From care to where? How young people cope financially after care

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1 From care to where? How young people cope financially after care

2 About is a statutory organisation campaigning for a fair deal for consumers. Part of Consumer Focus, our structure reflects the devolved nature of the UK. looks at issues that affect consumers in Wales, while at the same time feeding into and drawing on work done at a GB, UK and European level. Published: March 2011 If you have any questions or would like further information about our research, please contact Lindsey Kearton, by telephone on or via In advocating for consumers we aim to influence change and shape policy to better reflect the needs of consumers. We do this in an informed way owing to the evidence we gather through research and our unique knowledge of consumer issues. We have a specific focus on vulnerable consumers, particularly those on low incomes, people with disabilities, people living in rural areas and older people. In addition, we also seek to identify where other consumers may be disproportionately disadvantaged by an issue or policy. Ground Floor Portcullis House 21 Cowbridge Road East Cardiff CF11 9SR t: f: e: Media Team: /111 If you require this publication in Braille, large print or on audio CD please contact us. Deaf, hard of hearing or speech impaired consumers can contact Consumer Focus via Text Relay: From a textphone, call From a telephone, call ISBN:

3 Contents Acknowledgements Executive summary Recommendations Introduction Structure of report Our research Policy context Literature review Main findings Income & money management Living on a low income Opportunities to learn money management skills Summary Interaction with financial products and services Access to banking/internet banking Access to other financial products Young care leavers and debt problems Affordable credit and savings Summary Impact of financial exclusion Living independently Wider implications of financial difficulties Summary Conclusion Appendix Methodology Literature review Glossary From care to where? 3

4 Contents Acknowledgements would firstly like to give a huge thank you to all the young people who took part in the research. Your participation was invaluable and we couldn t have done it without you. We would also like to thank all the service providers and other agencies who took time out to be interviewed or complete questionnaires. Thank you also to all the team at Shelter Cymru for their hard work and commitment in undertaking this project. Particular thanks go to Jacqueline Campbell (Project manager); Barbara Price, Sioned Roberts, Adam Golten, Laura Morgan, Alexandra Jones and Lucy Beaven (Research Officers), Rhian Jones (Education Officer) and Peer Research Officers Darren Roberts and Stephen Walters. We would also like to thank members of the Peer Steering Group for their help and advice in developing the project Gareth Elliston; Annmarie Elliston; Mark Lloyd; Katie Bellwood; Stephen Walters; Kevin Davies and Samantha Dando-Lomas; as well as the young people and workers at DECIPHer, Cardiff University where we piloted our research. Additional thanks go to the following people for their help and guidance throughout the project: Gareth Jones and John Harford (Children s Commissioner for Wales); Paul Wales; Sean O Neill (Children in Wales); Deborah Jones and Carol Floris (Voices from Care); Dr Sam Clutton (Barnado s Cymru); Claire Turner (Chair, All Wales Leaving Care Forum); Mererid Lewis and John Davies (Participation Unit, Save the Children) and Sharon Lovell (National Youth Advocacy Service Cymru). 4

5 Executive summary This report examines the extent and nature of financial exclusion experienced by young people leaving care in Wales. It is based on research undertaken to explore how young care leavers manage financially once they ve left the care system, their knowledge and experience of money issues, their perceived ability to make informed financial decisions, the accessibility of mainstream financial products, and how well these products meet their needs. In doing so, it also highlights the impact living on a low income and being financially excluded can have on these young people s lives. We believe this research provides a vivid account of the challenging experiences many young people face when leaving care as a consequence of living on a low income, being ill-equipped to deal with their financial situation and being denied access to basic financial products. It highlights the fact that all too many of these young people feel unprepared, both financially and emotionally, for the reality of living independently with little family support. Not all the care leavers who took part in our research believed they were financially excluded. Several felt fairly competent at managing their money and interacted well with mainstream financial services. A degree of resilience was also evident in those who had overcome initial barriers to become more financially capable. However in the majority of cases difficulties in financial management and poor access to basic financial products were commonplace. Our research found that many young care leavers are living on low incomes and have to employ a variety of coping strategies to enable them to budget their money. Some had been taught money management skills before leaving local authority care, however most of the young people had to learn the hard way through experience, with several reporting times of financial difficulty as a consequence. The lack of family support available often only serves to compound the problem. These findings confirm the importance of providing clear, well-structured financial education to young people living in local authority care long before they make the transition to independent living. While we did find evidence of good practice, our findings also show that in many cases the effectiveness of financial information provision by local authorities appears limited and inconsistent. Difficulties in accessing mainstream financial products were also evident. Some young care leavers have experienced difficulties opening a bank account due to a lack of identification documents, others are reluctant to use bank accounts to their full potential due to the need to maintain control over their finances, a fear of going into debt as a result of unauthorised overdraft charges, and a lack of trust and understanding of how Direct Debits work. Thereby increasing the amount they pay for utilities and reducing their ability to afford certain products through mainstream finance. From care to where? 5

