FOR most young people, flying the nest is a thrilling experience. A daunting one, too, but with any worries usually offset by the main benefit: independence.

Leaving home brings the freedom to come and go as you please, no parental questions asked. The freedom to choose your own routines, your own meals, your own furniture arrangements.

Crucially, for most human beings, it includes the freedom to return to the nest as a welcome visitor any time – for a feed, for advice, for a cash loan, or for emotional support in times of strife. But imagine, if you can, that there is no nest. That the twigs and feathers have been blown away, leaving nothing but a bare tree branch.

This is the experience facing many young people who have been in care.

Holyrood’s Local Government and Communities Committee spent six months gathering evidence about homelessness in Scotland, and on Monday published its report into the problem. The testimony of those with experience of being in care, and then being homeless, features prominently.

In recent years, the popular refrain from many of those lobbying politicians about homelessness is that it can happen to anyone. Indeed, in December this paper reported on a study that found four in 10 Scots were just two pay cheques away from losing their homes. The charity that commissioned the research, Street Soccer Scotland, used it to make the point that “homelessness does not discriminate”, adding: “it’s time we take stock of the way we view and treat homeless people”.

While it’s true that life circumstances can change in the blink of an eye – due to factors such as job loss, relationship breakdown, domestic abuse, ill health or addiction – in reality some groups are at much higher risk than others. Researchers at Heriot-Watt University last year published a study that critically examined the “two pay cheques away from homelessness” claim and found that for some demographics, “the probability of falling into homelessness is slight in the extreme because they are cushioned by many protective factors”.

This is where the nest comes in. The researchers found that childhood poverty was the strongest predictor of adult homelessness, and a key protective factor was the availability of social support networks. They emphasised “the protective effect of having a partner and/or living in a multi-adult household, including being able to live as an adult child in the family home”.

Not every child in care comes from a poor household, but a major study published this time last year found those living in the poorest parts of the UK are almost 10 times more likely to become subject to child protection measures including accommodation away from home. They are also likely to leave home, whatever that might constitute, much earlier than the general population. Not only do they lack money, and the buffer of family support, but they lack experience of basics such as paying rent, connecting gas and electricity, and controlling who comes and goes from their homes. At best, this leaves them at risk of building up arrears. At worst, it leaves them vulnerable to eviction.

Giving evidence to the Scottish Parliament committee, Emma Pearce shared her experience of living in homeless hostels with her mother as a child before moving to three different foster placements. “Although I have been in all these places and stayed with all these families who had all these things in their houses – these perfect family settings – I came away from it at a certain age and I did not get to speak to them,” she said. “You do not see them at all – you do not see any of them. You are left there.”

With no nest to return to, young people with the odds stacked against them are left alone, and left vulnerable. A shocking 10 per cent of those who leave care instantly become homeless, with 21 per cent finding themselves in that situation within five years.

So what’s being done? The Scottish Government is undertaking a root-and-branch review of the care system, and at the SNP autumn conference last year Nicola Sturgeon announced plans to make care-experienced young people under 26 exempt from paying council tax. This is a positive first step, but it’s clear there’s still a long way to go. Young people report feeling as though they were being written off at the time when they most needed support, left to sink or swim while their peers enjoy an adolescence extending well into their twenties.

Today, on Care Day, as young people with care experience are being celebrated, it’s worth reflecting on the true scale of the challenges facing those who lack the buffer of family support. In this age of divisive identity politics we hear a lot about white privilege, male privilege, class privilege and the likes, but less about the massive benefits of a safe, secure and happy childhood.

It’s impossible to put a price on unconditional support from family members that continues not just through the turbulent teenage years but far beyond, with the option to call a parent for advice, information or even just a pep talk. A “corporate parent”, to use the modern language, can never hope to replicate that relationship in its entirety. But the basics – safe, warm accommodation, advice on budgeting, and simple improvements such as installing a TV aerial – are surely not too much to ask.