Date: 17th November 2017
Turning 18 and making the difficult transition from childhood to adulthood can be challenging at the best of times, but for care leavers these challenges are often multiplied. Unfortunately, care leavers remain one of the most stigmatised and neglected groups in our society. But what can be done to improve their lives as young adults as well as their future outcomes? Outlined in TACT’s most recent manifesto were a number of policies which we believe will benefit children, young people and care leavers. In this blog, we’ve taken a closer look at some of them…
- Improve the personal adviser service for care leavers
At TACT, we believe that young people should be given the option of having their current or former foster carer as a special adviser. In our experience, once a young person leaves care they are highly likely to stay in contact with their foster carer – if they already have a positive relationship with someone they trust, why would we introduce a new professional into their lives? It makes sense for the foster carer to continue their role as an adviser. As well as this, there is currently no grant from central to local government to fund local authorities for the extension of support for personal advisers for care leavers – if this funding was introduced, personal adviser services for care leavers would drastically improve.
- Allow 16 and 17 year olds to vote
At 16, young people can do many things including joining the army and getting married, but unfortunately at the moment they are not able to vote. The right to vote at 16 will empower young people, including care leavers, and give them the chance to influence decisions that will affect their lives both now and in the coming years when they leave the care system. The UK has dropped from 11th to 156th in the global rankings for children’s rights on the Kids Rights Index 2017 – allowing them a vote would certainly help to improve this, while also generating interest, awareness and engagement with politics from a younger age.
- Free university tuition fees and apprenticeships
Reaching further education and gaining qualifications that can help young people in care achieve their aspirations remains difficult for care leavers. Currently only 6% of care leavers in the UK go on to attend university, compared with 43% of the general population. We at TACT believe that with changes to the education system, this can and should be much higher. Free tuition fees and apprenticeships for young people leaving care would allow more young people to achieve what they want to as they get older.
- Higher recognition from local authorities
Unlike most young people who turn 18, care leavers are often expected to go on and live by themselves without continued financial support from a parent. This means that care leavers are relying on local authorities for support and often this isn’t provided to them to the level they require. We heard from one care leaver who had an apprenticeship that they faced leaving because of financial problems related to accommodation – despite being a care leaver, they were not placed on the priority list for their local authorities housing scheme and therefore we believe that care leavers must receive higher recognition from local authorities. In addition to this, TACT are also campaigning for care leavers to be exempt from council tax – this can be a significant cost which causes care leavers who are starting off in their own accommodation struggle to afford without financial support from a parent.
- Continue with Staying Put arrangements
Staying put is an arrangement where young people remain with their foster carers following their 18th birthday. We believe that in many cases, this is a beneficial arrangement which is advantageous for both care leavers and their carers – very few 18 year olds are ready to move out and ‘go it alone’ in the wider population, let alone care leavers. The local authority has a duty to consider staying put for all eligible care leavers, but it should be considered that the arrangement doesn’t suit everybody. If all relevant parties, including care leavers and carers, are included in making an informed choice, staying put can often be a very useful way of guiding young people through the transition into adulthood.
- Extend the Local Offer to asylum seeking care leavers
While the Children and Social Work act has improved some of the services offered to care leavers, entitlement of support up to the age of 25 is not offered to asylum seeking care leavers. This means that these vulnerable young people don’t qualify for the Staying Put scheme or benefits – furthermore if they want to go on into further education, they will be treated as an overseas student and charged fees which are three times higher than for other students. TACT believe that the debate on support for asylum seeking care leavers should be reopened to improve their outcomes.