6 Of most concern, we found evidence that many young people who have left care are turning to high cost credit in order to meet the cost of living. Some felt they had no option but to go down this route. Others had been denied access to mainstream credit products due to the fact their income is low or their credit rating is poor. A number spoke of feeling scared and isolated when faced with on-going debt problems. Very few were aware of more affordable credit options such as Credit Unions. Finally, our research showed the potentially devastating impact a combination of living on a low income and financial exclusion can have on young people after they re left care. We also found how financial exclusion is inextricably linked to social exclusion and wider support needs. For some, this has left them struggling to afford food or decent clothing, for others it has contributed to depression and feeling alienated from their peers. In a few cases the young person had even lost their home as they d been unable to keep up with rent payments. Clearly more needs to be done to ensure that all care leavers are given opportunities to develop financial competence and access to products and services that fully meet their needs. This is essential to reduce their chances of becoming financially excluded and to enable them to make the transition from care to independent living in a more timely and confident manner. We believe both the pathway planning process and the role of personal advisers are central to achieving this, but this also needs to be combined with a coordinated, partnership approach involving financial providers and other support agencies. We have therefore set out a series of recommendations directed at government (at both a local and national level), the financial services industry and other agencies working with children and young people in care/care leavers. These aim to address the issues highlighted in our research and it is hoped will ultimately improve the financial information and support available to some of the most vulnerable and disadvantaged young people in Wales. 6

7 Recommendations The Welsh Assembly Government, local authorities and other agencies working with children and young people in care/care leavers should: ensure that when young people leave care they have access to and knowledge of appropriate financial products and advice services that meet their needs The Welsh Assembly Government should: standardise the value of leaving care grants and other financial assistance offered by local authorities throughout Wales to ensure young people are treated fairly and equally work with skills councils in the youth, social care and teaching sectors to ensure basic financial literacy training is embedded into current training programmes evaluate the extent to which delays in discharge provisions are used by local authorities and how effective they are in supporting the most vulnerable young people in care; and also identify where more widespread use of these provisions would be beneficial Local authorities should: fulfil their statutory duties and provide each young person in care with a pathway plan by their 16 th birthday and ensure the financial capability needs of the young person are considered as part of the assessment and planning process ensure all young people have received appropriate financial education and support to co-ordinate with any financial assistance they may receive including their leaving care and transition to adulthood grants undertake a financial review for all care leavers at regular intervals (eg at age 18 and then again at 21) to help identify any financial difficulties they may be experiencing and direct them to appropriate support support young people to obtain the identification documents required to access financial products and bank accounts in their role as corporate parent, ensure support services for young people in their care are better co-ordinated across the local authority, improving links between social services, housing, education and other relevant local authority workers From care to where? 7

