A good level of independent living skills are essential, as care leavers struggle to reach the same levels of educational attainment as their peers and often find it difficult to make a successful transition to adult life. They are overrepresented in prison populations, and are more likely to be unemployed, single parents, mental health service users and homeless than those who grew up within their own families.
When considering independent living and the wellbeing/mental health of teenagers working towards independence, Children who enter care in adolescence for abuse, neglect or family breakdown often have an established level of emotional and behavioural problems that make it less likely they will settle and do well in care (Sinclair et al, 2007; Ward et al, 2008). In this group are those who continue to experience placement instability, whose care careers are more likely to be marked by offending, substance misuse, running away, truancy and school exclusion. These young people leave care for independent living at an exceedingly early age, often because of their behaviour (Source: Promoting the Wellbeing of Children in Care: Messages from Research (2014: 242). ‘There are also concerns about the vulnerability of children leaving care to social isolation due to limited social and familial networks’ (Jones, 2019; Kellyet al., 2016; Mendes & Rogers, 2020).
However, Care leavers (or children in care developing independent living skills) should expect the same level of care and support that other young people get from their parent/s (Care Leaver Strategy 2013:4). The Care Leavers Strategy (2013:10) also asserts that ‘Government is committed to ensuring that care leavers are adequately supported financially in their transition from care to adulthood to enable young people leaving care to have the same opportunities to fulfil their potential as their peers.
Children’s Commissioner’s Stability Index (2018: 5)
‘Teenage children are the most likely of all age groups to experience placement instability. Around 1 in 7 children aged 16 or over experienced multiple placements moves in a year, while 1 in 20 experienced it two years in a row. By contrast, children aged 5-11 are age group least likely to experience these changes.
Children whose earliest known period of care was at age 12-15 are at particular risk of experiencing instability. Nearly one in five children in this group experienced multiple placements moves within the year, and 7% experienced multiple placements moves two years in a row. Children whose special educational needs and disability (SEND) are around social, emotional and mental health (SEMH) are around 50% more likely to experience multiple placements moves, compared to children with other types of SEND or no identified SEND needs’.
Therefore, stability needs of young people entering supported accommodation also need to be considered.
In terms of independent living, ‘stability can be the difference between children flourishing in their environment or having the difficulties they have already had to endure further compounded. Instability makes it harder for a child to form positive trusting relationships with their carers, teachers and social workers, and makes them feel less safe’ (Children’s commissioner 2018:7).
Unregulated accommodation for children in care
Some children, under the age of 16, have been prepared for independent living whilst residing in unregulated accommodations. There has been some recent media attention about unregulated accommodation for children in care. Sources such as Sky News have highlighted that ‘at least 10,000 children in care were placed in potentially unsafe accommodation including caravans, tents and barges’. A ‘BBC News investigations revealed that children as young as 11 were being housed in these homes, and young people faced “organised abuse” in placements’.
The Government has introduced ‘a ban on placing vulnerable children under the age of 16 in unregulated accommodation. This will come into force in September’ 2021.
Under the Fostering National Minimum Standards and the older Children’s Homes: National Minimum Standards (12.1), whilst working towards promoting good outcomes (including promoting useful independent living skills) for children and young people foster carers and residential care workers together with the placing authority as well as fostering services/residential children’s homes also need to ensure the care provided includes supporting children and young people to:
- establish positive and appropriate social and sexual relationships;
- develop positive self-esteem and emotional resilience;
- prepare for the world of work and or further or higher education;
- prepare for moving into their own accommodation;
- develop practical skills, including shopping, buying, cooking and keeping food, washing clothes, personal self-care, and understanding and taking responsibility for personal healthcare;
- develop financial capability, knowledge and skills;
- know about entitlements to financial and other support after leaving care, including benefits and support from social care services
Residential children’s homes also need to ensure they:
The home contributes to the development of each child’s care plan, including the pathway plan for “eligible” care leavers and works collaboratively with the young person’s social worker or personal adviser in implementing the plan (NMS: 12.2).
The home liaises with the child’s responsible authority and their Independent Reviewing Officer where applicable, about the progress of the child’s readiness to move to any future accommodation where they would expect to take on greater responsibility and personal independence (NMS: 12.3).
Homes support the young person’s transition to adult services, when required by the care plan (NMS: 12.4).
Under the most recent children’s homes regulation and quality standards (2015:2.8), ‘where the placing authority or another relevant person does not provide the input and services needed to meet a child’s needs during their time in the home or in preparation for leaving the home, the home must challenge them to meet the child’s needs (see regulations 5(c)). Staff should act as champions for their children, expecting nothing less than a good parent would. The registered person should consider the use of an independent advocate (see paragraph 4.16) if the child’s needs are not being met’.Promoting Independent Living (104 downloads)