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‘Radical reform’ required as quarter of care leavers in Wales end up homeless by the age of 18

New findings made by the Children, Young People and Education Committee reveal that a quarter of care leavers in Wales end up homeless by the age of 18 – with recommendations to provide statutory support and cap the caseload of children’s social workers.

02/06/23

 ‘Radical reform’ required as quarter of care leavers in Wales end up homeless by the age of 18

Major questions over provision of housing for care leavers in Wales have been raised by the findings of a new Senedd report.

The Children, Young People and Education Committee investigated issues faced by children throughout their experiences leading up to, during, and after leaving the care setting.

Jane Bryant, who chaired the Committee, concluded that the issues faced by children in care in Wales called for a ‘time for action’ to provide more support enshrined in increased legal right.

A key finding of the committee is the shocking statistic that up to a quarter of care leavers in Wales will be without a home by the time they reach 18 years of age. This can take the form of young adults regularly having to stay in hotels or even in some cases face life on the streets.

The Children, Young People and Education Committee concluded with 27 recommendations and 12 ‘radical reforms’ that would protect children in care upon reaching 18 as well as to ensure some relief to the social workers who support them.

Amongst the recommendations are several calls to increase the statutory rights of care leavers, for example by ensuring that they receive support until the age of 25 and are entitled to priority status in housing allocation and priority access to aid if they become homeless.

With regards to social workers and foster carers, the committee has suggested that a law be put in place to put a cap on the caseloads handled by children’s services social workers and a necessity for all foster carers to register with Social Care Wales to aid regulation and education.

Facing the daunting prospect of not being able to secure reliable housing is only one of the many issues facing care leavers in Wales. The findings of the Children, Young People and Education Committee also point out that less that 20% of children in care will achieve above a C grade in five or more of their GCSEs, limiting their employment opportunities.

Councillor Lynda Thorne, Cardiff’s Council member for housing and communities stated that pressures faced by the council surrounding certain issues such as homeliness are ‘unprecedented’. Thorne says that there are ‘significant’ challenges being faced by the local authority in the area – a fact that can be seen through number of calls made to the housing helpline at Cardiff Council reaching a record high in the last year.

The concern over finding placements and housing for care leavers may in part be due to the overall increase of children in care across the country. Since 2013, the number of looked after children in Wales has increased by 23%, with an average of 112 children in care per 10,000 population, compared to 70 children in care per 10,000 population in England. This dramatic increase of children in need of care, resources and protection has added the pressure to a sector already suffering from a severe and long-term shortage of social workers, adding to the already heavy workloads carried by many.

Many of the recommendations echo provisions already in place in England, such as the recommendation to encourage care leavers to engage in tertiary education – for which there is already the option of a £2,000 bursary available for care leavers in England.

There are now wider calls from the committee’s findings which expressed concerns over the portion of agency staff in the children’s social care setting which reached 50% in 2022. The committee has also highlighted the need to eliminate ‘profit making from care’ through increasing legal responsibilities on other public bodies and private organisations.

A spokesperson for the Welsh Government said that they are ‘working with the sector to improve recruitment and retention of social workers.’ The spokesperson went further, saying that in relation to the committee’s output that the Welsh Government ‘will consider the recommendations in the report.’

Read more about care leavers fearing for their safety in poor housing: https://www.socialworktoday.co.uk/News/Care-leavers-often-‘fearing-for-their-safety’-in-unsafe-accommodation%2C-says-new-report

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