8 The Welsh Assembly Government, local authority leaving care teams, the Consumer Financial Education Body (CFEB) and education providers should: co-ordinate financial education activity to ensure that care leavers not in formal education receive financial education in ways that are most appropriate to their circumstances explore different methods of delivering financial education, such as using Peer Educators, to help those preparing to leave care understand the financial choices they may face when living independently for the first time Local authorities, WFEU, CFEB and other service providers offering financial education literature should: seek opportunities to widen the circulation of their literature to reach those care leavers not currently in receipt of such materials, working with care leavers about the best ways to do this monitor and evaluate the use of the education resources for care leavers so that these can be amended and developed Schools, youth and information services, leaving care teams and other organisations in contact with and trusted by care leavers should: offer information and signposting to appropriate debt advice services where young people are identified as being in difficulty The Consumer Financial Education Body (CFEB) should: extend the provision of their young people and money training beyond Financial institutions that provide current accounts (eg banks, building societies, Credit Unions) should: ensure that young people setting up an account for the first time receive clear advice and information in a young person friendly format about all aspects of using a bank account ensure front-line branch staff are fully trained on the types of identification documents that are acceptable in order to open a bank account Credit unions and local authorities should: work together to promote credit unions among care leavers in Wales and ensure that the pathway planning process includes an introduction from the local credit union so young people are aware of the type of services credit unions provide The Fostering Network in Wales should: work with foster parents to encourage them to discuss budgeting and wider money issues with young people in their care and signpost any foster parents who require additional support to appropriate financial literacy training 1 This programme provides a day s free training to youth intermediaries to enable them to deliver basic financial literacy to young people across the UK 8

9 Introduction Children and young people grow up in many different circumstances. For some difficult life experiences may mean intervention is required to help protect their health and well-being. Such intervention can come in many forms and could be provided by a range of organisations. In certain cases this may lead to a child or young person becoming looked after by their local authority. In this situation the local authority has a statutory duty to ensure all the identified needs of that child or young person are met. The term care leaver is commonly used to describe a young person who has been in local authority care. Care leavers vulnerability to financial exclusion is strongly correlated with the fact that many are living on a low income. However a range of additional overlapping characteristics ie being young; being single without dependents; not being in education, employment or training (NEET), or being a social housing tenant, all potentially compound the level of vulnerability likely to be experienced by many young people leaving care. The current economic situation is also having a big impact on the employment and educational opportunities available to young people. According to a recent report by the Prince s Trust, long-term youth unemployment in Wales is at its highest level in 12 years 2. Within this context financial awareness and access to appropriate and affordable financial products and services is even more critical. For care leavers, such pressures are in addition to the range of challenges they already face when leaving care and making the transition to independent living and adulthood. 2 BBC news on-line Young people unemployment at 12 year high in Wales, 2 December 2010 From care to where? 9

10 A recent study 3, which explored young care leavers experience of financial support in Wales, found evidence of barriers to financial inclusion including difficulties getting identification documents (needed to open a bank account), debt problems (eg trouble paying household bills or repaying loans), and difficulties accessing appropriate financial information which was often compounded by a lack of engagement from the young people and the availability of support staff. It is for these reasons that commissioned this research to gain a better understanding of financial exclusion among young care leavers in Wales to help develop appropriate solutions to tackle the issue. Building on work that has already been completed in this area the main objective of our research was to establish: how young care leavers manage financially once they ve left the care system what particular coping strategies they adopt if faced with limited income their previous experience and knowledge of money issues while in care their interaction with both mainstream financial products/services and alternative providers what, if any, barriers and difficulties they face in accessing financial products/services and any subsequent impact this has on their lives Structure of report Our research findings are presented in three main chapters. Chapter one Income and money management, examines young care leavers ability to manage their financial situation, focusing on the extent living on a low income and poor money management skills are having on their lives. Both are factors which may make them more susceptible to financial exclusion. Chapter two Interaction with financial products and services, explores young care leavers awareness and use of different financial products, including any barriers they have experienced or encountered (whether selfimposed or institutional), and the degree to which these products are meeting their needs and circumstances. Chapter three Impact of financial exclusion, highlights the wide ranging consequences that living on a low income and having poor money management skills can have on the lives of young care leavers. It also explores the realities of having to live independently at an early age. Our research The study, which was undertaken by Shelter Cymru, was designed as an inclusive participatory research project to involve young people at every stage of the process. This included the use of Peer Researchers and the establishment of a Peer Steering Group to advise on how to engage with and speak to care leavers across Wales. 3 Marshall V. (2010) Taking care of the future: a research study exploring young care leavers experience of financial support in Wales, National Youth Advocacy Service, NYAS Cymru 10

