One in three vulnerable young people is leaving care aged just 16 or 17, in sharp contrast to new polling which shows the UK public believes 21 or older is the right age to move out of the family home.
Leading charity Action for Children warns that young people in the most difficult situations are not getting the right help early enough, leading to even greater problems.
Sir Tony Hawkhead, chief executive of Action for Children, said: “Young people who have had traumatic early lives, who struggle with learning disabilities or mental health issues are the ones who need the most care, but the state is turning its back on them.
“It’s ludicrous that teenagers who are still dealing with the legacy of abuse and neglect have to cope with adult responsibilities, like building a stable home, at an age when most of their peers are supported by parents.
“If we don’t rethink care so it acts less like a system and more like a parent then these problems won’t go away.”
For its new report Too Much, Too Young, the charity interviewed 31 of the most marginalised young people in England and Wales about their experiences of finding a home after care.
While young people in foster care can now stay until they’re 21, many of those most likely to become homeless do not have the kind of stable placements that make this possible and leave much younger. In residential care the leaving age is still only 18.
Researchers also found that without help with emotional stability, young people struggle with the demands of living independently, like staying up to date with bills and appointments. Leaving care to live with a family member was found to be a common experience, but can be difficult and lead to further instability.
Action for Children is calling on all political parties to rethink the role of the state as a parent for children in care so that it:
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