The Children’s Commissioner, Anne Longfield, has advocated that children being looked after by the state should have the right to be cared for until they are 25 years-old. She points to the childhood neglect and trauma experienced by young people and the current challenges they confront. She mentions a survey claiming that nearly one third of the young people who replied said that they had been left to fend for themselves too early.
What may not be apparent is the evidence that lengthening the period that young people stay in care can actually be beneficial. In the USA, young people allowed to stay in care until 21 were twice as likely to gain a college degree.
In the UK, the Children Leaving Care Act implemented in 2000 delayed leaving care until young people were ready and led to higher rates of post-school education.
Young adults make up a large proportion of the population under criminal justice supervision and better provision for those bought up in care could make a significant difference to their lives, bringing stability and access to opportunity. Moreover there is a social justice case for a compensatory investment in lives marked by multiple deprivations and by failures of public education and care. How will such arguments fare at a time when spending on ‘welfare’ for the poorest is due to be reduced by billions?
None of this should lead us to underestimate the difficulties faced by young adults in building more self-sufficient lives. It is now common to use a divisive language about people dependent on state support, separating the ‘shirkers’ from the ‘strivers’. In reality, young people negotiate important life transitions with unequal degrees of maturity and with different degrees of exposure to trauma and disruption. Above all new proposals to increase support for young adults should recognise their levels of maturity and self-awareness, avoid divisive language, and seek to secure benefits for the whole cohort.