Charity taking girls 'out of cycle of struggle'

A charity working with girls and women in the care system has said it wants to challenge the system's "goodbye and good luck" approach that it says "leaves girls vulnerable to cycles of struggle".

Spark Sisterhood, based in Somerset, is setting up mentorships for girls aged 16 to 25, by women who have previously been in care.

Charity founder Louise Allen said: "We believe only people with lived experience can really shape this for girls - you can't take advice from people that haven't lived it."

Government support already offers young people help leaving the care system up until the age of 21 and includes £10m to create stable homes, £6m to help young people live independently plus £3m towards further education, skills and training.

But the charity says girls and young women need someone to guide them and to set them up for success when they enter the world beyond care.

'Stop girls disappearing'

Ms Allen said she hoped the charity scheme would stop girls currently "disappearing into the world", without a network of support.

"It's women from care, looking after girls in care, who give information to [other] girls in care - it's wonderful," she added.

According to an Ofsted report in 2023, out of the nearly 12 million children living in England, more than 400,000 (3%) were in the social care system at any one time.

Speaking to BBC Radio Somerset, Ms Allen, a care-leaver herself, said many girls in care were left without core life skills.

She said these can be taught to children if they are on a "really good placement", but often they are moved around without these learnings.

"It's all in the minutiae, little things we totally take for granted," she said.

"For girls it might be learning about your menstrual cycle, it might be about health, it might be about how to talk to boys."

Surveys sent out by the charity revealed that girls also wanted to learn skills such as how to change a plug or how to sew on a button.

"It's the little stuff that will send them off into a state of anxiety," Ms Allen said.

"If they know about the little stuff then they can feel confident about the other stuff."

Ms Allen, who launched Spark Sisterhood this year, said girls and young women will be paired with mentors with experience of the care system and professionals who can guide them through leaving care.

The girls who receive support will also be asked to make films on the information they receive to pass on advice to others.

The charity is currently looking at buildings where it can run classes for girls and young women.

"This is creating a network for women who were in care to get together and talk," Ms Allen continued.

"As an ex-care system woman, when I talk to other women the first thing we do is laugh because we give each other permission to laugh about the utterly horrendous stuff that we have been through.

"We all laugh and that's so important because it can be a bit heavy, especially for girls."

This weekend, 17 women from across the country are meeting the charity in Chard to film their experiences of what it is like being in care.

Ms Allen said: "What you're going to get is women of all ages saying what needs to change, what needs to be done to improve their experiences for all the girls coming through now."

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