Too much, too young: our findings


Childhood is short. It is the foundation of our self-esteem, and sets the tone for most of our adult life. Children and young people need to feel loved, secure and safe, and that there are people in their lives who will never give up on them.

When the state takes on the role of parent, as it does for looked after children, children should still receive the nurture and security that their families are not able to offer, no matter how complex their lives are.

For the most vulnerable young people leaving care something is going wrong. Despite the collective efforts of national governments, local government and many others, good intentions have not led to good results.

One third of young people experience homelessness at some point between 6 and 24 months after leaving care. Almost half of young care leavers have a long-term mental illness.

Action for Children’s latest research report, Too much, too young, asked why this is happening? How can young people who have been in care end up homeless? Why are good intentions not bearing fruit?

Many care leaving services are doing a good job and elements of support are particularly valued by young people. However, our research in England and Wales has found there is gap between what young people say they need and the support available to them. For example young people consistently spoke of their need to have one consistent person who they can talk to and can help them through day-to-day challenges when they happen.

Factors we found that made a difference included:  help with managing difficult emotions linked to experiences like abuse and neglect; and relationships, such as having someone you can trust to talk to or being able to build a relationship with your birth family.

There is an urgent need to re-focus on addressing the reasons why young people entered care in the first place so that leave care and thrive. We must focus on the individual needs and experiences of young people.  By supporting children and young people to overcome emotional trauma and make sense of the reasons they are in care, we can increase the chances of them settling and feeling safe. We know that a stable journey through care increases the chance of stability in adulthood: we need to act earlier to prevent crisis for these young people.

The situation is urgent. Costs are escalating and pressure on local services continues. Every year that passes, some of the most vulnerable young people who leave care disappear from the radar, only reappearing when things have reached crisis point.

Action for Children is calling for a rethink the role of the state as a parent for children in care so that it:

  • prioritises the emotional and mental health of children in care and care leavers
  • keeps children safe when they return to their family after care
  • doesn’t give up on young people when their lives are at their most challenging.

You can read more about our research and download the reports here.

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