The Cost of Being Care-Free report published by The Children’s Society this week draws attention to the high numbers of careleavers who get into debt and have real difficulty managing their finances. These findings are extremely concerning - but sadly not surprising. Over the past 10 years Mike Stein and his research team at the University of York have consistently highlighted how this group of young people too often lack the skills they need to lead independent lives - and how food and money are the two key areas requiring more attention.
It may also be true, as the report suggests, that corporate parents have responsibilities in this area. Yet, it’s clearly foster carers and other adults who provide day-to-day care who have a vital role to play. In 2013 NAFP’s Moving on, Staying Put project asked foster carers across England about their experiences of teaching skills like cooking and budgeting to the children and young people they were looking after. While they all accepted this was an important part of their role, the quality of practice varied - and they told us that they lacked training which helped. As a result, NAFP called for the development of innovative tools which don’t rely on form-filling and other written materials, but build on the everyday strategies used by our best carers.
Preparing young people for an independent and healthy adulthood is far from easy. Developing their resilience and their ability to self-care is as important as showing them the practical skills. Foster carers who are able to manage their own emotions as well as their finances, and who make cooking and eating together an enjoyable part of everyday life are excellent role models. And they will pass on these skills to the young people who share their homes, and need them most. That’s why it’s so important to pay attention to the vitality and wellbeing of carers - and why we need to think about how we support them with the challenges involved and our ever-increasing expectations. NAFP’s Looking After Yourself, Helping Each Other project found that yoga and other mind/body approaches did help some carers to stay calm, sleep better - and even improved relationships. In the current climate it may be difficult to find the funds for this kind of initiative. But as The Children’s Society report illustrates, the costs of failing another generation of careleavers are far too high.