As a parent of two daughters in their early twenties I frequently find myself helping them out when they need a little extra help to pay for things. That often means giving them money towards the end of the month so they can go out with their friends or helping out with their rent, or sometimes it can be for more substantial things like a holiday or helping with costs for their car. Most parents these days recognise the idea of the bank of mum and dad. As parents we expect our children will continue to need our financial help even as they get older, leave home and become independent. So, who can those young people who have moved on from care go to when they need that little bit of extra help?
At Aberlour we work with children and young people across Scotland who grow up in care, many of them living in our own children’s homes. We also recognise how essential it is to continue to work with our young care leavers to help and support them as they move on from our care and beyond. We aim to do this in whatever way we can, helping with the transition into independent living, supporting them to access community services, or helping them into training and employment. Most importantly, however, we make sure all our young people know they can stay in contact with us and maintain those important relationships they have developed with the staff teams and workers who have supported them, often for many years. We try to promote a sense of belonging for all our young people and that Aberlour will continue to be there for them.
I recently heard Kenny McGhee from the Centre of Excellence for Looked After Children in Scotland (CELCIS) talk about care leavers needing to be supported to develop a sense of inter-dependence rather than independence in adulthood, and that predictability and commitment leads to “felt security” realised through the emotional, practical and financial investments from those around them. At Aberlour we see the positive impact such commitments have on our own young care leavers, but we wish we could do more.
We know that too many care leavers still experience significantly poor outcomes. It is estimated around half of the adult prison population have been in care; that nearly three quarters of looked after young people leave school before they are 16; and that young people in care have a fifty percent chance of becoming homeless. My own experience from a thirty year career working with care experienced young people has meant I have known too many of them who have committed suicide. As a country, we must do better for these young people. We need to give them hope.
Most recent figures show there are around 6000 care leavers in Scotland who are eligible for throughcare and aftercare support. For those who choose to move on from their care placements into independent living, we should be making sure they have all the security they need – including financial security.
Four local authorities in Scotland have committed to developing and piloting basic income trials in partnership with the Scottish Government. Why don’t we look at care leavers as a population to target as part of any basic income trial? As often these young people are most at risk of experiencing financial insecurity and the associated toxic stress, and are most vulnerable to the worst effects of falling into poverty.
We need to be radical in how we continue to support young people once they have left our care. If we want to truly improve outcomes for care leavers we must be bold. As corporate parents we should be the bank of mum and dad for our young people. Let’s give them hope and make sure they know they don’t have to worry about having to pay their bills or rent, or feeding themselves or going out with their pals. It’s not beyond our wit to do so, but we need the political will to make it happen.
5th April 2019