A leading charity in the United Kingdom is calling on the Government to use the Children and Families Bill to provide homes for young people in care beyond the age of 18.
The Fostering Network has worked with Paul Goggins MP to table an amendment which would allow all fostered young people in England the chance to remain with their foster carers until the age of 21, if both parties were in agreement. The amendment, Continuing support for former foster children, could be debated and accepted during the Bill’s report stage this week.
Currently, local authority care usually ceases on a young person's 18th birthday, and what happens to them next is a postcode lottery. Some local authorities help them to stay with foster carers, others rely on their foster carer offering them a home for free, and many more are forced to move out to live by themselves.
When this happens, the levels of support vary hugely. This can mean that someone studying for their A-levels may be forced into independent living midway through their exam year, at a time when most young people rely on the support and help of their family to enable them to study and do well.
The average age for most young people to leave home across the UK is 24. Traditionally care leavers don’t do as well in education as those who haven’t been through the care system and are more likely to be unemployed. Being able to stay longer with their foster carers could help to address these inequalities.
Paul Goggins MP said: "Whilst the average age for leaving home is 24, only one in 20 young people in foster care stay with their carers beyond their 18 birthday. Many young people leaving foster care end up homeless and in a crisis that could be avoided.
"We all have an obligation towards young people in care and allowing foster children to stay with their carers until they are 21 would be a practical way of smoothing the path towards adult life for some of the most vulnerable people in our society".
Vicki Swain, Campaigns Manager at the Fostering Network, said: "The amendment would allow for more young people in care to have the stability and support so many of us take for granted as they enter adulthood, which will not only benefit them but also society as a whole.
“While we welcome the Government’s current interest in care leavers, we believe that without legislation too few fostered young people will get a realistic chance to stay with their foster carers beyond the age of 18.
“This is a rare opportunity to change the law, and we need as many as MPs as possible to back the amendment to make sure that the next generation of care leavers gets a better start to adult life.”
Glynis - a Foster Carer and Melanie - who had to leave Care share their experiences below:
Foster Carer’s story - Glynis
I had fostered Kim since she was 11. When she took her GCSEs at 16, she was informed that she would have to move into a hostel, but she wanted to stay with me, take her A-Levels and go to University. She was not ready for independent living, but what 16 year old girl is? I fought the local authority with support and won the right for Kim to stay with me until she was 18.
On Kim's 18th birthday, just after she had achieved three great A-levels, they stopped my fostering allowance. So I was faced with a choice, do I evict the girl who only wanted a stable home so that she could complete her education and go to university, or do I quit fostering? I loved fostering, but there was no way I could let her down, so I quit.
Kim is now going into her third year of university and I couldn’t be more proud. The local authority should have been proud of her too, and should have supported me to support her. We need a change in the law to ensure that all young people in care get a home for as long as they need it, and it should not just come down to luck of the draw.
Care leaver’s story – Melanie
I went into care at the age of six, and from 11 lived with a long-term foster family. From the time I was doing my GCSEs, my anxiety about having to move out started, as this is when the pressure from social services began.
I began to dread my impending 18th birthday because I knew I would be pushed out of the family. I know that my foster family were happy for me to stay, but social services were not, so I had to go.
This resulted in me moving into supported lodgings when I really wasn't ready, and then into my own flat, and I couldn’t cope. Things started to go wrong for me and I eventually dropped out of college. I even lost touch with my foster family for a while.
Now years later, having survived and doing well, I speak with my foster mum about it and she agrees it was all handled wrong and if support to 21 had been an option it could have made all the difference.
Sadly my experience isn’t unique, and, what’s even more worrying, the situation hasn’t got any better since 1998.