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Young people leaving care need a suitable and safe home

Young people leaving care need a suitable and safe home

Javed Khan and Peter Jelkeby | Barnardo's and IKEA UK & Ireland

4 min read Partner content

A new report from Barnardo's and IKEA shines a stark spotlight on the experiences of young people living independently when leaving the care system

Most young people in the UK live in their family home until they are at least 23. Yet when it comes to vulnerable young people in the care of the state, we expect them to live independently just 18, or even younger. 

For most people, family provides a safety net, even once we’ve flown the nest. New polling for Barnardo’s by YouGov shows that just one in five adults received no support at all from their parents when they first moved out. Meanwhile, nearly half (47%) of 25-34-year-olds said they would have struggled to live independently without it.

Sadly, children and young people who have grown up in the care system are often left to fend for themselves. More than 10,000 young people leave care each year in England, and in general they have much poorer outcomes than their peers. By the time care leavers reach 19-21 years old, four in 10 are not in education, employment or training. Many suffer with poor physical and mental health and are even at greater risk of suicide.

That’s why Barnardo’s and IKEA have come together through a three-year partnership, united by our belief that every young person deserves a place to call home. Our new report – No place like home - shines a stark spotlight on the experiences of young people living independently when leaving the care system.

Based on direct interviews with young people, the report documents examples of unsafe and unsuitable accommodation. At worst there was mould and damp so bad it caused lung disease, which others were forced to share with older people who had drug and alcohol problems. Some even told us how they had ended up homeless, living on the street or ‘sofa-surfing’.

The Government’s recent investment of £51 million for support for care leavers is welcome, and through the Independent Review into Children's Social Care, there is a unique, once in a generation opportunity to transform the system overall.

If Ministers are serious about ‘levelling up’ then let’s start with those who face the greatest barriers to accessing opportunities.  

As a starting point, young people leaving care need suitable, safe and supported accommodation and ongoing support in their journey towards independent living.

The Government’s focus on improving unregulated provision for 16 and 17-year-olds is welcome, but we need robust quality standards for semi-independent accommodation up to the age of 25.

We know that young people who remain with their foster parents often do well, and this stability helps them thrive in education and employment. What we need now is multi-year investment so that more care leavers can stay with their foster families up to the age of 21, and we need a similar national scheme for those leaving residential care.

Many young people responding to our YouGov survey said they received financial support from their parents after leaving home, yet care leavers very often struggle to afford basics such as furniture or kitchen appliances. We think there’s a strong case to increase the Leaving Care Grant, so there is enough to ‘make a house a home’.

When they leave care, many young people are also placed in accommodation far away from trusted adults and friends.  Providing a national system of free bus travel would help care leavers access to their own support networks – meeting a friend for cup of tea or a chat can make all the difference when you are struggling with living alone. 

Lastly, we need to ensure that when things do go wrong and care leavers find themselves without a place to live, they are prioritised for help. While the Government’s recent Rough Sleeping strategy provided welcome extra investment for care leavers, we also need a change in the law, so they are not classed as ‘intentionally’ homeless if they leave their accommodation because it is unsuitable or unsafe.

Young people leaving care face huge challenges and have often experienced trauma early in their childhoods that few of us can imagine. We have a duty to make sure these young people have the care, love and opportunities that we would hope to provide to our own children. 

Improving access to safe and appropriate accommodation is the first step in achieving this.

Javed Khan is Chief Executive of Barnardo's and Peter Jelkeby is Country Retail Manager and Chief Sustainability Officer, IKEA UK & IrelandBarnardo’s and IKEA published “No Place Like Home” on 25th May. For more information see https://www.barnardos.org.uk/get-involved/campaign-with-us/no-place-like-home

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