Care leavers often ‘fearing for their safety’ in unsafe accommodation, says new report

Many care leavers are living “in very poor-quality accommodation” with little or no choice about where they moved after leaving, Barnardo’s say.

28/05/21

Care leavers often ‘fearing for their safety’ in unsafe accommodation, says new report

Testimonies from care leavers in a new report have highlighted the struggles and dangers many face when moving into independent or shared living accommodations.

The result of a collaboration between children’s charity Barnardo’s and home store IKEA, the new research report found that some care leavers described their experiences of living on their own as “very frightening”, with only 8% of all current care leavers living with former carers.

As part of the research, Barnardo’s interviewed 23 care leavers about their experiences of living independently after leaving the care system.

The charity found that many of them said that they did not receive enough support when leaving care and often felt unsafe and unprotected in the accommodation they were given, or ended up on the streets.

Many care leavers described instances where they were sharing accommodation with people with drug and/or alcohol problems, with one care leaver describing how easy it was to fall in with the wrong crowds.

One young female care leaver revealed how she had specifically requested to not be in shared accommodation with men, yet found herself living with four older men who made her feel uncomfortable and unsafe, to the point where she avoided going to the bathroom at night in her own home.

The quality of the accommodation that care leavers often found themselves in was a key area of concern raised by interviewees in the report.

One care leaver described in detail how she was hospitalised with lung disease due to the level of mould and damp present in her property: “I was excited to have left care and move into my own place. The first day was a massive weight lifted off my shoulders. But I didn’t realise the faults – I wish I had some support when I viewed the property as it wasn’t until later I realised the extent of the mould and damp.”

“I started feeling unwell all the time – headaches, colds and chest infections. I went to the doctors six times with what was thought to be chest infections.”

“They thought it was a blood clot on my lung and I had to be rushed to hospital. I had lots of fluid on my lungs which were severely inflamed. It turned out that the mould and damp caused me to have developed lung disease. They did tests of the mould which showed extremely high levels of spores in my blood and further tests showed I had had a reaction the spores. I was in hospital for a week and my lungs have been left permanently scarred. I was on steroids for two years.”

Another care leaver said that when she moved into her independent house with her child, she discovered significant mould and damp issues.

“There was mould everywhere, it grew on my curtains and on my clothes, it was everywhere, I got a dehumidifier and after an hour I had to empty it because there was so much water in there.

The care leaver said that when she spoke to the council about the issue that their response indicated that “they didn’t really care.”

The report found that care leavers often struggle to access to both high-quality independent and shared accommodation for a variety of reasons.

Landlords often discriminate against those leaving care because they are seen as part of the potential “at risk” group of tenants who might miss rent payments or damage the property. Care leavers also often have trouble securing rent guarantors, according to the report.

Care leavers are currently entitled to choose their accommodation, given three opportunities in principle to reject up to three properties presented to them before they are marked as ‘intentionally homeless’.

However, the report found that care leavers were often told to take the first place offered to them, especially within the social sector, “irrespective of whether it was suitable” for them.

In addition, interviewees described how they had been given ‘intentionally homeless’ status after leaving their allocated accommodation out of fear for their own safety.

One young person described how they were not given additional housing supported after fleeing domestic violence, whilst others moved out because they felt unsafe due to the behaviour of other residents in their semi-independent or shared accommodations.

As part of the report, Barnardo’s has called on the Government to make a number of interventions to ensure that young people are suitably housed, protected, and supported when leaving care.

The charity recommends that the Government provides “robust quality standards” for semi-independent accommodations, increasing the level of financial support available for care experienced young people, and to make it easier for care leavers to stay with foster carers until the age of 21.

Barnardo’s Chief Executive Javed Khan said the Government should seize the “unique opportunity” to improve the system for care leavers through the upcoming Independent Review of Children’s Social Care.

“Having a safe and stable home is one of the most important factors in helping care leavers to recover from past trauma, gain qualifications and secure stable employment. Yet our research has demonstrated that care leavers are too often expected to live in conditions that are unsuitable and at worst unsafe,” said Mr Khan.

“Some care leavers have no choice but to share with people who have drug and alcohol problems, while others are placed in housing with mould and damp that severely affects their health. In the worst cases, the place they are expected to call ‘home’ feels so unsafe that they end up on the streets.

“We wouldn’t accept this for our own children – so we should not accept it for the most vulnerable young people either.

“We must also make it easier for young people to stay with their foster carers up to the age of 21; and when they do live independently, accommodation must be safe and appropriate to meet their needs.”

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