“We know that transitioning to adulthood is challenging and demanding for all young people today, but how much more so for care leavers” – Bishop of Leicester, 12/3/15.
On 12th March 2015 the Bishop of Leicester, Rt Rev Tim Stevens, spoke in a debate tabled by Baroness Eaton, “to ask Her Majesty’s Government what plans they have to help young care leavers not able to “stay put” in foster care to make a successful transition to independence.”
The Lord Bishop of Leicester: My Lords, I, too, express gratitude to the noble Baroness, Lady Eaton, for bringing this matter to our attention. It is abundantly clear to us all that people in care are among the most vulnerable and at-risk members of our society. At no point in their lives are that vulnerability and risk more acutely felt than when transitioning to independent adult living.
I declare an interest as a former chair of the Children’s Society and as a member of the Good Childhood inquiry published in 2009. It is good to see the noble Lord, Lord Layard, who played such a key part in that inquiry, in his place today. I remember evidence given to the inquiry by a young person who explained that the moment of leaving care, inadequately prepared and unsupported, marked the start of a long, lonely journey into crime and abuse from which it later took several years to recover.
The behavioural, emotional, social and learning difficulties faced by this group of young people are well documented and already well rehearsed in this debate. These youngsters are three times more likely to run away than other young people and an estimated 10,000 of them go missing each year. Project workers from the Children’s Society report children telling them that they are being pushed towards making a decision to move into semi-independent living arrangements when they often feel quite unready for it.
This is surely why, at an early stage, half way planning which addresses young people’s emotional development and focuses on the needs which young people have articulated is vital. In particular, this planning needs to attend, as others have said, to relationships and to focus on supporting young people to develop friendships and networks, as well as addressing relationships with siblings and family. Further, there is a clear need for support in developing practical housekeeping skills, applying for benefits and so on.
Above all, these young people need support in feeling empowered to have a voice into the key decision-making processes that affect their lives. The evidence is clear that where children have participated in and understood the decisions affecting their future, they are much more likely to co-operate with their implementation. It would be helpful, therefore, to know whether the Minister agrees that Ofsted inspections of local authority provision should include a review of the availability of independent advocacy services for young people in this area.
I wish to touch briefly, as others have done, on some of the most vulnerable groups within the 16-plus population. Disabled young people who are looked after are often the most disadvantaged in accessing information and making choices at transition. This is sometimes aggravated by lack of contact with friends and families and vulnerability to abuse. Further, unaccompanied and separated migrant children regularly experience barriers to appropriate accommodation and adequate support and rehabilitation services. Many of these are placed in unsupervised placements, often because they do not have documentation or their age is disputed. Does the Minister agree that there needs to be a much greater focus on adolescents in these high-risk categories, both in training for professionals and in Ofsted inspections?
Finally, research has consistently found that the health, including and perhaps especially mental health and well-being of young people leaving care, is poorer than that of young people in the population as a whole. That is why they are almost twice as likely to have problems with drugs or alcohol or to report other mental health difficulties, and that is why young people when consulted wanted to be able to leave care when they were ready and to have a chance to stay in care beyond the age of 18, if they do not feel prepared to live on their own. As has become clear in this debate, that is the crux of the matter. We know that transitioning to adulthood is challenging and demanding for all young people today, but how much more so for care leavers, for all the reasons so clearly stated in this debate. I hope that the Minister can assure the House that she is determined to keep a focus on their special needs in the days ahead.