may lead to care leavers dropping out, or not getting the result they are capable of.

There are a number of reasons why young people who have experience of the care system are more likely to become homeless. Good parents don’t force their children to leave the family home before they feel happy to do so. By contrast, care leavers may have little choice over when they leave their foster home or residential placement. They may find themselves being told that they have to leave before they feel ready – or they may choose to leave care and then find they are unprepared for what living independently actually entails.

Good parents also prepare their children for living independently – and are usually there to provide support, advice or even money when an unexpected bill comes in, or the boiler breaks. While young care leavers may have had fantastic carers who helped them develop the practical skills necessary to live alone, some don’t. Too many find themselves living independently, ill-equipped to manage their finances which can lead to tenancies breaking down.

An independent review recently found that the vast majority (94 per cent) of children and young people in care in England and Wales do not get into trouble with the law. However, the review also revealed that around half the children in custody in England and Wales have experience of the care system, despite only 1 per cent of all children in England and 2 per cent of all children in Wales being in care.

Looked after children are six times more likely to be cautioned or convicted of an offence than other children. There are a number of reasons for this. Most looked after children and young people have been through trauma, abuse and neglect. For some, these experiences may lead to emotional, social and behavioural difficulties and eventually to anti-social or offending behaviour.

But looked after children, particularly those in residential care, can also face criminalisation for minor misdemeanours which normally would not result in the police being called. Most families would not call the police if a young person broke something at home in the middle of an argument. But in residential settings, young people may find themselves facing charges for criminal damage for breakages caused while distressed or angry.

In many areas, the police are working proactively with residential care providers to reduce the unnecessary criminalisation of looked after young people. Staff working in residential care need adequate training in managing challenging behaviour and appropriate support needs to be offered to young people who may be experiencing emotional or behavioural problems to prevent them from offending.