29th October 2021

Help at Hand: The issues facing care leavers this year

National Care Leavers’ Week is a time to reflect on how we can ensure that every young person who leaves care has the support they need to fulfil their potential. Responses to The Big Ask have shown that children with care experience have the same ambitions as all young people. The difference is they cannot always rely on family as a safety net, so they need professionals and carers who work with them to provide the right support to help them succeed. There are so many examples of young people with care experience achieving great things, but too many are being held back by policies and processes which can sometimes make the transition to adulthood more of an ordeal than an opportunity.

Here are just some examples from the hundreds of care leavers who’ve contacted our Help at Hand team for support over the past 12 months. Their stories highlight the problems they face, but also show the resilience of these young people and what can be achieved by challenging the system to make sure their rights are upheld. We’ve changed the names and some details to protect their anonymity.

Support after turning 18

John was doing well at his children’s home and felt settled there. However, the day after he turned 18, he was told that he would have to move out of his home in one week and present as homeless to the Housing department. John contacted Help at Hand and told us the thought of being made homeless in a week was having a serious impact on his mental health. He suffers from serious anxiety and says he finds it difficult to live, let alone manage on his own. We contacted the local authority and they agreed to pay for his supported accommodation for at least a few months more, to give them time to find something suitable in the long-term and work with John to make the transition as stress-free as possible.

Salma is a care leaver with complex health needs who will need support into adulthood. Her advocate contacted Help at Hand shortly after Salma turned 18 because her children’s home had been served notice by the local authority, and she had 3 weeks to move on to a new home. The decision had been made without consulting Salma, her advocate, or her parents, and she did not want to go. It also became clear that the legal process for looking at her best interests had not been started. The Children’s Commissioner wrote to the Director of Children’s Services and the local authority then agreed that Salma could stay in her accommodation while they followed the proper process for her to move somewhere suitable, where she would be happy to go.

Challenges with housing

Dani was placed by the local authority in accommodation out of her area due to serious exploitation, which had led to her being taken into care. After several moves, she settled into a children’s home where she felt supported and safe. On reaching the age of 18, her local authority wanted to move her back into its area to apply for housing, despite her wish to remain where she was, ideally with the same accommodation provider. The Help at Hand team supported her and, after many months of involvement, including a letter from the Children’s Commissioner to the Director of Children’s Services, the local authority accepted Dani’s wishes and found appropriate housing in the area she wanted, which could meet her physical and mental health needs and ensure she was safe.

George enrolled at university out of his local authority area but struggled with his living costs when lockdown made it far more difficult to keep up a part-time job. He decided to transfer to a university back in his local authority area, which has more job opportunities, and asked his local authority for help with housing. He was given poor quality temporary accommodation, infested with mice, in an area where he had previously been at risk. He contacted Help at Hand for support in requesting assistance to move somewhere more suitable and to ensure he was given the right priority as a care leaver on the social housing register. This took some time but finally, after a lot of effort from George, he was able to find accommodation near his university and received some financial help from the Leaving Care team to secure his tenancy. He was also added to the housing register and should be offered permanent housing within the next few months.

Support until 25

Shannon called Help at Hand very distressed. She was approaching her 21st Birthday and was told her case was being closed to Leaving Care services. Shannon did not have any permanent accommodation sorted out and really struggled with her mental health. She wanted the continued support of a Personal Advisor. Help at Hand contacted the local authority to remind it of the duty to support Shannon until her 25th birthday. The Leaving Care team agreed to reopen her case and continue providing support, which was a huge relief for her.

Mabel asked Help at Hand for support because her local authority closed her case when she was 22, telling her she could only have a Personal Adviser if she was in education or training. She was having a lot of issues with her housing and really needed a PA to help her with this. Help at Hand advised her local authority of its duty, and she was able to continue working with her previous PA.

Help to achieve

Robbie was in care following a very difficult time at home. However, as a promising footballer, he was encouraged by his foster carers to apply for a football scholarship in the US, to start when he was 19. He took the initiative to do this on his own, and he was successful. There were challenges because the local authority had to provide some initial funding and delays in its processes almost cost him his place. However, his foster carers, PA and Help at Hand pushed the local authority, and they made the payment in time to secure the scholarship.

Lila is a care leaver who is studying law and doing very well, despite her severe dyslexia. She contacted Help at Hand for support in pushing her university to carry out a full assessment of her learning difficulties, so she could receive the extra assistance and resources she was entitled to. After our intervention, the university agreed to arrange this, so she has every chance of achieving an excellent degree.

Our Policy Asks for Care Leavers

Following the results of the Big Ask, as well as knowledge we’ve gained from speaking directly with care experienced young people through Help at Hand and our policy work, we are proposing solutions that will enable all care leavers to have the best possible start to their adult lives. You can find out more about our policy proposals for care leavers in our previous blog post.

Help at Hand offers free support, advice and information to children in care, young people leaving care or living away from home and people working with children’s services.