Children leaving the care system experience mouldy housing, shared accommodation where there is anti-social behaviour and substance abuse issues, a report by Barnardo’s has found.
The ‘No Place like Home’ report highlighted that around 10,000 young people in England aged 16-18 leave local authority care every year. Yet their experience is often frightening, with some fearing for their safety and living in very poor-quality accommodation – while having to manage alone without family support.
Barnardo’s Chief Executive Javed Khan said: “Many people grow up taking for granted that their parents and wider family will be there to support them well into adulthood.
“But after a childhood spent moving between different schools, foster families and social workers, many young people leaving the care system enter adulthood without a strong support network, leaving them particularly vulnerable.
“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,” added Mr Khan.
A new online poll of 2,000 adults by YouGov for Barnardo’s show the experiences of care leavers are in stark contrast to the safety net of parental support most young people enjoy, even after they leave the family home.
The average age for leaving home in England is 23 and people often still receive some support from their parents when they start to live independently. Yet young people who have been in the care system leave at 18 or even younger, meaning many are expected to manage alone before they feel ready.
Of people who have ever moved out of their family home, one in five (21%) said they received no support at all from them when they first moved out of the family home to live independently.
More than 7 in 10 (71%) of 25-34-year-olds who have ever moved out of their family home said they received a lot or a fair amount of support from their parents to live independently. In fact, 63% said the support they received helped them to cope with living independently and nearly half (47%) saying they would have struggled to live independently without it.
Funded by the charity’s corporate partner IKEA, Barnardo’s interviewed 23 care leavers about their experiences. The interviews revealed:
- An overwhelming proportion reported that they had had little or no choice about where they moved after leaving care.
- Many found the whole process of finding somewhere to live and moving in to be ‘scary’ and did not feel ready to live independently.
- Few felt prepared with the practical skills required to live independently.
The YouGov poll by Barnardo’s revealed that just over 4 in 10 (42%) of 25-34-year-olds who have ever moved out of their family home moved back into their parents’ homes at least once after they had moved out to live independently.
However, young people leaving care do not have this option. Many said they felt unsafe in the accommodation they were given, sharing with people with drug and alcohol problems, and ended up on the street or sofa-surfing.
One young female care leaver specifically requested not to be in shared accommodation with men, yet found herself placed in a property with four older men who hung around the corridors at night. She said: “It really scared me. I locked myself in my room and found it really intimidating going to the bathroom at night.”
Another said: “Looking back on it, I now realise how impressionable young people who have had a difficult life are. Someone like me who never did drugs or drink can go into a place and all of that changes.”
Furthermore, the accommodation on offer to care leavers is often of very poor quality with problems like mould and damp.
According to Barnardo’s YouGov poll, of those who grew up in their parent(s) home:
- More than a third (37%) received general advice
- 30% had help to move home
- 29% received emotional support when they first moved out
- One in five (20%) got financial help to buy furniture or white goods like washing machines, fridges and microwaves
- More than one in 10 had help to pay a deposit (13%)
- 11% had help to pay rent.
Often the cost of setting up a new home was a significant caused of worry to young care leavers. They explained that after struggling to meet the costs of living and upkeep of their property, there was often no money left over for travel on public transport to see friends and family.
Care leavers have a right to secure accommodation under the Housing Act, but they lose this right if they are deemed ‘intentionally’ homeless. Yet one young person was made homeless as a result of fleeing domestic violence, and others moved out because of the anti-social behaviour of other residents in their semi-independent accommodation.
Barnardo’s makes a number of recommendations in the report:
- The government should make it easier for young people to stay with their foster carers until the age of 21 and to place the ‘Staying Close’ scheme on similar legislative footing to ‘Staying Put’ so that it applies not just to young people in foster care but also to those in residential care.
- Robust quality standards should be introduced for semi-independent accommodation.
- The setting up home grant should be raised from £2,000 to £4,000 for care experienced young people to ensure there is enough to ‘make a house a home’.
Barnardo’s Chief Executive Javed Khan said: “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.
"The government has a unique opportunity to improve the system for care leavers, through the Independent Review of Children's Social Care. 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,” he concluded.