We all have ambitions, dreams and goals for the future. Young care leavers are no exception!
What needs to happen…
They may aspire to become a doctor, teacher, lawyer or rugby player. A builder, carpenter or lorry driver.
Or they may just want a life that’s secure – a roof over their heads and some grub on the table.
Unfortunately for some, the ability to realise their ambitions is hindered from the outset.
A hindrance that young people emerging out of foster or residential care know only too well.
Barriers to Opportunity…
The Children’s Commissioner for Wales has published a new report which lays out the stark reality for many young people leaving the care system…
That they’re not getting a fair chance to realise the goals they have for their future.
Their opportunities are stifled by financial hardship, emotional issues – such as loneliness – and a lack of suitable, secure housing.
These issues present huge barriers to overcome when already trying to find employment, further education or training – the essential building blocks for career development.
An Obligation to Support…
As the commissioner points out, there are universal, inalienable rights afforded young people under the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC).
Rights that declare all should have safety, care and access to education.
The problem for those leaving care, is that all too often the lack of parental guidance in their lives means there’s no-one to provide the support, encouragement and assistance.
In short, no-one to nurture their ambitions.
The report calls upon state and private organisations to fill the void and offer a level of support and opportunity that allows young care leavers to compete.
Support for all…
The report highlights specific inequalities between those in care and those in a family situation. These inequalities present significant hurdles for care-leavers seeking to progress as they enter adulthood.
Things such as:
- Young people being moved out of foster care or residential care as soon as they turn 18, even when this is in the middle of an important year of studies such as A-levels
- Post-18 living arrangements known as ‘When I’m Ready’ do not allow young people to stay in their residential home past the age of 18, unlike young people in foster care
- Support for care leavers ends at the age of 21 unless that young person is engaged in education or training yet those not in education, training or work are more likely to need support
Source: Childcom Wales
Transitions to Adulthood
The transitions to adulthood scheme currently lays out the entitlements young people have when they reach 18.
- Foster care can remain in place up to age 21 (or in some cases 25), if a young person is still in education.
- Care leavers should have access to ‘suitable housing’
- A grant of up to £2,000 is available to help set up home
- Grants, bursaries and loans are made available for further and higher education
- Post-care support from the local authority up to age 21
The report highlights that while these are practical and necessary entitlements, there’s a deeper need that care-leavers have – emotional support and guidance for their futures.
State parenting that’s “good enough”.…
Care-leavers have a need for the kind of emotional, practical, and encouraging support that those with a strong parental or family network may take for granted.
Having a ‘trusted personal advisor’ was highlighted as being particularly valued by care-leavers who may feel isolated and without direction. Someone who’ll listen to their concerns and offer advice, or point them in the right direction.
Basically, someone who’ll provide the care, help and support that a young person might expect to receive from a parent.
Once a child enters the care system, that state becomes their parent – effectively.
In my view, the central question here is: at what point does the state cease to have a parenting role to the previously-in-care child who is now branching out into independence? Certainly not 16 or 18; 25 is a bit more like it.
I haven’t done the sums, but I wouldn’t mind betting that huge costs could be saved by fewer young people entering prison and drawing on health and mental health services, if we just made personal support available long after they leave their residential home or foster care.
The time has come to build services that parent well, and keep parenting well until young people are more fully established as adults in their own right – rather than the best we can do on a limited budget…
What do you think?…
- What else do you think care leavers need?
- Please let me know your thoughts… Leave a comment below or click here.
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© Jonny Matthew 2017