Leaving home can be an intimidating and challenging process for any child. For children who have grown up in the foster carer system, the process of leaving home can be made more difficult by the unique challenges they face.
There are lots of reasons that a young person may leave home. Some desire a greater sense of independence or feel that they are ready to support themselves financially. Some leave to pursue further education, or, in more unfortunate cases, due to conflicts within the family home. For young people in the care system, however, this process can look quite different.
What is a care leaver?
From the age of 16, a young person in the foster system has the option to leave care but is not legally obliged to. But, by the age of 18, the young person is no longer the legal responsibility of the UK Government. Some of them move out of the foster home or care home they were living in and find their own accommodation. In doing so, they become known as a ‘care leaver’.
For teens in foster care, this process can appear complicated and alarming. They may feel abandoned or alone, as the support system they had access to throughout their upbringing in the foster system (comprised of social workers and foster carers) no longer have any legal responsibility towards them.
What challenges do care leavers face?
Care leavers face a range of challenges following their departure from care. These challenges include Education, Mental health, Unemployment, Crime and Homelessness.
Young people who have spent time in the care system face a variety of barriers when it comes to higher education. These barriers include lower school grade attainment, as past traumatic experiences can have an impact on their ability to achieve educationally.
In 2017, a report from the Prince’s Trust found that, of the care leavers surveyed, 87% had less than five GCSE’s at grade A* to C.
Lower grade attainment in school can lead to a lack of engagement in higher education among care leavers. For example, in 2020, there were 31,260 care leavers aged 19-21 in England. Of these 31,250 care leavers only 6% were reported to be in higher education.
Mental Health Problems
Departing care can present a young person with a new wealth of challenges, particularly to their emotional wellbeing. In 2019, it was reported that 63% of children entered care due to abuse or neglect. Many of the situations that children experience prior to being placed in care can have lasting impacts on their emotional and mental health.
Half of all children in care are considered to have some form of emotional health issue or behavioural problem.These issues will require ongoing management once they leave care. For others, the struggle of living alone can be overwhelming. Young people that are care experienced are also less likely to have close support networks, meaning they are more susceptible to mental health crises.
Research suggest that young people who have had a background in care are, unfortunately, more likely to end up in custody. An estimated 25% of the prison population in England and Wales comprised of care-experienced people.
In 2018, the HM Inspectorate of Prison’s reported that, overall, 44% of children have spent time in Secure Training Centres, with the highest number in one centre being 56%.
The involvement of care leavers in crime can stem from a combination of issues, including mental health issues and unemployment.
For young people leaving care, finding and keeping a job can be challenging. The report from the Prince’s Trust in 2017 found that 78% of care leavers surveyed were not in any form of education, employment, training of volunteering. In 2020, only 26% of care leavers aged 19-21 in England were in training or employment.
For some young people, employment can leave them financially worse off than being on benefits, a factor that fails to incentivise care leavers to get into work. Having to manage their own finances independently can be difficult, especially as most of their finances will have been managed for them throughout their care.
As young people leave care, they generally transition into more independent living arrangements. However, in worst case scenarios when a young person fails to access proper support, they may become homeless following their departure from care.
In 2021, the National Audit Office released a report that suggested that, within the first two years of leaving care, one third of care leavers become homeless. The same report found that, in 2010, 25% of the homeless population in England had been in care at some point in their lives.
How can we ensure better outcomes for care leavers?
While the statistics surrounding care leavers and the challenges they face are cause for concern, there are some existing support systems in place for young people departing care.
The UK Government has some legislation ensuring that care leavers still have access to valuable support up until the age of 25. Under this legislation, all care leavers are assigned a personal advisor by their local council and provided with a ‘pathway plan’ that outlines the advice and support needed to ensure a successful future.
There are also a variety of charities and organisations that are working hard throughout the UK to improve the prospects of care leavers.
Charities and organisations such as these provide essential support and services for care leavers. Many of them also advocate for awareness and lobby the government for increased funding and support for young people departing care.
A list of some of the causes that some of these charities are lobbying for can be found here.
How does Compass Fostering help prepare our young people for leaving care?
At Compass Fostering, we are dedicated to improving the outcomes of the children and young people placed in our care.
We acknowledge that all children must leave care at some point, and understand the importance of equipping our children with the adequate skills and knowledge they require to succeed in the future. Our approach to fostering involves cultivating a stable and therapeutic environment in which children can flourish. We work to improve the self-esteem and confidence of the children in our care by introducing them to a range of therapeutic services, helping them to understand and overcome past trauma and better negotiate their lives within the care system and broader society.
All our foster children are given the opportunity to enter a ‘staying put’ arrangement, if they do not feel they are ready to leave care yet. Staying Put placements allow a young person to stay with their foster family until the age of 21, or 25 if they are in an educational or training programme.
Our foster carers, Alicia and James, are just one example of the ways in which a Staying Put placement can help to continue to support a foster child through their development.
Alicia and James switched to a Staying Put placement after their foster daughter turned 18. They said:
“…we have now switched to a Staying Put placement, as she’s going to university later this year, so she knows she has our family support & can return home to us whenever she wants to at weekends and during the university holidays.”
At Compass, we acknowledge the ongoing challenges that care leavers face and believe that our holistic approach to fostering helps prepare our children for the most positive outcomes possible, following their departure from our care.
If you’re interested in a making a difference to the life of a young person in care, and want to know more about fostering with Compass Fostering, you can get in touch with us here.