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A chance to celebrate our care leavers

Yesterday marked the beginning of this year’s National Care Leavers Week which is a great opportunity to celebrate our care leavers and their many achievements but also to reflect on the challenges facing many care experienced people and the services they rely on.

Care can and does make a positive difference in the lives of many children and young people who for whatever reason cannot live with their birth families. Research from the universities of Oxford and Bristol tells us that the longer a child is in care the better their educational outcomes at aged 16 and beyond and there are many examples of children who have been in care going on to achieve great things, but still lazy stereotypes about care exist. Children and young people themselves are working hard to challenge this and just a few years ago at the ADCS Annual Conference we heard from some inspiring young people from the City of York’s Children in Care Council. The ‘Aspire to More’ campaign which challenges the stigma surrounding the care system is another great example and we need more projects like these.

As corporate parents we are ambitious about all of the children and young people in our care and this responsibility now rightly extends beyond 18 to the age of 25. Extending the cohort of care leavers who can access support from a PA to 25 is right but government must fully fund local authorities to meet this new duty. In my own local authority in Barnsley, we act as ‘pushy parents’ for children in our care and the test is ‘would this be good enough for my own child’.

Councils are supporting their care leavers in different ways and there are many reasons to celebrate the work that is happening in local areas up and down the country. Just one example is the House Project where young people work on houses which will become theirs to live in for as long as they want. They become part of a community which supports them to develop practical and emotional skills needed to live independently. Some areas have made care experienced young people exempt from council tax and I sincerely hope more will follow suit. Many Councils are increasing the number of apprenticeships to support them into employment.

There have been several national policy changes in recent years to better support care leavers and we are much better corporate parents now than before. The government has just this week announced extra funding to help young people who are care leavers and have reached adulthood through better access to internships and further education and crucially a commitment to bringing a cross-government focus to addressing the key challenges they face. This is a welcome announcement and it’s important that the government recognises the ongoing support needs of those who have been in care after they turn 18.

There is much to celebrate this week, but we should also look at what more we can do to support our care leavers. The government must have children at its centre and focus on how we can support our children to grow up and live happy, successful independent lives. Children in care can go on to achieve anything they desire in life, it’s up to us to help make their dreams a reality.

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