Young people take on "Too much, too young"


Alex Cunningham MP is a member of the Education Select Committee, which recently held an inquiry looking at the provisions for young people leaving care.

Alex continues to be shocked by the realities faced by some of the most vulnerable young people leaving care, as he discusses the findings in Action for Children's new report "Too much, too young".

In my former life before Parliament, I was not only a Borough Councillor with responsibility for the Children & Young People portfolio, but I was a Non-Executive Director of the Eastern Ravens Trust – an organisation aimed at supporting children and young people from my constituency.

I’ve enjoyed some great times with the Trust, learning of the problems that they face and the wonderful achievements that they continue to make.  And it is experiences like these that have hardened my determination to make sure that our children and young people are better represented and given a voice on the issues that really matter to them.

 Too much, too young

When the Education Committee recently looked at the provisions for care leavers, I was taken aback by the realities of leaving care that face some of our most vulnerable young people who have already experienced traumatic early lives.  And I continue to be shocked by findings about the lack of support provided for vulnerable young people with experience of the care system.  Action for Children’s new report paints a bleak picture, illustrating further evidence about this unacceptable situation.

The Committee’s inquiry found that the troubling and disruptive events which lead to a child or young person becoming looked after have significant and long-lasting effects, leaving them less well-prepared to cope with independence.  But the inconsistent levels of support as they move towards independence do not reflect this understanding – and it is clear that concerted action by Government is needed.  Implementation of the Education Committee’s recommendations would be a huge step in the right direction.

 Emotional wellbeing

Action for Children has interviewed 31 of the most marginalised young people in England and Wales about their experiences of finding a home after care.  The findings support those of the Education Committee, revealing how those who do receive mental health support indicated that their challenges stemmed from trauma experienced in their childhoods – including sexual abuse, domestic violence, neglect and physical harm.

There can be no doubt that resources need to be targeted towards helping young people in care overcome traumatic experiences in an effort to prevent difficulties later on.  Prioritising therapeutic support focussed on emotional resilience for young people most likely to be vulnerable could help to prevent them embarking on chaotic pathways such as drug abuse and involvement in crime.

 Homelessness and unsuitable accommodation

Those with particular needs – such as poor mental health, behavioural difficulties, and disabilities – are the most likely to become homeless.  Research has shown that around one-third experience homelessness at some point between 6 and 24 months after leaving care.

Further echoing the Committee’s fears, Action for Children’s report highlights the stark number of care leavers living in unsuitable accommodation and the increasing number of care leavers not in touch with local authorities who don’t know where they are living.

The current “Staying Put” policy discriminates against looked after young people not living in foster care.  The arrangements exclude those in residential care, meaning that not all children will benefit from the reforms, including some of the most vulnerable young people, simply because they are not in foster care when they reach 18.

It has become clear that too many young people are being placed in accommodation that is neither safe nor suitable.  This must be brought to an end immediately, with proper inspection and regulatory oversight introduced to end this fiasco.

 Returning home

Young people who chose to return home after care can be at even greater risk.  Some young people are entitled to a personal advisor and support planning their pathway when they turn 18, but this is dependent on factors including age, education and employment status.  And this level of support does not apply for those who return home at 16 and 17 for a continuous period of six months regardless of the suitability of the decision, or the safety of the young person.

 The corporate parent

Something is going very wrong for the most vulnerable young people who have been in care.

The reason that these young people came into care will become a barrier to their stability if we do not address their emotional wellbeing.  All young people leaving the care system need tailored and flexible support responding to their individual needs, rather than being reactive to their age.

When the state takes on the role of the corporate parent it should ensure that children receive the nurture and security that their families are not able to offer, no matter how complex their lives are.

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