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TURNING 18: Independence or cliff edge?

The University of Sheffield has published a series of policy briefings on working against the challenges faced by children and ensuring they have the best possible chances in life. The four policy briefings cover: the effectiveness of early intervention; single parent families; the role of voluntary organisations in supporting and monitoring young carers; the services provided for young people leaving care.

The lack of support provided to those leaving care has become an increasingly prominent policy and practice issue over the last thirty years. In the UK, most recently, the 2017 Children and Social Work Act gave new legal duties to local authorities to provide advice and support to all care leavers until the age of 25. However aspects of financial, housing and practical support provided to care leavers after the age of 18 remains discretionary, and there is substantial variability in provision of support between, and sometimes within, local authority areas.

On March 31st, 2017 there were 72,670 children in care, with over 100,000 children who were in care at some point during the previous year. The number of children in care has been on an upward trajectory since the mid-1990s with consistent increases in care numbers over the last decade (DfE, 2017a).

This study focuses on the experiences of residents of a nine bed therapeutic unit for young women in local authority care between the ages of 16 - 18, where the aim is to prepare them for responsibilities that come with that transition to adulthood. Young women living in this unit have often had a series of placement breakdowns, acute mental health needs, a history of Child Sexual Exploitation (CSE) and present with additional social and behavioural needs. Their social workers have identified them as needing a higher level of support to prepare them to live independently. Interviews were conducted with unit residents and some of the professionals working to prepare them for independent living.

Few studies have focussed specifically on young people entering a care environment in later adolescence- a context that gives a particular time pressure to the work involved, given the legal age of adulthood is fast approaching. Outcomes for those who enter care later, or are in high support accommodation towards the end of care, are generally poorer (Centrepoint, 2017). Young people’s own perspectives about their own support, needs and conceptions of the future are under-represented in the research literature. This study sought to foreground these young women’s perspectives on their experiences in order to develop policy recommendations which are located squarely within the realities of young people’s lived experience.