Britain’s most famous fictional care leaver is backing a scheme for West of England care leavers that I launched today at the start of Care Leavers Week.
I was really delighted that BAFTA award-winning actress Dani Harmer, best known and loved for her role as Tracy Beaker has thrown her weight behind my new West of England-wide scheme which will see young people leaving care able to travel on the West of England’s buses for free.
Children growing up in care are three times less likely to be in education, employment, or training than other young people their age. They are also prone to feeling cut off, lonely and isolated, with almost one in five saying they feel lonely always or often, according to children’s charity Barnardo’s.
In fact it was Barnardos that first highlighted how care leavers needed more travel help to me in a meeting I had at the Labour Conference before last. They were pushing at a somewhat open door as I started my working life as a Child Protection Social Worker. So I worked with hundreds of young people in care.
Because I’m a Labour politician who is actually in power after that meeting I was able to go away and find funding and design a plan for 18- to 21-year-old young care leavers living in my region to be able to travel for free across the West’s 350-plus square mile network. It is now one of the largest such schemes anywhere in the UK.
Leaving care can be a really challenging time for young people in my region and across the country.
From age 18, many young people are expected to become independent and manage their own affairs. That’s really tough. A whole host of research shows how financially vulnerable care leavers are. They also just do not have that support network to fall back on. Simply put the taxi of mum and dad isn’t an option for so many of these youngsters. It’s also especially tough in a cost-of-living crisis.
So far feedback from the young people receiving the new bus pass has been overwhelmingly positive.
I met a group of young care leavers at the Bristol Zoo Project and I hope my new scheme will allow these talented young people to have better access to work or study, getting to appointments, the shops or days out.
The free travel has been welcomed by children’s charities Barnardo’s who have called it a ‘lifeline’ for care leavers in the region, while the Children’s Society similarly welcomed the scheme.
Many will know that Tracy Beaker is know for saying “bog off” – something all politicians are worried about, so the icing on the cake is of course for Dani Harmer to back it too.