11 The evidence gathering included three key elements: One-to-one interviews and discussions with 46 young people aged in eight local authorities via face-to-face in-depth interviews, telephone interviews, discussions and approaching people at an annual Care Leavers Conference 4. Additionally, three focus groups were held involving 12 young care leavers from four local authorities in Wales Self-completion questionnaires from 36 stakeholders across Wales who work with looked after children or care leavers 10 in-depth interviews with stakeholders across Wales who work with looked after children or care leavers. A virtual advisory group, made up of representatives from key organisations with an active interest in the issues affecting vulnerable young people, was also set-up to help guide us through this project. Further details of the methodology are contained in the appendix. Policy context Looked after children The term looked after children is used in the Children Act to describe young people who have spent periods of their life in the care of local authorities. Looked after can be interpreted as being provided with accommodation by the local authority on a voluntary basis or because the child is subject to a Care Order, where the local authority is given parental responsibility by a court. Additionally, the term looked after can refer to children subject to a Care Order who have been placed at home or with relatives or friends under supervision and by formal agreement of the local authority. The latest figures indicate there are 4,941 children who are looked after in Wales. In the majority of cases (77 per cent) they are living with approved foster parents. Merthyr Tydfil (followed by Torfaen) is the local authority with the highest number of looked after children per 10,000 children and Flintshire the lowest, with Cardiff having greatest number of looked after children overall 6. The Children (Leaving Care) Act 2000 made changes to the Children Act 1989 in order to address a number of issues care leavers face as well as increasing the duties on local authorities to support young people. The purpose being to improve the life chances of young people living in and leaving local authority care. These include: delaying the discharge of young people from the care system until they are ready and prepared improvements to the assessment, preparation and planning of leaving care (this includes ensuring care workers offer advice on financial management and setting up bank accounts) and enhancing the personal and financial support available to young people (this may include incentives to attend higher education and deposits for accommodation) 4 Held in Torfaen 5 From care to where? 6 Dolman, R. (2009), In Figures: Looked after children Research Paper. National Assembly for Wales Commission 11

12 Within the legislation a series of duties were set out for local authorities including: all eligible, relevant and former relevant children must have a pathway plan 7 all eligible, relevant and former relevant children must have a personal advisor the responsible local authority must assist a former relevant child to the extent that his or her welfare requires it Under the Leaving Care Act, it is the duty of the local authority to ensure the pathway plan is in place by the young person s 16 th birthday. A pathway plan details the support needs of the young person and assesses how they can best be assisted to live independently. They typically cover accommodation needs and housing options, education, training and employment and any financial or practical help required by the young person. All pathway plans are regularly reviewed and can be changed at any time. The role of the personal adviser is to provide information, advice and support to the young person. Personal advisers are critically involved with the construction and ongoing reviews of the pathway plan. In terms of financial support and claiming benefits, most 16 and 17 year olds will not be able to claim benefits. Therefore, when relevant, the local authority will be their primary source of income and support. However anecdotal evidence suggests the complexity of the legislative/ regulatory framework has resulted in different interpretations of how such duties are implemented by individual local authorities. Many young people may have spent time in care but due to the strict definition criteria for looked after children in the legislation they are not legally regarded as being eligible for any formal support from the local authority. Young people such as these who slip through the net are likely to be particularly disadvantaged on leaving care. A recent study 8 found the majority of local authorities stated they provide financial information to young people in care on a range of issues including budgeting and managing money; debt; banking (including accounts, credit cards and access to credit unions); welfare rights; Educational Maintenance Allowance; and independent living skills. The research also noted that the amount of leaving care grant given in Wales varies between local authorities, ranging from 700 (Vale of Glamorgan) to 2,327 (Carmarthenshire), with an average of around 1,290. On a positive note, the Welsh Assembly Government s new Child Poverty Strategy and Delivery Plan for Wales (February 2011) recognises the need to improve provisions for looked after children and care leavers. As part of this work they propose to use powers in the Children and Young Person s Act to reform the statutory framework for the care system in Wales. They have also recently announced a new transition to adulthood grant for looked after children in Wales 9. This will be a oneoff 500 grant given to all looked after children aged between 16 and 18 as they leave care. 7 See Glossary in Appendix for definitions 12 8 Op cit 3 9 Children and young people remain a top priority, Welsh Assembly Government press release, 29 November 2010

