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Finding their Feet: Equipping care leavers to reach their potential

This report is about giving the most vulnerable children in society a second chance. Too often those who start life experiencing deeply dysfunctional relationships end up treading the same path their parents did before them. With 10,000 children leaving care every year and with at least one in 10 care leavers who are parents having their own child taken into care in the past year alone, it is vital this cycle of disadvantage is broken.

The unavoidable truth is that the system is failing too many of the most vulnerable children in the country. Most shockingly the Centre for Social Justice (CSJ) found that 22 per cent of female care leavers become teenage parents, and 60 per cent of suspected child victims of trafficking go missing from care, many within 48 hours.

These children require safe, stable and supportive relationships. Instead, it is hard not to conclude that in many cases the state is failing in its role as corporate parent. The evidence already makes clear the shocking effects the lack of functional relationships can have on children in care. Despite representing only one per cent of young people, care leavers make 11 per cent of homeless young people. Moreover, 24 per cent of the adult prison population and 70 per cent of sex workers have been in care. Whilst this can stem from lasting impacts of pre-care experiences, it cannot be avoided that more can be done to support these children. As the CSJ’s previous report Survival of the Fittest? shows care leavers who are most likely to experience poor outcomes are given the least help.

The report finds that siblings in care are separated at shocking levels. 95 per cent of those in residential children’s homes are separated from a sibling in care and 71 per cent of looked after children. Nor is there enough emphasis on developing functional relationships with children in care and reliable extended family members. It is important the next Government takes note of hugely successful practices such as the Family Finding and Engagement model in the United States. Among the successes, the Orange County Family Finding project saw 97 per cent of young people involved increase contact with family members and 89 per cent make life-long connections.

Our report also finds that too many individuals leaving the care system are unprepared for independence. The transition to adulthood is often a difficult time for most young people but without a suitable system of support the ability to gain a good education, sustainable employment and financial stability is much more of a challenge.

For the past decade the number of care leavers not in education, employment or training has remained at more than double the national average. Previous action by Governments over the past decade has led to more care leavers in higher education but the next administration must focus on apprenticeships to ensure children are not left behind. Contained in this report are realistic and comprehensive recommendations that will enable the next Government to help care leavers.