Young care leavers need support until 25, say charities

09/05/13

Young people leaving care should get more government help, according to a group of charities.

The coalition of seven organisations, including Barnardo's, claims help in England is often cut "abruptly" at 21.

They say this contributes to higher numbers of care leavers ending up homeless, in prison or suffering mental health problems.

The government says it is working with local authorities to improve things.

When Jamie-Leigh Louis from Leamington Spa was younger, she was one of nearly 90,000 UK young people in care.

It means the state took the legal role in her life that a mum or dad would otherwise have.

'Vulnerable'

Now Jamie-Leigh is 20, she still gets help from a local authority-funded support worker, or advocate.

You just hit rock bottom because nothing is there any more. All you have is what you are left with, which is very often a small flat, no job, no qualifications
Scott King, care leaver

She explains: "They are like your mum and dad. Filling forms in, cooking, budgeting.

"Everything a parent would do for someone in a stable home, an advocate would do for a young person in a vulnerable situation."

She lives with her partner Craig, who is the father of her seven-month old son Jensen and she gets some help from a grandmother.

In September though, when she turns 21, she will lose access to that support worker.

"You rely on that person," she says. "To imagine they're not there is hard.

"Could you imagine your mum and dad not being there?"

'Rock bottom'

Scott King, 23, is another care leaver from Kent.

Remembering when he first realised he had lost state support, he says: "You just hit rock bottom because nothing is there any more.

"All you have is what you are left with, which is very often a small flat, no job, no qualifications.

Joint charity demands

    • They want the cut-off age for support to increase from 21 to 25 for all care leavers
    • They want people to be allowed to stay with foster carers until they are at least 21
    • The want virtual school head teachers to champion the educational attainment of looked after children in each local authority up to the age of 25

"And you've got no mum and dad. That's what you are sitting there thinking of."

Seven charities - Barnardo's, The Care Leavers' Association, Catch22, The Fostering Network, TACT, Voice and The Who Cares? Trust - have now issued a joint call for three specific things that they say would make things better in England.

Barnardo's chief executive Anne Marie Carrie says extra support might seem more expensive, but it would save taxpayers money in the long run by keeping more care leavers out of prison or the mental health system.

She says: "Sadly the suicide rates among these young people are much higher."

In response, a Department for Education spokesperson says: "Young people leaving care must be given the help they need to prepare them for adulthood.

"We are working with local authorities to improve the support they provide. We will make a further announcement on support for care leavers shortly."

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