In an open letter to Education Secretary Gavin Williamson the group of 17 organisations said care-experienced children and young people risk “falling through the cracks” unless urgent action is taken to provide extra support during the pandemic.
With young people having left the care system often reliant on local authorities and the voluntary sector for contact and support, office closures and staff on sick leave meant many care leavers have found themselves increasingly isolated, the coalition warned.
The calls for greater support come ahead of the Coronavirus Bill, due to have its second reading on Monday, which could allow the government to suspend key duties carried out by councils, including responsibilities for children leaving care.
Under the bill’s emergency’s measures, this could also see local authorities no longer required to carry out assessments including disabled young people transitioning to adult social care services.
The letter, signed by organisations including Coram Voice, Tact Fostering and Adoption, Article 39 and care leavers charity the Drive Forward Forward, states: “Covid-19 poses an unprecedented threat to the well-being of many vulnerable young adults, including care leavers.
“If the current situation continues without emergency enhanced support, we fear deeply for the mental health and general well-being of many care leavers across the UK.”
Martha Wansbrough, chief executive of the Drive Forward Foundation, said focus should also be given to the impact of isolation on those who have been through the care system.
“With no family support to fall back on, many are failing to stock up their cupboards, top up their meters and pay the phone and internet bills that are currently a lifeline against loneliness.
“Without proper government intervention, I worry about what could happen to these young people. We mustn’t let some of the most vulnerable in our society fall through the cracks at a time of national emergency,” she said.
The National Youth Advocacy Service (NYAS), another organisation to sign the letter, is also calling for the protection and support for young people to be made a priority during the government’s response to the coronavirus crisis.
NYAS said the new coronavirus bill “weakened” the duty on local authorities to support care leavers and those with special educational needs and disabilities.
“Care-experienced children are four times more likely to have a mental health problem, which is in many cases attributed to isolation and loneliness.
“These young people are some of the most vulnerable in society, and the consequences of changes to the support they receive could have a long-term detrimental impact," Rita Waters, NYAS chief executive, said.
NYAS has set out an action plan to cover urgent issues facing care leavers and vulnerable children and young people in a second letter sent to the Eduction Secretary signed by 40 organisations:
It wants the government to ensure care leavers can still access advocacy support with funding provided to extend existing national helplines for care-experienced children and young people.
It is calling for local authorities to ensure effective safeguarding processes are in place for those transitioning from children’s to adult social care.
It also seeks to ensure support is given for children and young people that go missing as well as those at risk of being placed in unregulated provision.
- It also asking the government to introduce extra safeguarding measures to stop children being placed in unregulated supported accomodation.
Fostering and adoption charity Tact said its connect workers were continuing to support care-experienced young people in the community.
One care leaver who felt too anxious to leave the house had received a delivery of food shopping from a social worker living nearby after being told local food banks were overwhelmed and unable to help, the charity said.
They had also been put in touch with its virtual café for care-experienced young people, it added.
4/n Parenting does not stop at 18, 21 or 25. it is a lifelong commitment & the arbitrary boundaries the system puts in place are cruel & punitive. All of us who offer care to vulnerable children need to be there for life #ECLCM— TACT Foster & Adopt (@TACTCare) March 27, 2020