If the State Opening of Parliament marks the formal start of the parliamentary year then it could be argued that today is a kind of New Year’s Day for the government. And with a new year comes New Year’s Resolutions.

Today the government has resolved to provide greater support to what the Prime Minister, David Cameron, has described as ‘the most vulnerable in our country’. We know that for care leavers educational attainment, levels of health and wellbeing, and employment prospects are all significantly lower than for the general population, while instances of homelessness, criminal behaviour and teenage pregnancy are considerably higher.

Are we finally seeing some recognition of the gulf that exists between care leavers and their peers – a gulf which can, and often does, continue throughout adulthood?

This morning The Queen announced “My Government will bring in legislation to make adoption easier and that those in care should get more help from social services.” It was a ‘blink and you’ll miss it’ moment and we await the fine detail but David Cameron has explained that support is likely to include:

  • Local authorities having a responsibility to help care leavers to find housing, jobs and healthcare
  • A mentor being assigned to each young person, with and this support will continue until they turn 25
  • Apprenticeship funding being extended to 25 for care leavers
  • The introduction of wider support to broaden care leaver’s horizons
  • The creation of a new social care watchdog

Drive Forward Foundation was launched in 2010 with the aim of supporting young people leaving the care system to achieve their career goals. Since then, under the guidance of our founder Martha Wansbrough, we have helped to turn around the lives of many hundreds of disadvantaged young people.

Martha gave her reaction to today’s announcements:

“It is significant that the government appears to have recognised the extent to which care leavers are disadvantaged and I welcome much of what is being proposed. One of the biggest hurdles for the care leavers we work with – one of the things that holds them back the most – is housing issues. It troubles me that these young people have to become adults overnight and on leaving the care system are expected to find employment, manage their finances, navigate the housing system and so on; all with very little support.

“The desire to broaden a young person’s horizons particularly appeals to me and it’s a huge part of what we do at Drive Forward. We invest the time to build a relationship of trust, so that perhaps for the first time a care leaver will actually have the confidence to explore their dreams and aspirations and recognise their abilities knowing that we are committed to setting them on their career path and explaining the options open to them. They can be reassured there is someone looking out for them and encouraging them to commit to a career.  The introduction to professional networks and positive adult role models are crucial in expanding their horizons so that they become aware of what their options are.

“Better training for those who support care leavers is also a step in the right direction but we know well that actually identifying a young person as a care leaver is a challenge in itself. None of us likes to be labelled and these young people are no different but their desire to be independent can mean they miss out on tailored support. The care leaver marker (which recognises care leavers as a vulnerable group in their own right) should be in use by all statutory employment services by next year but unless it goes wider than that, young people will still be missed.

“I’m also uncertain as to how a mentoring scheme may work.  It can take just one person to cross a care leaver’s path and transform their thinking, but equally looked-after children have often seen a stream of people passing through their lives, promising to make a difference. It is well known that care leavers will have interacted with at least seven different adults by the time they leave care with varying degrees of success.  These include a social worker, an independent reviewing officer, a personal advisor, a foster carer, or supported housing officer.  This has a very different impact on a young person than the consistent support of a loving nurturing parent.  My concern about a mentor is around when the relationship will commence and how will it be different from existing services, as well as whether the care leaver will have any choice in who is appointed to support them.

“Perhaps the biggest disappointment for me is that of the continued disparity around how long a young person remains in care. I would like to have seen the government commit to affording young people in residential care – who are currently thrust into independent living aged just 18 – the same support as those in foster care who are able to remain until they turn 21.

“Foster care is not appropriate for everyone and some young people, usually the most traumatized and vulnerable, find themselves in supported housing where they are extremely isolated and not supervised or supported at all.

“And lastly on the subject of adoption, David Cameron has been quoted as saying “We will legislate to tip the balance in favour of permanent adoption where that is the right thing for the child – even when that means overriding family ties.” This statement concerns me as in six years of working with care leavers their trauma of being either neglected or rejected by their birth parents still looms large in most of their lives. I would question as to whether legislation is what is required.   In EVERY case the circumstances are complicated and therefore a blanket approach of legislation in favour of permanent adoption could do more damage in later life than good.”

In summary, we at Drive Forward welcome additional support for young people leaving the care system and hope that the detail behind each of these announcements delivers workable change that will help to improve young people’s life chances.

To find out more about the work of Drive Forward and how you can get involved, visit our website or follow us on Twitter.