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April 8, 2014 - Bill Esterson's Westminster Diary

Bill Esterson

People who have been in care as children often have poor qualifications, or struggle to find work, or end up homeless, or have mental health problems or end up in prison. In fact our prisons have many, many people in them who were in care as children and who have experienced all of these problems.

Children end up in care when their own families cannot look after them, sometimes following abuse, more often after being neglected. 

Children who end up in care are the most vulnerable children. They have lost their families, if they had a family in the first place. They need support, care and love. 

Yet all too often that support, care and love falls short and I have heard some terribly sad stories about what happens in care. 

The Education Select Committee of which I am a member,  is holding an enquiry into residential care for over 16s. The committee decided to look at this issue because many young people in children’s homes have to leave sometime between the age of 16 and 18. 

I have spoken to a number of young people forced to find a new home in the middle of either GCSEs or A-levels because of the rules and it is no wonder that so many people who were in care as children have poor qualifications. 

But the impact on education is only one of a number of concerns about what happens to children in care and especially to children in residential homes. 

Children who are in care don’t have a family and friends to rely on and the lack of support includes a lack of emotional support. 

The average age of young adults when they leave home is 24. This is often because they can’t afford to or enjoy having parents support for as long as possible. Yet, society expects young people to leave care much earlier. It is therefore no wonder that a group of emotionally immature young people struggle to deal with the challenges that life poses.

The young people I met recently told me that having one person they could rely on, an ‘uncle Fred’ or ‘auntie Peggy’ would make an enormous difference. Having a mentor or friend who could help them navigate the move from childhood to adulthood makes an enormous difference and for most people there is often more than one person to help with this transition. 

But for most children in care, the people supposed to care for them keep changing and that continuity of relationship is just not there. 

We all need someone to rely on and we all need someone to trust. The need for long term, trusting relationships struck me as one of the most important if not the most important gaps in the lives of children in care and care leavers.

When our enquiry finishes, the select committee will make a series of recommendations to the government. I hope that through this work, we make a difference to the children who through no fault of their own end up in care and who need support into adulthood in order to thrive. 

And for those children in residential homes, that means giving them the kind of physical and emotional support and stability that most young people can and do take for granted so they are ready to live on their own when they finally leave home.

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