Children in care are vulnerable and come from abusive backgrounds, so why do we expect them to look after themselves the moment they turn 18?

The pressure of knowing that I had to leave my foster placement led to a breakdown

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The Independent Online

By the time the average young person finally leaves home they are 26. Most have had a stable upbringing with family support, both emotionally and financially, but are nevertheless unable to support themselves until they are almost entering their third decade.

So why do we expect vulnerable youngsters who have gone into the care system after facing neglect or abuse to be ready to take care of themselves at the age of 18?

I can honestly say that, until I was 25, I was coasting through life. I had deep rooted negative beliefs of myself from my experience before care and in care, that I was not good enough and that I could not succeed in life. It affected my education, my belief of prospects for work, my mental health and my ability to form positive relationships.

But I was lucky. I had a good network around me to convince me otherwise and support me to get through the negative beliefs. They supported me financially, and through a home when I had to take time off work to deal with these issues. Just like me, people who have spent time in care, and faced the awful experiences that precipitate entering the care system, need that “family” support - not just to 25, but through a lifetime, like any child lucky enough to be brought up by a good parent.

I can only speak in hindsight but, for me, the pressure of knowing that I had to either leave my foster placement at 18 or my foster parents would have to take a major pay cut in funds to support me after my birthday led to a breakdown, which had a massive negative effect on my mental health leading to a breakdown while I was in college.

It took years to repair that damage. After university I ended up homeless at the same time as caring for my 13 year old brother, whose father passed away in my final term. I had to rely on the support of my friends’ parents, who took me and my brother in until I was able to sort myself out. Age 23 and with a teenage sibling, I was no longer entitled to help from social services and left to fend for myself.

The costs to the state in later life for those who face a similar journey to the state far outweighs that of extending support until young people really can be independent and succeed on their own. We know scientifically that a young person’s brain is not cognitively fully developed until they are 25, so they are more likely to make risky, unsafe choices before this age. That’s why I agree with the Children’s Commissioner Anne Longfield that we should support people who have been through the worst situations until they are 25, at the very least

The placement moves or social worker changes a person goes through, and the longer someone stays in care, the less likely it is that a care leaver would be involved with expensive services such as mental health or criminal justice.

The state takes a child away from their parent because they are seen to not be providing the child with the environment for that child to grow. In taking that decision, they must then provide an environment that does. Today the state does not. Taking the step to raising the leaving care age to 25, would a positive one, and in the right direction.