Care leavers are entitled to some ongoing help and support from Children’s Services after they leave care. The leaving care age in England is 18 years old, however some young people do leave care aged 16 or 17.
There are different categories of care leavers depending on age, when the care leaver was in care and for how long. Care leavers may also be entitled to a leaving care service if you were placed with a friend or relative under a Special Guardianship Order.
Leaving home and setting out on a life path is daunting enough for any young person. For young people who have been in foster care, there is the extra stress and pressure of feeling that they do not have the family support that their non-fostered peers have. Being a care leaver may seem terrifying to them. In the UK, there are about 10,000 care leavers annually.
Care leavers who feel that they are ready to age out are not left alone in the world. It’s not uncommon for foster parents to maintain contact with foster children after they age out of foster care. Care leavers also maintain contact with Children’s Services, which continues to provide support. The support begins with planning for the foster child’s future when the child is 15 years old.
This is the Pathway Plan, which includes details on how the local authority will provide assistance with accommodation, higher education, spending money, and finding employment. It reflects the young person’s wishes and desires. The care leaver has the right to have his or her needs assessed before leaving care, taking into consideration what the young persons’ wishes are, their social needs, the financial help available, and their ability to live independently. A personal adviser ensures that the Pathway Plan is followed, reviewed at least once every six months, and updated regularly.
Children’s Services has a duty to support care leavers until the age of 21. If the care leaver is in full time education or training or has a disability, Children’s Services provides support until they are 21. This allows college or university students time to complete their education.
Care leavers are also encouraged to discuss with their adviser if there is a grant or a charity for which they might be eligible. Student support for care leavers is an essential part of the mandate to provide better outcomes in life.
Another option is the Staying Put program, which has been designed to help children who would benefit from an extended stay with their former foster family because of delayed maturity or vulnerability. Another reason is that they need the extra time to complete their education or training.