There are more than 70,000 children currently in care in England, and around 10,000 children leave care in England every year.
There are currently 322 children in care and 335 care leavers (young people who have been in the care system and left, aged up to 25) in the borough of Barnet. This figure changes as young people move in an out of care.
Many children in care have a positive experience and thrive in their new environment. Yet overall looked after children tend to have poorer life chances and outcomes than their peers living with birth families.
Before coronavirus, care leavers were already at risk of homelessness, with a third becoming homeless within two years of leaving care and 25% of homeless people known as care experienced. They leave care already financially vulnerable and at risk of increased levels of anxiety and isolation.
The pandemic made the problem a lot worse. Care leavers are more likely to live on their own than their peers, which made lockdown very difficult. They don’t have family looking out for them, nor a wide circle of friends due to low self-esteem, lack of confidence and moving frequently to different placements.
COVID-19 has put many more care leavers at risk of homelessness, though further job insecurity, financial worry and being unable to access crucial services.
Care leavers at university felt particularly isolated, as they had to remain in student accommodation while their peers went home. Care leavers didn’t have a home to go to.
According to the NSPCC
- Children in care are four times more likely than their peers to have a mental health difficulty
- An estimated 20% to 35% of sexually exploited children are in care
- 34% of care leavers were not in education, employment or training at the age of 19 compared to 15.5% of the general population
Struggle with independent living
Furthermore when they leave care from age 16 onwards, former looked after children can often struggle with independent living, sometimes ending up homeless. Former looked after children are over represented within the criminal justice system. Over 25% of the adult prison population has previously been in care and 49% of young men under the age of 21 in the Criminal Justice System have spent time in care.
Most vulnerable in our society
These children are some of most vulnerable in our society with Barnardo’s finding that over 62% of looked after children being taken into care is due to experiences of abuse or neglect. Children in care and care leavers are a relatively small group of children in England and outcomes for them should be better than they are at present. They need targeted and tailored support that can give them a better start in life. As a group with distinct needs, looked after children are often grouped together with other ‘vulnerable’ children, meaning the distinct challenges they face are not dealt with as they should be.
[i] Source: https://www.nspcc.org.uk/preventing-abuse/child-protection-system/children-in-care/
[ii] Source: Calculation based on Office of National Statistics data
[iii] Source: Comptroller and Auditor General (2014) Children in care (PDF).
[iv] Source: https://www.clinks.org/sites/default/files/the_care_leavers_association_practice_guidance_for_criminal_justice_practitioners.pdf
[v] Source: https://www.barnardos.org.uk/get_involved/campaign/care-leavers.htm