On your own: Young people’s experiences of leaving care
For children who grow up in the care of their local authority, leaving can be a scary, daunting and confusing experience. At age 18 most of these young people find themselves in the world without the family support most young people have.
Local authorities are expected to continue to provide support for these young people up until age 21. They have duties to provide financial support, meet the young person’s needs and ensure they have suitable accommodation.
But what do these young people actually experience when they leave local authority care and set up on their own?
I recently met with a group of four care-leavers that our Lancashire Children’s Rights Service works with. The young people told me about their experiences leaving care and the challenges they face.
This lively and engaging group were certainly not short of things to say. While there were some negative comments, they appreciated the independence that came with leaving care.
'Able to create a future for yourself'
As one young person told me, leaving care meant being 'able to create a future for yourself by making your own decisions'.
However, they also shared some truly upsetting experiences. These included being left alone all day when moving flat with no food and no money, and being told by a health professional that their mental health issues ‘were not valid’.
The main problems seemed to be the lack of support provided by leaving care teams and the lack of information given to the young people particularly around their benefit entitlement.
Moreover, only one of the young people was given a choice of accommodation or area when they left care. As one young person said, ‘You don’t have a say in where you want to live in or the area you want’.
’Everyone is unique and has unique needs’
We also discussed the age of leaving care.
While many young people increasingly rely on their parents and families for support into their mid (and even late) twenties, we expect those who may have had particularly difficult childhoods and have experienced the care system to leave care at the age of 18.
The care-leavers stated that they felt the age for leaving care should be between 21 and 25, and should depend on a person’s needs and circumstances.
As one young person said, ‘Everyone is unique and has unique needs’.