Almost half of young people leaving care think they are made to do so too early and say they receive very poor preparation for coping with adult life on their own, according to a new survey.
One 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."
The survey for the children's rights director, Roger Morgan, interviewed 308 young people from 34 local authority areas in England, who were either about to leave or had recently left care, some as young as 16. Between them, they had been living in care for more than 522 years. It found almost half, 46%, felt they were leaving too young, and 49% thought they had been prepared badly or very badly for the change.
One said social workers didn't understand how it felt to leave: "It's scary, weird things happen in life." Another suggested it would be better to leave in stages: "You should never go from being with people to 'oh my God, I'm completely on my own'."
Although 61% felt their time in care had improved their lives, Morgan said it was worrying that many felt those in care were treated so differently by society that they kept it secret.
"Not being prepared to leave care and being made to leave too early were themes that came up again and again in our consultation," he 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."
A third felt they lost contact with and missed family, friends and siblings. Many mentioned endless form-filling and regulations, complaining of "constant health and safety risk assessments" and "needing consent forms signed for everything".
Many complained of constant moving to new placements, and changes of key staff – one moved 11 times in less than a year, and another estimated she had had more than 60 social workers during her time in care.
Some of the most apparently trivial comments gave bleak insights into the difficulties children faced. Although one in eight felt there had been no improvement, one in six saw the quality of care as getting slightly better – and among the positives listed "getting rid of bin bags for when you moved houses". Another said life in care was better "because my dad can't be here to batter me".
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