One in three care leavers felt they left care too early, an Ofsted survey has found. Respondents reported feeling rushed into leaving care, were told they would be leaving with little warning and said they felt like they had no choice.
The findings comes despite statutory guidance on care leaver provision – which councils must follow other than in exceptional circumstances – saying that no young person should feel they must leave care before they are ready.
Of those surveyed who did feel they left care at the right time, some did not feel they had the skills needed to live independently, found the inspectorate in a survey of 255 care leavers and children in care aged 16 and 17. Most of the results drew on data from the 181 care leavers aged 16-34 in the sample.
Without knowledge of everyday life skills, care leavers found themselves unprepared to manage money, causing some to get into debt, lose tenancies or not be able to afford travel or rent, according to Ofsted.
‘Lack of care’ from social workers
The inspectorate also found that one in five care leavers never felt cared for by their social workers, while looked after. A further 15% said they “hardly at all” felt cared for by their practitioners. Ofsted said this was “striking”, given that social workers were responsible for helping co-ordinate care leavers’ plans for the future.
Attitudes were more positive towards personal advisers (PAs), with 59% of care leavers saying they felt cared for by their leaving care workers always or most of the time.
However, the report found that over a quarter of care leavers didn’t meet their PAs until they were 18 or older, with one in five saying they met their leaving care worker too late.
Just under a quarter (23%) of care leavers did not feel involved at all in the plans and decisions that were made when they left care, said Ofsted.
‘I had to fight to be heard’
One care leaver said: “My views are never listened to, and I feel I have to fight to be heard. The people making decisions make it very clear, time and time again, that they do not even know me: they forget my name, my age, what my history is and my perspective, and they speak for me in front of me even though I disagree with them. So, I just stopped bothering.”
Only roughly half of care leavers remember being informed about what support they were entitled to, whilst in some instances they were already experiencing homelessness or debt by the time they became aware of this.
Just a third of care leavers had a say in the place they would be living and fewer than half had any input into the type of accommodation they would receive. This left many unprepared for the situations they found themselves in, with some living with strangers or in an area they did not feel safe in. One in ten care leavers said they never felt safe when they first left care, with a further 15% saying they did not feel safe very often.
‘Like being on death row’
In response to the report, Katharine Sacks-Jones, chief executive officer of children in care and care leavers’ charity Become, said: “Young care leavers that Become supports have described that time as a “cliff edge” or “like being on death row, counting down the days” until they turn 18 and their placements are abruptly stopped.
“We want to see a permanent removal of the care cliff and end the expectation of ‘independence’ as they approach 18.”
Sacks-Jones called on the children’s social care review – which is due to report this spring – to ensure care leavers were “offered the support they need and deserve as they transition into adulthood”.
Edwina Grant, chair of the Association of Directors of Children’s Services’ health, care and additional needs policy committee, said:
“I am sure that directors of children’s services will use this report to consider their local offer to care leavers and consider any improvements that can be made. Beyond this, the national review of children’s social care must be bold for care leavers and not shy away from challenging the system where it is not working for them.”
She suggested the government should fund the roll out of the Staying Close scheme – which enables care leavers to remain connected to their former children’s homes – and the House Project, which helps them develop independent living skills, as both were making a difference.