Twelve leading charities have joined together to call on the Welsh Government to change the law so that fostered young people in Wales can stay with their foster carers until the age of 21.
The average age for leaving home in the UK is 24, but many young people in Wales are forced to move out of foster homes before they are 18.
Yet care leavers are among the most vulnerable young people in our society. They are less likely to do well educationally, and are more likely to have a mental illness, be homeless, misuse substances, be unemployed or spend time in prison than those who haven’t been in care.
Evidence shows that the longer a young person can stay with a foster family, the more successful they are later on. The one-to-one support and guidance offered by foster carers is crucial in helping these young people in their transition to adulthood and independence.
The Welsh Government has proposed an amendment to the Social Services and Well-being (Wales) Bill concerning post-18 care for young people. However, it does not place a statutory duty on local authorities to allow young people to stay with their foster carers beyond 17, nor does it provide financial support to make this happen.
As a result, the charities believe that this amendment – to be debated at the Senedd on Tuesday 4 February – will not create real change for young people in care and are encouraging the Government to strengthen its proposals before this time.
In a letter, sent to deputy minister for social services Gwenda Thomas, the charities said: "We believe you share our conviction that more fostered young people across Wales should be able to remain with their foster carer beyond the age of 17.
“Experience shows that we cannot rely on the voluntary, guidance-led approach to solve this problem. Legislation to allow young people to stay in foster care until at least 21 is required to make a real difference. The Social Services and Wellbeing (Wales) Bill provides the Welsh Government with a clear opportunity to make sure children in care receive the time and support they need to succeed.
“We welcome that the Government has committed to address this issue by tabling an amendment to the Bill, but it is crucial that any change in the law places an obligation on local authorities to allow fostered young people to stay beyond 18. Merely giving local authorities a power to provide these arrangements will not drive real change for young people, and we urge you to introduce a strong legal duty supported by adequate financial resources.
"Providing young people with the opportunity to stay with their foster carers represents real value for money. The Chance To Stay report estimates the additional cost at £1.1 million per year, with this low short-term investment providing long-term benefits for the Welsh economy, and for young people and for the foster families that care for them."
The letter is part of the Chance to Stay campaign, being led by the Fostering Network Wales and Action for Children-Gweithredu dros Blant. The letter has also been signed by representatives of BAAF, Barnardo’s, Children in Wales, Gofal, NSPCC Cymru/Wales, NYAS, TACT, Tros Gynnal Plant, Voices from Care and the Who Cares? Trust.
The law is currently being changed in England and Scotland to allow young people to stay with their foster carers until the age of 21.
For media enquiries contact
Dominic Stevenson, senior media officer at the Fostering Network on 020 7620 6425 or email@example.com @fosteringnet
Kirsty Callingham, news and media relations officer at Action for Children on 02920 222 127 or firstname.lastname@example.org @aslongasittakes
Notes to editors
1. Chance to Stay is a campaign being led by the Fostering Network and Action for Children in Wales to fight for fostered young people in Wales to be allowed to stay with their foster carers up to 21.
2. The Fostering Network is the UK’s leading charity for all those involved in fostering, and exists to make life better for fostered children and the families that look after them.
For more information about our work, see www.fostering.net
3. Action for Children-Gweithredu dros Blant is a charity that supports and speaks out for the most vulnerable and neglected children and young people in Wales for as long as it takes to transform their lives. With more than 100 services we are at the heart of communities - we are where you live and work.
Children are at the centre of everything Action for Children-Gweithredu dros Blant does. For more information on our work, please visit www.actionforchildren.org.uk.