13 Financial inclusion There have been a number of positive developments in recent years to promote financial inclusion among the population of Wales, both at the Wales and UK level. The Welsh Assembly Government s financial inclusion strategy Taking everyone into account (July 2009) has helped to provide a much needed focus and direction for this work. Two areas of significant progress include improving financial capability and access to affordable credit. In terms of financial capability, the Consumer Financial Education Body (CFEB), Citizens Advice Bureau and others are continuing to deliver a range of financial capability programmes and resources across Wales. In addition, the provision of generic financial advice is now being promoted via the CFEB Moneymadeclear service; currently available on-line and over the telephone and to be available face-to-face across Wales from spring Since September 2008 the provision of financial education for 7 to 19 year olds within the National Curriculum in Wales has also been strengthened, with aspects of financial education being made part of the Personal and Social Education (PSE), Mathematics and Careers and the World of Work frameworks. The establishment of the Welsh Financial Education Unit (WFEU) has also helped to provide and co-ordinate support for schools and teachers in this regard. Third sector lenders, such as Credit Unions and Community Development Finance Institutions (CDFIs), have long been identified as one of the main solutions for extending affordable credit to people on low incomes. As such, Credit Unions form an integral part of the Welsh Assembly Government s financial inclusion policy and have received considerable financial support from Welsh Assembly Government and European funding over the last 10 years. In December 2010, the Welsh Assembly Government published their long-awaited Credit Union Action Plan for Wales, supported by a three year funding programme ( ). Raising the profile: meeting the challenges, has been developed to help ensure the longterm sustainability of the credit union movement in Wales by strengthening governance, raising the profile of credit unions and increasing membership. Meanwhile, the UK Government s 250 million dedicated Financial Inclusion Fund (FIF), which is now in its second phase ( ), has also helped to fund several key initiatives in Wales since it was first set-up in This has included the face-to-face debt advice project; the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) Growth Fund 10 ; and the joint DWP/Treasury Financial Inclusion Champions Initiative, which promotes all aspects of financial inclusion, particularly at the local/ community level. The Welsh Assembly Government also part funds the team in Wales. However the current climate for organisations delivering financial inclusion work is an uncertain one. While there are many examples of successful financial inclusion projects and partnerships delivering work across Wales the impact of Government spending cuts and changing agendas raise fundamental questions about the future of this work and how best it can be continued. 10 Set-up to increase the availability of affordable loans via the third sector From care to where? 13

14 The Welsh Assembly Government s financial inclusion budget is set to continue at near current levels over the next three years, however a number of key funding streams from the UK Government, including the FIF, are due to stop at the end of March Literature review There are a number of studies about the exclusion faced by young people leaving care 11. Young people leaving local authority care are arguably one of the most vulnerable and disadvantaged groups in society 12. Young care leavers and financial exclusion research into the daily experiences of low-income families in Wales who largely live on a cash budget highlighted how those without bank accounts, those who prefer to manage their budgets in cash, or those who are denied access to mainstream credit facilities are more likely to end up paying more for everyday essential goods and services. A recent report from Save the Children estimates the current value of the poverty premium (ie the additional money that poor households tend to pay for essential goods and services) is around 1,280 a year 13 an increase of 280 from when the study was first conducted in or use of more costly, inappropriate or unnecessary financial products, difficulties in budgeting, and being more prone to unmanageable debt and exploitation from unscrupulous financial providers. Financial exclusion may also lead to a detrimental effect on quality of life, for example in the areas of health, psychological well-being, employment and training. It could also lead to problems with young people being able to maintain their tenancies, which can lead to homelessness. It may be erroneous to assume that every young person who has spent time in local authority care is to be deemed financially vulnerable and disadvantaged compared to his or her peers. It is likely that significant variation exists between individuals in terms of their backgrounds, personal circumstances and individual factors such as resilience, knowledge and ability to live independently. Indeed there is research evidence which suggests that many care leavers will achieve in ways traditionally regarded as successful (eg attend university, enter steady employment and establish home and families in adult life) 14. Nevertheless, research also suggests that many young people have faced problems of unemployment and poverty on leaving care 15. Additionally, care leavers are more likely than young people who have not been in care to have poorer education qualifications, be homeless, be young parents, be offenders and have financial difficulties 16. In addition a lack of knowledge and understanding of money issues can frequently lead people to make poor financial decisions. The unintentional consequences of which can result in the purchase 11 Stein, M. (2006), Living Out of Care, Barnardos 12 Mendes, P. & Moslehuddin, B. (2006). From dependence to interdependence: Towards better outcomes for young people leaving state care Child Abuse Review, 15, Westlake, A. (2011) The UK Poverty Rip-Off: the poverty premium 2010, Save the Children Chase E, Simon A, Jackson S (eds) (2006), In Care and After: A Positive Perspective 15 Wade J & Dixon J (2006), Making a home, finding a job: investigating early housing and employment outcomes for young people leaving care, Child and Family Social Work, 11, Courtney et al.,( 2001) Foster Youth Transitions to Adulthood: A Longitudinal view of Youth Leaving Care. Child Welfare, Vol. 6., pp ; Dixon, J.& Stein, M (2005) Leaving Care, Throughcare & Aftercare in Scotland

