When looked after children become adults at 18 there are a number of options when it comes to taking their next steps. Whilst individuals cannot continue within the same foster care framework, it may be possible for them to remain living with their existing foster carers under ‘staying put’ arrangements or to move into supported accommodation of some kind.
For those who will go on to live alone, financial support and general guidance is available. The foster carers of these individuals will have a key part to play in ensuring they are aware of, and adequately prepared for what is to come.
If you’re wondering what leaving foster care may mean for individuals you will look after in the future, the following information will outline transitional options for foster care after 18, give details of the process of leaving foster care and highlight life skills you can work on with young people placed with you.
Thanks to legislative changes made in 2014, the state must now provide support for young people who have been in foster care until the age of 21 with the possibility of continued help beyond this age for those who are in higher education or training. A plan should be put in place in advance of the young person’s 18th birthday to ensure they have somewhere to live and are aware of the impact of any upcoming changes.
Should you as a foster carer wish to continue to have them live with you, the local authority has a responsibility to support this as long as it is in the interests of their welfare. However, you need to be aware that ‘staying put’ arrangements as they are termed may have an impact on your ability to continue fostering children, particularly if the young person has any criminal convictions. In addition, the financial framework and support system offered will differ. You will likely receive some form of reduced payment from the local authority with other money going direct to the young person. In addition, you may also be offered or seek extra training.
Individuals could also choose to apply for another form of supported living such as a lodgings or Shared Lives scheme. Under such arrangements they will benefit from living with trained hosts in shared accommodation or having regular visits to provide assistance. However, many individuals leaving foster care at 18 will go on to live in accommodation by themselves for the very first time, though they should receive support in doing so.
The next steps for young people leaving foster care are decided as part of a ‘Pathway Plan’, which incorporates a statutory review meeting involving the local authority, case workers and should also involve you as a foster carer. If you are happy for the young person to continue living with you under a staying-put arrangement this will be considered as part of the review for possible inclusion in the plan.
Those who make the transition into their own accommodation should be offered the support of a personal adviser until the age of at least 21 with a possible extension for those remaining in education after this age. They will also be subject to regular reviews at least every six months to identify potential needs. Financial support is available in the form of the home allowance (leaving care grant), which will help them furnish their first home with essentials such as white goods and furniture. And if they choose to continue in education they may be entitled to bursary funds. Depending on their individual circumstances, they may also be able to claim some benefits. For more information, see Government guidance on leaving foster or local authority care.
Life skills such as money management, job hunting, cooking and cleaning are key skills that young people leaving home for the first time can lack. So as a foster carer, one of the best gifts you can give to those in your care is to help them develop some of the abilities they will need to transition to independent living successfully.
Whether it’s showing them how to work the washing machine or how to set up a spreadsheet to manage a monthly budget based on their income and outgoings, you can help them to be better prepared and to feel more confident for their life ahead. Talk through any concerns they may have so you can identify potential problems to work on together and try to consider any elements of everyday adult life they may not be aware of, so that you can also work on those in advance. From council tax to credit cards, there can be a lot to take in when you first live on your own and having your support in advance should help them to feel less overwhelmed.
If you’d like to know more about the options for foster children when they reach 18, get in touch, and we’ll talk you through everything you need to know.