24th August 2022

Helping care leavers find their place in the world of work

My role as Children’s Commissioner means that I have a particular responsibility for looked after children as they grow up within the children’s social care system. Corporate parenthood means that we are all collectively responsible for giving these children the best start in life, as we would the children in our own lives and families. 

The biggest anxiety for many parents is the moment when their children set off into adult with their own career and place in the world. This is a difficult transition for many, but none more so than those leaving care. For care leavers, it often means a cliff edge, with the end of many forms of support. 

In The Big Ask, the largest-ever survey of children that I conducted in England last year, I heard from 3,800 children in care. Children explained in their own words what they saw were the barriers holding them back from achieving their dreams: 

“…You start thinking about your future and worried how well or not you are doing and if you going to get a good job or can deal without [your] parents help because at the end of the day we try our best but still worry about the things ahead of us and see if we can follow our dreams” – Girl, aged 13. 

“Other people telling them that they can’t do things they want to achieve and people telling them they are not good enough for that job” – Girl, aged 10. 

“Some subjects are taught in a way that makes all of the jobs ad careers that you need that skill for sound boring” – Boy, aged 10. 

“Money and education failing to teach them things that not all parents teach their children such as basic life skills like cooking, cleaning and how to apply for jobs and such” – Boy, aged 16. 

I am very pleased that the Children’s Social Care Review gives us an opportunity to make real change in the lives of children in care and those leaving care. I have written about my response to the Review, including my ambition that all children in care receive support that we would consider good enough for our own children, every time.  I set out that we need a focus on stability, so that children are not forced to move home, or change school or social worker so often. I want to see joined up reform across health, care and education, with a focus on harnessing the power of data and technology, and improving access to family support, and mental health support. 

For children leaving care, I think it is vital to be able to plan for their future. I have called for all care leavers to receive a full leaving care plan, which spans their time in care and when leaving it. I would also like to see a real focus on the importance of education when decisions are made regarding children in care. I think these are essential elements to supporting young people leaving care and taking their first steps into the world of work. 

My office is currently establishing an advisory board for care experienced young people. One of the central challenges for this group of young people will be how better to support children in care and those leaving care to achieve their dreams of a good job or career. 

I will end with the words of a young woman, who very eloquently sums up the challenges faced by many children leaving care.  

“As a looked after child, I feel that the system sets us up to fail. To attend a top tier university, which has been my dream since I was little, I would have to forfeit my placement which has become my forever family and I don’t think that’s fair as no child should be made to choose between an education and dream career or their family. Children who were lucky enough to get to stay with their biological families don’t have to make this choice. If I don’t achieve higher education and therefore the potential to receive sufficient earnings, I will be destined to a life on benefits which has become the stereotype for care leavers and I am desperate for this not to be me. Leaving care rights mean I will be given accommodation, however, due to the housing crisis, we are offered private rented properties and, without the earning capacity, I will need to remain on benefits to afford to pay the rent; a vicious circle. Children in care, who have already suffered loss and trauma in their lives, are having to think about this decision, as children. I wanted to have a special guardianship order as a way to cement my relationship with my forever family, my foster carers agreed, but the reality was, that I would lose much of my leaving care rights and have even less opportunity to succeed in life. Nowadays, birth children stay with their families until late 20s and even into their thirties; as children in care we do not get this opportunity. Setting us up to fail” – Girl, aged 15. 

This girl describes being forced to make impossible decisions that no other child leaving home would have to make because the systems designed to support her are failing. Our challenge is to create system that is as ambitious for this child as she is for herself.