Children and young people brought up by foster carers in England will be allowed to remain with families until they are 21 if they choose to under a new legal duty for councils – this is brilliant news – it was always crazy to force young people to live on their own at 18 by withdrawing their funding:
Children and young people brought up by foster carers in England will be allowed to remain with families until they are 21 if they choose to under a new legal duty for councils, ministers will announce on Wednesday.
Charities have long argued for a change in the law, which currently forces many young people to live on their own at 18. The government has set aside £40m for local authorities over the next three years to put support arrangements in place.
The decision marks a U-turn for ministers, who had previously resisted calls to expand Labour’s pilot Staying Put programme – a scheme that gives young people the option to stay with foster families until they are 21.
The Labour scheme had been piloted in 11 English local authorities since 2008 and evaluations showed that young people who stayed on with foster carers were twice as likely to be in full time education at 19 as those who did not.
Education minister Edward Timpson, whose own mother fostered 90 children, said: “I know from the many foster children I grew up with how crucial it is for them to be given sufficient time to prepare for life after care. A growing number of local authorities already offer young people the choice to stay, but with little financial support it can be challenging for their foster families. This is a further reform to our much wider package of support for care leavers, including much greater financial support for young people leaving care at 18.”
The government will now put forward an amendment at the third reading of the children and families bill in January.
Robert Tapsfield, chief executive of the Fostering Network, which campaigned on the issue, said: “This change in the law will make a massive difference to the lives of this and future generations of care leavers in England. This issue has, however, not been resolved for young people in Wales and Scotland. We will continue to campaign for this change in the law to be replicated”.
Currently, local authorities in England fund the cost of children in foster care until they reach 18. At that point, support varies across the country. In many areas, teenagers are forced to live by themselves at an age when others would remain at home. Statistics from the Department for Education revealed only 10 more young people stayed with their foster carers after the age of 18 in 2012-13 than in 2011-12.
Natasha Finlayson, chief executive of the Who Cares? Trust, which supports children in care, said: “This represents the most significant reform to the support children in care are given in a generation. Time and again we hear from young people who are extremely anxious about having to leave their carers when they turn 18 and effectively no longer having somewhere they can call home, especially when the average age for young people who aren’t in care to finally leave home is (at least) 24.”