Housing rules for children in care ‘discriminate’ against 16 and 17-year-olds, charity says

The current care system is not working and is leaving children a risk - with around two dozen aged between 16 and 17 dying as a result - a charity has claimed.

Article 39 says it is so concerned it has now gone to court to convince the government to extend legal protections for children in care beyond the age of 16 to 18.

Isabelle Kirkham from St Helens was in foster care for seven years she was given a choice to move into shared accommodation, or go back to her family at 16 years old.

At the time Isabelle felt she did not have the tools to live on her own so went back to live with her relatives. A decision she says was a wrong one.

Isabelle said: "I should have been able to talk about where I wanted to live but I shouldn't have been able to make the final decision on it.

"I should have gotten other options, portions that would mean I was safe."

In supported accommodation children are expected to manage their own lives including their finances.

Article 39 say 22 children in care aged 16 and 17 died in care-less accommodation between 2018 and 2020.

They claim all of those children were in the care of the state, and should have all been safe, protected and well looked after.

Thousands of children in care across the UK are living in shared houses, bedsits and hostels - known as supported accommodation - but in 2021 the government banned this for children under 16.

For children aged 16 and 17 supported accommodation aims to help them live independently but they are not regulated in the same way as homes for children under 16. 

In homes like these the young people are expected to manage their own life including their finances, something that Isabelle thinks many 16 year olds are not ready for.

The charity want the Prime Minister to ensure that every children in care is provided with a loving, caring home until they are 18.

On 2 February a group of adults who were in care as children went to Parliament to petition the Prime Minister urging him to rectify a recent change to the law which they believed would cause lasting damage to the lives of vulnerable 16- and 17-year-olds in care.

The group handed over a petition signed by more than 10,500 who had experienced care, family members, foster carers, social workers, children's lawyers and others who work with, and champion the rights of, children in care.

They want the Prime Minister to ensure that every children in care is provided with a loving, caring home until they are at least 18.

Something that Isabelle said she did not receive.

Sue Cotton, head of Child Action Northwest, on whether it's right that children should look after themselves at 16

A Department for Education spokesperson said: "Councils have a duty to ensure children in their care have stable, safe accommodation until they reach adulthood, and are held to account by Ofsted where they do not meet this.

"We have banned the placement of under-16s in supported accommodation which is currently not regulated, so that they are only placed in regulated settings that meet their needs.

"Supported accommodation can be right for some young people aged 16 or 17 where provision is high quality and they are ready for it, but most will be in children's homes or foster care.

"We are investing more than £140 million to introduce mandatory national standards, meaning that from 2023 every type of social care placement for children up to the age of 18 will be regulated by Ofsted.

"We are also ensuring young people in care can keep their support networks as they approach adulthood and are providing councils with billions more in grant funding for vital frontline services, including children's social care."