05/12/2016 11:25 GMT | Updated 06/12/2017 05:12 GMT

Children And Social Work Bill - A Chance For Government To Help Our Most Vulnerable Young People


Teenage years can be tough; teenage years in care are much tougher, so supporting young people as they move out of care is vital to make sure they get the best possible start to adult life.

Get it right and young people will flourish - supported in their education, training or work, learning new skills and thriving within their community. Get it wrong and the chance of a bright new future can end up being darker than any of us can imagine.

In her speech to the Conservative Party Conference in October, Theresa May said "our society should work for everyone." And earlier this year, her predecessor, David Cameron, made a promise to every child in care when he said: "I believe that when the state becomes a child's parent, we should -- just like any loving parent -- bust a gut to help give them every advantage we can."

At Barnardo's we couldn't agree more and as the Children and Social Work Bill has its second reading in the House of Commons, I am urging Theresa May to follow up on those pledges to make sure we stand by our care leavers.

Barnardo's runs services across the UK which aim to bridge the gap for thousands of teenagers and young people as they leave care. While we know they benefit from our services, we believe these vulnerable young people should be entitled to more help.

This year's report by Ofsted into the experience of looked-after children and care leavers said they were "much more likely to experience mental health difficulties than other children, with 37 per cent being assessed as having a score for emotional well-being that gives cause for concern."

Many children who come into care have experienced trauma and abuse. We believe that all children in care and care leavers should be offered a mental health assessment by a qualified professional and then given the support to meet their needs.

Barnardo's also wants all care leavers, not just those in foster care, to be offered safe and suitable accommodation up to the age of 21. The Government's own figures show that nearly 1 in 5 care leavers aged 19 - 21, either live in unsuitable accommodation or there is no record of where they are living.

We know, through the work we have done in our Beyond Care campaign, young people who are put in B&Bs or unsuitable hostels can find themselves living next to other residents who may have threatening behaviour or use drugs or alcohol. It's not the start that anyone wants for our vulnerable care leavers.

We should remember these young people, through no fault of their own, have often had a very rough start in life. Despite that, they can be forced to become independent much younger than other children.

The Children and Social Work Bill - as part of the Government's drive to help the most vulnerable - is a unique opportunity to provide proper mental health and emotional support for this group of young people and the guarantee of somewhere safe to live.

At Barnardo's, we think this is the least the Government can do.