Care leavers offered unsafe and unsuitable accommodation

New research from Barnardo’s has uncovered the extent of unsafe, unsuitable and unhealthy accommodation offered to vulnerable young people when they leave care.

The charity’s No Place Like Home report highlights the problem of mouldy housing and shared accommodation where there is antisocial behaviour and drug and alcohol problems. This strongly contrasts with the safety net of parental support most young people enjoy, even after they leave the family home, according to a new online poll of 2,000 adults by YouGov for Barnardo’s.

Every year, around 10,000 young people in England aged 16-18 leave local authority care. 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.

Additionally, the research project found that the costs of setting up a new home was a significant cause of worry and stress to young people leaving the care system, particularly when they moved into unfurnished flats. Care leavers 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.  

Barnardo’s suggests that the government 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. In addition to this, the charity says ministers should increase the setting up home grant from £2,000 to £4,000 for care experienced young people to ensure there is enough to ‘make a house a home’.

Javed Khan, chief executive, 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.

“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.”

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