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How to prepare a child for becoming a care leaver

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If your foster child is approaching the age of becoming a care leaver, or you’re looking for some early tips to prepare them when the time comes, we can help. Broaching the subject of your foster child leaving care can often be challenging – so it’s important the topic is handled sensitively and with the foster child’s needs always at the forefront.

What is a care leaver?

Once a foster child has reached a certain age, they will start to begin discussions about becoming a care leaver. A care leaver is defined as ‘a young person aged 16-21 years old who has been ‘looked after’ at some point since they were 14 years old, and were in care on or after their 16th birthday’.

As a foster parent, ensuring that your foster child is prepared for becoming a care leaver is essential, as this is often a transition process that needs to be handled sensitively with patience and support. That’s why we’ve put together this informational guide to advise you on some best-practice tips on preparing a care leaver for independence.

Tips for preparing a child for becoming a care leaver

Prepare care leavers for independence from a young age

Although it’s not common for a foster child to leave care until around 18 years old, as a foster parent, it’s important to discuss the prospect of becoming a care leaver long before this time. This is likely to be a daunting topic – especially if it has not been thoroughly discussed beforehand – so ensuring the foster child has as much information on the topic as possible will allow them to process this notion, and help them accept it when the time comes.

As well as communication around the topic itself, it’s also important to prepare them with practical life skills they can take into their lives:

  • Domestic skills – such as cooking, cleaning, completing their own laundry.
  •  Social skills – such as asking for help, handing difficult situations and setting their own boundaries.
  • Financial skills – this could be implemented through weekly/monthly pocket money, and encouraged through savings accounts, and education around finances.

Support, support, support

As a foster parent, your main role is to support your foster child – and this extends to the care leaver process, too. They will need to be reassured that support from both you, and those who have been responsible for their care, will not stop – and they will not be left to fend for themselves. The Children’s Services continue to provide support until the foster child’s 25th birthday, if they wish – and maintained contact between a care leaver and their former foster family is very common.

They may not react well to the prospect of leaving the home, and care – so respect their needs during this time. If they need space to process this upcoming change, ensure that is given – as well as being a support to them from a mental wellbeing perspective. Your social worker and independent fostering agency will also be supporting this transition, too.

Communication

It may seem daunting for them to imagine their life out of care, so be patient – and ensure they know that the lines of communication are open. It might be difficult for them to talk about the subject, so if they are finding this challenging, you could suggest that they write their feelings down in a journal, or put together a list of questions/talking points that you could all discuss as a family. It’s important to reassure them that they will not be forgotten, and contact can still be maintained if they wish.

Assessment of needs

From when the child is aged 15, a Pathway Plan is created – this looks to highlight the roadmap for them becoming care leavers, or what support they will need. The foster child/care leaver has the right to have his or her needs assessed before leaving care – which takes into consideration what the young person’s wishes are, their social needs, the financial help that is available and their ability to live independently. A personal adviser ensures that the Pathway Plan is followed, and reviewed at least every six months which regular updates.

As a foster parent, it’s important to facilitate the progress of this Pathway Plan – and encourage your foster child to begin thinking about their future, and how much support and guidance they will need. As this is likely to be a stressful and daunting prospect to them, remember to stay patient and understanding, reassuring them that the support will always be there, and they can always talk to you about this upcoming transition.

Ensure they’re aware of the additional support for care leavers available

Foster children who are about to become care leavers may become incredibly anxious about the prospect of being ‘on their own’. However, the job of both the social services and foster parents is to reassure them this is not the case. Foster parents should encourage the child to discuss with their advisor if there is a grant or charity for which they might be eligible.

The Staying Put program is also another option which is designed to help children benefit from an extended stay with their former foster family. This can be implemented if the foster child is displaying levels of delayed maturity or vulnerability, or they need additional time within the care setting to complete their education.

If you’re looking for extra support and guidance around preparing care leavers for independence, our dedicated team are always on hand to help – with a 24 hour support service available for our carers. Get in touch with us today to find out more about how to help the lives of young children in care.

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