Support lacking for disabled teenagers at time of transition to adulthood

Lack of state support for disabled teenagers as they move into adulthood means they are held back from living independently, with some even forced to go into residential care homes for the elderly, according to research published today.

Young people and their families told the think tank New Philanthropy Capital the move from child to adult services at the age of 18 was so frightening it made them feel they were on a “cliff edge”.

The help available varies widely across the country and charities are plugging gaps in government services, the report found.

The issue of what happens to disabled young people when they become adults was brought into focus at the inquest into the death of Fiona Pilkington, who killed herself and her learning disabled daughter Francecca Hardwick by setting light to their car.

The jury heard evidence Pilkington was concerned about what would happen to Francecca when she left care, and whether she would be able to find good residential accommodation and a job.

Social services – whose actions were not found to have contributed to Pilkington’s decision to end her own and Francecca’s lives – also told the jury about the difficulties that disabled young people and their parents often face over the transition period.

Andy Lusk, of disability charity Scope, said the situation was reaching a critical point. “There is a severe shortage of suitable services available to young disabled people when they make the transition to adulthood,” he said. “We even know of cases where families, as a last and often desperate measure, are forced to place their son or daughter in residential care homes intended for the elderly because there is no other placement available.”

In other cases young people end up staying with their families when they would rather be living independently like their friends.

The report highlighted a survey by the government’s Transition Support Programme, which found that only half of local authorities in England had a transition plan in place for disabled young people, despite the fact there are more than 600,000 disabled young people aged 14-25 in the UK. It also discovered young people only had access to a key worker in a third of areas.

“Things that most teenagers take for granted, such as going to college or university, getting a job or simply moving away from the family home, are not happening for disabled young people because they are not getting the support they need,” the author of the report, Clare Yeowart, said. “We found that charities are providing crucial support for families and young people when other services have failed.”

Christine Lenehan, director of the Council for Disabled Children, said: “Families tell us that instead of seeing their child’s 18th birthday as a time of celebration and excitement, they see it as a challenge and are fearful, thinking, ‘What are we going to have to fight for now?'”