Young people with experience of the care system have issued their own checklist of recommendations detailing what they want to be addressed by the Independent Review of Children’s Social care in England. 

Barnardo’s has been working very closely with a group of young people over a period of months to listen to their experiences and views on what would make life better for others in the care system. 

Their report – A Care System that Cares – details a list of eight recommendations that care experienced young people say should be tackled by the review, chaired by Josh MacAlister. 

Barnardo’s worked with eight care experienced young people in a series of workshops with themes directly decided by young people. 

Issues included loneliness and isolation, better early support for whole families, prevention against discrimination, and being listened to. 

Participants said young people in care want to take part in activities that other children take for granted like going on school trips or visiting friends’ houses. 

Even when such activities are technically possible, rules mean children have to jump through extra hoops, like asking a friend’s parents to undergo a police check before they can stay over, which they find embarrassing. 

One young person said: “I would go round to friends’ houses and deliberately not tell my carers where I was going as I didn’t want them to be phoning up asking friends’ parents for a DBS check, the system encouraged me to lie just to spend time with my friends.” 

Young people also raised how care can be a lonely and isolating experience. Children can feel cut off from their friends and family from the moment that they enter care and often feel that it is their fault or that they had done something wrong. 

They recommend an expansion of services such as a ‘buddy’ to help those in care to meet each other and build friendship groups and networks.  

The group also felt that children in care were frequently not listened to when it came to important decisions.

One young person said they had to move in with a relative with whom they did not feel safe. Another was placed in several unsuccessful foster placements before being finally given their wish of being placed in a residential care setting. 

Staff turnover was a key concern and many of the young people had been supported by up to 10 different social workers before they reached 18, meaning they constantly had to retell their story to different professionals. 

They argue there needs to be a change in focus in social work, so workers can spend more time getting to know children and less time on paperwork. 

It was felt that the current system of mental health support for children and young people is inadequate, with long waiting lists and high thresholds for support. 

The young people want more training for mental health workers in how to support young people, as well as more access to mental health assessments for children and young people in care. 

Finally, the group wants the care review to recommend better support for young people when they leave the care system. 

The report highlights how many young people still feel unprepared at the age of 18 for the responsibility expected of them and that the system does not do enough to give care leavers the practical support for the real-life challenges they face like how to pay bills or deal with basic house maintenance. 

The group’s recommendations are: 

– There should be better support for families in trouble. 

– Young people in care should be listened to and should be able to have their say in decisions made about them. 

– There should be services to tackle loneliness and isolation in every local authority. 

– Systems should enable children in care to participate in activities that children who are not in care are able to. 

– Children and young people should be protected from being discriminated against simply for being in care. 

– They need consistent workers who have time to spend time with them and build relationships. 

– They need better access to mental health support. 

– They need more support as they become adults. 

“Young people who grew up in local authority care have made a powerful set of recommendations aimed at improving the system – and they deserve to be taken seriously. This new ‘checklist’ sets out the changes that are most needed in order to transform support for some of the most vulnerable children in our society. We have a once in a generation opportunity with the Independent Review of Children’s Social Care in England, to listen to young people with lived experience, and to make sure that children in care receive the same support, opportunities, and love that we expect for our own children.”  

Michelle Lee-Izu, Barnardo’s  Co-CEO   

As well as working with this core group, the project involved a number of other initiatives aimed at hearing the thoughts and ideas of young people from Barnardo’s services. This included an online survey that could be completed anonymously, an opportunity to submit artwork, and getting input from existing participation or consultation groups. 

Last year more than 358,000 children, young people, parents and carers were supported by Barnardo’s through more than 800 services across the UK, such as young carers, care leavers, foster carers and adoptive parents, training and skills or parenting classes.  

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Nisha Kotecha is the Founder of Good News Shared. Having worked and volunteered for charities in the UK for over 10 years, Nisha is on a mission to highlight how amazing charities are.

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