THE BLOG

Society Is Failing Children Who Are Forced to Leave Care Too Soon

05/02/2014 10:08 GMT | Updated 06/04/2014 10:59 BST

Today is a momentous day for children in foster care in England. The Government is bringing in a new law that will give young people the chance stay with their foster parents until their 21st birthday, so they aren't forced to leave as early as 16.

Children enter the care system for many reasons, though often because of abuse and neglect. Most children in care will have experienced great distress and upheaval in their childhood and for these reasons are not always ready to be independent. And why should they be?

The average age that a young person leaves home in the UK is 24. Yet, almost a quarter of young people in care feel that they have no choice as to when they must leave to set up home alone.

So by bringing in this measure to enable young people to stay with their foster carers for longer, the Westminster Government has taken a step forward in righting the wrongs of a system that allows young people to leave care at 16. We are obviously delighted about this! We are also working with the Welsh Government to make the case to ensure young people in Wales have the same rights.

But what about young people in children's homes, living with extended family members (kinship care) or those who don't want to stay in foster care?

It is precisely because there is no solution for this group of young people that today's announcement is so bitter sweet.

At 16 we know young people aren't ready or equipped to cope in an adult world. A 16 year old girl who recently left care to live on her own told us:

"Sometimes, when things are really hard, I feel like doing something stupid you know? I feel like doing a little crime, nothing major, just something big enough to get me into prison. At least in prison you know you'd always have company, people around you and someone to give you a meal. Sometimes I think that'd be better than this."

Another care leaver, a 36 year old woman explained:

"I wasn't ready to leave and live on my own. I was self harming, withdrawn and wouldn't talk much to people."

This is the reality for just two of the 10,000 young people leaving care each year. The national statistics only paint part of the picture and cannot reflect the daily struggle that this vulnerable group face.

We know for example, that approximately 11 per cent of care leavers have problems with alcohol and 21 per cent abuse drugs. Alarmingly, 20 per cent of young homeless people have been in care. And 24 per cent of the adult prison population have been in care.

It is for these reasons that Action for Children has long believed that the age of leaving care should be raised to 21 for ALL young people whether they're in foster care, a children's home or living with relatives.

So despite the good news today, we will work hard to find the solutions for all children in care. We know this won't be straightforward. But we also know it is a challenge worth tackling as right now society is failing all the young people who are forced to leave care too soon.