I was propelled into adulthood as a young man leaving care at just 17-years-old. Determined and ambitious but naïve and lacking confidence, my journey to independence was a tough one. That was close to 50 years ago and it is shocking that young people leaving care still face many of the challenges I faced all those years ago.
Without the constraints of a fairly regimented children's home I found it very hard to adjust to living on my own. The money I earned working in a hospital kitchen and then a large hotel in Harrogate just about covered rent, food, clothes and laundry.
Today sees the launch of National Care Leavers Week (24-30 October) and to mark the occasion, Barnardo's, the UK's leading children's charity, is focusing on the first anniversary of the government's Care Leavers Charter.
The Care Leavers Charter, which I helped launch in October 2012 placed a stake in the ground regarding the support and encouragement needed by care leavers and reminded local authorities across England of the importance of smoothing their transition to adulthood.
Having already been dealt a pretty poor hand to start with, young people leaving care are being forced to become emotionally and financially independent at a very young age.
Without the support network of a family to advise and catch them if they fall, these children find themselves searching for a home, a job and a set of life skills often from the tender age of 16.
Although the Charter has been a good first step with the majority of councils pledging their support, I am keen to assist Barnardo's in highlighting that government must now ensure a positive impact is made on the lives of care leavers.
Barnardo's placed me with my foster mum when I was two years old and at the age of 13 years old I was moved into a Barnardo's home. 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, subsequently paving the way to my successful and highly enjoyable career as a fashion designer.
To ensure that help remains available for care leavers who find themselves in the same position as I did all those years ago, the charity is calling for government to raise the cut off age for support from 21 to 25 for those leaving care. This will ensure that all care leavers, including those not currently in employment, education or training have access to a personal adviser who can support and equip them for independence.
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.
Children in foster care should be allowed to remain with their foster carers until they are at least 21, if they wish. Most young people who on average do not permanently leave home until they are in their mid-20s, have parents continuing to give a helping hand long after that point, few will expect them to make their way alone in the adult world from then on.
However this is exactly what we are asking many children leaving the care system to do. Offering care leavers the opportunity to spend extra time in care will help them prepare for the future and the best possible chance of success in their adult lives.
One year on, it is heartening to see progress being made in the commitment to care leavers. Barnardo's and I are very much looking forward to seeing an end to care leavers having to fight for what they are entitled to.
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