National Care Leavers’ Awareness Week 2020

26 October – 1 November is National Care Leavers’ Awareness Week 2020. We want to take this opportunity to raise awareness of the challenges for looked-after children and young people who are leaving care, and to show what we are doing to support care leavers.

Written by the Feeling Our Way Project team

Children in care are those who are looked after and provided accommodation by a local authority for a continuous period of more than 24 hours, including those under a care or placement order (Children Act, 1989). 

Being a young person can be hard. Being a young person in care is even harder. In the UK, there are currently around 99,000 children and young people who are looked after by a local authority, with an estimated 40,000 children and young people entering the care system this year – that’s 109 young people every day!1 2 3 4 

Children and young people in care often face a lack of security, reliability and stability in their lives – which they so desperately need – due to changing foster carers, home and school placements, and early trauma and complications around their birth family. 
 
For example, in 2019, it was reported 63% children in care in England were there due to abuse or neglect1. Many situations that lead to a child being placed in care can have lasting impacts on their mental health and emotional wellbeing. 
The Children (Leaving Care) Act 2000 states that a Care Leaver is someone who has been in the care of the Local Authority for a period of 13 weeks or more spanning their 16th birthday.
In 2012, the Department of Health reported that looked-after children and care leavers were between four and five times more likely to self-harm in adulthood.5 
 
The transition to adulthood can be a difficult and daunting time for many young people, and this is especially so for young people leaving care. 
 
At the age of 18 many looked-after young people move into independent living – often with little emotional, financial and personal support. It is reported that within the first two years of leaving care, one third of care leavers become homeless6
 
Additionally, care leavers often find it harder to engage in education, employment or training. In 2018-19, 39% of 19 to 21-year-old care leavers in England were not accessing education, employment or training opportunities.1 
 
Care leavers need the same care and support that other young people might expect from a parent or other family members. They need support with getting into work or moving into their own home. Above all, looked-after children need the opportunities to build their skills, knowledge and resilience to leave the care system and flourish. 
 
 
The Mental Health Foundation is committed to the prevention of mental health problems across the general population throughout a person’s life. Care leavers are an especially vulnerable group of young people, who have an increased risk of experiencing mental health difficulties and substance abuse issues. We believe it is important to support care leavers to develop the skills and resilience they need to cope as they approach an important transition period in their life, as they leave care. 
“We need to build young people’s resilience and teach them how to live alone independently so that when they leave care at 18, they are prepared and can look after and sustain themselves.” - a care leaver in Nottingham

In partnership with Nottingham City Council, the Mental Health Foundation is delivering a project called ‘Feeling Our Way’ for care leavers in Nottingham City, to support them during this time of uncertainty with COVID-19. The project aims to reduce isolation and increase social connectedness, and to support care leavers’ in developing adaptive coping strategies. 

Feeling Our Way has been developed out of our previous pilot project, MyLife MyFuture. The Mental Health Foundation aims to continue developing programmes that support the mental health and life outcomes for children in care and care leavers, in partnership with Nottingham City Council. 

Find out more about our programmes, 'Feeling Our Way' and 'MyLife, MyFuture'

  1. Department for Education. (2019). Children looked after in England (including adoption). Available here: https://www.gov.uk/government/statistics/children-looked-after-in-england-including-adoption-2018-to-2019
  2. Scottish Government. (2019). Children’s Social Work Statistics Scotland. Available here: https://www.gov.scot/publications/republication-childrens-social-work-statistics-scotland-2018-19/
  3. Department of Health. (2019). Children’s Social Care Statistics for Northern Ireland. Available here: https://www.health-ni.gov.uk/publications/childrens-social-care-statistics-northern-ireland-201819
  4. Welsh Government. (2019). Children looked after by Local Authorities Wales. Available here: https://gov.wales/children-looked-after-local-authorities-april-2018-march-2019
  5. Department of Health and Social Care. (2012). Preventing Suicide in England: a cross-government outcomes strategy to save lives. Available here: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/suicide-prevention-strategy-for-england
  6. National Audit Office. (2015). Care Leavers’ Transition to Adulthood. Available here: https://www.nao.org.uk/report/care-leavers-transitions-to-adulthood/