Recent government figures have revealed that the number of Children in Care has hit a record high, as ninety children are taken into care every day. This means that about 10,000 young people aged 16 or over leave care every year.
The transition to adulthood can be tough for care leavers. Compared to young people in the general population, care leavers tend to move out at a younger age, leave education earlier and become parents earlier. This means that they are forced to cope with becoming independent at a younger age without the same support networks as non-care leavers.
Challenges for care leavers
The National Audit Office produced a report in 2016 which revealed the difficulties faced by those leaving care:
- Housing – one of the biggest challenges facing care leavers is finding somewhere to live. Each local authority is responsible for ensuring that young people are placed in suitable accommodation after leaving care, but in 2010, 25% of those who were homeless had been in care at some point in their lives.
- Finding a job – another big problem for care leavers is unemployment. In 2013-14, over 40% of 19-year-old care leavers were not in education, employment or training (NEET).
- Mental health – care leavers are more likely than non-care leavers to suffer from mental health problems. They are four or five times more likely to harm themselves than other young people.
- Crime – there is an over-representation of care leavers in the criminal justice system. In 2008, almost half of men under 21 who had come into contact with the criminal justice system had experience of care.
Fortunately, a lot is being done to ease the transition and tackle some of the main issues care leavers face.
There are lots of free resources available for recent care leavers or those preparing to leave care:
- The charity Coram Voice enables and equips children and young people to hold to account the services that are responsible for their care. You can find out more about what care leavers are entitled to here.
- The Rees Foundation supports care leavers by offering financial support and creating networks for care leavers to share their experiences. You can find some helpful resources here.
- The National Care Advisory Service (NCAS) has produced this leaflet to help care leavers understand the support available to them within the benefit system.
- The Become charity offers a care advice line for Children in Care and care leavers, as well as lots of resources.
- Care leavers can contact Shelter for help finding housing, and visit the Prince’s Trust website for help getting a job.
- The charity SANE provides emotional support to anyone affected by mental illness.
- Our free app Foundations is designed to help care leavers and other young people on their way to independent living. Written by a care leaver and a Virtual School head, this resource is packed with practical information about topics like housing, employment and student finance. It’s an invaluable reference guide with useful links, contacts and interactive quizzes.