Like many young people leaving care, I stumbled into adulthood at 17-years-old, lacking confidence and on the rocky road to independence. Given that was almost 50 years ago, it is upsetting to think that young people today are still having to face the crippling effects of emotional problems, financial difficulties and isolation generated by leaving home too young and without sufficient support.
Without the constraints of a regimented children's home, I found it very hard to get used to fending for myself and living alone. The money I earned working in a hospital kitchen just about covered rent, food, clothes and laundry but it was having no one to rely on that was the real plight.
It would be fair to assume that most parents would do anything to ensure their children are happy, secure and safe from harm. Yet Someone to Care the latest report from the UK's leading children's charity, Barnardo's, reveals that care leavers are still having to 'pack their bags' on their 18 birthday when the funding to stay in their foster placements or residential care runs out.
In fact, one in three children in care will move out of home to live independently when they are even younger, at just 16 or 17, often because they feel they can't settle in foster placements. Many describe their experience of leaving home as being sudden and raw, with some reporting that they feel 'kicked out'.
With adult contact sometimes just once every eight weeks, with a visit from a support worker, many feel they have 'no-one to turn to' for a shoulder to cry on or for day-to-day advice.
In contrast, 93% of their peers still live with their parents, with many being supported through school or college. Barnardo's research has shown that 59% of UK parents said they would 'never' feel like packing their own child's suitcases in order to make them leave the family home.
The fact is that with adult responsibilities suddenly thrust upon them but little adult guidance, many care leavers have increased risk of mental health problems.
Barnardo's is aware that unless these basics are resolved, care leavers may find it difficult to make decisions about education and employment, with longer term implications for their livelihoods.
The charity played an important role in helping me take my first steps into the wider world and paid for my study at Ravensbourne Art College then Central St Martin's. This helped pave the way to my successful and highly enjoyable career as a fashion designer.
In order to help more young people who find themselves in the same position I did all those years ago, Barnardo's has welcomed government plans to fund children to 'stay put' until they're 21. However, these plans only extend to children in foster placements, and exclude some of the most vulnerable children who may be in hostels, residential or other forms of care.
Young people leaving care are one of the most vulnerable groups in society, more likely to become homeless, be unemployed and spend time in prison. Some will have been subject to abuse or neglect, and as vulnerable young adults they are likely to need someone to turn to, even after they have turned 18.
It is time to end the misery of living alone too young for vulnerable youngsters, by giving every child in care the chance to 'stay put' until they're 21 - not just those in foster care.
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