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Abandoned and angry

Care-leavers left unsupported as personal adviser system fails them. Felicity Waters reports

Young people are often leaving care "distressed, anxious and angry" because of poor independent support, according to the children's commissioner for Wales.

Peter Clarke said he had received many calls from young people who are angry about the leaving care plans produced by their local authority and feel let down by their personal advisers.

"Not one of the young people felt that their personal advisers had represented their views or indeed had negotiated on their behalf," said Mr Clarke in his annual report, published last week.

"This role is meant to safeguard and promote the well-being and continued development of care-leavers."

Just 1 per cent of care-leavers go to university, and only a fifth of youngsters who left local authority care in Wales last year are now in full-time education. Just 2 per cent of those were able to access a student loan.

Jim Goddard, secretary of the Care Leavers' Association and someone who has been in care himself, said that personal advisers should be a key support.

"Young people leaving care at 16 or 17 have to think about becoming independent or doing A-levels, and a personal adviser can be useful as a befriender, someone they can turn to when they have important decisions to make.

"I know from speaking to care-leavers that they often feel abandoned and isolated - social workers, leaving-care workers and personal advisers are often unavailable to them. Many local authorities don't put a high priority on education. They are just happy if the young person isn't in trouble with the police.

"That's counted as a success for a looked-after child by some of them, but lack of qualifications would be seen as a failure by the family of someone not in care."

Wrexham council, however, prides itself on offering continued support to young people leaving its care and has just committed to providing job opportunities within its own departments. Eight work placements are being planned across the council, from parks to leisure centres.

Terry Garner, strategic director for children and young people, said:

"Young people who are looked-after face a number of barriers when leaving care in obtaining employment.

"As their corporate parent, and as the largest employer in Wrexham, we need to help these young people, and we're hoping they will get to sample two or three areas of work."

The council has also just passed a motion to give looked-after children the highest priority when it comes to school entry. Mr Garner, who is training to be a volunteer advocate for looked-after children, said support was crucial.

But in his annual report, children's commissioner Peter Clarke also criticised the lack of progress in developing an independent advocacy unit for looked-after children - something he recommended in 2003. He said provision remained "patchy with questionable independence and changes of provider".

In a speech responding to Mr Clarke's criticisms, Jane Davidson, education, lifelong learning and skills minister, said: "I believe we are making timely and demonstrable progress in this area.

"We now have national standards for advocacy. Vulnerable children, those in need, looked-after children and care-leavers have a statutory right to an advocacy service. There are new regulations and guidance for complaints in social services, and guidance on complaints arrangements in schools.

"In the summer we will consult on developing a new integrated advocacy model across health, social care and education."

analysis 18, platform 21opinion cymru 23

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