This week I have begun the first of 22 meetings. Over the next few weeks I will be visiting every local authority in Wales to meet the top local decision-makers: Chief executives, elected leaders and heads of social services, housing and education.
I will be asking them what they already do to make sure that the young people in their care get the chance to fulfil their ambitions as they move into adulthood, and what their plans are to improve what they do.
This follows the launch of my Hidden Ambitions spotlight report on 1 March. In it, I highlighted how not all young people leaving foster or residential care get a chance to fulfil their ambitions. Those ambitions are as varied as any other young people in Wales – to be a chef, a mechanic, a vet, a social worker, an actor, a midwife or a sports coach – and to be happy and safe. You can see those ambitions here. Sadly many young people leaving care are held back by poverty, loneliness and a lack of secure housing. Around half are not in employment, education or training age 19.
I have seen first-hand some really good examples of help given by local authorities to the young people in their care throughout Wales. This includes specific training schemes, supported housing, training courses for independent living and drop-in centres for advice, company and practical help. Every young person leaving care needs this kind of help, wherever they live. Every young person needs somewhere safe to live, emotional and practical support and an offer of something to do after leaving school, whether that be more education, training or a job. Local authorities are legally the ‘corporate parents’ of young people in care and they need to think of themselves as a ‘family firm’, giving a leg-up to their own children.
So far I’ve been really pleased at the response to the report. Welsh Government has promised to work towards ending some of the unfairness in the current system, like the fact that young people leaving residential care get less support than those in foster care aged 18. The Cabinet Secretary for Children, Carl Sargeant AM, announced a St David’s Day £1million bursary for looked after children and care leavers to help them fulfil their ambitions. The Welsh Local Government Association has also pledged their support and organised all of the Council Leaders in Wales to support the Hidden ambitions report. We’ve even had the support of Michael Sheen, the famous Welsh actor and campaigner, who recorded a supporting video, reading out a poem written by young care leavers at one of our workshops.
I’m now really looking forward to my Wales-wide journey, joined by some of the young people who have taken part in this work, to try to make sure that wherever care leavers live in Wales, they have an equal chance to fulfil their ambitions.