The world can feel like a scary place for any young person striding out on their own for the first time. Thrust into a world of greatly increased responsibility, the transition to adulthood is a challenging time.
For most young people there is a support network to help them through this period. They fall back on the support of their family and friends; they learn and adapt.
However, for young people leaving the care system this support is sadly often limited or non-existent. All too frequently they are left to fend for themselves without the necessary skills or even a suitable place to live.
Earlier this week Barnardo's released a report which showed just how hard this period can be for those leaving care in England. Alarmingly it showed that these particularly vulnerable young people can regularly find themselves in unsuitable, unsafe or insecure accommodation.
We all need our home to be more than bricks and mortar. We need it to be a source of stability, security and support. For a care leaver having a secure and welcoming place to live is a vital stepping stone on the road to independence and building a promising future when leaving the care system.
As part of the report young people told us of how they struggle with the practical problems of how to pay bills and cook for themselves. Others experienced a break down in their accommodation and were facing the risk of eviction, sofa surfing or even sleeping rough.
Barnardo's works with local authorities and other partners to offer practical and emotional support to ensure that these vulnerable young people have the best possible chance to build a good life for themselves. Our services offer the chance to make friends and receive comfort and encouragement. They also offer advice on cooking, cleaning, budgeting as well as finding and keeping a job.
Where housing is an issue, Barnardo's 'crashpad' services provide emergency housing to ensure youngsters will not be left without anywhere to stay. Having this emotional and practical support is so important, particularly at points of crisis. One care leaver told us recently about the difficulties they face:
"What I'm scared about is that when I get to that point and I can't do it (cope alone), I'm out there and you're not. There's no way of getting back into care once you leave it".
This isn't an isolated testimony; young people tell our support workers time and again about just how hard it is for them to manage as they start to live alone.
The report makes clear that more needs to be done to ensure care leavers have access to appropriate housing. Children's services and housing departments across the country need to come together to ensure the needs of care leavers in their area are effectively met.
On top of this they must ensure that these young people are given a degree of choice about where they live and are able to access appropriate accommodation as their personal circumstances change.
Having a safe and comfortable place to call your home is an unequivocal human right; a fundamental cornerstone of any happy and successful individual. We must do all we can to ensure that this most vulnerable group enjoy the same privilege many of us take for granted.
For too long care leavers have been marginalised, ignored and left to fend for themselves. This can't be allowed to continue.
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