Care should be a good foundation for life

Anne Longfield
Tuesday, July 8, 2008

About 60,000 children and young people are living in care in England.

They are among society's most vulnerable children and have, by definition, experienced difficult starts in life. Research shows that children who grow up in care are three times more likely to be unemployed after leaving school, and 50 per cent of under-18s in prison have previously been in care. There is clearly a need to address the disruption living in care has on young people and to ensure a broad range of services are in place to help them to become confident and successful adults.

The Fostering Network has a membership of more than 50,000 foster carers, most local authorities, as well as health and social services trusts in the UK. It runs specialist projects nationwide with the aim of improving the lives of children in care. Its new project, Leading Our Lives, brings together foster children, care leavers and sons and daughters of foster carers to give them a voice in their futures. The three-year project will establish participation groups for young people in England, promote participation though support organisations, recruit sessional workers and deliver practical information resources. It will create regional forums of young people who will be given the opportunity to input into the services that affect them and also benefit from vocational support such as campaigning and media training to help build their confidence in speaking to the media about their work.

Tower Hamlets' leaving care team in London is leading the way in smoothing the transition into adult life for children leaving care. It places a strong emphasis on helping young people to build self-esteem and prepare for independence. Its leaving-care service helps young people to further their prospects by supporting them to pursue education or training, obtain employment and find suitable housing. It also has a community-development team that works to ensure that services are racially and culturally appropriate for all children.

Many looked-after children retain strong links with their families but a high number suffer from a strong sense of loss and isolation, and may feel anxious about their futures. Good progress is being made through the Children and Young Persons Bill towards extending the age of children in care to 21, which should help to increase feelings of stability and security.

The next stage involves ensuring that the support young people receive while living in care helps them to have happy childhoods. Supporting them to deal with difficult experiences they may have had helps them to become happy and successful adults.

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