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Children in care say they are being ‘let down’ by care system in open letter

A group of care-experienced young people have signed an open letter to all party leaders imploring them to ‘urgently reform the care system’.

07/06/24

Children in care say they are being ‘let down’ by care system in open letter

More than 70 young people in care have signed an open letter to the leaders of all political parties asking them to commit to reforming the care system ahead of the General Election.

There are currently around 84,000 children in care in England, but far too many of them are being let down by a care system that is not meeting their needs, the letter says.

They say the shortage of safe, stable, and suitable homes forces many children to live apart from their siblings and endure constant instability, often being moved miles away from familiar surroundings multiple times a year, often without warning. Decisions about where children live are driven by financial pressures and availability rather than by the child’s wishes, feelings, or best interests.

Young people are often made to leave care before they are ready, frequently on their 18th birthday, and sometimes even earlier. They face a "care cliff," expected to become independent overnight without any support, leading to a disproportionately high risk of homelessness.

For too many young people, the care system disrupts their education, harms their mental health, severs their connections, and leaves them isolated and voiceless.

Previous research showed that on average, children in care in England are placed more than 18 miles from their home – equivalent to the distance between Birmingham and Coventry – with some children moved more than 500 miles.

Children who experienced multiple care placements were more likely to be placed more than 20 miles from home. While children who have just had one placement are placed on average 15.8 miles away from home, children who have had three or more placements are placed on average 22.4 miles away from home.

Research also showed that children who are moved more than 20 miles from home are more likely to have lower wellbeing and experience emotional difficulties than children who are placed closer to home.

In 2022, almost two thirds (65%) of all children in private provision were placed outside of their local authority area, compared to 29.9% of children not in private provision. In 2022, almost all (92%) of children living in private secure units, children’s homes or semi-independent settings were placed out of area.

Data also showed that over 800 children under the care of local authorities in England were moved to Scotland or Wales.

Katharine Sacks-Jones, CEO of Become, a charity for children in care and care leavers which co-ordinated the letter, said that the upcoming election was a chance for party leaders to listen to what care-experienced children and young people want and to commit to the reforms so urgently needed.

“Far too many young people tell us that the care system is not working for them – it is causing huge instability, disrupting their education, impacting their mental health, and leaving them feeling isolated.

“The next government must have higher aspirations for care-experienced children and young people and deliver meaningful change so that every child has the love, care and stability they need.”

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