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21 January 2016

The group the government forgets: careleavers

Children in care are the forgotten demographic in social policy.

By Javed Khan

Role models and inspirational people are vital for a child’s development, no matter their role, and invaluable in a young person’s life. Getting a good start in life and having the right support in place is a thread running recently through politician’s speeches.

Being a parent is one of the toughest jobs going, and some parents do need a bit of help to develop the skills they need. We see the difference our own parenting classes are making to the lives of young children, so I am pleased support for parents was a focus in the Prime Minister’s speech on last week, along with a need for more mentors.

But, whilst this is great news, I am concerned the mentor scheme will primarily benefit those who are already in education and employment, so some young people – perhaps those who would benefit the most – may not get that support if they fall outside this category.

Care leavers are one group who might miss out. Currently in England, only care leavers in education and training over the age of 21 can benefit from a personal advisor – a mentor. This means there are 23,000 care leavers who may miss out on such support.

Personal advisors guide care leavers into adult life, by providing support with everyday issues, like maintaining good health, securing housing and providing access to education and employment. Like most young adults, care leavers may not have the life skills to be able to cope independently so rely on personal advisors to guide them.

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This is an area the government needs to address to ensure all young people get the support they need, regardless of their situation.

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The Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg also highlighted how children’s performance at school depends upon which part of the country they grow up in. First class education should be available to all pupils regardless of where they live in the UK. We agree cross-party agreement on policy is necessary to tackle systemic issues such as this.

Mental health support was another issue the Prime Minister has pledged to reform, including addressing stigma. Mental health is one of the biggest issues facing our country today, and children and young people are being failed by the current mental health system.

National evidence indicates that self-harm and eating disorders are on the rise and as many as 11 per cent of boys and 8 per cent of girls in the UK aged between 5 and 15 have a clinically significant mental health problem.

It is important that we find out why more children and young people are being diagnosed with a mental health problem and ensure that children reaching out for help get it within an appropriate timeframe.

Finally, new research by Timewise and the Joseph Rowntree Foundation reveals almost two million people are out of work or in part-time jobs paying less than the amount they need to achieve a minimum standard of living.

The government must ensure enough quality, affordable childcare exists to make work pay for the poorest families and the welfare system protects families from falling into poverty, including those in work.

Children and young people living in poverty today, who are struggling in education or have mental health issues, will lag behind their peers in many aspects of their life. More needs to be done to better support all children, young people and families, especially those who are the most disadvantaged.