The government is failing in its role as a corporate parent and must make “radical” changes to the way care leavers are supported, according to seven leading charities.
In a briefing to the government, published today, the Care Leavers Coalition – which includes national charities Barnardo’s, TACT, Voice and the Fostering Network – criticised the way care leavers are often abandoned by their corporate parents at just 21 years old.
The charities are now demanding urgent changes to the Children and Families Bill, which is currently making its way through parliament.
Community Care Live 2013
The biggest and best social work event is back on 21-22 May in London. It will include a session on supporting care leavers.
Changes to Children and Families Bill
In particular, they want the Bill amended so all care leavers are entitled to government support until they are 25 – rather than the current cut off age of 21 – and children in foster care are given the option of remaining with their foster carers until they are 21. The charities also want virtual school head teachers in every council to champion looked-after children’s educational attainment until they are 25.
Rama, a care leaver, said: “I wasn’t ready for the responsibility of living on my own [aged 21]. I was juggling my last year at university with being a single mum. Having more flexibility around the support I could have had would have made a real difference to me.”
Councillor David Simmonds, chair of the Local Government Association’s Children and Young People Board, said local authorities already provide “a whole package of support for children as they move into adulthood, including money, help in kind and support with housing or finding a job”.
LGA: ‘One-size-fits all approach to foster care would pile pressure on’
Any further support for young adults in foster care would need to be considered in the context of the combined pressures on local authorities, such as reduced funding and increased demand, he said. “The care system is already struggling to meet the needs of our most vulnerable children and we desperately need more foster carers. Introducing a one-size-fits-all approach to keeping young people in foster care for longer could exacerbate this pressure,” he said.
“The additional focus on the needs of children in foster care is a positive step and we now need an open debate not just about what councils can do, but about how to make the welfare of society’s vulnerable young people everyone’s business,” he added.
The number of care leavers aged 16 and above is rising each year – from 8,170 in 2007 to 10,000 in 2012 – while around a quarter of homeless people have a background in care. Figures also suggest care leavers are more than four times more likely to commit suicide in adulthood than their peers.
The coalition’s warning follows the findings of the Care Inquiry – an investigation by eight leading children’s charities into the care system in England. The inquiry concluded the care system was still failing children and recommended urgent and fresh reforms.
Social work guide to the April 2011 leaving care changes