Four years ago, with the support of our members, The Fostering Network led a campaign to change the law to allow young people to stay with their foster carers up to the age of 21.
The introduction of Staying Put in England was a huge achievement with the potential to be life-changing for generations of fostered young people. Government, local authorities, charities, foster carers and young people recognised the unfairness in the fact that the average age for a young person to leave home was 24 (it’s 25 now!) and yet those in foster care had to move on six years earlier. All those involved recognised that we needed to do more to support care leavers in the transition to adulthood, and the new law sought to offer this support and stability.
However, the promise of Staying Put remains unfulfilled.
Although thousands of young people have benefited from Staying Put, figures released by the Department for Education show that the number of young people remaining with their foster families is woefully low - almost 1/2 of looked after children are leaving their foster families before or shortly after their 18th birthday. And even when they have stayed put, four in 10 young people have left by the time they are 19. This is simply not good enough and not what we campaigned for.
Lack of funding and poor planning
The Fostering Network’s latest report – Staying Put: An Unfulfilled Promise – has found that the main reasons young people are not staying put are the lack of funding and poor planning, with too many young people not being given the option to stay with their foster family or being lured into “independence” with the offer of their own flat. I am horrified to think that, according to our survey of foster carers, a third say that when they and a young person wanted to make a Staying Put arrangement work, local policies and funding meant that the young person ended up moving out. This means hundreds of 18- and 19-year-olds are moving on before they are ready.
Staying Put was a flagship piece of legislation which had – and still has – the potential to change the lives of generations of young people leaving care for the better. It is great news that some young people have benefitted from the new law, and we are delighted to hear the success stories. But the failure to implement this policy properly – by the Government and by local authorities – means that too many of these young people are continuing to miss out on stability and support after they turn 18.
Most parents will bend over backwards to ensure their children have the best possible start of adulthood. Surely the corporate parents of fostered children – Government and local authorities - should do exactly the same by ensuring that all care leavers have every chance to benefit from Staying Put?
Our recently released Staying Put report contains a number of vital recommendations that must be acted upon by Government, local authorities and fostering services as a matter of urgency. A few years ago everyone involved was fully behind the change in the law, but the same commitment that is needed to turn the promise of Staying Put into a reality seems to have disappeared.
We must make Staying Put work
I’ve said this before and I’ll continue to keep shouting about it until something changes – we MUST make Staying Put work. I am deeply frustrated that there are still too many fostered young people who are not benefiting from the opportunities Staying Put provides. The Fostering Network will continue to play our part in holding to account those responsible for the implementation and funding of Staying Put.
This and future generations of care leavers depend on it. Please write to your MP today asking them to take action to turn the unfulfilled promise of Staying Put into reality.
Chief Executive, The Fostering Network