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More than a third of care leavers feel that they left care too early, report finds

A new Ofsted report finds that the experiences of how local authorities prepared young people for leaving care have been varied, with many were unaware of the support to which they are entitled.

20/01/22

More than a third of care leavers feel that they left care too early, report finds

More than a third of care leavers say they felt they had to leave care ‘whether they were ready or not’, according to new research by the children’s social care inspectorate Ofsted.

Care leavers said this was often because the move out of care happened abruptly and they were not ready for all the sudden changes. Of those who did feel that they left care at the right time, not all felt they had the required skills to live more independently.

Statutory guidance requires children in care to be introduced to their personal advisor (PA) from 16 years old to support them as they leave care. However, over a quarter did not meet their PA until they were 18 or older, and a fifth of care leavers said they met their PA too late.

Around a quarter of care leavers reported they were not at all involved in developing these plans. Some felt that, even when they expressed their wishes, they were not listened to, or that they did not fully understand the options. Some felt that plans did not match their aspirations. For many, this had a long-term impact on their education or career path, as well as their emotional well-being.

Many care leavers said they were not aware of the different kinds of support they are entitled to, saying they were not taught essential skills, such as how to shop, cook or manage money.

Worryingly for social workers, some care leavers said they could not trust or rely on the professionals helping them to prepare for leaving care. Care leavers reported that professionals were ‘rude’ or ‘uninterested’, or showed a lack of respect, for example by cancelling meetings, turning up late or ignoring their feelings.

Only around half remembered being told about the help available to them in their local area. A similar proportion reported being told how to complain about the support, or lack of support, they received. Even fewer were told how to get advocacy support.

Many care leavers said they felt isolated and did not know who to turn to for help after leaving care, and many did not know where to get help with their mental health or emotional well-being. A third (32%) of respondents said that they did not know who to contact in an emergency, and a quarter (24%) said they had to find out on their own. Worrying about money was the most common reason young people felt unsafe after leaving care, and several attributed money-related problems in later life to a lack of financial preparation.

“I had little help in learning the financial side of things,” one care leaver said, adding: “I am in years of debt with council tax and water rates due to this.”

However the research found that, for young people currently in care, the majority were receiving help with their money skills.

The research was revealed as part of the report ‘Ready or not: care leavers’ views of preparing to leave care’, which consisted of an online, nationwide survey and follow-up interviews.

Yvette Stanley, Ofsted’s National Director for Social Care, said the report suggests that there is more for corporate parents to do to give children leaving care the support and help they need.

“The transition out of care can be a daunting prospect for many. It’s so important that children feel prepared with the skills they need to live independently and a support network there to help them if they need it. Unfortunately, many of the young people we spoke to felt they left care before they were ready and didn’t know where to turn to for help.

“The insights these young people have shared with us strike a powerful chord and are valuable in identifying how things can be improved for care leavers. We will continue to draw on these findings in our future research and as we make improvements to our inspection work so that it always reflects what matters most to children in care and care leavers.”

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