The days when most of us left home on the dot of our 18th birthday are long gone.
The cost of living has never been so high. Those at university must contend with burdensome levels of debt and all but the wealthiest youngsters these days wonder how they will ever save the money needed to pay for a deposit on ever more unaffordable housing. Finding a job with little or no practical experience is a job in itself for many.
The challenges are formidable and the results predictable: ever greater numbers of young people are still living with their parents well into their 20s. The average age of people leaving home is now a decidedly adult 24!
Growing up is certainly not a straightforward process and the stability and support provided by family counts for a great deal. Nobody really believes that the self-confidence and wherewithal needed to make your own way in the world arrives as if by magic on the morning of an arbitrary birthday.
But there is one group of teenagers who are almost always shown the door, even before they have reached the age of 18: those in care. These troubled teens have already had to contend with difficult and disrupted childhoods, growing up outside their birth families in often uncertain circumstances. And then their 18th birthday looms, statutory funding ends and they are expected to just cope with a life in the big band world.
The result of this expectation is equally predictable. To quote a letter in yesterday’s Telegraph from 40 children’s charities and agencies:
“Care leavers are sadly more likely to be unemployed, single parents, mental health service users, homeless or in prison than those who grew up within their own families.”
The letter notes:
“Research shows that the longer young people can stay with a foster family, the more successful they are in later life.”
A small proportion of children in care get to stay on part their 18th birthdays, but only if they succeed in finding special funding from their local authority or have such a good relationship with their foster families that the latter are prepared to fund them beyond their 18th birthdays out of their own pockets.
The brief but forceful letter describes the status quo for children in care as an “own goal”, noting “Savings now are outweighed by state spending on these young adults in the future.”
Signatories include the NSPCC, Barnados and the Children’s Society. It was written to highlight an amendment to the Children and Families Bill currently before the House of Lords. This would give all children in care the right to stay with their foster families until they turn 21, and this represents, they claim, a “once-a-generation opportunity”.
I agree. Care leavers have already suffered disadvantage and ill fortune. If we insist on making life still more difficult for such vulnerable members of society, we will all end up paying the price in the end.