The government has announced its strategy for supporting young care leavers. It sets out in one place the steps the government is taking – from housing to health services, from the justice system to educational institutions – to support care leavers to live independently once they have left their placement.
Speaking at the National Care Leaver Week annual conference, Children and Families Minister Edward Timpson said:
"Although most children leave care having had positive experiences, it's simply not acceptable that they end up with significantly worse exam results; are more likely to have poorer mental and physical health; or be unemployed or out of education altogether. That makes quality of support - and consistency of support - absolutely essential. They deserve nothing less. If care leavers get patchy services, they are more likely to slip through the cracks.
"We want care leavers to enter adult life with the same opportunities and life chances as their friends. If someone needs a helping hand to get into work, to find a college place or to access the right employment services, it shouldn't matter which part of government provides it.
"For the first time ever, our care leaver strategy will ensure that all government action across every department - from justice to housing, education to finance - is working with one single, united purpose to improve the lives of these vulnerable young people."
The new strategy includes:
- The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) has introduced a care leaver 'marker' so that employment support for these young people is better tracked and improved; and the Department for Education (DfE) will continue to fund the Care to Work programme, providing care leavers with work experience, apprenticeships and other vital training opportunities
- The Department of Health and DfE will improve guidance on promoting the health and well-being of looked-after children, making it clear how health organisations should work with local authorities to ensure care leavers receive the support they need.
- The DfE will work with the National Care Advisory Service (NCAS) to improve the training of children's home staff so they are better able to support young people as they leave their placement; and Department for Communities and Local Government will consult on new social housing guidance that will prioritise the most vulnerable, including care leavers.
- The DfE will continue to encourage all local authorities to pay at least £2,000 to young people leaving care which can be used to pay for essential things such as the deposit on a flat or train fares to a job interview; while DWP will ensure, as part of Universal Credit, that care leavers who need help managing their money are able to access personalised budgeting support.
"The transition from adolescence into adulthood is a daunting time for young people, bringing new responsibilities and pressures as they become fully independent. Without the support networks that their peers come to rely on, these vulnerable young people are more likely to face unemployment, leave school with few qualifications and struggle with mental health problems – and so this commitment from the government is hugely important to prevent this group from slipping through the net and into a life on benefits."
Around 10,000 young people aged between 16 to 18 leave care each year. The government believes that care leavers should expect the same level of care and support that their friends and classmates get from their parents. Yet some can find it difficult to navigate services or work out what support they are entitled to, with too many ending up unemployed, out of training or education or living in poor accommodation.
Figures published by the Department for Education this year shows that:
- over 1,100 care leavers aged 16 or over are now living in independent accommodation without any formalised support
- 34% of care leavers aged 19 or over are not in education, employment or training
- just 6% of care leavers aged 19 or over went on to higher education.