Young care leaver sits on his sofa, alone, in his own place but without any support

No Place Like Home: experiences of leaving the care system

Type Policy and research document

Published on
6 May 2021

While the average age for leaving home is 23, many care leavers find themselves living alone at 18 or even 16. 

For young people, having a safe and stable home is a crucial factor in their journey to independence. A base where they feel happy and secure is the starting point for success in other areas of life, such as employment and training.   

Yet too often, young people leaving the care system face a cliff edge when they turn 18. Many leave full time education, lose access to specialist support for their mental health, and leave their foster family all at the same time, and are often expected to live in accommodation that is unsuitable and sometimes unsafe.  

I wanted something that I can prosper in, so that I can belong there but we had no choice but to take the property

Young person with experience leaving care

What have young people told us? 

We held 23 in-depth interviews with care leavers across England to learn about their experiences when they left care. 

They told us:  

  • Moving into supported accommodation or their own independent flat was sometimes “scary” and a number said they felt unsafe due crime and anti-social behaviour in the area:

The amount of antisocial behaviour that was there, my neighbour smoked crack which leaked into my flat, I witnessed knife fights outside my front door… I spoke to the council and the police…they don’t think if this was happening to my child what would I do, they don’t seem to have that approach

Young person with experience leaving care

  • Care leavers living in their own independent flats described problems with mould and damp – and a lack of access to support. 

When you’re not in supported accommodation all you really have is your leaving care worker and mine is not really around

Young person with experience leaving care

  • The money provided in the leaving care grant was not enough to buy the things needed to live independently - and not enough to ‘make a house feel homely’:  
£2000 is not a lot – social housing usually has no carpets or cooker which take a big part of the money

Young person with experience leaving care

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What needs to happen next? 

We must listen to care leavers’ experiences of learning care, and improve the system. There is a unique opportunity with the Independent review of children’s social care in England, which is preparing to make recommendations to the Government.    

Based on the direct experiences of children and young people supported by Barnardo’s we are calling for the following changes:  

  • Make it easier for young people to stay with their foster carers until the age of 21  

  • Legislate for a national ‘Staying Close’ scheme for children leaving residential care  

  • Provide robust quality standards for semi-independent accommodation  

  • Reform housing benefit to make it easier for care leavers to access suitable properties  

  • Provide care leavers with free bus travel to help tackle social isolation  

  • Increase the “setting up home allowance” for young people leaving care to ensure there is enough to ‘make a house a home’  

  • Improve understanding of support needs and outcomes for care leavers with babies 

  • Reform homelessness legislation to provide better support for care leaver who end up with nowhere to live  

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