Teenager in care calls for more support as 'young people are being failed by the system'
A teenager has called for more support for young people going through the care system saying they are being "failed and left to fend for themselves" once they turn 18.
The girl has been living in care for the past four years and has been involved with social services for nearly all of her life.
The 17-year-old will soon reach the age when she will no longer be able to stay in the care home she has been living in and says she is fearful of what lies ahead for her, as she knows a number of people who quickly became homeless once they turned 18 as they were not supported to live independently.
Speaking to Belfast Live, she said: "Young people who go through the care system are not being given enough support to look after themselves once they turn 18 and have to leave it.
"You are let go from the system in order to fend for yourself and most do not have any family that they are able to turn to for help.
"When you are in care you are not taught how to live alone by yourself and you are not given any guidance about paying your rent, bills or even how you would secure a place of your own to live.
"I know many people who have become homeless shortly after leaving care and it is something that we all fear.
"I have heard of people being put in a taxi on their 18th birthday and sent to a hostel because they could no longer stay in the home any more.
"I know that i will have to leave care in a few months time and it is very worrying, because even though I have a job, it would still not be enough for me to be able to get a place of my own and I will most likely end up in a hostel, which is really not ideal for a young person trying to a make a start in life."
The girl said children living in care are vulnerable and can often be misled or taken advantage of, which can lead to them developing mental health or substance abuse issues.
She continued: "While living in care you do not get enough support as it is. There are many kids that are good as gold when they enter the system, but after a few years they have developed problems with drink and drugs, along with mental health issues.
"The staff at the homes themselves do their best for us, but you regularly feel let down by social services who just don't seem to care about you."
She has now started a petition calling for young people in care to be provided with more support in order to leave the system, along with allowing them to stay at a home following their 18th birthday.
She said: "If someone in care wants to stay at a home when they turn 18 it is for a reason. They know what is best for them and if they believe leaving the home is not right for them at that time, they should be listened to and given support.
"There needs to be more help and support in place for young people to make a successful transition to living independently so that they do not end up on the streets.
"Most parents would not put their child out when they turn 18 and tell them to go look after themselves, so why is it acceptable for children in care who are already in a more vulnerable position.
"If care leavers are not going to be given financial support to help them live on their own, then there needs to be other options available to them, because at the moment we are being failed."
A Health and Social Care Board spokesperson said: "The Children (Leaving Care) Act (NI) 2002, implemented in 2005, strengthened the duties on HSC Trusts as the corporate parent to prepare young people who they are looking after, for the time when they cease to be looked after; and to provide after care services.
"HSC Trusts have a duty to complete a Needs Assessment and a Pathway Plan for each young person and provide support through the appointment of a Personal Adviser to ensure timely and comprehensive forward planning from age 16 to enable the young person to transition from care at age 18.
"The Pathway Plan covers prescribed domains: personal support, accommodation, education and training, employment, family and social relationships, practical and other skills, financial support and health needs.
"Provision exists for children in foster care to remain with their foster carers when they cease to be looked after under the Going the Extra Mile (G.E.M.) Scheme.
"A Childrens’ home provides care and accommodation wholly or mainly for children (i.e. those aged under 18) and the same Pathway planning should occur. Through the Pathway Planning process, discussion should take place well in advance of the young person’s 18 th birthday to inform the future accommodation arrangement.
"There can be challenges in finding the right sort of accommodation and support for young people leaving care as many will have complex needs.
"However, the HSC Trusts, as part of the pathway planning process will consider all available options including G.E.M, supported lodgings, co-funded supported accommodation projects, bespoke young person specific supported living (Housing Solutions), flexible outreach, shared tenancies, floating support and pathways into social housing and the private rented sector for each young person."
If you would like to sign the petition please follow this link.