This week is National Care Leavers Week 2013. Whilst recognising that many individual care leavers are leading positive, successful and inspirational lives, and that there is a wealth of good care being experienced in projects and services throughout the country, The Care Leavers Association believes that the current care system is inadequate and fails too many young people. Too often in our work we find that young people have been effectively abandoned in their late teens by the social care system. Professionals working with young people are forced to ask “how much will this young person cost” and “do they qualify for support under the rules” rather than looking at what the young person needs.

The care system needs to be more focused on the individual. It needs to develop “A Care Relationship” rather than “a care system”.

If we forced all young people to leave home at the age of 18, the way we do the vast majority of care leavers, most parents can imagine the massive level of emotional and social carnage that would result. The fact that some care leavers do well in spite of the hurdles set in their way is not a justification for continued lack of support.

We are calling on the government and local authorities to come together to radically overhaul the care system as it stands. We need to look closely at the outcomes we get for the money we pay – it is currently not effective. It is too costly for too little in terms of positive outcomes. This needs to be addressed. Secondly we need to redress the balance between care and leaving care and vastly improve what we offer young people leaving care. All care leavers should receive support according to their needs and regardless of their age or their educational or employment status. Care leavers should have the right to stay in care, or return to care, until the age of 25. This would put them on an equal footing with their young peers outside the care system, given that the average age of leaving home is now in the mid-twenties.

We also call on all public services to address the problem of too many young care leavers falling thorough the gaps in the existing inadequate provision. This must be addressed by better practice and accompanying statutory guidance for work with this vulnerable and largely forgotten group. We must see a focus on preventative and proactive work rather than the current reactive approach, seeking user-led solutions based on the principle of empowering these young people to take control of their lives.

David Graham, National Director of The Care Leavers Association says:

“Given the current system it’s amazing that we see care leavers who flourish and get on with their lives. There are so many barriers out there and too many of them have been put in place by the state. We know new legislation or guidance will not work as current legislation is often not carried out. We need a radical new approach. Tinkering around the edges is no longer good enough.”

“And although the focus this week will be on young people, lets not forget that care leavers become adults. Many go on to lead successful lives. However, for some the barriers erected by the state mean they continue to face challenge after challenge in their adult life. This is wrong.”

There is a clear economic argument for reforming the care system and providing more support to care leavers. It saves money in the long term. There is also a clear moral argument. As a society we are failing too many care leavers. We must improve as corporate parents or the kids will get taken off us!