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Barnardo’s Cymru calls for better support for care leavers

Barnardo’s Cymru has called for a new Welsh Government strategy to ensure care leavers across Wales are given greater support to become independent adults.

The charity is calling for a Wales-wide approach to improve the care and support of every child in care from the age of 11 until they reach 25. It hopes the move will help tackle problems such as poor educational performance, homelessness and exploitation.

Sarah Crawley, Director of Barnardo’s Cymru, said:

“Leaving care strategies usually focus on 16 to 21-year-olds but if we are really going to get things right for young people we need to support them through their adolescence and into independence as young adults.

“Young people need a wider range of care options, support to build positive peer networks and more access to supportive relationships with adults.”

Young people entering care as teenagers want a safe place to live and whilst some settle into foster care others don’t feel comfortable in a family situation. As George, one of the teenagers interviewed by Barnardo’s Cymru, said:

“I already had a family, I didn’t want another one.”

Mrs Crawley said:

“Young people consistently say that strong, reliable relationships with adults and supportive friends are important factors in keeping them safe, helping them overcome challenges, such as care placement break down, and providing them with the skills they need to make successful journeys into their adult lives.”

The charity has called for better training for carers and support workers so they can understand how adverse childhood experiences can make teenagers and young people vulnerable to further negative experiences and abuse, and how they can be supported to avoid this happening.

“Young people who have not had a good start in life can be at greater risk of exposure to further harm and abuse including sexual and criminal exploitation.

“Teenagers may sometimes give the appearance of being strong and independent but they actually need a lot of support,”

said Mrs Crawley.

The number of young people in care aged 16 and 17 rose by almost a third in Wales between 2010 and 2016 (from 315 to 460), but funding for the personal advisor services to support those aged 16-21 has mostly remained the same or even decreased in some areas.

Personal advisors act as coordinators of services and relationships around the young person as well as providing emotional and practical support, helping them learn about looking after themselves and managing finances, giving them the skills they need for adult life.  

Funding issues are making it increasingly difficult for them to deliver the high-quality support young people need or, in some cases, to meet their statutory duties. This is an issue that must be addressed alongside consideration of extending PA support to young people up to the age of 25.

Among the approaches that can work well with young people are family group conferences to explore whether a young person can be supported by their extended family and the Independent Visitor Service where trained volunteers befriend those in care, becoming a listening ear, sharing activities and establishing consistent relationships that can last for many years.

Barnardo’s Cymru spoke to a number of young people currently in care or who have left care about their experiences.

Kaitlin, 17, went into care when she was 15 and spent time in a number of emergency placements and two residential homes.

She said:

“There didn’t seem to be any plan in place and social workers didn’t consider what I wanted. I didn’t feel anyone was including me. I really liked one of the homes but was told it was short term and not given any option to stay.

“My first couple of months in care was the worst experience of my life and I eventually made myself homeless, I had no one to care for me, no one contacted me. I would walk past police stations but no one questioned why I was homeless.

“Now I live in semi-independent accommodation where I feel very supported and I’ve become a better person. Whenever I’m having a really bad day there is always someone to talk to. Having someone to listen to you is something all young people should have.”

Dean*, now in his 20s, said that when he went into care at the age of 11 he thought it was his fault and would lash out.

“It should be explained to children that the care system is somewhere for them to be safe, they are not in it because they have been naughty but perhaps their parents have problems or there has been neglect or abuse.

“My foster mum is my icon but I felt I had to leave her home when I reached 21 because the care system told me I needed to start independent living.

“I think young people should be able to stay in care for longer. There’s not enough social housing and if they are not ready for independence they are likely to end up homeless. They may say they are ready but they’re not.”

Joe*, 18, said:

“A lot of young people haven't learnt a lot of the life skills most people take for granted. A basic ability to manage money or the ability to do your own cooking and cleaning can be a real challenge as you sort of have to adapt to your new environment, learn new skills and continue with work or education all at once.”

*Names have been changed.

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