Once a young person reaches their 18th birthday, they are legally no longer a looked after child and their placement with a foster family can no longer be classed as a foster placement. The transition from care to independence for many young people with care experience is often challenging and difficult. Over recent years successive campaigns across the UK have led to significant changes, and the introduction of arrangements that may enable young people to remain living with their foster family until they are ready to move into independence.
About post-18 living arrangements
Changes in the law across the UK have lead to the development of arrangements known as Staying Put in England, When I am Ready in Wales and Continuing Care in Scotland (which is accessible from age 16). Northern Ireland has its own arrangement for caring for a young person aged 18-plus called Going the Extra Mile.
As a result, public authorities in England, Wales and Scotland have a duty to young people to enable a fostered young person to remain living with their foster family when they reach the age of 18 (16 in Scotland), if that is what they and their foster carers want. Similarly, the Northern Ireland scheme allows all young people in education, employment or training to remain with their foster carer up to the age of 21. This entitlement has yet to be enshrined in law.
Principles of post-18 living arrangements
Despite the different models across the UK there are some fundamental principles which underpin good practice when making and supporting arrangements for young people leaving care – these include:
- Fostering services should have a clear understanding of the role and responsibility of public authorities to advise, assist and support young people and former foster carers who wish to consider arrangements beyond 18.
- Services have a responsibility to ensure that young people in foster care are supported to continue living with their foster family once they turn 18, if that is what they and their carers want to happen.
- Fostering services should have clear policies and procedures which take account of how they will support their carers, including any implications for approval as a foster carer, financial support and training needs. The Fostering Network believes that 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 and that all foster carers supporting post-18 placements should be paid a fee in recognition of their time, skills and expertise.
- Early planning is vital when considering arrangements alongside other 18-plus options and should start before a young person turns 16, and must be part of the care planning process.
- Early joint work between social workers from children's services and adult social care can ensure relevant assessments are undertaken to allow continuity of support for young people with disabilities.
- Clarify who and how support will be offered to a young person and the carer via social workers, personal advisers, and leaving care workers.
- Clear living together agreements will help to address the roles and responsibilities of the young person and carer.
Joint protocols between public authorities and independent fostering providers can enable effective transition plans and the implementation of post-18 living arrangements.
- England: The Children Act 1989 guidance and regulations Volume 3: planning transition to adulthood for care leavers (revised 2015)
- Northern Ireland: Going the Extra Mile Scheme
- Scotland: The Children and Young People (Scotland) Act 2014