Barnardo’s research has uncovered the extent of unsafe, unsuitable and unhealthy accommodation offered to vulnerable young people when they leave care.
The experiences of young people leaving the care system for Barnardo’s No Place Like Home report, funded by IKEA and published today (Tuesday 25 May), paint a grim picture of mouldy housing and shared accommodation where there is antisocial behaviour and drug and alcohol problems.
They are in stark contrast to 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 the leading children’s charity.
Of people who have ever moved out of their family home, only one in five (21%) said they received no support at all from them when they first moved out of the family home to live independently.
More than 7 in 10 (71%) of 25-34-year-olds who have ever moved out of their family home said they received a lot or a fair amount of support from their parents when they first moved out of the family home to live independently, with 63% saying the support they received helped them to cope with living independently and nearly half (47%) saying they would have struggled to live independently without it.
Every year, around 10,000 young people in England aged 16-18 leave local authority care. Barnardo’s found that their experience is often frightening, with some fearing for their safety and living in very poor-quality accommodation – while having to manage alone without family support.
The average age for leaving home in England is 23 and people often still receive some support from their parents when they start to live independently. Yet young people who have been in the care system leave at 18 or even younger, meaning many are expected to manage alone before they feel ready.
As part of Barnardo’s research project, the charity interviewed 23 care leavers about their experiences, funded by the charity’s corporate partner IKEA.
An overwhelming proportion reported that they had had little or no choice about where they moved after leaving care, many found the whole process of finding somewhere to live and moving in to be ‘scary’ and did not feel ready to live independently, saying they had not been prepared with the practical skills needed.
The YouGov polling by Barnardo’s revealed that just over 4 in 10 (42%) of 25-34-year-olds who have ever moved out of their family home moved back into their parents’ homes at least once after they’d moved out to live independently.
But young people leaving care do not have this option. 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.
One young female care leaver specifically requested not to be in shared accommodation with men, but found herself placed in a property with four older men who hung around the corridors at night. She said: “It really scared me. I locked myself in my room and found it really intimidating going to the bathroom at night.”
Another said: “Looking back on it, I now realise how impressionable young people who have had a difficult life are. Someone like me who never did drugs or drink can go into a place and all of that changes.”
The interviews revealed that accommodation offered to young people is often of very poor quality with problems like mould and damp.
Tasha Clegg moved into her own flat when she left care at the age of 17.
She said: “I was excited to have left care and move into my own place. The first day was a massive weight lifted off my shoulders. But I didn’t realise the faults – I wish I had some support when I viewed the property as it wasn’t until later I realised the extent of the mould and damp.
“I started feeling unwell all the time – headaches, colds and chest infections. I went to the doctors six times with what was thought to be chest infections. One December I could barely breathe. I could barely walk – it was a huge effort to get up in the waiting room to walk to the doctor’s room.
“They thought it was a blood clot on my lung and I had to be rushed to hospital. I had lots of fluid on my lungs which were severely inflamed. It turned out that the mould and damp caused me to have developed lung disease. They did tests of the mould which showed extremely high levels of spores in my blood and further tests showed I had had a reaction the spores. I was in hospital for a week and my lungs have been left permanently scarred. I was on steroids for two years.”
According to Barnardo’s YouGov poll, of those who grew up in their parent(s) home, more than a third (37%) received general advice, 30% had help to move home and 29% received emotional support when they first moved out.
One in five (20%) got financial help to buy furniture or white goods like washing machines, fridges and microwaves and more than one in 10 had help to pay a deposit (13%) and help to pay rent (11%).
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.
Care leavers have a right to secure accommodation under the Housing Act, but they lose this right if they are deemed ‘intentionally’ homeless. Yet one young person was made homeless as a result of fleeing domestic violence, and others moved out because of the anti-social behaviour of other residents in their semi-independent accommodation.
In its No Place Like Home report, Barnardo’s is making several recommendations* to Government, including:
- Making 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.
- Providing robust quality standards for semi-independent accommodation.
- Increasing 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’.
Barnardo’s Chief Executive Javed Khan 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.”
Peter Jelkeby, Country Retail Manager and Chief Sustainability Officer, IKEA UK & Ireland, said:
"At IKEA, we want to have a positive impact on people and the planet. We have partnered with Barnardo's because we firmly believe that no matter what the circumstances, every child and young person deserves a place to call home and the best possible start in life.
“For us, home is the most important place in the world. Over the past year, the pandemic has shone an intense spotlight on people’s four walls, as everyone adjusted to spending more time at home. However, not everyone is fortunate enough in considering their home a safe, comfortable space - as is often the case for young people leaving care.
“Through this partnership, we aim to support some of the most vulnerable young people to learn independent living skills and to improve their lives at home. But we can't make meaningful change if the system doesn't evolve with the needs of care leavers. We are proud of having supported Barnardo's on this important piece of research, which will hopefully play a significant difference for the lives of young people leaving the care system as part of the Government's Review into Children's Social Care."