15 There are various reasons put forward as to why care leavers may find they are disadvantaged and vulnerable to financial exclusion. Reduced chances to gain well-paid employment A lack of qualifications can limit young care leavers opportunities to gain employment in well-paid jobs thereby increasing the risk of low-income and financial exclusion. The attainment results for looked after children are considerably lower than the average for all pupils. Around one in four of all 19 year olds lack a basic level of qualification 17. In March 2009, of the 494 children aged 16 or over in Wales who had ceased being looked after, 45 per cent had no GCSE or GNVQ qualification 18 External issues can strongly impact on the school experiences of care leavers, such as changing placements or schools, a culture in some residential settings of school nonattendance and finally, the impact of negative life experiences on concentration and behaviour in school 19. Reduced chances to learn money management skills The instability of being in the care system and number of school changes may reduce the opportunities of care leavers to learn about managing their money. Latest figures show 14 per cent of looked after children had experienced one or more changes of school during a period of being looked after 20. Living independently earlier with a lack of family support Care leavers often have to live independently earlier than other young people and are frequently required to shoulder more financial responsibility. The average age many young people leave the family environment is estimated to be around years old 21. Recent research indicated that young people leaving care are rarely prepared for independent living and that there is limited transitional support from youth to adult services 22. This is compounded by a lack of emotional and financial family support. Therefore many care leavers may miss out on opportunities to learn about financial skills from positive role models. They may also find that they are more likely to be in a crisis position following poor financial decisions Op cit 6 19 Holland, S., Floris, C., Crowley, A. & Renold, E. (2010). How was your day? Learning from experience: informing preventative policies and practice by analysing critical moments in care leavers life histories 20 Op cit 6 From care to where? 21 National Care Advisory Service 22 Mackie, P.K (2008) Equality and access: research into the housing needs of young people in Rhondda Cynon Taf, Shelter Cymru 23 Mitton (2008) Financial inclusion in the UK: Review of Policy and Practice, Joseph Rowntree Foundation 15

16 Main findings Income and money management A combination of factors often associated with young care leavers may make them particularly vulnerable to disadvantage and financial exclusion. These include reduced chances to gain well-paid employment, and subsequently an increased likelihood of living on a low income; a lack of money management skills, and the fact they often have to live independently, with little or no family support, well before many other young people. This chapter examines to what extent the former two issues affected the young people who took part in our research. We also explore what more should be done in relation to these areas to assist care leavers make the transition from care to independent living. Living on a low income Many of the care leavers we spoke to were living on a tight budget and felt that they did not have enough money to live on. Living on a low income was often viewed as inevitable and, for the most part, outside of their control. Yeah, just like when I had my own house and I couldn t pay all the bills and stressing and thinking I don t think I m getting enough wages from my job (young care leaver, 24, North Wales) There was evidence that young care leavers all over Wales often employ different coping strategies to make the most of their limited finances. 16

