Joe Swash: Teenagers leaving care almost ‘set up for failure’

Posted: 13th July 2023

Joe Swash’s mother is a foster carer and the TV star has developed a strong bond with his foster sibling, Daniel, who the celebrity says will always be in their family. But for some young people who have been in care, support can drop away when they reach 18 and leave the care system.

“Daniel will be part of our life forever. He’s as much part of the family as me,” says actor and presenter Joe Swash.

Joe’s mother, Kiffy, has been a foster carer for more than 11 years – Daniel came to live with her when he was seven. Now aged 18, he lives away while studying at university – but his home is still with Kiffy.

“My mum can’t wait to get him home,” says Joe, adding that as far as Kiffy is concerned, her role is far from over.

“You don’t just suddenly grow up at 18,” he says. “As for Daniel, that’s a job for life for my mum.”

In the UK, young people officially leave care at 18. Under England’s guidelines they are still entitled to some support from their local council up to the age of 25. This includes access to a personal adviser who takes over responsibility for supporting the young person, offering advice and information to help them live independently.

However, support can differ slightly depending on a person’s age and time spent in care. Kiffy says she was shocked when Daniel turned 18 and “nothing clicked in” for him.

A charity for children in care and care leavers, Become, says many young people are expected to be independent before they are ready and often at a moment when they most need stability.

It says many of the young people it works with, describe approaching 18 as like a “cliff edge” or “like being on death row”.

“They’re counting down the days until their 18th birthday, because that’s when their placements are stopped and they’re basically expected to become independent overnight,” says Clare Bracey, director of policy and campaigns.

“When you think about that in relation to other children who are living with their parents, that support doesn’t get cut off overnight.”

The support young people are entitled to after 18 can vary depending on where they live and their local authority.

“One of the things that young people say to us is, nobody should become a care leaver, care shouldn’t leave you,” Clare adds.

Young people can face a multitude of issues when leaving care, according to the charity Action for Children.

Independence can mean having to move into new accommodation, finding employment or training, managing finances, paying bills, budgeting, and learning how to cook and shop. Life skills which people usually learn over a period of time.

Joe Swash has made a documentary about the care system for BBC One. He feels there is no point sending young people out into the world and asking them to look after themselves without the life lessons or the skills they need to enable that.

“Once you fall through that net, there’s not many people there to catch you,” he says. “I almost feel like we’re setting them up for failure.”

In January 2022, the regulator for children’s services, Ofsted, published a report into care leavers. It found more than a third of people in England, who had been in care and who responded to its online survey, felt they had left too early and did not feel equipped with the skills to be able to live more independently.

Karl, 18, spent time in four different foster placements and three different care homes before the age of 14. He then moved to a privately owned children’s home. As he approached 18, staff helped prepare him by teaching him the life skills he’d need before he moved out. But he says he felt frightened and anxious all the same.

“It’s the real world at the end of the day, like I’m put into adulthood,” he says.

Karl would have liked to have stayed on a couple more years to adjust.

“It does feel like it’s forced on to me,” he says. “It’s just another challenge at the end of the day for me to face. There is no structure to it, there’s no firm ground to hold on.”

Joe Swash says he also worries about the lack of emotional support for care leavers – something he says most people take for granted.

“It’s not until you meet these young people that are vulnerable – they’re anxious about their future, they haven’t got all this around them.”

An independent review of children’s social care in England, commissioned by the government, was published in 2022. It concluded that the care system needed a complete reset.

Josh MacAlister, who oversaw the review, says the system was built for younger children, not teenagers, and that the past few decades have seen a growing number of teenagers in care, along with high demand for children’s homes and not enough foster homes.

He says one of the missions in the review is that every young person reaching the age of 18 should have “at least two people in their life that love them, two lifelong loving relationships”.

“If you don’t have that, it leaves you kind of anchorless at sea,” he says.

The Department for Education (DfE) says it provides a range of support for care leavers to make the move from care to independent living as smooth as possible, and that the allowance for those leaving care has recently risen from £2,000 to £3,000. This can be put towards purchasing essentials, such as furniture or white goods, when they move into their first home.

The DfE also says it provides funding to local authorities to support young people leaving care from children’s homes, by providing an offer of move-on accommodation, alongside a package of practical and emotional support, “provided by a member of staff from their former children’s home or from someone who they know and trust”.

Clare Bracey from Become says she would like to see this scheme extended to ensure all care leavers up to the age of 25 receive this support – rather than the current proposal, which is to 23.

In Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland there are also attempts to offer more support to young people transitioning from care to independent life until the age of 21 – and to provide after care support until the ages of 25 or 26.

Joe Swash says society also has a responsibility and it is vital to have adults who are “willing to put their neck on the line for these young kids” and look after them beyond the age of their time in care.

Joe and his wife, TV personality Stacey Solomon, have spoken about fostering in the future. Joe says they have seen how fulfilling it has been for Kiffy.

“All the most important things you need to provide for that child are free – and that is your time, your love, your energy,” says Joe, “and that’s what my mum has done with Daniel.

“My mum’s not a rich lady, she’s not got loads of money, but she’s got loads of love and loads of time and I think that’s priceless.”

Source: Joe Swash: Teenagers leaving care almost ‘set up for failure’ – BBC News

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