Headlines: March 26th, 2008

Some vulnerable teenagers are leaving care when they are too young and are ending up homeless, unemployed and at risk of developing drug and alcohol problems according to a report today. ‘Sweet 16’, published by Scotland’s Commissioner for Children and Young People, highlights what it identifies as the gap between policy and practice over young people leaving care.

The Commissioner, Kathleen Marshall, is warning that with more children in care than at any time since 1982, more of them will struggle to cope with the harsh realities of full independence. The report sets out a series of recommendations including a change in the culture that expects young people to leave care at 16, an end to the use of bed and breakfast for care leavers and a call for local authorities to develop more semi-independent living units.

The report, which is based on information provided by all 32 Scottish local authorities, says eight times more young people leave care at 16 than at 18 in spite of law and policy strongly advising that they are encouraged to stay on. Many of them, it says, go to bed and breakfast and homeless hostels and it highlights the case of one young person who was in a B&B with a convicted murderer. In some cases those with more complex needs are even encouraged to leave early and both young people and care workers reported a strong culture assuming that 16 was the age that people should leave care.

Kathleen Marshall said that of the approximately 1,330 children who left care last year over half were 16. “In many cases, children and young people in care are seen as a troublesome burden rather than a vulnerable person to be nurtured, cared for and listened to,” she added.

Evidence in the report has also been drawn from interviews and focus groups with workers and young people in 13 local authority areas. Its key recommendations include firm steps to change the culture; no longer having to make care leavers ‘homeless’ so they can be regarded as a priority for housing allocation; councils to create more semi-independent living units and a call to the Scottish Government to review the eligibility threshold for aftercare.