11 June 2013

Chance to change the law to support Care-Leavers

Today, there is a chance that a change to the law on children leaving care could be discussed and accepted in Parliament. Currently, children in foster care must leave on or before their eighteenth birthday. Support for care-leavers depends on the local authority, and varies greatly from one area to another. 

The Children and Families Bill has been making its way through Parliament, and has reached its Report Stage today. It will be discussed later this morning. MP Paul Goggins has tabled an amendment which would allow young people in foster care to stay with their foster carers until their twenty-first birthday (as long as both parties agree). This amendment could be considered today, if the Speaker selects if for debate. A number of MPs have signed up in support of the amendment. You can see more about this on the website of the Don't Move Me Campaign.

The Who Cares? Trust has produced a briefing for the Report Stage of the Children and Families Bill. It highlights the fact that those leaving care are some of the most vulnerable people in society and states that:

"Many children who have been in the care system have had a childhood full of instability and trauma, with over 62 per cent of looked after children being taken into care due to abuse or neglect."

Yet despite this reality, young people in care are expected to be able to fend for themselves at an early age. The Fostering Network states that the average age for leaving home in the UK is twenty-four, but those who have been in care are expected to leave much earlier on. 

Image courtesy of marin at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

The Fostering Network also produced a briefing (which you can download from this page), that states:

"Many young adults who have left the care system struggle to reach the same levels of educational attainment as their peers. They are over represented in prison populations, and are more likely to be unemployed, single parents, mental health service users and homeless than those who grew up within their own families...

The attainment gap between looked after children/care leavers and non-looked after children is wide.  In 2011, 40% of the general population was in higher education compared to only 7% of care leavers. The older an individual is when they leave care the more likely they are to remain in education."
Having to leave care before they are eighteen interrupts children's education. This article, in The Guardian, gives two examples of this. A girl, who was approaching her sixteenth birthday, and studying for her GCSEs, was told by the local authorities that her placement could no longer be funded, and was shown hostels where she could live. Another girl, who, in the run up to her eighteenth birthday, was studying for her A Levels, was told that her foster place could not be supported any longer. She would have had to leave college and go on income support. 

Whilst costs will be involved with extending payment to foster carers, the Guardian article points out that such a scheme would not be so expensive, based on the results of the Department for Education's pilot, called Staying Put. The Fostering Network's briefing also points out that costs to the public purse are incurred through supporting and treating young adults who have left care, and who are experiencing various problems, given in the quote above.

I hope that this amendment will be selected for debate and that it will be accepted. Much more needs to be done to support vulnerable children and young people leaving care.