Children’s Commissioner argues ‘Care Leavers should not have to fend for themselves at 18’ 7 Jul 2015

When we think of the care system in this country we envisage children being looked after by foster parents or by the local authority in children’s homes or in supportive accommodation. On their 18th birthday it is usual for children to be released from the care system to fend for themselves unless they are in foster care or in education after secondary school.  This is often a frightening experience for some but for others it is a release for them, if they have been living in supportive accommodation they are likely to have some set skills to enable them to live and cope in the community as an ‘adult’.

However, for many of us with children, we could not envisage our own children fending for themselves living alone at the age of 16. We are happy to nurture and care for our own children until they are ready to fly the nest, whether that is after university or when they are in their 20’s or even 30’s.  So why should it be any different for a child in the care system.

If anything a child in care is likely to be more vulnerable and they are already trying to cope with being in the care system, some for many years previously.

Today in the press it has been suggested in an article following an interview with Anne Longfield, Children’s Commissioner “children should not be left to fend for themselves the minute they reach adulthood”.   I agree. I have acted for many vulnerable children over the last 18 years who have suffered abuse and neglect and then are faced with dealing with living alone at a young age and having to face the practical difficulties of this alone.  Many have significant psychological difficulties (often untreated) as well and are unable to cope and often get themselves mixed up with the wrong crowd and end up having children at a young age and struggle to cope with family life at a young age.  No amount of compensation can help them with the helplessness and fear that they are faced with.

Statistics reveal that in 1996, 2.7 million or 21% of  20 – 34 year olds were living at home  with parent(s) and in 2013 this figure had increased to 3.3 million (27%) of adults in the UK between the ages of 20 – 34 still living with their parent(s).

Suffice to say that if a child in the care system remains in education, then they are entitled to stay in foster care until the age of 25.  This however, only equates 6% of children in care who actually progress to university. Children in foster care can stay with their foster carers until they are 21 years old but those who are placed in children’s homes have to exit the care system at 18 years of age.  Then then invariably spend the following day looking for somewhere to live and there is a risk that they will be exploited.

A spokesperson from the Department for Education has been quoted as saying:

“We are committed to improving the lives of care leavers.  That is why we have introduced a comprehensive series of reforms to help and support them.  We have already introduced the Staying Put initiative, which allows all children in foster care to stay with their foster family after they turn 18, and we have invested £44 million to help implement this”. 

This must be some way forward but children outside foster care placements need support and help too.

Ann Longfield has been quoted as saying “I think the context of children’s lives has become immeasurably more complicated.”  I agree wholeheartedly, children are expected to grown up far too quickly and take on responsibilities that they are often ill equipped to do until they are adults.  They should be protected and nurtured for as long as they are seen by society as children.

If you think that you or your family members have suffered sexual abuse, neglect or have concerns regarding social services care, you can contact Osbornes Child Abuse Claims department for a free and confidential conversation on 020 7485 8811.

Alternatively, you can email either Stephanie Prior at stephanieprior@osbornes.net or Nicola Hall at nicolahall@osbornes.net

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