Care leavers always in need of our support and protection

This is National Care Leavers week. I don’t normally comment on ‘celebration’ weeks but this deserves our attention.

There are about 2,000 children in care in Birmingham with around 250 leaving each year. Their profile has changed and few of them are orphans.

They’re more likely to be children whose parents for various reasons, sometimes not their fault, can’t adequately care for them.

As a former social worker, I often wonder how we can do better.

Taking children into care should be a last resort, especially if there are grandparents or other relatives who can step in, providing we offer a little help and financial support. We seem reluctant to do that even though local authority care costs much more.

There will be those who say that compared to the privations of the wartime generation, life is easy now. There’s no doubting the sacrifices of that generation but how many of us would really see our own children or grandchildren sent off to fend for themselves at 18? Yet that’s frequently what we do to youngsters leaving care. I recently got involved in the case of a young man who suffers from learning disabilities and mental health problems, as a result of terrible abuse he suffered at the hands of his biological parents.

He’s been lovingly cared for by foster parents for 14 years.

They’ve been working for the last two years with social workers and a therapeutic community to help him prepare to move to supported accommodation, where he’ll be able to live in a small house with three or four others and achieve a measure of independence.

It’s a tribute to those who care about him that he’s reached this stage, but the plan is on the verge of collapse because two local authorities, the foster parents’ and the original home authority, are arguing over who pays.

Most youngsters come into care because it’s too dangerous to leave them at home and yet the state can also end up mistreating them. They’re not numbers or entries on a balance sheet – they’re children who need our support and protection.

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