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Care children 'leaving too early'

Nearly half of those who live in care as children say they are made to leave too early and do so without being prepared, research has found.

A study which questioned 308 young people who have either left care or were preparing to leave also found that more than a quarter (26%) felt that being in care had made their lives worse, although nearly two-thirds (61%) said that being in care had improved their lives.

The Ofsted report, published by the Children's Rights director for England Dr Roger Morgan, found 46% said they felt they left before they were ready or were not prepared to leave while nearly half (49%) thought they had been prepared for leaving either badly or very badly.

Although typically young people leave home at around 24, some of those questioned were leaving care when aged as young as 16.

Some spoke of feeling lonely and struggling to cope on their own while many said they wanted help with learning domestic skills and practical issues such as how to budget and manage money, as well as about how to obtain and use important documents such as passports and birth certificates.

One care leaver complained about not being able to get a job due to not having their national insurance number. Another person quoted in the report said: "As a 16-year-old I have gone from a children's home to a women's refuge. I have gone from having lots of support to having none."

Dr Morgan said: "Young people telling us about their experiences of leaving care have mentioned that loneliness is something that many are struggling to cope with. Having spent years living with others in care, many now feel as though they have moved to a life of isolation and limited support. It was interesting to hear that one care leaver commented that it might be better to leave care in stages rather than so abruptly."

The study also found that half of the care leavers questioned said they sometimes, often or always try to keep the fact they were in care a secret, with more than one in five (22%) saying they try to hide it all the time. Only 31% said they were open about it with other people.

Children's Minister Tim Loughton said: "It's heartbreaking that many young people feel lonely and isolated because they are forced out of care too early and far too ill-equipped to live independently. We shouldn't underestimate the challenges that these young people face - so it's appalling if they feel there is a sudden and traumatic cliff-edge when they leave care. They should go when they are good and ready, not simply because they turn 16.

"The law is clear that local authorities must give every teenager a Personal Adviser and a clear support plan before they leave care - no ifs or buts. And we've told councils that where possible young people should say with their foster carer until 21 to give them security and confidence, in formal Staying Put arrangements."

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