Leaving home is a big deal in any young person's life, but for some, heading out into adulthood happens when they are far too young.
Did you know that in Scotland, the average age of leaving care is between 16-18 years old, but the average age to leave a family home is about 25? You could say that the underlying societal implication is that young people do not reach full adulthood until the age of 25. Yet for looked after young people and care leavers we seem to accept, and in some cases expect, that this life-changing transition happens in a much more accelerated and abrupt way.
It's well-documented that outcomes for care leavers remain lower than they are for the rest of the population. These poorer outcomes include lower educational attainment, higher risk of homelessness, economic disadvantage and ill health. And let's be clear, these two factors – poorer outcomes, and accelerated transitions - are intrinsically linked. But we can make positive changes towards brighter futures. Research tells us that the single most important factor for improving outcomes for looked after young people and care leavers is increasing the age and the way they leave care. At CELCIS, we believe that concerted action must be taken to change both culture and practice, and that it becomes unacceptable to expect looked after young people to move into independent living before they are ready.
Children and young people are placed in care for a variety of reasons - for many this will have involved being exposed to a range of negative and damaging experiences. Abuse, neglect, flawed attachment, instability and insecurity, unresolved childhood trauma and delayed development - the culmination of pre-care and in-care experience - all have a long-lasting or life-long impact. Yet, too often we expect looked after young people and care leavers to make the move from care to independence, from childhood to adulthood, when they are least ready or able to take these massive steps. Continued aftercare support, based on positive relationships which transcend role, setting and boundary into adulthood, is critical to improving outcomes for care leavers. But the real key to closing the outcomes gap for care leavers means making sure that they get the opportunity to stay put longer, and that staying put and continuing care become the 'new norm'.
Young people who stay put for longer in positive care placements benefit from the stability and security that it offers, and ultimately enjoy better outcomes in terms of education, employment and health. That is why CELCIS fully embraces the principles which underpin the Staying Put Scotland agenda; and are fully committed to working in partnership with all corporate parents and other key stakeholders to fully implement Part 11 of the Children and Young People (Scotland) Act 2014 which gives looked after young people the right to request Continuing Care up to the age of 21. We will work in partnership with all stakeholders to support the full implementation of this key provision, and to encourage, enable and empower all young people to exercise their right to stay put for longer, and as a result, be better prepared for the future.
Have you heard about the ground-breaking Scottish Care Leavers Covenant which is how we're driving forward change? We're part of an Alliance of organisations who are asking corporate parents and everyone with a role to play in the lives of care leavers, to take a bold step and sign up to improve the lives and opportunities of young people leaving care. This 'Agenda for Change' could transform the way care leavers are supported and will help to make the new Act real.