A care leaver is a young person between the ages 16-25 who lived in care for a minimum of 13 weeks since their 14th birthday. In the UK, there is an average of 10,000 care leavers per year. Typically, most children in care do not leave until they turn 18 but, due to a variety of circumstances, some choose to leave their foster home as early as 16.
All local authorities have a support system in place to ensure that care leavers get the support they need when leaving - however, the support varies from council to council. According to St Christopher’s, only 88% of care leavers remain in contact with their local authority when leaving care. This means that a significant percentage of the care leaver population cannot access the support they are entitled to.
However, here at FosterCare UK, we recognise the challenges care leavers might face when leaving foster care - so we have a number of support systems in place to help our care leavers.
Care Leaver Support
Because of how fostering works in the UK, the level of care leaver support offered can vary with each local authority. However, there are a few things that remain constant - no matter what local authority you are with:
- A ‘Pathway Plan’ is set out for every eligible, relevant and former young person. The plan is a bespoke Care Plan – it sets out the services and support that each young person needs to achieve their goals.
- It is a legal requirement, according to the Children’s Act of 1989, that care leavers have access to similar support to those who have lived with a biological guardian their entire life. The legal document asks local authorities to ask themselves ‘Is this good enough for my own child?’
- Care leavers who continue their education after leaving their foster home must be supported by local authorities until they leave education or turn 25.
How can I support a Care Leaver in my care?
As your foster child grows up, they may yearn for the freedom to live in their own space and be in control of their own lives, or they may feel apprehensive about the way their lives will develop without a guardian supporting them. Either way, there are steps you can take to support your foster child through this transition.
- Consider Staying Close or Staying Put – if your foster child is struggling with the idea of leaving, why not talk to them about the possibility of staying close or staying put? Staying Close is where a foster child moves out but remains close and stays in contact with their foster family. Staying Put is remaining in the care home after the foster child’s 18th birthday. The child in your care might feel awkward or nervous about this conversation, even if they want to stay - so be open with them, and offer this if it is an option for you.
- Maintain an open relationship – one fear that many young people have is the uncertainty of the future and, as a care leaver, this fear is maximised. As a foster carer, you should discuss with the child in your care what they want to do with their lives. If you foster child feels supported in their goals, they will feel more certain about the future and what they can achieve.
- Be supportive – becoming a care leaver is a daunting experience for many children in care. The best thing you can do as a foster carer is support every healthy decision that your child makes. If your child chooses to go to University or to move out before they turn 18, it is your responsibility to help them through those choices.
For further information, get in contact with a member of our team today or visit the Capstone Care Leaver Trust.