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Care leavers ‘failed’ by broken residential home system

There are calls for a radical shake-up to support care leavers once they become adults

“Prison-like” conditions in children’s homes combined with a lack of government support risks jeopardising the futures of thousands of vulnerable care leavers, experts have warned. 

A new report by England’s Children’s Commissioner Anne Longfield found thousands of young people are being “failed” by a broken residential care system. 

Some older children described their accommodation as “disgusting” and “like a prison cell”, with one 17-year-old telling the Commissioner her home was filthy and smelly. 

There are now calls for a radical shake-up to support care leavers once they come out of the system. 

Dr Katie Ellis, the lead author of an upcoming report urging the government to increase support, told the Big Issue that the new findings were “unacceptable”. 

“It is completely unacceptable that children and young people are not being adequately protected whilst being supposedly looked after,” she said. 

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“We have found from our own research that young people can feel very much cut off as they approach the age of 18. 

“Some are moved to inappropriate and unsuitable accommodation, which can mean that they are left feeling abandoned in unfamiliar and unsafe environments without support.”

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When a child is in care or is a care leaver aged under 25 the local council is known as their “corporate parent”, meaning it is the collective responsibility of the council, its elected members, employees and partner agencies to treat those children and young people “as any good parent would”.

Longfield wrote in a recent blog that the Covid-19 pandemic had highlighted the problems many care leavers face.  

She added that central government must step up and “be a more ambitious parent” to prevent care leavers falling through the cracks. 

“Just as other parents continue to love, support, care for and be ambitious for their children after they turn 18, so too must the state,” she said. 

“Care leavers often lack their own family support networks, and have to deal with managing bills, getting a first job and moving into their own home without the safety net of family to fall back on if things get too much. 

“This came into stark relief during the Covid-19 pandemic, when care leavers often found themselves isolated, and unsure who to turn to.”

The government has said it will release the long-awaited independently led care review “as soon as possible” and support improvements in the children’s social care system. 

Ellis added: “Much more help is needed for those on the cusp of leaving care, and the care system needs a complete overhaul to ensure that support is based on need rather than age, and that those with care experience are able to access continued support throughout the life course.”

A Department for Education statement said: “The education secretary has been clear that no child should be denied the opportunity for a loving, stable family life, or be bounced around the care system in accommodation that does not meet their needs.

“We have also set out that children under the age of 16 should not be living in unregulated homes.

“Our bold, broad and independently led care review will launch as soon as possible, and will support improvements in the children’s social care system.”

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