17 When you have no money, you just have to make the best of it (young care leaver, 20, South Wales) Additionally, living on a low income can act as a significant barrier for those wanting to improve their life chances, such as pursuing employment or further education. This includes being unable to afford the costs of running a car or the expense of commuting further afield to take advantage of job opportunities. On the advice of my social worker I joined a training provider in order to gain qualifications and experience. However the money was terrible at 45 weekly. At this time I had a foster placement and working on my pathway plan which expected me to save money and pay board and lodge at 15 weekly, which left me with 10 pocket money. I had no support with getting myself to work and back so had to walk everywhere. (Young care leaver, 25, South Wales) They re disadvantaged with things such as driving lessons. A lot of young people 17/18 it s the first thing they want to do. There s no way they can afford that, and if they did, they still couldn t afford a car or the insurance. So that probably affects job prospects. (Service provider, South Wales) Some of the service providers we spoke to felt it was the responsibility of those caring for and working with young care leavers to work together to ensure they are supported to both aspire to pursue education, training and employment and also have the opportunities to do so. I just think we have to be realistic and transparent and give these care leavers suitable goals that they can achieve, and help them towards them. (Service provider, South Wales) In terms of direct financial support, some representatives from leaving care teams felt care leavers are offered a good deal of financial assistance on leaving care. Although as mentioned earlier in this report other evidence 24 has highlighted a big variation in the level of this assistance across different local authorities, both in terms of the value of leaving care grants and other grants offered to help with things such as deposits for accommodation or to attend higher education. Opportunities to learn money management skills The majority of the service providers (69 per cent) 25 who took part in our research think that care leavers are not well prepared to manage their money. However we found that many care leavers do keep track of their income and expenditure, taking into account what needs to be paid out in terms of bills and other necessities. This then helped them to know how much they have left to spend on non-essential items. Our research also found that some young care leavers are resourceful when it comes to ensuring their money lasts, by looking around for the cheapest products possible and only purchasing things that they realistically knew they could afford. From care to where? 24 Op cit 3 25 Due to the small sample size these results should be treated as indicative rather than definitive 17

18 I always buy the cheapest things possible all the time, that is how I manage (Young person in local authority care, 16) When it comes to learning how to manage money, it was evident that most care leavers taught themselves through experience, rather than someone explicitly showing them what to do. Many felt that they have had to learn the hard way by experiencing low income and struggling to manage their money over the years. I think as the years have gone by I think I ve adapted and learnt new strategies on how to manage my money a lot better than I did say four or five years ago. (Young care leaver, 24, North Wales) Of course the danger in learning through experience is that the chances of making bad or inappropriate financial decisions are increased, which may impact on both their current finances ie having less money to live on in the short term, and future opportunities ie limiting their ability to access certain financial products or services such as credit cards or loans in the years ahead. Some of the young people we spoke to were taught how to budget their money while they were in local authority/foster care although it was evident that their experiences were variable. I started budgeting while I was in care at thirteen. (Young care leaver, 21, South Wales) As noted earlier, a number of factors can determine whether a young person has sufficient money management skills when they leave care. These include individual experiences in the care system ie the quality and number of care placements, and the ability of the individual care leaver to absorb and use the information that they have been taught. If the young person has been in many placements, they may have had fewer opportunities to develop the trusting relationship required to learn financial skills from positive role models. My foster parents said they would [teach me money management skills] but it broke down and I had to leave. (Young care leaver, 18, North Wales) If they have been in care for a substantial amount of time and have built up a relationship with their carers, then they probably have a better chance of being prepared in terms of their financial management than if they have been bounced in and out of care, or had a series of short term placements, and haven t had the opportunity to build up a relationship with their carers. (Service provider) Some of the young people we spoke to said they do not require more advice or support on managing money as they already know how to. Others have chosen not to accept offers of help from local authority services. No one helped me learn about money, I have been in foster care most my life so I have had to grow up pretty fast. I suppose my foster parents helped me but it s not the same. They did a lot for me, I don t know if that was a help looking back. (Young care leaver, 23, South Wales) 18 They are all offered support but it all depends on whether they engage in the help that is on offer and the continued assistance they are offered after they leave care. (Service provider, South Wales)

