Why do we force children to leave foster care when they're so young?

Posted by Rhea Stevens / Wednesday 04 December 2013 / Chance to stay Children in care

The average age for leaving home in the UK is 24, yet young people leave foster care in Wales between the ages of 16 and 18. 

Today, in England, the Government announced that young people who want to stay with their foster parents until their 21st birthday will be able to. This is great news, but the same must happen in Wales too.

By complete chance we’re launching a campaign today to do just that.

One young person who recently left foster care aged 16 to live independently told me:

"Sometimes, when things are really hard, I feel like doing something stupid you know? I feel like doing a little crime, nothing major, just something big enough to get me into prison. At least in prison you know you’d always have company, people around you and someone to give you a meal. Sometimes I think that’d be better than this".

This is a terrifying reality for many young people leaving care.  

Children and young people enter the care system for many reasons, but most will have experienced great distress and upheaval in their childhood. For these reasons young people in care will be less equipped to deal with independence than their peers.

Care leavers are more likely than their peers to have a mental illness, to be homeless, to misuse drugs and alcohol, to be unemployed or to spend time in prison. Tragically, they are also four times more likely to commit suicide in adulthood.

The good news is that in Wales there is a real chance to do something about this.

Action for Children-Gweithredu dros Blant and the Fostering Network Wales are calling on the Welsh Government to use the forthcoming Social Services and Well-being (Wales) Bill, to make sure that local authorities allow young people to stay with their foster carers until they are at least 21.

Another care leaver who is campaigning for change with us sums it up perfectly:

“I don’t think it’s right to force young people in my position to go into independent living before they are ready; they end up getting even more hurt than they already are. Young people shouldn’t have to fight for the basic things in life. It’s wrong that they have to act like adults when they are still children.”

You can read more about our campaign to extend the age of leaving foster care in Wales, Chance to Stay, including our report and more real-life stories at actionforchildren.org.uk/chancetostay

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