We need to improve the system for children in care, says LYNN PERRY | Express a comment | Comment

The care system exists to support children who cannot live with their biological parents or who do not have a stable and supportive family life. At best, it can protect children from harm and help them recover from traumatic early experiences.

At Barnardo’s we know from our direct experience of supporting thousands of children in care across the UK that one of the biggest challenges they face is instability.

For far too many children, living in care can feel like being ‘jostling’ through a system, with frequent changes of residence leaving them constantly destabilized.

In his first speech as Prime Minister, Boris Johnson spoke of the need to “level up across Britain”.

I firmly believe that for this vision to succeed, we must achieve lasting change for the nation’s most vulnerable children.

We must intervene earlier to help families in difficulty and improve support for children who need to be placed in foster care or in an institution.

The number of children in care is now at an all-time high of over 80,000 in England alone.

Many of them carry burdens that young shoulders shouldn’t have to bear.

They are three times less likely to be in education, employment or training when they reach the age of 19 and almost half of the children in care suffer from a mental health disorder.

We cannot fight against this inequality without ensuring that effective early support is at the heart of the healthcare system.

The government is reviewing the child welfare system in England.

We now have a unique opportunity to give these children the same opportunities that we expect of our own young people.

With the impact of the pandemic and the current cost of living crisis threatening their future prospects, urgent support for families has never been more necessary.

Children and young people are cared for when they cannot stay at home. It’s either because it’s not safe for them to be there, or because their parents can’t take care of them.

Some of the most common reasons a child or young person is in care include abuse, neglect, family breakdown, or the illness or disability of a parent or child.

Through the work of our Family Hubs, we know it is possible to help families access crucial support before things reach a boiling point. The key is early support. We want to see the government provide earlier support for the country’s most vulnerable families: so children can have safer childhoods and more positive futures.

As a society, we need to provide parents and caregivers with the “village” it takes to raise a child.

Whether it’s help with nutrition and mental health, or support for issues like poverty or domestic violence, we need to make sure families get what they need, when they need it, to bring about lasting positive change in their lives. Early support also makes financial sense.

Barnardo’s research shows that providing intensive, personalized support to families through community centers can save taxpayers millions of pounds a year and, crucially, improve the future of children and families.

We are proud to be a caring country, a country that supports its most vulnerable.

It cannot therefore be fair that children who grow up in childcare are much less likely to acquire good qualifications, get a job or have good mental health.

It is not fair that children who experience the care system are more likely to become homeless or end up in prison.

It is not fair that, during their most volatile moments, children in care can move from one pillar to another.

And it cannot be right for us as a society to let all of this and more happen without demanding change.

Correcting this fundamental inequality for children in care is a major undertaking.

However, if the government can get the care and support system in place, then we can really start to “improve” opportunities for everyone, everywhere in the country.

About Antoine L. Cassell

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