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Care Leavers


About 1,000 young people leave care in Scotland every year. This amounts to around 9,000 individuals aged between 16 and 25 (CELCIS, 2013). Care leavers are particularly vulnerable in the labour market as many:

  • Leave school younger than other young people and have lower levels of educational qualification.
  • Struggle to make the transitions from care and education into positive destinations.

Figures published by the Scottish Government show that in Scotland:

  • 79% of young people who were looked after continuously for at least a year left school aged 16 or under in 2011-12, compared with 30% of other young people.

  • Looked after young people leaving school in 2011-12 had an average educational tariff score of 106, compared with 406 for all school leavers.

  • 75% of looked after school leavers progressed into positive destinations three months after leaving school in 2011-12. For all school leavers the proportion was 90%.

Barriers Faced

Care leavers face significant barriers to employment. The experience of being in care impacts significantly on an individual's well-being and life chances, which makes the transition from care difficult. Care leavers are over-represented in the statistics in relation to the prison population, teenage pregnancy, mental health issues, depression, expulsion, drug misuse, homelessness and those leaving school with no qualifications (Reed in Partnership, 2011). They lack the family support that other young people at their age have and often lack positive role models. All these issues affect their ability to gain and sustain employment. Stein (1997) outlined the key differences between care leavers and other young people as follows:

  • Having to be independent at a much younger age.

  • Lower levels of educational achievement.

  • Higher unemployment rates.

  • Unstable career patterns.

  • Higher levels of dependency on welfare benefits.

  • Earlier parenthood.

  • Higher levels of emotional disturbance.

According to figures published by the GCVS:

  • Around 12% of care leavers report as homeless.

  • Over a quarter of Scottish prisoners having been in care; 1% of Scottish children have been in care but 50% of Scottish prisoners have been in care and 80% of Scottish prisoners convicted of violence have been in care.

  • 50% of looked after children will experience poor mental health compared to 10% of all 5-16 year olds.

  • Only 3% of care leavers go on to gain any higher education qualification, with just 1% going on to university, compared to 37% of all young people.  

Policies and Interventions

Care leavers in Scotland can receive support up to the age of 19, or up to the age of 21 in exceptional circumstances. In 2011, 3,662 young people were eligible for aftercare services across Scotland. Improving support for young people in care and care leavers is a policy priority in Scotland. The Children (Scotland) Act 1995 is the overarching framework for the welfare of all children and young people in Scotland.

As set outlined in Support and Assistance of Young People Leaving Care (Scotland) Regulations 2003, local authorities have a statutory duty to prepare young people for ceasing to be in care ('throughcare') and to provide advice, guidance and assistance for young people who have ceased to be in care over school age ('aftercare'). 

Other guidance and policy documents which have highlighted the importance of supporting young people in care and care leavers are: More Choices, More Chances (Scottish Executive, 2006), Looked After Children and Young People: We Can and Must Do Better (Scottish Executive, 2007) and These are Our Bairns: a Guide for Community Planning Partnerships on being a good corporate parent (Scottish Government, 2008). Getting It Right For Every Child (GIRFEC) also ensures children's services work together to plan and deliver support that is in the best interest of the child.

The Scottish Government has recently published information on an approach which will enable young people to enjoy a transition from care to adulthood that more resembles the experience of other young people. The document, Staying Put Scotland: Providing Care Leavers with Connectness and Belonging, suggests that care planning decisions should be based on meeting the needs of individual care leavers rather than being based on age or legal status.

In terms of best practice in employment and training support for care leavers the following have been identified.

  • Maintaining stability in care and the support and encouragement of carers are important factors for increasing educational attainment in looked after children.

  • Beyond the age of 16, education and employment prospects can be improved by carefully assessing each individual's capabilities and working with them to increase their employability prior to them taking on the demands of education, training and employment.

  • According to Stein (1997), the most successful interventions are characterised by the following:

    • They address the main barriers of care leavers (e.g. barriers relating to accommodation, social support, finance and jobs) in different ways, including the provision of information, counselling, group work, support and drop in facilities.

    • They involve young people in the decisions affecting their lives.

    • They work in partnership with other agencies - e.g. housing providers, benefits and employability agencies.

    • They influence policy locally by raising awareness of issues and contributing to debates and informing policy responses.

    • They have clear objectives, good management and well developed policies.

It has also been suggested that educational attainment and employment success in young care leavers are highly dependent on their experiences before they went into care, then a number of factors while in care further influence young people's attainment, such as the stability of placements, school place stability, time out of school, help with schoolwork, the carers' educational experiences and educational support at home.

Continuing support is a key element of best practice. Specific types of support that seem to be effective include reliable financial support, apprenticeships and work experience, mentoring schemes, interview preparation and help with university forms, special classes or teachers to provide additional support to young care leavers, Personal Education Plans, access to computers, involving career advisers in leaving care services, employment skills groups and building formal links with colleges, trainers and employers.


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