Why do children go into care in the first place?
Over 90,000 children and young people spent time in care in the UK last year. Children are taken into care when they can’t stay at home with their families – because of violence, abuse or neglect, or because their parents can’t look after them. Whatever a child or young person has dealt with beforehand, being taken into care is itself distressing.
Three in four children are looked after by foster carers, others live in residential homes. While many will stay somewhere long enough for it to feel like home, others are moved around a lot, and never really feel settled anywhere.
What happens when young people leave care?
Each year, around 11,000 young people leave care aged 16, 17 or 18. Some move to supported accommodation, but many move into hostels or flats on their own. After childhoods that have been disrupted and often traumatic, care leavers are then expected to become independent a lot younger than their peers. Most young people can call mum and dad for help when something goes wrong, or return to the family home in times of need, while care leavers often can’t turn to their former carers after they’ve left care. Support from professionals varies. When describing leaving care to us, one young person said: “It’s really stressful. At 16, you think about ‘freedom,’ but not loneliness, stress and lack of motivation.”
It’s tough living alone, cooking for yourself for the first time, having to learn how to budget and stay on top of all the bills, all while juggling a job, or going to college. It’s even tougher if you’ve not got anyone to call for advice when the boiler breaks down, or you’re stressed about work, or if you just feel low one evening. Another young person said, “There’s not enough support to check you’re OK. If you’re OK on the outside, then you get left – [professionals] are concerned with the surface, not much else.”
How does technology help?
Technology can really help young people to remain connected and build relationships which will help them to thrive – with friends, with family members and with the outside world. While care leavers are entitled to an allowance from their local authority for setting up home, the amount varies, and buying a microwave or a fridge, and paying rent and council tax have to take priority over getting a TV or paying for wifi.
Over the next few weeks, we’ll explore how some of the young people supported by Become, the charity for children in care and young care leavers, benefit from using communications technology in their day-to-day lives, and how it helps reduce social isolation and loneliness.