17th January 2023

Supporting care leavers

Last year I published my vision for care leavers, which set out a series of recommendations for government, businesses and public services to better support these young people as they face the prospect of independent living.

As Children’s Commissioner, I have a statutory duty to provide advice, assistance, and representation to care leavers up to the age of 25, to ensure their rights are respected and they receive the services they are entitled to. I’ve made it a priority to listen to care leavers and reflect back their experiences to policymakers and public services.

The thing I always come back to is that these young people deserve exactly the same opportunities as our own children. The system, our services and all our us in society must raise our ambitions for them.

During the last few months of 202, my Help at Hand service supported an increasing number of young people in or leaving care, with inadequate housing and access to funding for higher education being two emerging themes of this work. Perhaps this isn’t so surprising when you combine the challenges already faced by care leavers with an increasingly difficult economic situation and rising costs of living.

I spoke to ITV News last week about new research showing the impact of this higher cost of living on care leavers: 64% of the young people they spoke to are in debt or facing significantly increased costs since the start of 2022, with 31% saying they are at risk of homelessness. Three-quarters said their mental health has been affected by the increased costs they are facing.

During my conversation with ITV, broadcast on Monday night, they asked me what I found most frustrating about the circumstances facing these young people. For me, it’s when we fail to listen to their views, so the solutions put forward cannot reflect what they tell us.

Making sure housing is safe and appropriate is a good start. But it comes back to our ambition. We need to think about their jobs, their educations, their wellbeing.

It’s on all of us – government, local authorities, businesses, the education and care systems – to step up that ambition. Whether that’s through businesses providing mentorships and guaranteed interviews to care leavers, or free driving lessons, or local authorities making sure there are proper travel passes available to them, or utility companies offering discounts or waivers on bills – there is much more we can do. As one child in care told me:

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, 15, The Big Ask.

The Government’s full response to the Independent Review of Children’s Social Care is due very soon. In this we have an opportunity to make sure that every young person who interacts with the care system feels safe, loved and stable. It must set out a vision for children and young people that is as ambitious for them as they are for themselves.

What my recent Independent Family Review showed us is that family is synonymous with love, care and support. Where a child can’t live with their birth family, everyone who works with and for them must provide a meaningful alternative, with an equivalent protective effect.

We have to become better parents. Anyone who is a parent knows this isn’t always easy, but we have to try.