What should leaving care feel like?
Young people should be looking forward to leaving care. It should be an exciting time. Too often, that isn’t the case.
Unfortunately, care leavers can feel like they have been thrown in the deep end instead.
For a person who goes into independent living for the first time, it can be quite an anxious time. It’s an emotional life transition that can be very overwhelming.
If care leavers received the support and guidance they need, it would ease that anxiety. Whether we do or don’t have family or close friends to support us, we still need to have that additional support to help us understand what we are entitled to.
What kind of support do care leavers need?
Leaving care is an emotional transition and more emotional support is definitely needed. The process is a completely new life change and it can get very overwhelming.
When I was in care, I was with a family and they were looking after me. But leaving care is where I found myself questioning myself and asking “how did I get here?” It can become a turbulent time where you find out more about who you are on your own. You can only piece together the information that is there, and sometimes there is limited information available to you about who you are.
We shouldn’t have to wait until we’ve left care to do life story work and discover ourselves. We need to get to know our roots.
We should be emotionally supported through that process, otherwise we’re digesting lots of information all at once. Care leavers should be eased in and gradually helped to learn more about themselves.
Care leavers need support in lots of other ways, too. We need to know how to get the things we need for our house to live alone. I’ve lived alone for about six years now, but it’s only this time around I’ve had that knowledge of how to properly arrange a room. Anyone can buy a table and you can buy a sofa, but you might be a bit clueless on how to put everything together. I get my inspiration from inspiring home Instagram accounts and seeing how they set everything up, but it can be daunting if you're not sure how to set your house up. I didn’t know what model fridge, for example, is the best one to buy with the Leaving Care Grant budget, and that’s the kind of thing care leavers want advice about. Otherwise, you might just buy the cheapest model and end up with something that doesn’t last very long.
Another example of where care leavers need support while living alone is tenancy agreements. You need to have the know-how about what to look out for, what to ask for, and general advice about the agreements you get into. It can be complicated to navigate for the first time. Tenancy agreements are full of information and that can often make them hard to read and interpret. It would be great to have additional support to highlight the key issues in tenancy agreements, so care leavers know what they're getting themselves into.
Things like that are so important and key to living alone, and it would be great to get support around the practicalities of being independent.
Should leaving care even exist?
Different people go through different things at different ages, so it feels unfair to put a specific end age on needing support. If you’re not in education, you don’t get financial support, and then the support stops entirely when you’re 25.
In an ideal world, we should have someone who we can call who will pick up the phone and access at any point - it shouldn’t be limited. You should be able to call someone as-and-when you need their help.
At the moment, you can only get support in one area beyond the age of 25. So if you need mental health support, you can only talk about mental health. If you need housing support, you can only talk about that. There isn’t any overall support from the local authority for people who need it.
When I needed support a few months before I turned 25, I didn’t get in contact because I thought I wouldn’t have enough time to get help I needed before I turned 25 and the support dropped off.
For many care leavers, the local authority is the contact they can reach out to, their ‘corporate parent’, so there shouldn’t be limits or restrictions on how and when you can get help. Being in care wasn’t that young person’s choice, and so that support shouldn’t be cut off.
- Jasmine, care leaver
Remember, if you are a care leaver in need of support, you can call our Care Advice Line for free on 0800 023 2033.