19 I do budget my money but it s hard and sometimes I spend it on stupid things. The social services have offered to help me but I only really think of it when I was desperate (Young care leaver, 23, South Wales) However, our findings indicate that the majority of service providers (81 per cent) and many of the young care leavers themselves think care leavers require more support to manage their money. People and organisations should get together and help young people before they go into the big bad world. (Young care leaver, 24, North Wales) The young person s pathway plan is critical in delivering this objective. Local authorities have a statutory duty to ensure all young people who are looked after have a pathway plan in place by their 16th birthday however, when asked, only 78 per cent of the young care leavers 26 we spoke to had a pathway plan in place. Given the central role that the pathway plan plays to planning for the young person s future, believes that local authorities must take action to ensure that all young people leaving care receive a full assessment and resulting pathway plan that identifies the transitional support they require to enable them to live independently, including how to manage their money. While many local authorities are providing advice on financial issues clearly the lack of engagement from some of the young people is a cause for concern which needs to be addressed. When asked how they would liked to have learnt money management skills, many care leavers stated they would like to be taught by other young people who have been through the same experience as them. They said they would be more likely to listen to someone they saw as a peer rather than someone in authority. The use of Peer Educators is being increasingly recognised as an effective approach for engaging a range of different groups. I really do think social services or organisations linked to social services should be teaching money matters to 13 year olds on an informal basis, to plant the seed so to speak. Maybe run weekly meetings where 13 year olds can talk through what they think the future holds for them (maybe with older care leavers on a panel) to talk about these things. (Young care leaver, 25, South Wales) In spite of the fact financial education has been part of the revised school curriculum in Wales since September 2008 many of the young people appeared unaware of this. However most agreed that money management and other independent living skills should be a mandatory part of the school curriculum. It should also be remembered that not all young people in care will be in formal education. Therefore it will be equally important that alternative approaches for reaching these young people are effectively used to ensure they benefit from the same level of financial education as other students. 26 Due to the small sample size these results should be treated as indicative rather than definitive From care to where? 19

20 You learn stuff in school that doesn t even matter. When they could teach you about money and how to budget. (Young person in local authority care, 16, North Wales) In school we are not taught anything so everything I know I have had to ask. (Young person in local authority care, 17, South Wales) Good Practice Example Shelter Cymru s bilingual information booklet for care leavers Leaving Care and Moving On: A housing guide for Care Leavers (to be published in early 2011) will be available to download from the Library section of the Shelter Cymru website and also on Housemate.org.uk. The booklet will also be distributed through Leaving Care Teams in Wales and is a resource that is targeted at care leavers and their support network. It provides ideas and information on a range of issues, including on financial matters and budgeting, and aims to help care leavers to achieve sustainable accommodation outcomes. Developed with young care leavers in Wrexham and Cardiff, the booklet can be used as a reference point for the issues that care leavers and their support workers should consider when a young person leaves care to live independently. Below is John s story. He illustrates how he manages his money and also provides a number of recommendations that he feels should be implemented to help young care leavers with their transition into independent life. Case study - John 27 is 20 years old and spent 13 years in care in a number of local authorities. After being in one of my care homes for two years, I would be leaving to move back to [town/city]. As a result of this I was put on a semi-independent programme, which involved the care manager giving me 30 a week to live off. With that 30 I would have to buy food to live on for a week, any clothing I needed I would have to save up, any activities the other young people went on I would have to pay for myself and just anything that involved money I would have to pay for. Although this seemed harsh at the time it helped me when I left care because I knew I could manage on that small amount if I needed to. That's how I learnt to budget my money well, however being in my own flat now it's not as easy as I first thought. For example I haven't got a full time job at the moment so I rely on my Job Seekers Allowance (JSA) that I receive fortnightly. Out of that JSA I have to pay for food, water, electric, gas, phone bill, TV licence and travel, all of which we take for granted when we live in care or at home with parents. So when all of these bills are paid I don't really have enough money to go out and enjoy myself and socialise, which I think is essential for someone my age Names have been changed in the case studies to protect anonymity

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