The Fostering Network strongly believes fostered young people should have the opportunity to remain living with their foster carers after the age of 18 in order to make a smooth and supported transition to adulthood. Post-18 care can help improve long-term outcomes for care-experienced young people.
Until the beginning of this decade, the majority of fostered young people were required to leave their foster home as soon as they turned 18. This is far earlier than young people outside the care system, who on average leave home at 24, and too early for many fostered young people who often need more support and time as they transition into adulthood.
The Fostering Network led the successful Don’t Move Me campaign to allow those leaving foster care to remain with their former foster carer, or another foster carer, until the age of 21 if they wanted to. This provision is now legally in place and is known as Staying Put in England (becoming law in 2014) and When I Am Ready in Wales (2016). In Scotland young people leaving care from the age of 16 are eligible for Continuing Care (2015), a young person requesting Continuing Care has to remain living with their former foster carer rather than move to another foster carer. In Northern Ireland post-18 provision differs from the rest of the UK. The Going the Extra Mile (GEM) scheme launched in 2010 is non-statutory and only available to young people aged 18 to 21 who are in education, employment or training.
Despite widespread acceptance that post-18 care is in young people’s best interests, there have been a number of issues with the implementation of the new duties that have caused concern for all involved and have resulted in variability in policy, practice, and participation at a local level.
We have been closely monitoring the implementation of the policies across the UK, and while the numbers of young people staying with their foster families have increased year on year, we have not seen the step change needed. There is still a range of cultural, financial and logistical obstacles getting in the way of realising the full potential of this policy.
One of the primary concerns for post-18 arrangements is funding. Since the inception of the schemes, all key stakeholders have highlighted that funding is inadequate and that this is the root cause of many of the implementation issues. Moving forward we believe there is a need to give careful consideration to the amount of central governments funding allocated to post-18 arrangements and how this is calculated.
In addition to concern about the level of central funding, carers and young people have also experienced a number of issues with funding arrangements at a local level. One of the biggest obstacles to foster carers being able to offer a post-18 placement is the loss of income from fostering, especially if this is their main source of income. Unlike for foster care, there are no minimum post-18 allowances and levels vary greatly by local authority.
Many fostering services reduce the allowance given to foster carers once the young person reaches the age of 18 with the intention that the shortfall is made up from the young person claiming housing benefits. In addition, the loss of income from fostering fees can be a major barrier to offering a post-18 arrangement.
The Fostering Network believes that there should be no financial detriment to the foster carer when moving from a fostering placement to a post-18 arrangement. We believe there should be a minimum post-18 allowance framework and that no young person should have to start their adult life claiming housing benefits in order to fund post-18 care. Furthermore, carers supporting post-18 placements should continue to be paid a fee for their time, skills and expertise in supporting young people to make the transition to independence.
The current situation places significant emotional pressure on foster carers to agree to a post-18 placement with a young person with whom they have a strong familial relationship even if they cannot afford to lose a significant proportion of their fees and allowances.
Other implementation issues include continued approval as a foster carer. There is uncertainty among fostering services to recommend continued ‘suitability to foster’ for carers who do not have space/capacity to offer fostering placements in addition to post-18 placements. Foster carers are often left in a position of having to seek re-approval when the young person leaves the post-18 care arrangement; this is a lengthy process which is both unnecessary and costly.
The Fostering Network’s view
We believe that:
Governments should ensure that post-18 care is properly costed and then fully funded. Additionally, there should be monitoring of the implementation of the policy to ensure practice is in line with national requirements and to share learning from best practice models.
Governments should carry out a full review of how post 18 arrangements have been implemented.
- All local authorities in the UK should have a post-18 (post-16 in Scotland as Continuing Care is accessible from 16) policy in place. The policy should explain how placements will be funded and supported.
- Post-18 arrangements must be introduced as an option in the care planning process as early as possible and should be raised with prospective foster carers during the assessment process.
- Post-18 minimum allowances for foster carers should be introduced across the UK, with such an allowance being sufficient to cover the cost of looking after a young person.
- All foster carers supporting post-18 placements should be paid a fee in recognition of their time, skills and expertise.
- Governments should make it clear that if a foster carer wishes to maintain their approval they should be supported to do so for the duration of the post-18 arrangement.
- Local authorities in partnership with independent fostering providers should establish contractual arrangements which include post-18 arrangements.
- No young person should start their adult life claiming housing benefits in order to be able to fund post-18 placements. We would like to see a reallocation of funds and the housing element paid to the children’s service and for it to be given directly to the former foster carer so it does not impact on the carer’s tax or benefits.
- There should be greater clarity as to what happens when a young person goes off to university. Young people still need a home during the long holidays and we believe carers should be given a retainer during term time. This is an issue of better communication as well as financial support.
- The GEM scheme in Northern Ireland should be protected in law and its scope expanded to all fostered young people.
Post 18 arrangements
In episode 4 of our podcast All About Fostering, we speak to young people in post 18 placements as well as Staying Put carers to find out how recent legislation is being implamented.