Almost a third of young people leave care at 16 or 17 despite people believing that 21 should be the average age for leaving home, an Action for Children report has found.
The charity’s Too much, too young report warns that vulnerable young people are being “forced to grow up too quickly” and often end up in unstable housing or experience homelessness.
Based on findings from interviews with 31 care leavers, the report says the reasons young people entered care, the care system itself and a lack of support after leaving care all contribute to the instability they experience.
The charity found that care leaving services are preoccupied with processes and practical considerations, and lacked a focus on emotional issues and the reasons why young people entered care.
“This failure not only makes it significantly more challenging for the most vulnerable young people to move into independence, but actually sets them up to fail,” says the report.
Emma Smale, head of policy at Action for Children, said: “The system is not working for the most vulnerable young people, so that’s young people who have emotional and mental health difficulties, behavioural needs and disabilities.”
She called for more emphasis on emotional health in care and for emotional and therapeutic care placements that can help young people in their placements.
Smale also said that while Staying Put arrangements let young people stay in foster care until 21, “the evidence shows us that young people who are very vulnerable and have more complex needs are more likely to be in residential care, and more likely to take themselves out of care earlier”.
She said young people in care need the option to remain in residential care until 21.
“We need a residential option and we need something that works for these young people that might actually be much more flexible but still enables them to have a place they can call home until they are 21,” Smale said.
Action for Children’s report says care leavers who return to their family home at 16 should be allowed to re-enter the care system if those arrangements break down up to the age of 21.
The report also urges adult services, care leaving services and CAMHS to work together to guarantee continued access to services after 18.