Sharon, a foster carer in South Wales, tells her story below. Some names have been changed. Tell your Assembly Member how you feel on this issue, so that all young people in foster care in Wales can be given the chance to stay.
We have been a Foster Family for the local authority for almost 19 years and a majority of those years have looked after Bronwyn for 19 of her 21 years, Michael and Kieran for 15 of their 19 and 17 years, along with 70+ other youngsters ranging from birth to 13 years. Its has been difficult at times, but most of all rewarding to see them mature into adulthood. Learning difficulties have not stopped our long term placements succeeding to complete education, further education, gaining employment and moving on to their own independence.
We have supported our own children post 18, so why would we abandon these youngsters who turned to us for support during some of the most difficult times in their lives during their "fostered years"? Seems insensitive, almost neglectful to even consider this route. Yes they would have the support of the Leaving Care team, who may I point out do a fabulous job, but are over stretched... and that support is 9 til 5, 5 days a week and often appointment only. That is not family support, family is what these youngsters need, and if we are willing to continue to support and nurture them, why cant the finances be in place to help us to help them?
Bronwyn is a charming, caring, loving and hard working young lady. She has matured into an independent woman. But only now at 21 does she feel confident enough to take the big step into independence, currently setting up her own home with our support. At 18 when told Leaving Care was an option, she cried in my arms, shook and said nothing. She didn't want us to feel bad she said, that she had to go. So mature but so sad... To stay with foster carers post 18 is not always an option sadly, as we are not in a position to support them financially. A small allowance is payable, but this is almost a third of the fostering allowance, no birthday, christmas or holiday allowances. So how could we leave them at home whilst we go on 'family holidays', aren't they supposed to be treated as family... "fostering family" is the term after all! At Christmas do we not give them presents! Birthdays....18 years old and 21 years old are milestones in a young person's life, how do they celebrate... no key for the door, just the door closing behind them.
Are these the kind of memories we would want for our own children? No. So why is the system that is set up for the safeguarding of some of the most vulnerable children, guided by 18 year birthdays and 21st birthdays? For many, 18 years of age is not the time for total change, but to learn the meaning of independence, so at 21 they can feel equipped emotionally to deal with the responsibilities that come with independence.
We are continuing to support Michael (19 years old) so he can follow Bronwyn into independence as confidently and successfully. The issue of continuing into post 18 foster care isn't soley dependent on financial support for foster carers, many of us would if possible and do continue to support many care leavers without support, but recognition that there isn't an age limit to family support is much needed... it is a life long need for many, especially as youngsters in the care system may have been through so much emotionally, mentally, and physically in their short lives.
I urge the Welsh Government to step up to the plate and acknowledge the need for 18 -21 year olds to remain in placement and enter adulthood with the support of their foster families without the fear of 'being moved'.