Parliament and Politics: More help urged for young leaving care

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(First Edition)

YOUNG people leaving care need their paltry social security benefits topped up with means-tested grants from their local authorities, according to a study published today.

Some councils among the 77 per cent which made some kind of payment chose one-off, flat-rate grants, with one authority giving pounds 2,000 to all those who left its care. However, another authority reported that its Department of Social Security office penalised young people if they were in receipt of such a payment, and the greater the amount paid, the more likely they were to be refused income support.

Payments by local authorities are necessary because of the social security system which assumes the support of a family and pays lower rates of benefit to those under 25.

Social Work Today, which conducted a survey of 69 authorities, says: 'Lack of decent available accommodation and the poverty facing young people trying to live independently . . . are frustrating the attempts of social workers to protect care leavers from homelessness, crime, drugs and prostitution.'

The picture presented by the study, carried out on the eve of the first anniversary of the introduction of the Children Act, is of a 'patchy service, beset by problems of co-ordination between agencies, resourcing and staff quality'.

However, most authorities have taken some steps to help young people leaving care. Eighty-six per cent have established a leaving care scheme and 81 per cent have set up independent living units for 16 and 17-year-olds, though some have had to contend with opposition from local residents.

Three-quarters of local authorities admitted, though, that they had placed leavers in bed-and-breakfast accommodation in the last year - one had even placed 15-year-olds there.

However, almost all authorities offered advice or advocacy to leavers, with 88 per cent saying that they helped them to find jobs.

Social Work Today concludes that the Children Act had stimulated some development in most authorities, but the picture is still bleak, especially for those over 18.