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Care leavers are still growing up

Faye Martin is a Participation Coordinator at Catch22. She is currently working on our Department for Education Innovation Programme funded partnership with Southwark Council and its Care Leavers.

16 February 2018

Growing up takes longer these days. In a world of higher rents and an unstable job market, more and more young people are staying at home longer or coming back to their parents after university. A recent study actually concluded that adolescence now lasts until 24 years old, so a new national policy meaning care leavers will receive support from their local authority until they’re 25 is welcome news. It’s great that care leavers, like everyone else, will now get the space to keep growing up post 18.

Until recently, you had to meet certain conditions to get support after 21. Though these varied across local authorities, one thing that almost guaranteed you support was staying in education. University was long framed as the natural next step at 18, and for care leavers it was no different. Motivating people to keep learning was well intentioned, but time and time again I saw this lead many care leavers to degree courses that simply weren’t right for them just to secure longer term help. University can also be a really challenging time. Twenty percent of students suffer with their mental health during their studies, and care leavers have added pressures to deal with on top of those an average student faces. Without strong support networks, many care leavers drop out, now saddled with student debt.

It also always felt strange to me that those who went to university received extra support, while those unable to, or those simply choosing a different path, didn’t get any. Getting the necessary grades, writing a UCAS statement and pulling together references is a big challenge for any 18 year old, and the care leavers than manage it are usually doing well. There are many for whom this would be incredibly difficult, and it’s these young people who sometimes slip through the net.

I’ve been really pleased to see apprenticeships gaining traction in the past few years, and many of the young people we support are keen to get one. Previously, some authorities viewed apprenticeships as work rather than education, and they wouldn’t necessarily have qualified a young person for ongoing support. I’ve seen apprenticeships help young people excel and develop solid work skills. They also get people into good work habits and routines- something 1pm lectures and late night essay writing don’t always manage!

What this new legislation means that is that those who simply want to get into work at 18 will no longer lose out. Many jobs don’t require post 18 qualifications right away, but working full time as a support worker, a hairdresser or in an entry level office job doesn’t mean that young person requires no support. It’s unlikely that a parent would suddenly make their child pay market rent and bills on their 18th birthday, and it’s important we give care leavers the same grace period as they grow up.

Being a young adult is all about figuring out who you are. Some people spend their whole twenties exploring and finding themselves: trying on different hats, different jobs and taking tentative first steps down different paths in life. Unconditional support until 25 means that care leavers will have this chance too, and I can’t wait to meet the people they become.