Long-awaited legislation meant to ensure young people leaving State care are supported into adulthood makes no provision for funding necessary services.
Charities are warning that the Aftercare Bill 2014 in its current form will only go halfway to helping vulnerable teenagers make a successful move out of care.
Jennifer Gargan, director of Epic (Empowering People in Care) said: “Aftercare services should be fully resourced and funding should be ring-fenced. That guarantee should have been put into the legislation but I think the Government are afraid to give that statutory guarantee for fear of what it will cost.”
There are 6,466 children and teenagers in care, in a mix of residential and foster care settings. Each year, 450 to 500 of them turn 18 and should move into aftercare that ensures they have a dedicated social worker, a place to live, the opportunity for third-level education, and other ongoing supports.
A new national aftercare policy was drawn up in 2011 but the last piece of legislation to address the issue was the 1991 Child Care Act which left it up to each health board to decide if aftercare was needed in individual cases and limited it to the age of 21 or 23 in exceptional cases.
Some 1,468 young people aged 18-23 currently receive some form of aftercare but a conference to mark the first National Care Leavers Day heard yesterday that there were gaps in services and that aftercare often depended on the “creativity” of social workers, homeless charities and other voluntary groups.
The conference heard aftercare services were given protection in law in Scotland after studies found 50% of people who left care had poor mental health, 35% had no qualifications and only 1% went to university, while 80% of prisoners convicted of violent crimes had been in care.
The Report of the Independent Child Death Review Group here meanwhile found a high number of deaths among young people who left care, mainly drug-related or suicides.
While the new legislation will place a statutory duty on the Child and Family Agency to prepare an individual aftercare plan for every young person leaving care, it does not back up that duty with a guarantee of funds.
Suzanne O’Brien is a 25-year-old university graduate who works with young people in care and knows more than most about the challenges they face.
She was placed in care aged nine, first in a residential setting, then a temporary foster placement, and then one that lasted from when she was 12 until she was 18.
“I met my family when I met them,” she says. “They are my mam and dad. They’re the people I run to now with my worries, my concerns, my happiness — or just to rob food and toilet rolls. I’m constantly going back.”
Others who aren’t so lucky or have proper aftercare “enter into an isolation of types where you don’t have that home that your peers would have to go to”.
She says for others like her, and those with less successful care experiences, formal aftercare is essential.
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