“This year, it’s impacted me so much, with the cost of living crisis and everything I’ve been going through with the local authority, […] and honestly [Help at Hand ] came in and just managed to solve the situation, and you know, just literally tell people what’s right and wrong” – Care leaver, 23.
The Children’s Commissioner’s advice and assistance service, Help at Hand, can support children in care as they approach 18 and care leavers until they reach 25. The team helps young people with a variety of issues, particularly when they’re not receiving the services they are entitled to from their local authority. The most common problem care leavers approach about is housing, with many not having the right kind of accommodation available to them when they turn 18, or facing homelessness at a later point after they’ve left care, which may be due to financial difficulties, lack of support, poor mental health, or other reasons.
Some care leavers also find they don’t receive the support they need to have the best chance of reaching their potential in higher education or employment, and others struggle with the ‘cliff edge’ of losing their leaving care support at 25. In addition, we have supported young people who have missed out due to inconsistencies in council tax exemption for care leavers, which particularly affects those who have moved out of their local area. Despite the challenges they face, there are also many care leavers who achieve great things, whether through their academic and professional lives, having their own families, or doing amazing work to help other young people who’ve experienced adversity.
The Help at Hand team is inspired by all of the care leavers we come into contact with, and we always aim to use their experiences to influence the office’s wider work, with the aim of ensuring that the system changes for the better and that all care experienced young people can be supported to fulfil their ambitions.
Below are two examples of where Help at Hand has been able to make a positive difference to care leavers. Their names have been changed to protect their identity.
Nora: Leaving care team not assisting with accommodation for university
Nora, a 22 year old care leaver, approached Help at Hand as she was at risk of homelessness and was not able to claim social housing in her local area, as her parent local authority had placed her out of the region when she was a child. She was attending university but was not able to cover all of her living expenses while studying full-time. She had experienced two changes of Personal Adviser (PA) and had not had any contact from her current PA or the Leaving Care duty team for several months. Her university’s care leaver support service was very helpful and they had also tried to approach her Leaving Care Team but had received no response. After several months of representations from Help at Hand, including attending meetings with Nora and professionals, the Leaving Care Team assisted her in securing a private tenancy in the area where she was settled. She was also finally given her higher education bursary payments, which had been stopped for over ten months. In addition, Nora received assurances in writing that she would be given extra financial support if needed to maintain her flat, until she completed university and secured a full time job.
Polly: Inappropriate accommodation offered
Polly is a looked after child with mild learning difficulties, who was living in a children’s home and approaching her eighteen birthday when her advocate contacted Help at Hand. The local authority was planning to move her to semi-independent accommodation, which Polly did not feel ready for. Help at Hand wrote to her social care team asking for the move to be paused and reconsidered, given Polly’s learning difficulties and the fact that her children’s home was happy for her to stay while other options were explored. The local authority agreed to reassess Polly’s needs and to involve her and her advocate in decisions going forward. Polly had an assessment with the adult social care team, which confirmed that she met their criteria for ongoing support into adulthood, so agreement was made for her to move on to supported housing when she turned eighteen. Polly was happy with this decision, which meant she would have a higher level of professional involvement and care, but could still develop her independence.
The upcoming Help at Hand annual report will describe the team’s support for care leavers and other young people in more detail, and how this has directly impacted on the office’s policy work.
Care leavers in need of advice or assistance can contact Help at Hand on 0800 528 0731, by emailing [email protected] or via the CCo website: Home – Help at Hand (childrenscommissioner.gov.uk)
“Honestly I appreciate everything you’ve done for me. It’s really made an impact on my life. Fingers crossed everything goes well. I’ll definitely keep you posted’” – Care leaver, 22 (accommodation issue).