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Don’t we expect more for our children? Our response to Barnardo’s latest report highlighting fear and ordeals of young people leaving care.

Written by David Baker-Price, Head of Contracting and Service Development, and Lead of Five Rivers Futures.

new report published by Children’s Charity, Barnardo’s, has highlighted the fear and ordeals of young care leavers. The report titled, No Place Like Home, brings to light the stark difference between care leavers, and those benefiting from the safety net of ‘parental’ support.

Barnardo’s conducted a YouGov poll, which found that the majority of adults surveyed received ‘a lot’, or a ‘fair amount’, of support from their parents. Many said that the support they receive helps them to cope with living independently and that they would have struggled to grow into independence without that ‘familial’ input.

Sadly, throughout my social care career, I have been confronted with this reality all too many times. No matter how well we do or the positive impact we have, the harsh reality is that there is a real and definite cliff edge of care for England’s most vulnerable children and young people. It means children making decisions before they’re ready to. In the better cases, it can mean a profound loneliness and void as young people do not always have someone to reach out to once they have moved on. In the worst examples it means increased vulnerability and risk of exploitation – something we have worked so hard to protect them from. Time and time again, I ask myself, would we do this to ‘our’ children and expect so much from them at such a young age?

The average age for young adults leaving home in England is 23, however, young care experienced children frequently leave care much younger. These children, in some cases, are then expected to manage independence.  I don’t think many of us found it easy finding somewhere to live, finding a job and finding our place in the world. A world in which, for many of these young people, has been a confusing, hostile and unpredictable place.

The report also highlighted the heightened anxiety felt by young people when they have no other choice but to move into unfurnished flats, where they often struggle to meet the costs of living. This then impacts their social support – limiting their options to see family and friends as they are cut off by financial constraints.

What I always come back to is, the care system is there to support, care for and nurture some of England’s most vulnerable children. As their ‘corporate parents’ and, in some cases, their only safety net, don’t we have a duty to raise and protect them in the best way possible? How can we find it acceptable that many young people are launched into independence at 18, or younger, when most of us would not consider this for our ‘own’ children.

‘Staying Put’ has helped some young people, but it’s far from perfect. More support needs to be given to make this an option for all young people. We know most families seek to provide advice and emotional support, and where possible even financial support to their children after they have left home. This is why we launched Five Rivers Futures for our care leavers. The Five Rivers approach being, once you’ve joined the Five Rivers’ family, you remain a member of the Five Rivers’ family.

If you look out at the world, there’s growing recognition about the extension of our teenage years. There’s scientific research pointing to a delayed and ‘extended adolescence’, Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services are transforming to recognise the ‘cliff edge’ of care and societal shifts are happening elsewhere too. We need this recognition and wholesale shift in the care system now to prevent children moving into unsafe and unregulated accommodation where they are at risk. If anyone’s telling us this now, today, it’s the young people who have first-hand experience of the care system letting them down at this crucial point in their lives.

The findings of this report support some of the key reasons for launching our Five Rivers’ care leavers’ scheme and brings into focus once again why it’s so important.

We’ve long been aware of the disparity between those who grow up with their ‘birth’ parents and those who are in care and I wholeheartedly support Barnardo’s recommendations to the Government. As the report shows, those who grow up with their birth families are often able to return home, for care leavers, this sadly often isn’t the case. As a result, care leavers are disadvantaged once they reach statutory independence.

Our Five Rivers’ Futures scheme was designed to offer our care leavers support, which is similar to the sort of help and guidance you might get from a family member once you fly the nest. We help with everything from “how do I cook a chicken?” … to “how do I find a plumber” to “how do I apply for college?” and everything in-between.

Our futures scheme is an important part of our social enterprise ethos and our unwavering commitment to children and young people after they leave our care. Co-designed with our young people, Futures is one small but important part of supporting children to become young, capable adults.

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