This week is National Care Leavers Week - an opportunity to acknowledge and celebrate the successes of the 1.3 million people in the UK who are care experienced. But also an important moment to recognise that leaving care can be a confusing and lonely time. A time when support falls away and when many young people are left to navigate independent living and adulthood on their own, often well before they are ready.
Each year around 30,000 children and young people leave the care system in England. Most young people leaving care to live independently do so by the age of 18 or even younger.
Some young people can access “Staying Put” arrangements enabling them to stay with foster parents up until 21. However only about a third of eligible young people are staying on under this scheme.
Many teenagers still find themselves having to move out before they’re ready - with huge disruption to their lives and education and lasting ramifications for their future. For some, shockingly, that can even happen on their 18th birthday. Just imagine being forced out of the place you’ve called home on the day you should be celebrating.
The Government announcement of more funding to expand the Staying Put scheme is very welcome. However, we need to go further - knowing and having choice over where you’re going to live as a young adult must become the norm for all teenagers in care, not the exception.
Nowadays across the country young people are staying in their family home for longer. Around half of 20 to 24 year olds currently live with their parents. And the so-called boomerang generation sees many more move out only to return home later - in their 20s or even 30s.
For most young people who’ve left care however moving back simply isn't an option. If things don’t work out they can find themselves with no home to return to and at real risk of homelessness. Little surprise but no less shocking then then that 26% of young people who’ve been in care have sofa surfed and 14% slept rough.
If we do not provide proper support to help young people transition into adulthood we risk setting them up to fail. We need to make sure no young person in care is forced to move out before they are ready. What’s more there must be a fallback option for those who do leave care for whom things don’t work out - just as is the case for most young adults making their way in the world.
Of course it's not just about where a young person lives when they leave care. In the 3 months since I joined Become there is a common theme to the conversations I've had with young people and the calls I’ve heard our advice workers take – and that is not knowing where to turn for support. That can range from needing a bit of help applying to university or for a job through to help with debt or housing or family issues and everything in-between.
Our research found that less than 1 in 5 (17%) of those who’ve left care feel that they have all the information that they need about their rights and entitlements. Not knowing what support is there and not being able to access help has real consequences for young people – it can mean debt, homelessness, missed opportunities. We need to do far better in equipping young people with the knowledge and skills they need to navigate a complicated system and access support.
But we also need to improve the support available to young people across all areas – including with housing, education, employment, mental health and financial help.
Most families expect to provide some on-going support to their children well into young adulthood– be that a roof over their heads, some money to get them through a tight spot, a shoulder to cry on or a bit of help finding their way in the world. Young people leaving care should expect no less. No young person should be left facing problems alone or forced to leave care before they are ready.