Comment: More help is needed for children in care

Mark Lancaster
Mark Lancaster

YOUNG people who have been in care leave the system at the age of 18. It is from that point that they are expected to live independently; find a flat or shared house to live in, a job or college course, and cook, clean and pay the bills just like the rest of us.

But the average age of young people leaving their family home is now 26 years of age.

Moving house is a stressful time for anyone – but imagine not having the support of your family or friends, especially if faced with moving to a new area?

It’s a daunting prospect facing those who are leaving the care system, and there a number of changes which could be made to make their transition to adult independent living a smoother one. As a care leaver, you are entitled to extra support if you decide to attend an educational course. If you are studying full time, this includes help with paying for housing. It seems strange that we don’t extend some of extra support to young people who enter employment. The job may only be on a part-time basis, yet those who chose employment or a career are left worse off than if they decide to go to college.

It is simply not fair that children in the care of their parents are, generally, being encouraged to achieve the best they can, and do well in school, while those in care do not have the benefit of one on one attention, and are instead hounded about curfews or attendance. It is no wonder that only 13 per cent of children in care obtain five good GCSE grades.

This week, David Graham of the Care Leavers Association shared his concern with me over the Rochdale child sex ring case, where girls from a care home were groomed by local men. These young women’s lives were undermined in a place that was supposed to be safest for them.

To award children in care and those leaving it the best possible chance, there must be a systematic change to the way we train care home staff. They should not just be showing the compassion and care that these young people need, but preparing them for independent life through teaching them practical skills.

As part of the MP-Care Leaver Match Scheme, set up by the now Children’s Minister Edward Timpson, I have had the opportunity to meet with and get to know a care leaver in Milton Keynes. This gives me the opportunity to learn what life is like having left care, and enables me to present the case for a renewed care system much more adequately in my parliamentary role.

Just because a young person has not received adequate care previously in their life, does not mean that they should continue on that path in the future. We have a duty to integrate that person into safe housing and rewarding job or course, so that they may live as dignified life as possible.